The following letter, gleaned from the files at the James O. Hall Research Center, describes the search for Booth and Herold in Southern Maryland. The author was a captain named William Hazelton who served under Major John Waite of the 8th Illinois Cavalry. His letter recounts accurately the investigation that occurred in and around Bryantown.
“Bryantown, Md. April 27, 1865.
I have been endeavoring to get an opportunity to write you but have been so constantly on the move for the last two weeks that I’ve had no chance for writing.
We were first ordered to Washington to form part of the military escort at President Lincoln’s funeral, immediately after which we were sent here into Maryland in pursuit of Booth and some of his accomplices who were known to have come here. We traced Booth to the house of a Dr. Mudd where he went to have his leg set, a bone in which had been broken by a fall of his horse. At this Doctor’s he arrived on the morning after the murder. He had with him a man by the name of Harrold, one of his accomplices and a desperado well known in these parts. Here he remained until 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day. From here we were unable to trace him farther for some days. In vain we scoured the country in all directions, I was out with my Company night and day. With us were dozens of the most expert detectives of the Untied States, but all our efforts to trace him further failed until at length a free negro [Oswell Swann] came in and reported that he acted as guide for them to the house of a Captain Cox some fifteen miles from here. At that time I happened to be the only officer off duty, and at 12:00 o’clock at night started with thirty men, two detectives and this same negro guide for the home of Captain Cox.
We reached there just at daylight, saw Captain Cox (a notorious “secesh”) but he denied all knowledge of the parties.
We obtained evidence, however, that Booth and Harrold remained at his house some four hours in private conversation with him. They then mounted their horses, Booth being lifted on the horse by the negro guide whom they dismissed, and again we lose all trace of them. Cox we arrested and he is now in the Old Capitol prison.
The great difficulty is the people here are all traitors, and we can get no information from them. A report reached us day before yesterday that they had been seen not far from where I am now writing. They came to the edge of a woods and called for this colored woman (our informant) to bring them some food. She describes the men and said one of them had crutches. We immediately surrounded the woods and one hundred of our men searched it through and through, but found nothing. The country here is all heavily wooded, making it next to impossible to find one who makes any effort to escape. I hope, however, we will yet find him if he is not across the Potomac.
P.S. I must not forget to tell you that your boy is now Captain. My commission came some days ago.”
It seems quite obvious that the rebellious nature of the Southern Marylanders caused problems for the soldiers seeking the assassin of President Lincoln, a man for whom the natives had no love lost.
Still, through the statements of Dr. Mudd and Oswell Swann the soldiers were able to accurately track Booth until his departure from Cox’s house at around 4:00 am on Sunday, April 16th. From here, Booth and Herold were escorted into the nearby Pine Thicket by Cox’s adopted son, who subsequently went for Thomas Jones in the morning. This letter, dated April 27th, was written a day after Booth and Herold were captured at Garrett’s farm, with the former having been killed in the process. Apparently, at the time of his writing the news had not yet reached Captain Hazelton and the other soldiers and detectives stationed at Bryantown.
James O. Hall Research Papers