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    Samuel Bland Arnold Series of Five Autograph Letters Signed "Saml B Arnold", written to William B. Kines, city editor of the Baltimore American newspaper. About 15 pages in all, small 5" x 6" and 5" x 7.5", Friendship, Md., 13 Dec. 1902 -- 9 May 1903, most with their original stamped, postmarked envelopes, addressed and marked "Personal" by Arnold. At some point late in his life, Arnold wrote an autobiographical memoir which explained (and justified) his association with John Wilkes Booth, who had been a boyhood schoolmate and good friend. The memoir admitted enthusiastic involvement in the actor's "humane and patriotic" plan to kidnap Lincoln and hold him hostage for the benefit of the Confederacy, but flatly denied any role in the subsequent murder. Arnold was adamant that his manuscript should not be published during his lifetime. But when another Sam Arnold died in 1902 and was mistaken by newspapermen for the conspirator, the resultant unflattering obituaries prompted the real Sam Arnold to speak up. He allowed Kines to see and utilize his manuscript for a series of articles which appeared in the Baltimore American in December 1902, and the present letters relate to the aftermath of that venture. The earliest complains about a few statements made in the articles: "I have been misquoted. . . . I have plainly stated that when I first engaged with Booth in his scheme, I informed my family that I was employed by him in the oil business. This was said to remove any suspicion. . . . All my family were totally ignorant of the whole affair." An assertion that he had denied being "in any manner connected with Booth or others, is in flat contradiction of avowed utterances . . . I denied nothing. I told the truth then, I proclaim it now. . . . This mistake does me a gross injustice and is evidence against me not contained either in my ms. or produced before that military tribunal & should be corrected." As far as letting his manuscript "in toto" be published as a book or pamphlet, Arnold supposes that would "incur considerable expense to you . . . hence if to you it would be worth something, it certainly ought to be the same for me." He reveals that when he was released from prison in 1869, (Severn) Teakle Wallis (a well-known Baltimore legislator who had spent a year of the war imprisoned for disloyalty) "requested me to write up the facts now contained in my ms. and that he would . . . review the same and arrange it for publication, without cost to me. I . . . intended doing so, but my undesirability of again coming before the public left the work undone. I thanked Mr. Wallis and . . . settled back as a recluse." He supposes the offer could have earned him enough to set up in business. "Now of course it is too late, age and infirmities are against me." Nevertheless he declares that if he had means to publish it properly he could "dispose of a copy to every household" in his district. "There is not a state in the union in which it could not be sold. It would become a part of the history of the U. States, and show to each rising generation what all governments are capable of doing in bloody war." He concludes that he "can not surrender the ms. to you without a price or royalty. I am fully satisfied from the eagerness displayed in the country to read the articles now being published, that your paper will be handsomely paid."

    On 18 December Arnold extends thanks for an article correction that will "place me right within the country", but devotes most of his letter to a colorful account of the escape from Fort Jefferson of his fellow prisoner, Col. George St. Leger Grenfell (an English adventurer and intriguer who had joined the Confederacy and served on the staff of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, legendary raider). Arnold recalls how, during a "terrible gale the Col. informed that he intended making his escape, as everything was . . . ready for the undertaking. I endeavored to dissuade him, telling him a more favorable opportunity would present itself, and to attempt it now was surely death. His remark was, better a watery grave, than death dealt out by inches at the fort. . . I bade him goodbye, and God protect him." Arnold names the men who accompanied the Colonel, taking "a small 16 ft. boat, used for rowing around about the fort. I am perfectly convinced that each met a watery grave, before they were out of sight... His escape caused intense excitement. . . On my return to Balto. in 1869 I received a letter from his sister . . . making inquiry about him. . . Silence since then establishes, I think, that the entire party were drowned." Responding, apparently, to a question about the rumors that Booth had in fact escaped, Arnold opines that "Jno. W. Booth no doubt is dead and his bones now lie in...Greenmount Cemetery. He was shot in Garrett's barn. Herold . . . was his pilot through lower Maryland [and] still followed him and surrendered before Booth was shot. In my mind there is not the slightest doubt as to his demise." Writing on 15 January, Arnold asks to keep a letter Kines had received from Maj. L.O. Bridewell, C.S.A., explaining: "In 1863 I was employed by him in the Quartermaster Depot of the Confederate States at Augusta, Ga. His letter corroborates that part of my narrative and the cause of my return to the states. . . . The Major was a perfect gentleman as well as a good soldier. I never expected to hear of him again. . . . His letter is quite a tribute to my personal character." Noting that he has three firms interested in publishing his memoir (the most important one named being the Bowen-Merrill Company of Indianapolis), he asks if Kines will "place a market value upon it. I might hold out for the sum you may name and if not successful, fall back to the figures they may propose." He says he cannot see Kines now, since he only makes one annual trip to Baltimore, in October, but "I certainly shall call to see you, as from correspondence . . . between us, I feel that I know you well and look upon you as a friend." He closes stating his belief that "many copies of my narrative could be sold in the south, especially", with "much profit" to any firm undertaking it. The last letter dismisses a published "New Yorker's story. . . . [I]t is not likely that Jno. Wilkes Booth would have communicated to a perfect stranger such a startling disclosure [his intent to murder Lincoln] & . . . should he have done so, & the millionaire Corby failing to make [it] known to the proper authorities . . . makes him . . . as guilty in the crime as Booth himself. Strange such a story remained until for nearly 40 years. . . . I stand by the confession of those in the crime, that assassination was never contemplated until sprung upon them at 8 o'clock in the evening and carried into effect at 10 o'clock the same evening. I am constrained to believe that Booth was at the time he committed his unholy crime, demented, brought about through the collapse of the southern cause, for the success of which every beating pulse of his heart throbbed. He was naturally erratic and of a visionary mind & the south crushed - crazed him. . . . This is my firm & fixed conviction." Apropos of the "George story" (David E. George, a recent Oklahoma suicide, had supposedly confided that his true identity was John Wilkes Booth), Arnold laconically comments: "The west is productive of many startling stories." A significant archive, with uncommonly direct and detailed mentions of Booth and the assassination. All letters are toned and fine; envelopes are stained, expected of the turn of the century postal service.


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    November, 2008
    20th Thursday
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