Virginia at Last!
To night I try to escape these bloodhounds once more. Who, who can
read his fate. God's will be done.
John Wilkes Booth
Night sounds travel far over water. Whispers seem to glide through the
air and strengthen as they slip across the surface. The two men sat
in the small boat afraid to speak, uncertain what ears may be listening
off in the darkness. The only sound was that of the water as it gently
lapped against the sides of the boat. Booth sat hunched over in the
stern peering into the black distance trying to pick out some object
that would tell him where they were. It was less than three miles across
the river at the narrowest point from where they set out. The wind was
blowing out of the northwest and helped them along, but the tide was
against them for most of the way.
Neither the wind nor the tide caused the two men to suddenly veer off
their course; it was most likely a Union gunboat. As they approached
the Virginia shore they were suddenly startled to see a large shadow
rising up out of the water. It was a ship. A Yankee ship. Anchored just
off shore in a direct line with their boat and their destination at
Machodoc Creek was the U. S. S. Juniper. Herold quickly veered the skiff
upriver desperately working to move out of the vision and earshot of
the gunboat's watch.
The two men had come perilously close to running into the Union ship.
Had they been sighted it would have been over for sure. Booth's luck
was still holding out. Hours later an exhausted Herold pulled the skiff
into the mouth of Nanjemoy Creek some six miles up river. After hours
of struggling against current and wind they were back on the Maryland
side not far from where they started several hours earlier. It was too
late to attempt another crossing this night. Besides, the two men were
exhausted after hours on the river. They would slip into the mouth of
the Nanjemoy and come ashore on its eastern bank at a place called Indiantown.
It was a large farm owned by Peregrine Davis and farmed by his son-in-law,
John J. Hughes. Davy Herold knew the area well. He had hunted the land
on many occasions and had become friends with the owner. On the day
after his arrest Herold was questioned by Judge Advocate General Joseph
Holt and his assistant, John A. Bingham on board the monitor Montauk.
He managed to evade most of the questions and give the impression that
he was nothing more than an innocent bystander in Booth's conspiracy.
But in answer to one of the questions about his habit of hunting in
southern Maryland, he revealed his extensive knowledge of the area while
describing his visits there. He told his interrogator that he frequented
Charles County often stopping at Peregrine Davis's farm. Herold had
been in the habit of visiting there for the past five or six years.
Hunting was a passion with Herold. Every fall he would take two or three
months and hunt the fields of Charles County in search of partridge.
The area around Nanjemoy creek was among the most beautiful in all of
southern Maryland. The tidal waters were lined with grasses of many
varieties. Joe Pye weed filled the landscape with its tall purple flowerheads
that were a favorite of wild bees. Dozens of species of waterfowl habited
the area. It was easy to lose oneself in the serenity of the area. But
not this day.
Davis's farm was a favorite stop during Herold's hunting visits. Now
he would visit the farm one last time. It was early morning on Friday,
April 21 when the two men came ashore and made there way to Hughes house.
A century later, in an interview with historian James O. Hall, George
Hughes, the grandson of John J. Hughes, would tell of the family tradition
surrounding that visit. Booth and Herold did go into the Hughes house.
But, it was too dangerous for them to stay in the house overnight. The
area was swarming with Federal troops. Hughes gave them food and drink
then he let them hide out on the property until they could retry the
river. For some reason they did not try to cross Friday night, or if
they did try, they again aborted their attempt. Perhaps gunboats were
still in the area patrolling the river. The next opportunity came on
Saturday the 22nd. Herold continued his story: "That night, at
sundown, we crossed the mouth of Nanjemoy Creek, passed within 300 yards
of a gunboat, and landed at Mathias Point [Virginia]."
After nine days of running and hiding Booth and Herold finally reached
Virginia. It was still a dangerous situation, but the river had put
them out of direct reach of the searching authorities. When Thomas Jones
handed Booth the small-boxed compass he pointed the course to Machodoc
Creek on the Virginia side. Holding his candle close to the face of
the compass Jones told Booth to seek out a Mrs. Quesenberry: "If
you tell her you come from me I think she will take care of you,"
he told Booth.
Elizabeth Quesenberry was another of the Confederate faithful that served
the cause. She lived in a small house located on the inlet where Machodoc
Creek emptied into the Potomac River. When Booth and Herold reached
the Virginia shore early Sunday morning on the 23rd, they missed their
intended target. Aiming for Machodoc Creek, they landed at Gambo Creek
located a mile upriver from the mouth of Machodoc Creek.
Pulling the boat ashore, Herold helped Booth hobble to a safe spot in
the underbrush. Here he would wait while Herold tried to find ...