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Blood on the Moon


Excerpt from


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 ...