Bloody Crimes, the Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Funeral Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse is the latest offering by Lincoln scholar James L Swanson. Earlier this year I read Swanson’s book on the search for Lincoln’s assassin, Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. Swanson’s style of writing made these books very difficult to put down. I love it when a book engages me and draws me into its story. I love it even more when that book is a work of non-fiction. Swanson is becoming one of my favorite authors.
It is difficult for us to imagine the emotions that swept the nation after Lincoln’s assassination. Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy had just fallen and the Confederate government had fled, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union General Grant, a bloody and violent war was coming to an end, and the northern states were overcome with exuberance while the southern states were filled with fear and apprehension. It was in this context that Lincoln was killed and the nation was plunged into a crisis of leadership. Though many of us remember the trauma of the assassination of President Kennedy, it is impossible to understand completely the emotions that Lincoln’s death evoked around the nation.
Lincoln was not the 1st President to die in office, but he was the 1st to be assassinated. Swanson describes how Lincoln’s murder and the grand spectacle of the “funeral pageant” lifted the fallen president to near sainthood.
While this was happening, there were 2 manhunts underway. The first was an earnest search for the assassin of Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. He was killed 12 days after the murder of Lincoln. The 2nd began the day before Richmond fell as Jefferson Davis fled the fallen Confederate capital. The search for him grew in intensity after Booth had been dispatched. Swanson tells us about Davis’ capture, imprisonment, and his subsequent years.
Both of these books would be a valuable addition to your Civil War library (what, you don’t have a Civil War library)?