'Chasing Lincoln's Killer'

Cleveland Park LibraryStaff Picks

'Chasing Lincoln's Killer'

The date: April 14, 1865. Washington D.C. was still celebrating the surrender of the Confederacy at Appomattox the week before. Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet were developing plans for reconstruction when his second term ended at the hands of John Wilkes Booth and his derringer pistol. The rest, as they say, is history.  

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson, an adaptation of his previous book: Manhunt: The Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, tracks the movements of John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators on their road to infamy. What had started out as a kidnapping plot had escalated to murder, with Wilkes and his co-conspirators attacking the heads of government: Andrew Johnson (the Vice President), William H. Seward (Secretary of State and Lincoln’s close advisor), and Ulysses S. Grant (commanding general of the Union Army).
Map of Booth and Herold's escape route
Map of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold's escape route, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

After killing the president, Booth and Davey Herold started a 12-day journey that would end violently in a barn outside of Fredericksburg, Va. Along the way, Booth sought and received assistance from others, from Dr. Mudd binding his leg to Thomas Jones getting Booth and Herold into Virginia. Out of those that aided Booth, only Dr. Samuel Mudd would be sent to prison. While on the run, Booth kept a close eye to the media, believing that assassinating these four leaders would throw the United States into chaos and allow the Confederacy to resume its efforts. resulting in Booth lauded as the savior of the American Republic.

John Wilkes Booth would be sorely disappointed. Though Booth was successful in assassinating President Lincoln, he was the only conspirator successful in his efforts. George Atzerodt, the assassin that was to be responsible for assassinating the Vice President chickened out (he would still be hanged for conspiring with Booth and the others), and Lewis Powell failed in killing Seward, though the attacks against Seward and his family caused the Secretary of State to bear the scar of his assassin’s efforts for the rest of his life.

Swanson does his job as a historian and author. It is hard not to become completely engrossed in this book. However, there is something missing: a bibliography. Though Swanson includes pictures throughout the book, there is no bibliography of researched materials. However, a complete bibliography can be found at the end of Manhunt.

Suggestions for emerging history buffs include: Assassination Vacation (for those that like their history with a humorous twist), Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, (for those that want to learn about Lincoln and his administration), and Bloody Times: the Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis (for those that want to learn about what came after).    
-- Cynthia Vrabel, Library Associate