Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse

by James L. Swanson

Hardcover, 2010




William Morrow, (2010)


"New York Times"-bestselling author of "Manhunt" returns to the Civil War era to tell the epic story of the search for Jefferson Davis and the eventful funeral procession for assassinated president Abraham Lincoln.On the morning of April 2, 1865, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, received a telegram from General Robert E. Lee. There is no more time the Yankees are coming, it warned. Shortly before midnight, Davis boarded a train from Richmond and fled the capital, setting off an intense chase as Union cavalry hunted the Confederate president. Two weeks later, President Lincoln was assassinated, and the nation was convinced that Davis was involved in the conspiracy. To the Union, Davis was no longer merely a traitor, but a murderer. Lincoln's murder, autopsy, and White House funeral transfixed the nation. Millions watched the funeral train roll by on its way to Illinois, in the largest and most magnificent funeral pageant in American history. Meanwhile, Davis was hunted down and placed in captivity, the beginning of an intense and dramatic odyssey that would transform him into a martyr of the South's Lost Cause.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MugsyNoir
Expansive coverage of the days around and after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to his burial in Springfield, IL twenty one days later, and the chase to capture the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, and his later life. Wonderfully done except for some incongruous changes from Lincoln's story to Davis's that can be confusing at times.… (more)
LibraryThing member GBev2010
A strong follow up to Swanson's five-star "Manhunt." While I've read a lot on Lincoln and consider him one of my heroes, I have to say this book left me wanting to hear more about Jefferson Davis.

Swanson effectively paints Davis in a sympathetic light, showing that no matter what a person's political agenda or alliances might be, the reality is that we are all human beings...capable of love, sympathy, compassion, and honor in spite of our short comings.… (more)
LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Swanson's thriller Manhunt is alongside with Shaara's Killer Angels a must read for all Civil War buffs. This sequel is a major disappointment in multiple ways. Firstly, it lacks all thrill. Abraham Lincoln's rather boring funeral procession and Jefferson Davis' leisurely flight offer little drama and lack the ticking clock that guided Swanson's hit title.

Secondly, the book lacks cohesion, indicated by the strange title choice, a Bible quote from Ezekiel 7:23: “Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes" referred to by John Brown). This English translation does not confer its meaning accurately which is crimes of blood or blood guilt. Even if one accepts Swanson's English title, the connection to its subtitle is dubious at best. Neither the chase for Jefferson Davis nor Lincoln's funeral procession can be subsumed as "bloody crimes". The book intertwines two loosely connected stories: One strand retells Lincoln's murder and then adds Lincoln's funeral procession tour (and its merchandising opportunities) across multiple Northern cities. The other strand follows Jefferson Davis' flight from Richmond and presents Davis' imprisonment, release and redemption. The combination of these two strands results in a very odd mix. Presenting Davis' story alongside the different treatment of meted out to the leaders of the Confederacy would have resulted in a much stronger book.

Thirdly and its weakest point. Swanson engages in an unrepentant whitewashing of Jefferson Davis, who is presented almost as a saint, suffering for his chosen people (that might be one of the reason why the reactionary pope sent him a crown of thorns. The Catholic hierarchy does love oppressors.). Davis' racism, his catastrophic personnel selections (A.S. Johnston, Braxton Bragg, John Bell Hood, ...) and decision-making are neither mentioned nor discussed. All is very reminiscent of how George W. Bush is treated in the US. Despite an obvious case for treason and war crimes respectively, the political and judicial actors are unwilling to do their duty, because doing the right and just thing is, somehow, seen as onerous and might cause some hurt feelings. At least, Jefferson Davis had been sent to prison for his treachery, even though the "look forward, not backward" approach that became the motto of the failed US reconstruction resulted in the strange fact that he was never charged for any crime. This allowed Jefferson Davis to strut around and feel vindicated in the Jim Crow era. The speed of collective amnesia has since markedly advanced. US crooks and criminals pop up on TV and book tours, while the victims of their bloody crimes have barely been buried.

A bad sequel and bad history. A neo-Confederate whitewash is not needed for the 150th anniversary of the war.
… (more)
LibraryThing member phyllis01
Swanson seamlessly weaves the intertwined search for Jeff Davis and the public mourning of Lincoln in his second book. Well worth the read for no other reason than its thoughtful depiction of Jeff Davis as equally devoted to his political beliefs as Lincoln was.
LibraryThing member suballa
Beginning with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Bloody Crimes tells the parallel stories of Lincoln’s final journey home and Davis’s flight and ultimate capture.
Swanson details the events immediately following the shooting of Lincoln, including the chaos at the Peterson house where Lincoln’s body was taken immediately following the attack. From the hysterical and inconsolable Mary Lincoln to the doctors and government officials who came and went throughout the evening, the Peterson house became the first place of mourning. When Mary Lincoln finally decided on Springfield as the President’s final resting place, the death pageant began. The journey by train took thirteen days, covered 1,645 miles and never deviated from the master timetable. Lincoln’s coffin was displayed in 10 cities along the way. Each city hastily constructed viewing chambers for their honored guest, and each city tried to make their display more elaborate than the last. Cleveland constructed a “temporary outdoor pavilion” made to look like a Chinese pagoda. Government officials, embalmers, and the coffin containing Willie Lincoln traveled on the train with Lincoln. More than one million Americans passed by the President’s coffin while it was on display and more than 7 million people lined the train tracks as the train passed by. To the many onlookers “Lincoln’s coffin became a kind of ark of the American covenant, possessing hidden meanings and mysterious powers.”
Meanwhile, with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Union army closing in on Richmond, Jefferson Davis began his flight south. A $100,000 bounty (more than $2 million today) was placed on Davis’s head. This was twice the amount offered for the capture of Booth. Lincoln, who was always forgiving, probably would have wanted Davis to escape and live in exile, but after Lincoln’s murder northerners wanted revenge. Davis was one of the last to accept that the cause was lost and that the South was defeated, and he moved slowly-never wanting to appear that he was fleeing. Thirty eight days after leaving Richmond, Davis was captured near Irwinsville, GA and gave up without a fight. His flight took him “through four states by railroad, ferry boat, horse, cart, and wagon”. After his capture he began his 12 day journey to imprisonment and 2 year captivity in Fort Monroe, VA.
This is a highly readable account of an important event in our history and Swanson does a great job of showing us just how beloved Abraham Lincoln really was.
… (more)
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
Based on the length of the subtitle, The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse, I should have known that the book wouldn't be short. Because of some incorrect online information (hey, you can get wrong info on the Web??), I expected about 200 pages and was just a little disconcerted to find around 400.

I shouldn't have worried. This book was informative, entertaining, and thoroughly readable. The story starts a few days before the Lincoln assassination and follows Lincoln before his death, and his body after his death. It begins at the same time to tell the story Jefferson Davis as his hopes of winning the war were turning to dust, and continues until his death. The two stories are intertwined in the book, just as they were in reality, with information about what was happening to each of them on the same days.

Most U. S. citizens know a fair amount about Abraham Lincoln. Fewer of us, including me, know much about Davis. The author gives insight into his character as well as putting to rest some of the myths about him, and I found it quite fascinating.

The cities that hosted Lincoln's corpse on the trip to his burial genuinely mourned him, but there also was competition over what city could provide the most elaborate welcome and settings for the viewing. It all seems quite macabre, especially considering the length of the tour and the state of embalming science at the time. I found the descriptions of the various floral tributes, hearses, and catafalques a bit too detailed for my taste but it certainly gave substance to that final trip.

Although the copy that I read was an Advance Reader's Edition, it contained quite a few photographs and illustrations that added to the story. Reading it makes me want to read the author's earlier work, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review.
… (more)
LibraryThing member spounds
Bloody Crimes is a recap of the last few weeks of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. In both the North and the South, their wartime leaders began journeys. Lincoln, in death, moving from Washington to Springfield and Davis, in flight, escaping Richmond.

I chose this book on a recommendation from a friend and because I enjoyed Swanson's earlier work, Manhunt. He does disappoint. Going into the book, I knew the basics of the journeys (less about David than Lincoln), but Swanson fleshes out the stories with first-hand accounts from a variety of sources that bring them to life. It is an interesting contrast, for instance, to learn how people reacted to each president as he made his way into their towns. Lincoln was universally revered, but Davis often met ambivalence that sometimes bordered on rudeness.

Swanson ends the book with a description of the remainder of Davis' life and how he finally found his way even though he was a man without a country. His advocacy of the idea of the Lost Cause brought the South back together again and continues to have implications today.

Very good book! Recommended!

p.s. My first Kindle read. Not so bad.
… (more)
LibraryThing member kenkarpay
Inappropriately named, "Bloody Crimes" is the intertwined tale of the lives and deaths of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis and the impact their memories had on American at the end of the Civil War and the years afterward.

Author James Swanson, a lifelong Civil War buff, recounts details that demonstrates Americans' passionate response to the symbols that both Lincoln and Davis became in both life and death. Bloody Crimes is not so much about the "crimes" of the war, but about the search to find meaning in the war and its aftermath.… (more)
LibraryThing member DaleVanWyhe
Enjoyed this book very much. I am a Lincoln fan and Bloody Crimes revealed much information about Lincoln which I had not read about. Good history on Lincoln and Davis.
LibraryThing member buffalogr
This book seems like a good history and contrast between Abe Lincoln and Jeff Davis during the Spring of 1865. It appears to be a compendium of previous books written by the author. I enjoyed it.
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Not the riveting read that was Manhunt, but still a very interesting book. Swanson is a great storyteller and he has a gift for bringing historical events and figures vividly to life.
LibraryThing member epersonae
Fascinating coverage of a part of the Civil War that I'd never really thought about: the immediate aftermath of Lee's surrender and Lincoln's assassination. In particular, I was intrigued by the slow unwinding of the end of the Confederacy: Davis's hopes to keep going, the surrenders of the various armies, the insistence of his associates that Davis either flee the country or try to keep the Confederacy going in Texas. (!!!)

What bugged me, ultimately, was the entirely sympathetic treatment of Davis and the Confederacy, which just made me madder and madder in the last portion of the book. Davis lived to be a VERY old man, ultimately receiving the adulation of Southerners as the exemplar of the Lost Cause. And good a lot of ways (IMHO) the Lost Cause is one of the root causes of the mess of modern American politics. So cue gnashing of teeth trying to read the last chapter in particular.
… (more)
LibraryThing member JBD1
Strangely enough, in looking back at my 2007 review of Swanson's earlier book, Manhunt, I find that I could almost just repeat that about this book and call it a day. The two books are quite similar in tone and style, with this one focusing on the twinned narratives of the escape and eventual capture of Jefferson Davis and the funeral proceedings for Abraham Lincoln.

As with the earlier book, I wanted more (read: any) citations, and less speculation. But in the end, I found it well worth reading and certainly a very interesting look at the immediate aftermath of Appomattox.
… (more)
LibraryThing member marshapetry
Enjoyed. Not exactly Bloody, and not exactly about crime(s) but more about Lincoln and Davis and the philosophies & meaning of the war from both sides. I enjoyed learning the details of Davis' capture and the Lincoln death train - events that I've never heard much about before. Good narrator
LibraryThing member sgtbigg
The title pretty much tells you what it's about. Swanson does an outstanding job of juxtaposing the two events. The only issue I had was the descriptions of the memorial events at each stop made my Lincoln's train. A few more descriptions of flowers and hearses then I really needed.

I received this as an ARC from the publisher.… (more)
LibraryThing member namfos
Good, very informative. Not quite the same narrative drive as his Manhunt.
LibraryThing member tshrope
James Swanson has a talent for taking historical events and making them interesting and lively. Manhunt is one of my favorite non-fiction books, a fast paced and compelling story about the capture of John Wilkes-Booth. In this book, Bloody Crimes, Swanson returns to the post civil war era and focuses on Lincoln’s funeral procession from Washington, DC to Springfield, IL, and the hunt for and capture of Jefferson Davis after Lincoln’s assignation.

While I didn’t find this book quite as compelling as Manhunt, I did learn a lot and wasn’t bored. I knew that Lincoln’s body had been transported by train from DC to IL, but didn’t realize that each stop on the railroad line held their own special events honoring the late President. Swanson also gives lots of back stories about Lincoln’s life and his time as President during the war. He is quite overt in his dislike for Mary Todd Lincoln and has very little, if anything, good to say about her.

Swanson pulls Davis out of modern day obscurity and retells his story of having illustrious military and political (Senator and Secretary of War) careers before becoming President of the Confederacy. He also recounts Davis’ first marriage to a young woman who dies shortly after their wedding day and his second marriage to Varina Howell, whose love letters Swanson thinks are the among the most romantic of all time.

While Swanson likes and respects Lincoln, he believes Lincoln’s stature became exalted once he was assassinated. He seems to have a soft spot for Jefferson Davis and wants people to remember him for the man he really was and for all of the things he did before his Presidency and not just be remembered for being the President of The Lost Cause.

I listened to this on audio cd and thought Richard Thomas did an excellent job reading the book (and didn’t sound like John Boy) and added to the experience.

… (more)
LibraryThing member theman5450
A very high level reading level with an interesting subject matter. The book is about the assassination and funeral parade of Abraham Lincoln and the escape of Jefferson Davis. Due to its high reading level, I do not suggest reading this book.


Original language



Page: 0.3806 seconds