"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 grief...in 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.
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.
I received this as an ARC from the publisher.
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.