Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Bloody Crimes" by James Swanson

I was in the throes of dental work when I posted this review and I failed, due to the prevailing circumstances, to address some of the book. I have added the "missing" portions here, in italics, to distinquish them from the original review.

This is a well written and fascinating account of two men at the close of the Civil War. The first man is, of course, Abraham Lincoln. The second, and equally important man is Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The book follows their lives during the last few weeks of the war, the assasssination of President Lincoln, and the flight, and eventual capture of Jefferson Davis.

But before the book delves into the tragedy of the assassination, it takes a hard look at the last 2 weeks of the war, as Lincoln toured the Confederate Capital of Richmond after it's fall, and Jefferson Davis moved his government to Danville, before beginning his journey to Mexico.

Lincoln and Davis had so much in common, yet were so different in their backgrounds. Lincoln often toured the battlefield, as he did in Richmond, and was often seen in the trenches around Washington during the war. Davis, on the other hand, was more of an aristocrat, although, of the two men, he was the one who had major military experience. Davis had fought in the War with Mexico, serving under General Taylor with great distinction. Lincoln, although he had been elected Captain of his regiment during the Black Hawk War, never saw battle until he became President.

When Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant on April 12th, the war was effectively over. There was no way for the Confederate Army to rally and reverse the tide. They were simply outgunned and out of supplies. Nevertheless, Jefferson Davis refused to believe this was the end, and so he began his flight westward, most likely seeking to reach Mexico. He would never make it, instead being captured and imprisoned for several years, during which time he was chained, shackled and nearly lost his mind. It was only the intervention of some very influential Northern politicians that eventually freed him.

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln sent shock waves throughout the nation. It was alledged that Jefferson Davis was responsible for this terrible deed. In reality, only one man from the Confederate government was directly involved. Upon hearing of Lincoln's death, Davis was heard to lament the act, realizing that the full force of retribution would now fall upon the Southern States.

The book is well organized as it jumps back and forth from the manhunt for Jefferson Davis, the assassination of President Lincoln, the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth and the preparations for the President's funeral.

At first it was planned that the slain President be interred beneath the Capitol Building in Wahington, in the crypt which was intended for George Washington. But forces in Chicago, where Lincoln had been a state legislator, and won the 1860 nomination for President at the Republican Party Convention, wanted him buried there. And still others wanted the President to be returned to Springfield, where he had established his early career in law and politics. It was there that he had made his home. Springfield, of course, emerged as the winner.

But the meat of this book is in the journey, by train, which was undertaken to honor a man who, with a singleminded purpose, held together a unique country, founded in unity, and then tested by internal conflict. The Civil War was inevitable, the seeds for it had been planted in the birth of a nation that allowed slavery. The founding fathers had every intention of re-visiting the issue of Abolition, but, in a haste to gain our freedom from Britain, neglected to resolve this one great difference that would one day, surely come back to haunt the nation.

The book also follows the life of Jefferson Davis after his imprisonment and subsequent death in 1889. He, like Lincoln, also had a funeral train, which passed through the Southern states from New Orleans to Richmond, just as Lincoln's trian had passed through the Northern States. Davis' train bore a macabre resemblance to the funeral train taken by President Lincoln in 1865.

In addition, the author calls attention to Lincoln's own views of the treatment of the Southern states after the end of the war. In the last 2 weeks of the conflict, Lincoln remarked that we should "let 'em down easy." Had he lived, Jefferson Davis would have been allowed to leave the country, or simply go home. The fact that he was imprisoned, humiliated and impoverished gave birth to the hatred of the Reconstruction Era, as well as the "Jim Crow" laws of the south, the scars of which affect us until this very day.

This is an excellent read, one which will enlighten and educate the reader, as well as entertain.

No comments:

Post a Comment