Tuesday, September 22, 2015
"The Madman and the Assassin" by Scott Martelle (2015)
Boston Corbett once shook Abe Lincoln’s hand. That happened just after Corbett arrived in Maryland as part of a NY regiment after Lincoln called for volunteers when the South seceded from the Union. That this man; who would go on to be remembered for killing John Wilkes Booth 4 years later; met the victim of the man he was destined to kill is just one of the many strange things about this man which the author has chronicled in this carefully researched and thoroughly engaging book.
Boston Corbett was born Thomas Corbett and took the name of the city in which he first accepted Jesus Christ. This decision would inform every part of his life from that moment forward. Put out of your mind everything which you have heard about this enigmatic and mysterious man and get ready for a fascinating read. There is much more to his story than just that singular moment when he shot John Wiles Booth in a tobacco barn.
Scott Martelle does a superb job of bringing to life not only Boston Corbett’s story, but also in chronicling the Second Great Awakening of Religious fervor in the United States. The First Awakening was in the years before the American Revolution, as the colonists stretched the wings of their newly found religious freedom in North America.
The Second Great Awakening; of which Corbett became a part; occurred just as the Northern half of the country was embracing the new Industrialism and the South was clinging to its own Agricultural and slave based economy. And after the war, Corbett’s travels out West in search of a new life are particularly interesting. He took over an 80 acre homestead which had been abandoned.
Descriptions of Corbett's time in the infamous Andersonville prison camp are remarkable for their description of the conditions, as well as how this man comported himself in a hell on earth. Testimonies from others who were imprisoned there at the same time all speak fairly well of the man who was known to be a religious zealot. He spent much of his time ministering to others and sharing what little he had with those who had even less. This was a very complex individual.
The book also serves as a reminder of a time when a person could be as different as they dared to be without too much interference from either the law, or other people. As you read the book you cannot help but wonder what the fate of this man would have been were he alive today. It’s a very pertinent question, which begs whether or not we have really become more tolerant as a people, or are we now even more restricted in our thoughts than ever before.