Journalist and historian Pitch (The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814, 1998, etc.) recounts the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination.
The author follows the tragedy from the first attempts on his life at the time of the president-elect’s perilous entry into Washington, D.C., in February 1861, through the release, in 1867, of the assassin’s most ardent supporter, John Surratt, and the scramble by informers to claim the government reward money. To the well-worn record, Pitch contributes several riveting new discoveries he gleaned from scouring private letters and newspaper reports: a mention by the commissioner of public buildings, Benjamin Brown French, asserting that he forcibly restrained John Wilkes Booth in the Capitol rotunda during the second inaugural assemblies; a March 19, 1864, story in the New York Tribune discussing a plot to kidnap the president; and a letter by convicted conspirator Samuel Arnold in which he applied for a job with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton three months after signing on to Booth’s scheme. Booth’s initial plan was to kidnap the president and take him south, but on that fateful night of April 14, 1865, when the president and first lady were watching Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, Booth decided to kill them both. Chillingly, Lincoln had revealed to his wife and others premonitions of his fate, while Booth had recorded a prophecy by a Gypsy fortuneteller, who told him, “I’ve never seen a worse hand, and I wish I hadn’t seen it.” Pitch describes the grim preparations of the conspirators for trial, and the weeks of confinement and deprivation afforded them before conviction and hanging. Pitch is a patient storyteller, and the well-developed characters, brought to life through diaries, letters and other primary sources, heighten the drama and poignancy.
A study of burning focus and intimate depth.