BLOODY CRIMES by James L. Swanson


The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse
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The author of two books on the Lincoln assassination takes another look at the aftermath.

Swanson (Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, 2006, etc.) focuses on two chains of events from the spring of 1865: the hunt for fleeing Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and the elaborate arrangements to return Lincoln’s body to Illinois for burial. Davis, informed by Robert E. Lee that his troops could no longer defend Richmond, sent his wife and their four children to safety, then followed a day later, taking his cabinet and much of the Confederate treasury with him. While details on Davis’s flight are sparse, Swanson’s other narrative gives him plenty of material, beginning with Lincoln’s visit to fallen Richmond and following events up to the night of his assassination. The author then alternates between Davis’s harried journey and the arrangements for Lincoln’s funeral, the most elaborate of its time. Davis’s desperate and little-documented attempt to hold his defeated country together stands in striking contrast to the painstaking planning of the national farewell to the fallen Lincoln, who was effectively elevated to the status of a national saint. Most striking is the spread of the story that Davis, when captured, was wearing women’s clothing, which Swanson vigorously refutes. The latter part of the book, after Lincoln’s interment in Springfield, Ill., follows Davis, first imprisoned as a traitor, then freed after two years to prevent him from becoming a martyr to the Southern cause. His subsequent career was at first rocky, as he was forced for the first time in his life to work for a living. Eventually he was able to retire, thanks to a benefactor who willed him his Mississippi home where he lived until his death in 1889. In his final years, Davis became a living symbol of the lost cause. Swanson colorfully renders both parts of his narrative, although the details of Lincoln’s funeral procession become repetitious. However, Davis’s later life has been largely overlooked, and this is a useful corrective.

Less dramatic than the author’s previous work, but full of vigorous prose and dynamic stories about the period immediately following the end of the Civil War.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-123378-4
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2010


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