Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New and Noteworthy: The Manhunt for Jefferson Davis and The Parade of Lincoln's Corpse

Bloody Crimes;The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse, James L. Swanson, William Morrow Publisher, 480 pages, $27.99.

The spring of 1865 was one of the most momentous chapters in an era filled with great drama. It was a season that saw not only the end of America’s bloodiest war and the beginning of the nation’s painful reconciliation, but also two dramatic spectacles that symbolized the emotional core of the conflict.

In April 1865, the future of the Confederacy was in grave peril. The capital, Richmond, could no longer be defended and could fall to Union armies within days. On the morning of April 2, Confederate president Jefferson Davis received the telegram from General Robert E. Lee: There is no more time—the Yankees are coming. That evening, shortly before midnight, Davis boarded a train from Richmond and fled. But in two weeks' time, John Wilkes Booth would assassinate the president, and the nation was convinced that Davis was the mastermind of the crime. In Bloody Crimes, James Swanson, the author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, recounts the events surrounding the stories of these two fallen leaders.

No longer merely a traitor, Davis became a murderer, a wanted man with a $100,000 bounty on his head. Over the course of several weeks, the Union cavalry led an intense and thrilling chase through the Carolinas and Georgia. Davis’ final journey into captivity, with its moments of great suffering and intense drama, transformed him into a martyr of the South’s Lost Cause—and, in the years after the war, his stock rose even higher in the former Confederacy.

At the same time, another man was also undergoing his last journey. Abraham Lincoln’s final sojourn began on April 19 after the White House funeral. From there a solemn procession escorted him to the Capitol rotunda, where tens of thousands of mourners viewed him in death. This was just the beginning. On April 21, one week after he was shot, 400 soldiers escorted him to the Baltimore and Ohio railroad depot and placed him aboard the special train that would carry him home on the nearly 1,700-mile trip to Springfield. By the time it was over, Lincoln’s corpse had been unloaded from the train 10 times and placed on public view in all the great cities of the North between Washington and Springfield, making it the largest, most elaborate, and most magnificent funeral pageant in American history.

Ultimately, Swanson uses Davis’ capture and Lincoln’s funeral as harbingers of the American future—and the ignominy with which the Confederacy is largely viewed today. As he writes, “The 20th century came to belong to Abraham Lincoln, not Jefferson Davis.”

At once suspenseful and poignant, Bloody Crimes tell the stories of two fallen leaders counterpoised, their final journeys shaping their legends among a wounded nation and throughout a scarred landscape.

Text Source: History Book Club

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