Tuesday, October 23, 2018

American Brutus

American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln ConspiraciesAmerican Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kauffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story of the Lincoln Assassination is something I learned in the 4th grade, again in the 6th, again in high school. I read the textbooks, took the tests. What stuck in my memory was boiled down to a few sentences of "fact," many of which were set aside by the author, Michael Kauffman.

The author's meticulous research has opened up an incredible bonanza of overlooked information, resulting in an amazing account of the long, stumbling conspiracy against Lincoln. The idea was to kidnap him, originally, and take him to the Confederate capital of Richmond. The opportunities for this abduction presented themselves, but plans went awry. Finally, the desperate decision was made unilaterally by Booth to murder Lincoln at a performance at Ford's Theatre.

The details of the assassination, the escape of the fugitives, the federal effort to capture the suspects, the chaos of the aftermath, the long and complex pursuit of Booth and Herold, the trials and executions, are riveting.

I spent my youth in Virginia and the Washington D.C. area and had no idea of the drama that unfolded along the Potomac River and in Maryland during the chase. I am inspired to revisit those locations and see what is left there of the scenes described in the book, the swamps, the plantations, the small settlement towns.

It was a smaller world. There were fewer people in it, and many of them were related. Connections were quickly made. Gossip travelled rapidly. The Civil War was in effect still raging, even after Lee's surrender. Passions were high. John Wilkes Booth, an actor of renown on the stage believed that he would go down in history as a liberator from the tyrant Lincoln.

This book accomplishes a major restructuring of our understanding of this national tragedy.

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