Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse

Article excerpt

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse · James L. Swanson · New York: William Morrow, 2010 · 464 pp. · $26.99

James Swanson is an attorney, a lifelong Lincoln collector specializing in the assassination and its aftermath, and a terrific writer who has won a wide and appreciative authence for his gripping interpretations of the most infamous crime in American history. This talented author's previous book, Manhunt (2007), offered what was simply the best account ever written of the dramatic government hunt for the fugitive actorturned-assassin John Wilkes Booth. Swanson's best-selling narrative was so novelistic that it came as little surprise that it immediately inspired talk of film and television adaptations.

The equally cinematic story he deals with in his latest effort - a book that may rightly be seen as a sequel to Manhunt - is far more sober, but no less compelling. It picks up on a parallel manhunt that spring of 1 865, one also conducted by Union soldiers, and ranging far deeper into the South than the pursuit of Lincoln's murderer: the frantic and frustrating search for Lincoln's wartime counterpart, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, who fled Richmond in April and was not captured until he was cornered in Georgia more than a month later.

Even in relating the fascinating tale of Davis, Swanson does not quite shed his affection for Lincoln, and he cleverly imposes a parallel srory to balance that of the Confederate leader's disgrace: the myth-making voyage of the martyred Union leader's remains from Washington to Springfield, Illinois, for a series of public funetals, memorials, and viewings that inspired the most emotional outpouring of mass mourning ever witnessed in the Republic. (For the morbidly curious, there is also enough detail about Lincoln's autopsy and undertaking to satisfy even professional morticians, and it is hard to argue that it is not irresistibly gripping stuff.)

In Swanson's skillful hands, the stories doverail wirh neat precision and a recurring sense of irony. Both Lincoln and Davis, after all, had entered office after long railroad journeys that brought them before large crowds in their sections. …

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