Thursday, January 20, 2011
Somewhat strangely, James Swanson's Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse is a book of epilogues to other, bigger stories, rather than a book telling its own complete, centralized story. Specifically, you get the epilogue to the life of Abraham Lincoln and the epilogue to the story of Jefferson Davis' reign over the short-lived Confederate States of America. And, of course, these two epilogues also work together as a final epilogue to the American Civil War in general.
Being a book of final details about these epic topics, I got the sense that the author had a lot of fascinating research left over from his writing of Manhunt (his book about the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth in the days following Lincoln's assassination), and maybe from his other Civil War studies, too, and wanted to do something with it. Hence this book. I don't know if that's the case or not, but whatever the origin of Bloody Crimes, I enjoyed learning about Abraham Lincoln's meticulously-planned final goodbye to the people of the United States, and to a lesser extent, the last days of the confederate administration, as it was on the run throughout the south.
Details abound. Depending on your personal views, you'll either enjoy or tolerate the author's generally sympathetic description and view of Jefferson Davis and his cause (I was in the latter camp) and his slightly too emphatic criticisms of Mary Todd Lincoln (again, I was in the latter group... though, to be fair, by all accounts the woman wasn't exactly a box of chocolates). But, whether or not you agree with the author's personal take on the events described (which he doesn't exactly ram down your throat in any event), he did do his homework on the objective events that took place, resulting in a fascinating tale- tales, actually- covering the events of mid-April to mid-May, 1865.
As well as worthwhile reading experience in itself, the epilogue nature of Bloody Crimes makes it a valuable companion piece to any number of books covering the main events of the Civil War. It would also be a good book to read after viewing Ken Burns' classic multi-part documentary on the topic. I certainly enjoyed my week or so with the book.
I actually listened to the audiobook version of Bloody Crimes, excellently read by the actor Richard Thomas, which I downloaded from Audible.com. The book is also available on Kindle for $14.99.