on December 30, 2008
This outstanding, very readable account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent manhunt, trial and punishment of the guilty is a monumental work of research and writing. Anthony Pitch so completely combines his formidable skills as a journalist and historian here that he has fashioned a book that will please the everyday reader, as well as the scholar. His treatment of the actual assassination of the beloved president is so poignant that it may make you weep. His riveting account of the manhunt for Booth and his accomplices reads like a modern-day thriller. This book may well stand as the definitive work on the Lincoln assassination. For nine years the author plowed through obscure documents -- many of them revealed here for the first time -- enabling him to construct an incredibly detailed (and richly annotated) book of this landmark event in U.S. history. The book also is instructional in portraying how an aggrieved, bereaved nation responds to the aftermath of such a national tragedy. One of the best American history books I've read in recent years.
It might wll be asked: Why another Lincoln Assassination book? What new could be said, without conjecturing up some fantastic, unlikely, "previously unknown" secret conspiracy?
The author has succeeded in creating something new and interesting, while sticking towards a traditional narrative of the Lincoln Assassination, without wild claims of vast secret conspiracies that only he has had the wit and good fortune to uncover. What he has done instead was to thoroughly examine a vast amount of primary source material -- especially private letters, diaries, etc. -- to seek out those small, vivid details of the moment that do so much to bring the whole tragedy to life.
Even if you have read other Lincoln Assassination books, this new volume is worth your attention.
on January 7, 2009
Anthony S, Pitch has given us a much needed addition to the Lincoln assassination story. His writing is superb, the footnotes are detailed, the bibliography is comprehensive, and his primary source work is outstanding. He has added much that was not known about Booth's whereabouts during the second Lincoln Inaugural. He has uncovered new information about the assassination. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in Abraham Lincoln.
on September 25, 2009
Only a couple of years ago, a full-length book about John Wilkes Booth's twelve days in the wilderness was published. The condensed version of that saga related in this book is even better, somehow making the reader feel sorry for the suffering endured by that evil fellow. Mr. Pitch is quite a good writer, and his nine years of research in primary source material shows up in these pages. Back in the 60's I visited Ford's Theater, and the Peterson House in which Lincoln died. At the theater, I managed to get away from the crowd and walk alone at the rear of the balcony, overlooking Tenth Street. I found a room between the auditorium and the front wall of the building that looked as if it had been untouched in 100 years. That moment, along with looking at the assassination items displayed on the main floor, has stayed fresh in my mind all these years. This book brings the tragic events to vivid life, from the threats aimed at Lincoln en route to take office for his first term, to the savage murder attempt in the home of Secretary of State William Seward. I'm a Yankee, and so I have no sympathy for Booth's decision to kill Mr. Lincoln after his plans for a kidnap were ruined by Lee's surrender. Yet sympathy for some of his co-conspirators is possible. Eight were tried together after Booth's killing in Virginia, and four of those were hung. The other four were imprisoned under horrid conditions for four years before being paroled. Mr. Pitch does not provide his own scholarly opinion as to whether Mary Surratt was guilty enough to deserve hanging, or Dr. Mudd innocent enough to escape it (by one vote.) It's clear that a couple of quite minor helpers to Booth were punished much more harshly than we might see nowadays, and that all who were arrested in connection with the actor's deed were confined under conditions that today would be considered wantonly cruel. During that Washington visit I mentioned earlier, my purpose was to visit an Army friend stationed at Fort McNair, which is the site of the hanging of the co-conspirators. My buddy, when explaining the 1969 mission at the facility, casually pointed out a window and told me "Their gallows was over there in the yard, along with their graves. The bodies were not removed for several years." Pitch's masterful retelling of those days is much like being THAT close to the important sites in this sad American tale. If the subject interests you at all, don't skip this one.
It is almost impossible to find fault with this book. The author has written a readable, detailed history of Lincoln's Assassination. I expect this book to become the standard secondary source on the subject, while raising the bar on assassination histories to an almost impossible height in the process.
We have an excellent overview of the kidnapping plot and the change to murder by Booth. Each of the assassins, conspirators and helpers has a full portrait. The attack on Lincoln and Seward is detailed, as is the escape of each of the attackers. The pursuit, capture, interrogation and confessions of the participants are well reported. The indictment, military trial, imprisonment and execution are almost a book within the book. The author covers the questions raised by the military trial, the defense lawyers actions and press coverage in an evenhanded non-judgmental way giving us a full picture of the events.
All of this detail stays in a story that always is moving and never drags. Somehow, the author manages to work the details into the story without burdening it. These details form a personal interaction with the participants that most histories lack. The account of the assassination and the hours following are very well done. The author captures the uncertainly, fear and anguish Washington feels as the event unfolds. This is powerful writing, showing how different America was and how upsetting things were. Lincoln was the first President murdered which adds to the horror and fear. We tend to overlook this 145 years later but this is an important fact that the details impress on us.
While this is a different America, some things do not change. Throughout the book are little asides about the scramble for the reward. We are treated to a series of people looking for an advantage or to push their contribution at the expense of others. This is neatly summed up in an epilogue on the distribution of the reward, the winners and losers.
This can be an uncomfortable read and a sad one. Lincoln left a widow, a grown son, one young son and a grieving nation. The book's title comes from a statement Tad Lincoln made to one of the White House staff.
My only reservation is the first chapter on the Baltimore Plot of 1861, which adds little to the book. This is a weak beginning to an otherwise excellent book.
The book contains three good sets of photographs and illustrations. A decent set of maps at the start of the book provides all the orientation you will need. An impressive set of footnotes, over 60 pages, and a good Bibliography. This is the "must read" book on the Lincoln Assassination! This book works as an introduction and a comprehensive history that will appeal to all students of this event.
on March 5, 2009
Ho hum I murmured as I ordered this new book on the Lincoln murder. How wrong I was for this book by Anthony Pitch is the best tome I have ever read on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln our greatest president.
Patch is a Washington tour guide who leads folks to the sites pertaining to the tragic death of Lincoln. We follow him through these 400 intensenly sad, exciting, tragic and revealing pages as our eyes focus on the events of 1865. Lincoln was the first president who was assassinated and the nation was thunderstruck at his death.
On the night of April 14, 1865 at about 10 PM the president was shot by John Wilkes Booth the hubristic actor and ladies man before about 1600 spectators of "Our American Cousin"in Ford;s Theatre. Booth leaped to the stage and escaped with his accomplice the callow David Herold as they sought to escape to Virginia. Booth was a rabid Confederate supporter who wanted to murder Lincoln. Booth was also a racist who favored slavory and the southern way of life. John Wilkes Booth at 26 years of age became the most infamous murderer in American history.
Pitch begins the tale by recounting how assassination was a threat Lincoln had to deal with through the illiad of woes which was his term of office. Lincoln's train had to be rerouted through Baltimore as he prepared to be inaugurated. Only the quick thinking of Detective Allen Pinkerton and others kept his from harm from rabid secessionists in the Maryland City. He also was shot at one night as he rode his horse to the Soldiers Home. Booth had threatned harm the day of the first inauguration as Lincoln emerged to take the oath via the East Portico of the White House.
Booth wanted to kidnap Lincoln and drew conspirators to his mad scheming. This plan was abandoned when the actor decided he would star in the drama of death by killing Lincoln at Fords Theatre during a time of celebration in Washington following the surrender of Lee's army at Appamattox Court House.
Anthony Pitch paints the tragic picture of Lincoln's mortal wounding, the long night spent by the dying president in the Peterson Boarding House across the street from Ford's and the inconsolable wailing and grief of Mary Todd Lincon. Lincoln died at 7:22 Am on April 15th. Edwin Stanton the Secretary of War is reputed to have said, "Now he belongs to the Ages" (or angels).
Edwin Stanton was implacable in his search for the guilty murderers. He made sure no leniency would be etended to those captured. When the conspirators were taken into custody they were treated with great harshness. They had to wear uncomfortable bags over their heads; suffered solitary confinement and were given a minimum diet. They were also restricted in their contacts with family and friends. Even though they were all civilians they were tried by a military court consisting of nine judges.
On that same night conspirator Lewis Payne had sought to murder the injured Secretary of State William Seward. He entered Seward's home with a large knife and club wounding Seward, his sons Frederick and Augustus and two servants.
The author then traces the spoor of Booth and David Herold who fled for safety in Virginia. After being helped by Confederate sympathizers including Dr. Samuel Mudd who treated Booth's wounds they were captured at the Garrett farm in Virginia on April 26th. Booth died of a gunshot wound probably administered by Sergeant Boston Corbett. Herold was taken captive as were other conspirators.
The conspirators were tried in a military tribunal for over seven weeks. 4 men were given long sentences: Michael O'Laughlin, Samuel Arnold, Dr. Mudd and Edmund Spangler. 4 were senteced to death and hanged in July, 1865: Lewis Payne, George Atzerodt, David Herold and the first woman to be executed by the federal government-Mary Surratt. The conspirators had meet for many meetings in Mrs. Surratt's boarding house on H Street. Despite attempts to reduce or pardon her she did die on the gallows.
John Surratt fled captivity serving in the Papal Zouave Army until he was captured in Italy. He was taken in chains to Washington where he was released after a hung jury. He was allowed to go free.
We are there as we see the autopsies performed on Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth; attend the national funeral of Lincoln and follow Booth and Herold on their wild flight to freedom which ended in death. Sparkling clear prose makes the teardrops flow at this searingly sad American tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. This book clearly evinces how truth is stranger and more interesting than fiction.
Anthony Pitch's book is a sine qua non on the Lincoln murder. It is riveting reading and will be a story you will not forget. Excellent and essential for all students of Lincoln, the Civil War and American history!
on April 15, 2013
Like most of you, I read a lot. Maybe 25 to 40 books each year. I would have to say that this book is one of the best I've ever read---possibly THE best.
Very highly recommended. The level of detail is astounding. The book holds your interest from the very first page. The author brings the material to life. The writing style is superb.
I would rate this as a must-read. I came across this entirely by chance.
I don't know how the author does it, but reading this is like being an actual witness to the events described. It is like watching a movie. Very few other books come close to this experience.
If I could give this 10 or 20 stars, I would.
And by sheer coincidence, the day I write this review is the day Lincoln died, April 15th, at 7:22am, in 1865, having been shot the night before at Ford's Theater.
on August 3, 2011
As a Civil War buff, I have read the assassination story more times than I can count, plus seeing it re-enacted on various history specials, etc. I thought there was nothing more that could possibly be said about it. I was totally unprepared for the amazing recounting in this book. I literally felt swept away by the narrative, and could not put it down. It was as if I didn't know what was going to happen; as if I was reading about it for the first time. Mr. Pitch has done a magnificent job of retelling the story in a wholly new (to me, anyway) way. Kudos!
on August 4, 2009
Anthony Pitch's efforts are a significant addition to the literature surrounding the Lincoln assassination. This book is rich with details and documentation, at times to the point of overinclusion. On the other hand, what sets this book apart are the obscure quotes and excerpts most of us have never seen. This book is not spellbinding and does not read with the flow of a novel; it is simply very complete and written with an apparent desire to give the reader as much information as the author could reasonably do.
My biggest objection to this book is the shabby formatting done to get it into my Kindle. It is apparent that Amazon is using some form of object recognition software to transform the printed page into a cyberdocument. Unfortunately this book's editing into the Kindle format is woefully lacking. The number `1' usually appears as a lower case `i', making for such aggravation as the date i865, and quotation marks are frequently reversed or placed before a space. Sometimes words are hyphen-ated in the middle of a sentence, again suggesting no one took the time to edit before offering it for sale. As a newcomer to Kindle, this is the first time I've encountered this sloppiness. Hopefully it's infrequent. It's too bad this has to be mentioned in the midst of a critique of Mr. Pitch's work. Perhaps he (or we) can influence Amazon to do a better job by pointing this out.
on May 14, 2014
I've read a few books about Lincoln and was surprised that there were some facts I never read about before. I guess all other books focused on the things he did as president, but this one focuses on the Plot to kill the president and the hunt for the killers.