Blood On The Moon: The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln, by Edward Steers Jr
I must admit that although I read a great many books about Abraham Lincoln, I must admit that his assassination has not been the part of his life/death that I have enjoyed reading about the most . That said, if you have to read one book about Lincoln’s assassination, you can do a lot worse than read this one, and there are only a few books (one of which the author praises) where one can do better. About the only people who won’t care for this book are those who believe in conspiracy theories or think that Mary Surratt and Dr. Samuel Mudd were innocent victims who got caught up in the machinery of the government–and this book indicates that they both deserved to die and that Samuel Mudd got off too easily by getting prison instead of the noose. There are whole societies, it should be noted, that seek to defend the innocence of these two people, and this book is harsh and unsparing about both of them, as well as the claims that someone else died instead of Booth in the Garrett farmhouse on April 26, 1865. These societies probably aren’t very fond of this book, for all of its considerable virtues.
The author organizes this book in a somewhat unusual way. At almost 300 pages long in terms of its core material, the book is remarkably thorough about the issues concerning the context of the assassination and the trial of the (almost certainly guilty) assassins. The author shows a firm knowledge about the relevant law about criminal conspiracies, and also a somewhat grim sense of humor that suits the material well. He also shows an encyclopedic knowledge of the relevant trial transcripts, which show that Mary Surratt dug her own grave by deliberately and pointedly acting in ways to help the Confederate secret service, and show that Samuel Mudd’s dishonesty was also something that the judges were particularly hostile to. Fortunately, even if the scoundrels that fill this book regarding “black flag warfare” and the involvement of both administrations in efforts at kidnapping their opposites is something that doesn’t leave a good feeling. The book is definitely a success, though, giving a very close look at the Confederate underground in Maryland as well as Confederate agents in Montreal. There is a great deal of local color and insight in this book, and anyone writing a book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln should check this book out.
It is a bit unclear why more professional historians haven’t written about this book’s topic. To be sure, death is an unpleasant subject, but there are a lot of books on the Civil War, and there was a lot of death to be found there. What this book gets remarkably well is the understanding of how differently people view the same event. This book is full of subtle touches about how Northern ministers airbrushed Lincoln’s unconventional religious beliefs to paint him as a martyred savior of the nation who died on Good Friday, coincidentally enough, how the Interior Secretary refused to confirm Lincoln’s choice for a small office so he could put someone who would be beholden to him rather than to the dead president, and how Mudd’s abortive escape from imprisonment in the Dry Tortugas was prompted by his racism. These little details, and many others, show the commitment of the author to uncovering the gems of historical insight that come from a close attention to the historical record and show the author’s research. The research may not always come up with pleasant or sentimental results, but this book is a worthwhile one, even an essential one, about an all too neglected part of the history of the American Civil and its unpleasant aftermath.
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