Quicklet on Martin Dugard and Bill O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

by Tom Szollosi

What's in the book?

Quicklets: Your reading sidekick!

    • About the Book
    • The Authors
    • Overall Summary: War, Peace, and Madness
    • Chapter-by-Chapter Summary and Commentary
    • PART ONE: TOTAL WAR
    • PART TWO: THE IDES OF DEATH
    • A Noteworthy Digression
    • PART THREE: THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY
    • PART FOUR: THE CHASE
    • Afterword
    • Historical Figures Relevant to Killing Lincoln
    • Notable Terms and Definitions
    • Interesting Related Facts
    • Sources
    • Additional Reading

Description

ABOUT THE BOOK

“The man with six weeks to live is anxious. He furls his brow, as he does countless times each day, and walks out of the Capitol Building, which is nearing completion. He is exhausted, almost numb.”

It is a rare to find a historical work written in the present tense, but in Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever, that is what Martin Dugard and Bill O’Reilly have done. In a USA Today interview, “O’Reilly says Dugard did the research on the Lincoln book, and ‘I wrote it. A true collaboration.’” While the book is light on attribution, it is a compelling and fast read. O’Reilly says he “wanted [Killing Lincoln] to read like a thriller... for people who are not particularly interested in history, and to show what true leaders are like.”

It does indeed read like a thriller. Using the present tense gives the work immediacy and heightens pace, but at times also feels intrusive because the subject matter so clearly isn’t immediate today. A historical overview might be better served by the good old past tense.  Nevertheless, the book brims with conspiracy facts, touching on mysteries never conclusively proven wrongalthough they’ve also never been proven right.

Most notable of these theories is one centering on Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who was in possession of assassin John Wilkes Booth’s diary, thanks to the work of private investigator Lafayette Baker. Baker was personally hired by Stanton and gave him the diary, which he found in Booth’s hotel room. Furthermore, when Stanton finally released the diary, 18 pages were missing, raising many an eyebrow. The Stanton theory has, as the authors admit, been “repudiated and dismissed by the vast majority of trained historians.”

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

“Lincoln strides purposefully back and forth, unprotected and unafraid, as vulnerable as a man can be to sniper fire, the bombardment serving as the perfect distraction from his considerable worries. When will this war ever end?”

Abraham Lincoln was a man racing his fate. He knew it, even as he gave his second inaugural speech before 50,000 drenched citizens. Among them was John Wilkes Booth, a young, handsome, famous actor who had originally planned to kidnap the president, but instead decided to murder him, along with General Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of State Seward, and Vice President Andrew Johnson.

On April 1, 1865, Lincoln awaited news from Grant, whose Union Army was engaged against General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. A  succession of horrific battles would end in Lee’s surrender when his ravaged army could no longer match the vast Union force. Lincoln’s terms of surrender were lenient, despite calls for vengeance.

Amid Washington celebration, Lincoln became Booth’s obsession. He learned that the President and Mrs. Lincoln would attend “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre, one of Booth’s favorite haunts, on Good Friday. After a nerve-wracking day of preparation, he was a coiled spring. His co-conspirators knew their rolesLewis Powell would kill Secretary of State Seward, George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, while Booth shot Lincoln and Grant, who would be with the President.

To Booth’s frustration, Grant left the capitol that afternoon. But the show went on. As Booth shot Lincoln, Powell slashed at Seward in his bed, where he was recovering from a carriage accident. But Powell had to literally hack his way through Seward’s son, daughter, and two others first. Amazingly, all in the house survived. Only William Bell, “a young black servant in a pressed white coat,” who answered the door, was unhurt.

While doctors in the theater audience tried to save Lincoln, Booth escaped – after breaking his left fibula while leaping to the stage. Still, he intentionally paused to be recognized before fleeing. The hunt was on, but Booth planned to be headed south before anyone got organized. Riding the horse waiting in the alley behind the theater, he joined David Herold in the Maryland woods. Herold had been expected to guide them safely through Washington’s backstreets. He knew little about rural Maryland.

Booth’s pain soon forced them to stop at the home of confederate sympathizer Dr. Samuel Mudd. An enormous manhunt was indeed underway. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton summoned a detective he knew well to take charge of finding Booth. The detective, Lafayette Baker, of New York, did so with stunning speed. Herold chose surrender; Booth dug in for a fight and was shot in the neck, paralyzed from his chin down. He soon died, robbing the American public of the chance to see him hang.

The others were rounded up. Their pretrial imprisonment was controversial. The accused wore heavy, padded hoods that put painful pressure on their eye sockets and made breathing difficult. They were in chains, with heavy iron balls attached at the ankles. According to O’Reilly and Dugard, this treatment was also inflicted upon Mary Surratt, mother of John Surratt, who had arranged meetings between Booth and Confederate spies. Mary Surratt operated a boarding house and tavern where confederate sympathizers gathered. One prisoner called the hoods “the torture of the bag.” Another tried to commit suicide “by pounding his head with the ball chained to his leg.”

The verdicts came two days later: “four were hanged, with the remaining four sentenced to prison terms.” John Surratt had fled to Europe, to be apprehended two years later. He was returned to America, but jurors could not agree and he was set free.

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