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Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
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Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

4.4 281
by James L. Swanson

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The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history -- the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still


The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history -- the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War, watched in horror and sadness.

At the very center of this story is John Wilkes Booth, America's notorious villain. A Confederate sympathizer and a member of a celebrated acting family, Booth threw away his fame and wealth for a chance to avenge the South's defeat. For almost two weeks, he confounded the manhunters, slipping away from their every move and denying them the justice they sought.

Based on rare archival materials, obscure trial transcripts, and Lincoln's own blood relics, Manhunt is a fully documented work, but it is also a fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you've never read it before.

Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A)
“A gripping page-turner . . . Riviting . . . Booth comes across as viscerally real.”
(Grade: A) - Entertainment Weekly
"A gripping page-turner . . . Riviting . . . Booth comes across as viscerally real."
New York Times
“An action-adventure . . . infuse[d] with high drama. . . . A multifaceted chronicle.”
Washington Post
“Vividly readable example of the you-are-there genre . . . managed with ‘CSI’ immediacy.”
Wall Street Journal
“Told expertly . . . Swanson’s moment by moment account of the 12-day chase is compulsively readable.”
Boston Globe
“Extraordinary . . . Brilliant . . . As gripping as any tightly scripted crime drama”
Doris Kearns Goodwin
“James Swanson has written a terrific narrative . . . a triumphant book.”
Patricia Cornwell
“Brilliant! Absolutely haunting. . . . This historical book is almost impossible to put down.”
Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A)
“A gripping page-turner . . . Riviting . . . Booth comes across as viscerally real.”
Has any other month in American history been as tumultuous as April 1865? In a matter of weeks, Richmond fell; the Confederacy collapsed and surrendered; President Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed; and, for 12 days, Lincoln's assassin, famed actor John Wilkes Booth, outraced and outsmarted his would-be captors before he was cornered in a barn and shot dead. In Manhunt, James L. Swanson retraces the search for a celebrity who succeeded in changing our history.
Janet Maslin
Nearly 141 years later, the body of literature about Lincoln's death is immense and seemingly exhaustive. Yet James L. Swanson's Manhunt has found a reasonably new angle from which to approach its material … he has successfully streamlined the assassination's aftermath into an action-adventure version of these events. He makes Manhunt very accessible and infuses it with high drama.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Thomas has done many solid jobs of acting in all mediums since his television days on The Waltons, but it's the memories of the wide open American country tones of his flexible voice that add immeasurably to his reading of the audio version of Swanson's intensive new book about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the full-throttle hunt for the conspirators who planned and carried out the deed. Thomas's nuanced but never hyped narration serves as a seamless link between the words of the individual characters he brings to life. Some of the voices work better than others: his Lincoln is perhaps a bit too young and straightforward, especially compared to the darker, richer oratory of actors connected to the role such as Raymond Massey. But his John Wilkes Booth is just about perfect, catching the desperation and increasing lunacy of an actor getting ready for his role in history. And the other major characters-plotters, hunters, politicians, distraught family members-all bring a familiar story to exciting new life. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Dec. 12, 2005). (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Small wonder that Manhunt has been optioned as a major motion picture. In this fast-paced, hour-by-hour account of the 12 days following Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, Swanson (coauthor, with Daniel R. Weinberg, of Lincoln's Assassins: Their Trial and Execution) allows the reader to ride along with the Union cavalry and federal agents through the streets of the nation's capital and the wilds of Maryland and Virginia in pursuit of John Wilkes Booth, his coconspirators, and the host of rebel enablers who constituted a viable Confederate underground railroad. Swanson's eye for detail and his excellent thumbnail sketches of the figures involved bring the chronicle alive. There was the simultaneous assassination attempt on Secretary of State William Seward, and Secretary of War Stanton's pivotal role in keeping the nation together during the unrest, stoked by an irresponsible press, following Lincoln's death. Swanson details the conditions endured by Booth while on the run and the foolish mistakes committed by him and his pursuers during the long chase until the last stand at a farm near Port Royal, VA, on April 26. Swanson concludes with discussions of the trial and execution of the four secondary conspirators, the subsequent squabbling over reward money, and the unfolding of the post-assassination lives of the drama's major personalities. Ably researched and seamlessly written, this engrossing book is recommended for all Civil War and Lincoln collections-and all libraries.-John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt


The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
By James Swanson

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 James Swanson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060518499

Chapter One

"I Had This Strange Dream Again Last Night"

John Wilkes Booth awoke Good Friday morning, April 14, 1865, hungover and depressed. The Confederacy was dead. His cause was lost and his dreams of glory over. He did not know that this day, after enduring more than a week of bad news and bitter disappointments, he would enjoy a stunning reversal of fortune. No, all he knew this morning when he crawled out of bed in room 228 at the National Hotel, one of Washington's finest and naturally his favorite, was that he could not stand another day of Union victory celebrations.

Booth assumed that April 14 would unfold as the latest in a blur of eleven bad days that began on April 3 when Richmond, the Confederacy's citadel, fell to the Union. The very next day the tyrant, Abraham Lincoln, visited his captive prize and had the audacity to sit behind the desk occupied by the first and last president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. Then, on April 9, at Appomattox Court House, Robert E. Lee and his glorious Army of Northern Virginia surrendered. Two days later Lincoln made a speech proposing to give blacks the right to vote, and last night, April 13, all of Washington celebrated with a grand illumination of the city. And today, in Charleston harbor, the Union planned to stage a gala celebration to mark the retaking of Fort Sumter, where the war began four years ago. These past eleven days had been the worst of Booth's young life.

He was the son of the legendary actor and tragedian Junius Brutus Booth, and brother to Edwin Booth, one of the finest actors of his generation. Twenty-six years old, impossibly vain, preening, emotionally flamboyant, possessed of raw talent and splendid élan, and a star member of this celebrated theatrical family -- the Barrymores of their day -- John Wilkes Booth was willing to throw away fame, wealth, and promise for his cause. Handsome and charismatic, he was instantly recognizable to thousands of fans in both the North and the South. His physical beauty astonished all who beheld it. A fellow actor once described him: "Picture to yourself Adonis, with high forehead, sweeping black hair, a figure of perfect youthful proportions and the most wonderful black eyes in the world. Such was John Wilkes Booth. At all times his eyes were his striking features but when his emotions were aroused they were like living jewels." Booth's passions included fine clothing, delectable women, and the romance of lost causes.

Booth's day began in the dining room of the National, where he was seen eating breakfast with Miss Carrie Bean. Nothing unusual about that -- Booth, a voluptuous connoisseur of young women, never had trouble finding female company. Around noon he walked over to Ford's Theatre on Tenth Street between E and F, a block above Pennsylvania Avenue, to pick up his mail. Accepting correspondence on behalf of itinerant actors was a customary privilege Ford's offered to friends of the house. Earlier that morning Henry Clay Ford, one of the three brothers who ran the theatre, ate breakfast and then walked to the big marble post office at Seventh and F and picked up the mail. There was a letter for Booth.

That morning another letter arrived at the theatre. There had been no time to mail it, so its sender, Mary Lincoln, used the president's messenger to bypass the post office and hand-deliver it. The Fords did not even have to read the note to know the good news it contained. The mere arrival of the White House messenger told them that the president was coming tonight! It was a coup against their chief rival, Grover's Theatre, which was offering a more exciting entertainment: Aladdin! Or His Wonderful Lamp. Master Tad Lincoln and chaperone would represent the family there. The letter, once opened, announced even greater news. Yes, the president and Mrs. Lincoln would attend this evening's performance of Tom Taylor's popular if tired comedy Our American Cousin. But the big news was that General Ulysses S. Grant was coming with them. The Lincolns' timing delighted the Fords. Good Friday was traditionally a slow night, and news that not only the president -- after four years a familiar sight to Washingtonians -- but also General Grant, a rare visitor to town and fresh from his victory at Appomattox, would attend, was sure to spur ticket sales. This would please Laura Keene, who was making her one thousandth performance in the play; tonight's show was a customary "benefit," awarding her a rich share of the proceeds. The Lincolns had given the Fords the courtesy of notification early enough in the day for the brothers to promote their appearance and to decorate and join together the two boxes -- seven and eight -- that, by removal of a simple partition, formed the president's box.

By the time Booth arrived at Ford's, the president's messenger had come and gone. Sometime between noon and 12:30 p.m. as he sat outside on the top step in front of the main entrance to Ford's reading his letter, Booth heard the galvanizing news. In just eight hours the subject of all of his brooding, hating, and plotting would stand on the very stone steps where he now sat. This was the catalyst Booth needed to prompt him to action. Here. Of all places, Lincoln was coming here. Booth knew the layout of Ford's intimately: the exact spot on Tenth Street where Lincoln would step out of his carriage; the place the president sat every time he came to the theatre; the route through the theatre that Lincoln would walk and the staircase he would ascend to the box; the dark, subterranean passageway beneath the stage; the narrow hallway behind the stage that led to the back door that opened to Baptist Alley; and how the president's box hung directly above the stage. Booth had played here before, most recently in a March 18 performance as Pescara in The Apostate.


Excerpted from Manhunt by James Swanson Copyright © 2006 by James Swanson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Patricia Cornwell

“Brilliant! Absolutely haunting. . . . This historical book is almost impossible to put down.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin

“James Swanson has written a terrific narrative . . . a triumphant book.”

Meet the Author

James Swanson is the Edgar Award-winning author of the New York Times bestsellers Manhunt and its sequel, Bloody Crimes.

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Manhunt 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 281 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Live every minute of Booth's excape in this remarkable tale that's written with all the urgency of a modern novel and all of the accuracy of the most researched event in American history. Even though you know the ending, you won't want to put this book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I first started "Manhunt," I was a little skeptical. I didn't think I would like it. I had to make myself read the first couple of chapters. Seeing as my husband, father-in-law, and mother-in-law had read it, I was determined to finish it. Before I knew it, I didn't want to put it down. I learned so much about John Wilkes Boothe that I never knew. All we learned in school was that he shot President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre, and that was it. Swanson's writing was more like fiction. It was absolutely enthralling. I never imagined such harrowing details of the hours after President Lincoln was shot. It was something that I had never even thought about. The twelve day chase for Boothe kept me on the edge of my seat, and I was astonished by the ending. I would definitely recommed this book to everyone. We all need to know more about Presdent Lincoln's assassination and the chase for his killer. I promise that even if you are not the slightest bit interested in history, this book will intrigue you!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is truly amazing. It's historical content is magnificent and the story is told in such a magnificent, exciting manner, which made it so that I could not put the book down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was centered around the plan action and chase for Lincons killer, Jhon Willkes Booth. The author James L. Swanson gave actual accounts from the witnesses and people involved in assasinations. I thought the book was an interesting and some what easy read. There was not a time throughout the book where i did not understand what the authour was trying to say. I also thought that the book had a virtual cornicopia of information and quotes from eyewitnesses, I found this help full in understanding the story in genaral. But the book was a tad long for my taste 496 pages, with a few pictures but that is my only complaint. The way the book was written was sufficent enough for me to get through it and understand all the information being laid before me. the author did a good job of putting the information together in a way for the book to make sense and flow perfectly. i would recomend this book if you like historical events, and a small ammount of action. overall this book was definetly worth the read.
Julie_from_Anaheim More than 1 year ago
I read this book right after "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I am very interested in President Lincoln, but I didn't know much about the subject of his assassination until I read this book. The action begins on page one and is continuous to the last page. The character of John Wilkes Booth is larger than life. His dramatic flair extends beyond the stage and into real life drama. He interacts with fellow conspirators and innocent bystanders. Some of his fellow conspirators are as committed to the cause as he is, and others falter under the pressure to follow through with the devious plans. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book... I couldn't put it down. I have since purchased a copy as a gift and recommended it to several people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this is a great book. I read it after reading Team of Rivals. I would recommend that sequence to anyone, although this book was not intended as a sequel, so there is some overlap. This book explores in depth a short period of time that is often passed over, but provides insights into what would follow.
MDmom More than 1 year ago
This is a detailed journey of one of the most famous manhunts ever. I'm the type of person who will cheat and skip to the end of a book by the sixth chapter and then go back and continue the book. No point here, we know the outcome. Instead I found myself rereading chapters to absorb as much of the detail as possible. My neighbor is a history buff. I gave him a copy for his birthday.
Ozwell More than 1 year ago
There's not much I can add to the well deserved praise heaped on this re-telling of the Lincoln assasination. I was suprised by how much I didn't know about the events of that night, and the chase that followed There's plenty of historical background and detail. I was impressed by the thrilling way the narrative unfolds. Recommended.
The_Angry_Scientist More than 1 year ago
I did not originally intend on reading this book. In fact, this was just given to me by one of my teachers. And while in one of those between book crises, I picked this book up. Upon reading this, I was just mesmerized. I mean, how an author can make an event that occured over 100 years ago and make the reader feel like that they were reading one of John Grisham's or Tom Clancy's or Richard Preston's thrillers. Actually, come to think of it, he pulled a Preston on us as he could have made the account as boring as many of the history textbooks and made one drool during the first sentence, but no. He made very plausible, sharp dialogue and actually took the reader from their seats and placed them right there with the "characters". I loved the book for that reason. I hope that he does another just as good or even better.
Solitaireyqueen More than 1 year ago
This book was fast-paced and was packed with so much information! I believe this should be required reading in all high schools. The author writes in a vivid style that brings this 146 year old history-making event to life. This really is a must read because, trust me, you didn't learn what's in this book in any class you took!
J2thaOE More than 1 year ago
From the moment i picked this novel up i couldn't put it down. I am a history lover and love novels that are based on events that happened in history. This novel makes it feel like you were following right behind Wilkes Booth as he went about killing the president and the chase for him afterward. But this book can also be enjoyed by someone who is not a history lover. The way it is written is brilliant and i would recommend this novel to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a page-turner, one that let the reader get a sense of what life was like during the period, and how the hatred between the North and South led John Wilkes Booth to think that he was actually doing the country a service by asassinating President Lincoln. It also clears up the issue of whether Dr. Samuel Mudd was aware of his patient's identity when he set his broken leg.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was an excellent read on the last moments in Lincoln's life and that of John Wilkes Booth. The detail was such that it felt as if I was right there when it all happpened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Since I was in middle school, I was very interested in President Lincoln and the unfortunate details of his assasination. After hearing James Swanson interviewed about his book 'Manhunt', last year on the Michael Medved Show, my interest was re-invigorated. I have read, maybe 2 books in their entirety in my lifetime before this book. Now I can add a third to that list. Very detailed, and compelling! I could not put it down, but when I did, I couldn't wait to get through my workday to get back to it. Great book!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is for anyone who has even a slight interest in history. Immaculately written this book is suspenseful and exciting through and through.
Old_Sage More than 1 year ago
Great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though Booth was one of the worst people in American history, his story of running from DC is exciting. This book makes you almost root for him, but we all know how it ends... Great book for US history lovers because it is loaded with first-hand accounts of what happened.
John Salazar More than 1 year ago
Im not one to read books about history, but this enjoyable read put me right in the thick of it. I have never been so interested on the topic until reading this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had heard about this book about a month and a half ago. I quickly forgot about it and when shopping for Christmas presents yesterday, I realized it would be a great book for my brother. I took a seat in the bookstore, had a cup of coffee and thought I'd read the first couple of pages to kill the time... 70 pages later I realized I needed to move along! I'm not one for non-fiction and not a "huge" Lincoln fan (by that, I mean I don't go out of my way to read any historical books on him), but the first couple of chapters of this book were incredible. I bought one for my brother and one for me....and can't wait to finish it!
Starlifter More than 1 year ago
What a great read on this event. If you are even the least bit interested in the Lincloln assasination then you'll need to get all the facts. This book is very comprehensive and will tell the entire story after the fatal shot. I was intrigued by the detail which I was unaware of during the capture. I'm sure you will enjoy the hours spent reading it and I'm sure it will not dissapoint.
mtgolfpro More than 1 year ago
Great read, could not put the book down. Better than any fiction novel I have ever read!!
BSMMA More than 1 year ago
Manhunt is a great review of the actual day to day events that occurred between April 14 to April 26th of 1865. I am avid reader of civil war history and I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version of this book. This is a must read for any student of American history and/or the Civil War.
SmokingJacketMan More than 1 year ago
This is a good book. I thought I knew a little about the Booth and Lincoln, but I knew less than I thought. This was a very good book about what happened after that night. It is history, but reads like a novel. I have passed on to 5 other people, all really enjoying it. I highly recommend it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book takes you into the search for President Lincoln's killer.You follow John Wilkes Boothes trek from Washington,D.C.,to Dr.Samuel Mudd's all the way to his final minutes.It sheds light on those involved with supporting facts of their guilt.
dsb More than 1 year ago
I thought I knew a lot about Booth, his life, motives and his escape and eventual capture; but this book brings many "unknown" facts to light to weave a story that we weren't told about in school. This book could easily be a movie; but then the historical facts would most likely be sacrificed in order to sell a highly modified plot and that would spoil it all. While the book jacket emphasizes that it's contents are about Booth and his cohorts after the death of Lincoln I found the description of Booth, how he lived, previous plots against Lincoln and other governmental officials to be key in understanding the events after the assassination. One of the best American history books I have ever had the pleasure to read. The research into little known facts make the story both interesting and informative. dsb