This Civil War history traces two movements; one a desperate manhunt and the other, a stately, cross-country funereal process. In early April 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis received the telegram that he had been dreading: Robert E. Lee's armies could no longer hold back the Union attack. Left with no options, Davis packed quickly and fled Richmond on a midnight train. Now a wanted man, he began a desperate race south, attempting to outrun his pursuers. Just two weeks after that telegram, a cabal of Southern conspirators struck in Washington, killing President Abraham Lincoln. In an instant, Davis was sought not only as a traitor, but also as presumed presidential assassin. As Lincoln's funereal cortege moved slowly west to his final resting place, Northern cavalry tracked down the man they believed to be the plotter of their president's death. An unforgettable story, well-told by a respected historian.
The disparate fates of contending presidents make an odd juxtaposition in this ungainly history of the Civil War's last gasps. Swanson recounts the April 1865 odyssey of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train as it wound through the North, intercutting it with Jefferson Davis's flight south from Richmond through a disintegrating Confederacy. The intertwined narratives lack the drama of the John Wilkes Booth saga Swanson told in his bestselling Manhunt. Lincoln's progress is a vividly described but lugubrious study in Victorian pomp, with giant hearses, trackside bonfires, choruses of white-robed young women, and huge crowds filing past the slow-moldering corpse. Davis's journey is a deluded, lackadaisical picaresque as he tries and fails to rally demoralized Southerners--his own cavalry escort pillaged the accompanying treasury wagons--until his anticlimactic capture by Union forces. Swanson works hard to make Davis a noble (no, he was not captured wearing his wife's dress, just her shawl) worthy of the Dixie-wide memorial procession with which the book closes. But Davis's story is incomparably less resonant than the martyred Lincoln's; in Swanson's best sections, outpourings of grief--Lincoln's own and those of his mourners--make for a moving evocation of wartime loss. B&w photos. (Sept. 28)
The author of two books on the Lincoln assassination takes another look at the aftermath.
Swanson (Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, 2006, etc.) focuses on two chains of events from the spring of 1865: the hunt for fleeing Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and the elaborate arrangements to return Lincoln's body to Illinois for burial. Davis, informed by Robert E. Lee that his troops could no longer defend Richmond, sent his wife and their four children to safety, then followed a day later, taking his cabinet and much of the Confederate treasury with him. While details on Davis's flight are sparse, Swanson's other narrative gives him plenty of material, beginning with Lincoln's visit to fallen Richmond and following events up to the night of his assassination. The author then alternates between Davis's harried journey and the arrangements for Lincoln's funeral, the most elaborate of its time. Davis's desperate and little-documented attempt to hold his defeated country together stands in striking contrast to the painstaking planning of the national farewell to the fallen Lincoln, who was effectively elevated to the status of a national saint. Most striking is the spread of the story that Davis, when captured, was wearing women's clothing, which Swanson vigorously refutes. The latter part of the book, after Lincoln's interment in Springfield, Ill., follows Davis, first imprisoned as a traitor, then freed after two years to prevent him from becoming a martyr to the Southern cause. His subsequent career was at first rocky, as he was forced for the first time in his life to work for a living. Eventually he was able to retire, thanks to a benefactor who willed him his Mississippi home where he lived until his death in 1889. In his final years, Davis became a living symbol of the lost cause. Swanson colorfully renders both parts of his narrative, although the details of Lincoln's funeral procession become repetitious. However, Davis's later life has been largely overlooked, and this is a useful corrective.
Less dramatic than the author's previous work, but full of vigorous prose and dynamic stories about the period immediately following the end of the Civil War.
This marvelous book is the story of President Abraham Lincoln's long journey home to Illinois following his assassination at Ford's Theater. And it is the parallel story of Confederate President Jefferson Davis's sorrowful journey into captivity after the war…these two journeys are rivetingly told, in absorbing, meticulous detail. Bloody Crimes is a book about death, but it exudes life. Drawing liberally on firsthand accounts, Swanson covers these dramatic parallel journeys day by day, shifting from one to the other in gripping counterpoint.
The Washington Post
Gripping — sometimes even gruesome — and heartrending.... Brilliant.
Swanson’s account of Lincoln’s death pageant is moving, but Davis’ flight lends the book enough suspense to drive a Hollywood thriller.. . Swanson knows how to keep his audience breathlessly entertained. It’s Davis’ surprising turn as a tragic figure in Bloody Crimes, however, that might prove most memorable.
Page-turning....Swanson again creates page-turning suspense out of historical events. . . .Gripping.... Swanson has the gift to make [history] compelling.
With the publication of Bloody Crimes, James L. Swanson emerges as one of America’s greatest historians. Swanson recounts the closing drama of the Civil War with hair-raising precision and the vivid narrative drive of a top-tier novelist. A grand tour de force!
James Swanson is a master storyteller. Bloody Crimes is not only a thoroughly terrific read; it is a valuable contribution to history. Swanson’s brilliant decision to weave together the final days of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis provides fresh and compelling insights on both familiar figures.
A haunting masterpiece. James Swanson has written a thrilling book of death and longing, of defeat and resurrection.
A brilliant narrative that keeps the reader spellbound from beginning to end. James Swanson’s vivid style and historical accuracy are unsurpassed, and he makes the parallel journeys of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis come magically alive. I wish I had written this book.
James Swanson is a giant. With his instant classic Manhunt, and its triumphant follow up Bloody Crimes, Swanson proves beyond all doubt that he is a master of historical true-crime epic.....Bloody Crimes is irresistibly captivating. I highly recommend it.
James Swanson has done it again. Bloody Crimes is a moving, evocative trip back in time to the tumultuous spring of 1865. Swanson’s meticulous research and sparkling prose make it an essential companion to his award winning bestseller, Manhunt.