EW Description: “The Manhunt author further explores the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination with this astoundingly researched new book.”
I’ve been in the process of reading this book for about two months now. This is by no means something that reads very quickly. It is an extremely interesting book, but it is sometimes a little bit dry. There are parts that are definitely page-turners and then there are parts that just drag on for pages.
There is no doubt that Swanson is an extremely talented researcher and writer. His passion for the Civil War and particularly the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination are clear in every page. The parts about Lincoln’s funeral and the process of getting the former president to his final resting place are probably the most interesting part. They really dragged him all over the country before he finally got buried. They had to have some sort of ceremony for him in every major city in the Northeast and the journey took a little over two weeks.
The full title of the book is “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse.” The death pageant part is far more interesting because I feel like Swanson is probably more passionate about it. However, there’s really only so much one can say about it. For a 400-page book, I feel like a lot of stuff could have been omitted. However, Swanson can definitely not be accused of not being thorough enough. We know every detail of Lincoln’s funeral at the White House. How many guests, who was in charge of the planning, how they fit everyone into the East Room (bleachers because they couldn’t fit enough individual chairs in the East Room). We know the details of the funeral procession in each city. We know how big each hearse was. We know how many people showed up to mourn the president. We know who was traveling on the train with the president’s body. We know which city had the most extravagant procession (New York, of course). We know all about the battle over where Lincoln’s body would be buried. The Lincoln stuff is very extensive and for the most part, very interesting.
I feel like the parts about Jefferson Davis are what weigh down the book. Maybe it’s because I do not know a whole lot about Confederate history, nor do I really care to learn about it, but I just did not find it that interesting. Swanson did debunk the myth that Davis escaped wearing ladies’ clothing (it was just loose-fitting, it wasn’t a dress and bonnet). I did enjoy reading about the actual capture of Davis and how he was tried by the federal government. That part was extremely interesting. It was all the details leading up to it. I didn’t need to know how many days Davis spent in each city or read excerpts from letters between him and his wife or know how he was received in each city or know how every conversation between him and Robert E. Lee went. There were entire parts that I just wanted to skip, but I soldiered through to the very end.
If you are a big US history buff and love knowing every detail about things, you would probably greatly enjoy this book. It’s just that I was only interested in about 1/3 of the book. However, that third was pretty riveting.