Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review: Bloody Crimes

By James L. Swanson

In April and May of 1865 four events demanded the attention of the American public:  the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia by Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac; the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the hunt for his killer, John Wilkes Booth; the search for Jefferson Davis, the fleeing president of the Confederate States of America; and the journey of the funeral train bearing Lincoln’s body to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.

Many library shelves have already been filled by books written on these topics alone.  James L. Swanson himself has already written about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth in his book, “Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase For Lincoln’s Killer.”  Now with the release of his latest book, “Bloody Crimes: The Chase For Jefferson Davis And The Death Pageant For Lincoln’s Corpse,” he has written about two more.  It is a book for which he surely must win the award for the most dramatic book title of 2010.

History books are often monographs, written on a singular topic, isolating their subjects from other events that may have been simultaneously happening, and thereby giving a slightly distorted historical narrative. By juxtaposing the search for Jefferson Davis against the national mourning over the death of Abraham Lincoln, Swanson gives his readers a more intricate interpretation about what it must have been like to live through those tumultuous months in the spring of 1865.

Lincoln and Davis, are themselves, parallel personalities, both were born in the wilds of Kentucky, eight months and one hundred sixteen miles apart, both had risen from obscure and humble backgrounds to become presidents of their warring countries, both lost children during their presidencies, and both their presidencies ultimately met untimely ends.

Despite his attempt to set his twin subjects, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, and his counterpoint, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States on an equal historical footing, as so often has happened over the last century and a half, Lincoln overshadows Davis in Mr. Swanson’s narrative.  Lincoln’s assassination and its result, the overwhelming outpouring of national emotion, not only represented the nation’s grief over its dead president, but also served as the central point of a national catharsis, and thus mourning Lincoln became a national mourning, not only for Lincoln himself, but for the 620,000 American’s who gave their lives for the causes in which they believed.

With the capture of Jefferson Davis in May of 1865 and his two year imprisonment, Davis’ image over time transformed, from an often disliked politician and war-time president into that of a martyr who sacrificed himself for the cause of Southern independence, and he, himself, became a tangible symbol of “The Lost Cause.”

Interestingly enough, though Jefferson Davis outlived Abraham Lincoln by twenty-four years, Davis’ funeral was one of the largest in the South, and in 1893 Mrs. Davis decided to move his remains then in New Orleans, to Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery, and the train bearing Davis’ body made a similar journey through the South as Lincoln’s did through the north.  Likewise Davis’ funeral train received many of the same honors by Southern citizens, as Lincoln’s did in the North.

Mr. Swanson’s book is thoroughly researched, and well written.  His narrative is easily read and in combination with his subject matter makes his book a hard one to put down once you have picked it up and began to read through its pages.

ISBN 978-0061233784, William Morrow, © 2010, Hardcover, 480 pages, Photographs, Maps, Illustrations, Endnotes, Bibliography & Index. $27.99

1 comment:

Seeker said...

Actually Davis was most assuredly caught in a dress, as his wife and aide both admitted, to one degree or another.

Swanson has tried to poo poo the dress story as fiction, in order to appear "fair and balanced."

It's been 150 years, and STILL authors in the North have to turn into preztles of political correctness, about this and any issue regarding Southern leader's cowardice, deception, cruelty, or other all too human characteristics.

Hey - it's time, boys. Let's tell the truth.

Varina Davis in her own handwritten letter, available online today, claims she called out "its my mother," when the Union soldiers stopped Davis.

Let me repeat that -- Varina Davis herself, wrote that SHE called out "It's my mother".

That doesn't prove he wore a dress, she could call out "It's my mother" if Davis was wearing knight's armor.

Yet this admission (and others) are NEVER, and I mean EVER, mentioned in the politically correct world of describing Southern leaders.

Davis own aide wrote that Davis wore a dress -- not some frilly overcoat that was mistaken for a dress in the distance, not some shawl, but a DRESS.

Varina described three separate garments. She tried to claim none of them were a dress, but she comes close to admitting it. She writes that she "pleaded with him" to put on these garments, so no one could recognize him, then claims there "was no disguise"!

Then she writes, oddly "but if he had,(wore a dress) its failure is found the only matter of cavil. Had he assumed an elaborate female attire as a sacrifice to save a country, the heart of which trusted in him, it had been well"

Did you read that? SHe wrote the words "elaborate female attire". Not me.

And Davis did NOT have on eaborate female attire. She was right in that. No hoop skirt, no petticoats. None of the silly stuff Northern cartoonist would add.

He had on her dress, a scarf, and a woman's shawl. That is what he had on.

Idiotically Swanson quotes Davis himself as proof positive he was not wearing a dress. That's like asking Bill Clinton if he had "sex with that woman".

When you read the soldiers reports, Varina's letter, the aide's statement, and the statements of other witnesses, you realize, the man had on a dress. Some of these soldiers repeated the story for 50 years.

There is no shame in wearing a dress, he was running for his life. The real shame is Davis was leaving his wife and children behind, running very much like a coward to get to the nearest horse. That tid bit is lost entirely - but entirely true.

Davis later claimed he was running to get a gun, which was found on one of the horses. It's possible. But there were guns at hand, he did not need to run for one.

Some have said no way could Davis even wear his wife's dress, she was so small. Davis was pencil thin, and could fit. What gave him away was his boots and pants, under the dress.

The soldiers who caught Davis said for the rest of their lives he wore a dress. Sure they could be lying, but remember, Varina substantiated much of what they said.

In fact, the soldiers claimed that when they told Davis to take the dress off, Davis and his wife went together into a nearby tent. Mrs Davis came out, wearing the dress Davis took OFF!!

You can't make this stuff up.

Mrs Davis was trying valiantly to take the blame for the garments Davis had on - she said she "pleaded with him" to put it on. Do you plead with someone to put on their own clothes?

Davis wore a dress. Big deal. The real issue is -- Davis ran like a coward.