Conservative political commentator O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln doesn’t cover any new ground and is another work focusing on the last weeks of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Assassination, and the subsequent manhunt for James Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators. So, I am not sure why it is still on the NYT best seller list and has been 74 weeks now.
I am glad to have read this, though. It was a good refresher on the events leading up to the most horrific crime in American history. What happens to Lincoln is absolutely chilling, especially since he had dreams and premonitions of his own death. O’Reilly paints Booth has the true dramatist he was. Sometimes I questioned how much Booth really believed in what he was doing. He was the ultimate martyr but I think his desire for infamy was equal to his plight for a Confederate America.
It is also chilling how Lincoln’s murder seemed almost destined since all the perfect conditions existed for it to transpire. Lincoln’s bodyguard left his post outside of the state room door at Ford’s theater to get a drink, leaving it unmanned. Lincoln would have preferred to stay in that evening but went to the theater to appease his wife Mary. At that time, the gates to the Navy Yard bridge were closed after 9:00 PM, but the officer manning the bridge let Booth through anyway, allowing his escape from Washington into the Maryland countryside.
If you don’t know a lot about Lincoln’s assassination, this book also covers the attempted murders of Secretary of State Seward and Vice President Johnson that happened at the same time. German simpleton George Atzerodt couldn’t go through with killing Johnson but Lewis Powell was successful in stabbing Seward, although not fatally. After being surrounded in a barn, David Herold surrendered while Booth wouldn’t come out and was shot.
Four co-conspirators were tried and hanged for the crimes, including Mary Surratt who was a confederate sympathizer and owned the boarding house where the conspiracy was plotted. You have to wonder if she really deserved the punishment she received. O’Reilly claims she is the only female to be hanged in American history.
Overall, O’Reilly scripts a compelling narrative based on true events. But if you are going to choose a book to read on Lincoln’s assassination, I would recommend James L. Swanson’s Manhunt over Killing Lincoln.