I’m embarrassed to admit how little I know about Lincoln’s assassination, so the O’Reilly-Dugard book has taught me a lot about the conspiracy, the assassination and its aftermath. The attack on Seward and his family had entirely escaped me, but reading about it now makes it hard to believe they all survived the vicious stabbings and beatings. Perhaps Killing Lincoln sensationalizes it–describing blood and grey matter oozing out of head wounds makes it hard to believe someone could not only survive but function as a cabinet secretary after that. Of course Congresswoman Gifford is in sort of a similar situation, so there are modern parallels. But the most fascinating part of the story is the suggestion that the conspiracy included Sec’y of War Stanton. How widely such a probability is taken seriously, I don’t know. The book mentions a number of inexplicable actions on Stanton’s part including his keeping Booth’s diary for two years and when forced to produce it due to the publication of his having it, it had 18 pages missing.
The book gives a very humanizing portrait of Lincoln, starting with his being virtually on site during the last few days of battle, just before Lee’s surrrender, riding into Richmond, sitting in Lee’s study, at his desk, in his chair, just hours after Lee had left, hoping to get to the Carolinas and avoid the ultimate fate of surrender. There are anecdotes about the Lincoln marriage and brief descriptions of his governing style. The book whets my appetite for more about Lincoln. I’m grateful for this popularized account of the last weeks of Lincoln’s life as a entree to a broader history and biography.