Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

The first reaction that comes to my mind after reading this book is how unusual it felt to read for a non-fiction book. This is a non-fiction book that reads very much like a fiction work. Also, unlike many non-fiction books written for middle school readers, this author doesn't come across as talking down to what he/she thinks is necessary for middle level readers to understand the information presented.

Chasing Lincoln's Killer is the story about what happened to John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

John Wilkes Booth didn't do it for fame, although he wasn't against having more fame.

John Wilkes Booth wasn't hired for money, as if a hit man.

And, John Wilkes Booth was far from being mentally unstable.

He was wealthy and famous already. Think of your favorite famous movie star of today. Movie stars are usually quite wealthy and consider how the public treats them. Actors in the 1800's like John Wilkes Booth were comparable to today's movie stars. Booth was even more recognisable because he was from a famous acting family, like maybe the Baldwin brothers of today

As mentioned already, he wasn't mentally crazy. His assassination plan was coldly calculated for a specific purpose. By the night of the assasination, Robert E. Lee had already signed the Confederacy's surrender and the Civil War's end was being celebrated through the streets of Washington D.C. It was probably the first night in many months and maybe even years that President Lincoln could be said to have been truly happy during his presidency.

John Wilkes Booth wasn't celebrating. He wasn't yet convinced that fighting the Civil War was a Lost Cause. He believed that if he could kill President Lincoln that this would rowse the South back into battle against the North.

"At some point that afternoon, Booth made the final arrangements. There were two types of preparation: practical and mental. First, the weapons. Booth chose as his primary weapon a .44 caliber, single-shot, mussle-loading pistol manufactured by Henry Deringer of Philadelphia. It was a small, short-barreled, pocket-size handgun designed for concealment, not combat. It's big .44 caliber ball, weighing in at nearly an ounce, was a solid, deadly round. Unlike military pistols that could fire up to six rounds before reloading, the Deringer could be fired just once. Booth knew his first shot would be his last."

As many of you know, during the performance of a play held at Ford's Theatre that President Lincoln attended that night, Booth quietly entered through a door into the President's box, wedged a board against the door to prevent anyone behind him from entering, aimed the pistol, and fired into the back of President Lincoln's skull.
Booth jumped from the box onto the stage, turned to the audience, and took the time to stand straight up and speak to the audience-he knew this would be his last appearance on an American stage. With all eyes on him he "thrust his bloody dagger victoriously into the air," and shouted, "The South is avenged!"

Did you catch the part about the bloody dagger? When Booth jumped onstage he wasn't holding a gun, but a gun was what he used to kill President Lincoln. Why was Booth holding the dagger instead of the gun, and whose blood was on it?

I'm sure you're wondering why no one stopped Booth before he escaped the theatre? One of the stage hands, who was not one of the conspirators, even helped Booth with his gettaway horse?

And looking at the following picture showing the shrouds Booth's accomplices had to wear in prison, you will see no mention of John Wilkes Booth. He never wore a shroud and wasn't hung with his fellow conspirators. How come?

Finding answers to these questions and to experience the thrilling story of how federal soldiers hunted down John Wilkes Booth makes this book an easy recommendation for me to make.

Sadly, and ironically, just a few days before Lincoln was shot, he had signed an important paper that might have saved his life if it had been signed earlier. Just before that fateful night, Lincoln established the agency called the Secret Service. There hadn't been time to put the agency and agents into effect yet.
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