A year or so ago, I read Jay Winik’s fascinating book, “April 1865”, which starts with the capture of Richmond by Union soldiers, the surrender of Lee at Appromatox, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Quite a month.
Last wee, I read James Swanson’s book, “Bloody Crimes”, which starts by covering the same material covered by Winik, but goes beyond the bloody month of April. Coming after Swanson’s “Manhunt”, about the capture of John Wilkes Booth (which I have not yet read), this book looks at various other facets of this crucial period of our country’s history.
The war was not going well for the South, but Jefferson Davis was not read to give up, and his capital Richmond, although so close to the Union and Washington DC, had so far been spared, although often threatened. In April 1865, the defenses of Richmond were finally breached and Davis, and the Confederate government as a whole, moved south, first to Danville VA and finally to North Carolina. “Bloody Crimes” follows Davis, speaks to his moods and efforts, and that of his wife, as they (first separately, then together) moved further and further south, until finally apprehended and captured in Georgia. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, ending the very existence of the Army of Virginia, without the approval, or even the knowledge, of Jefferson Davis, who even after Appomattox felt that the southern cause could still emerge victorious, after some strategic retreats. His other military commanders disagreed with him.
Within a matter of days after Appomattox, and before Davis was captured, Lincoln was assassinated. The assassination, and the futile medical attention given the president are discussed in detail, as are the decision making involved in his funeral arrangements, and the funeral train that wandered around the northeast and upper midwest on its way (with digressions) to Springfield, Illinois. Finally, the book covers the remaining thirty years of Jefferson Davis’ life, how his reputation in the south grew and grew over time, and how he spent his last years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Swanson’s style is an easy one. The book is very readable. It does not read as a scholarly work, although from the bibliography and notes, you can see that it has been very carefully researched. I recommend the book highly.