The American Civil War continues to fascinate me. In April I reviewed TEAM OF RIVALS, Doris Goodwin's book, soon to be a classic, on Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. This is the kind of history I wish had been taught in my school; I would have appreciated the subject more! Then in August, I reviewed KEEP UP GOOD COURAGE, by local Frazer Houston. Another kind of history -- that of a common soldier and his separated family during the long ordeal. Both highly recommended.
MANHUNT is the story of twelve days in the life of another character in the events of that day, John Wilkes Booth. It reads like a contemporary action novel -- bang, bang, run, hide, trap, shoot. Very little comes through of the characters; they are cardboard figures, doing their thing, dying ingloriously. Yet, I recommend this book. It is a fast read , 396 pages, and has reasonably complete notes should one part or another seem unlikely to the reader. Booth really expected to be feted as a hero in the South for his crime, and it is said that in some quarters yearly dinners of commemoration are still held in his honor. But the newspapers of the time which he read along his 12 day flight must have sorely disappointed him. He was fatally shot in a barn at the end, survived for two hours in agony, paralyzed, and his last words were "Useless, useless." But knowing the ending does not make the book less interesting; this is a part of history rife with rumors and unlikely stories; the author has done a service by soberly recounting just the facts, wrapped in enough action to satisfy.
I read many "action" novels; when finished I can forget them quickly, for they are just fiction. This one is about reality. Booth and Lincoln are wedded together in history as long as our republic lasts; it is good to know more about their disastrous intersection at 10:15 PM at Ford's Theater, April 14, 1865. The Abe and Mary were holding hands in the Presidential box. Mary had just spoken to her husband, "What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?," and he had replied in the last words he would ever speak "She won't think anything of it." Then the last words Lincoln ever heard came from the actor/comedian on stage, Harry Hawk: ""... you sockdologizing old mantrap ... ." The audience laughed, Booth's pistol discharged. And the chase began.
John Burgeson, for the Rico Bugle. Completed October 23, 2006