It Is A Tale As Familiar As Our History Primers A Deranged Actor, John Wilkes Booth, Killed Abraham Lincoln In Ford S Theatre, Escaped On Foot, And Eluded Capture For Twelve Days Until He Met His Fiery End In A Virginia Tobacco Barn In The National Hysteria That Followed, Eight Others Were Arrested And Tried Four Of Those Were Executed, Four Imprisoned Therein Lie All The Classic Elements Of A Great Thriller But The Untold Tale Is Even FascinatingNow, In American Brutus, Michael W Kauffman, One Of The Foremost Lincoln Assassination Authorities, Takes Familiar History To A Deeper Level, Offering An Unprecedented, Authoritative Account Of The Lincoln Murder Conspiracy Working From A Staggering Array Of Archival Sources And New Research, Kauffman Sheds New Light On The Background And Motives Of John Wilkes Booth, The Mechanics Of His Plot To Topple The Union Government, And The Trials And Fates Of The ConspiratorsPiece By Piece, Kauffman Explains And Corrects Common Misperceptions And Analyzes The Political Motivation Behind Booth S Plan To Unseat Lincoln, In Whom The Assassin Saw A Treacherous Autocrat, An American Caesar In Preparing His Study, Kauffman Spared No Effort Getting At The Truth He Even Lived In Booth S House, And Re Created Key Parts Of Booth S Escape Thanks To Kauffman S Discoveries, Readers Will Have A New Understanding Of This Defining Event In Our Nation S History, And They Will Come To See How Public Sentiment About Booth At The Time Of The Assassination And Ever Since Has Made An Accurate Account Of His Actions And Motives Next To Impossible Until NowIn NearlyYears There Has Been An Overwhelming Body Of Literature On The Lincoln Assassination, Much Of It Incomplete And Oftentimes Contradictory In American Brutus, Kauffman Finally Makes Sense Of An Incident Whose Causes And Effects Reverberate To This Day Provocative, Absorbing, Utterly Cogent, At Times Controversial, This Will Become The Definitive Text On A Watershed Event In American History From The Hardcover Edition It recently came to my attention that most everything I knew about the Lincoln assassination was wrong Oh I had the main details down pat, but I had always had the impression it was, largely, a poorly planned crime of impulse by an emotionally distraught actor and that many of those convicted were railroaded due to the outrage over the assassination Now this wasn t a storyline I had gleaned from questionable sources It was one I had read in various history books and even the freshman level American history class I took But I recently discovered this was all wrong and was instead pointed toward this book, the only one on the topic written by a historian that specializes in the Lincoln assassination Seems like the only thing I knew that was actually right was how horrific the scene of the attack on William Seward and his family and staff was Kauffman is a wonderful researcher who clearly has a handle on his sources In his introduction, he talks extensively about the in depth classification method he used to keep track of all the primary sources My inner librarian and historian was so impressed Kauffman is also even handed in his treatment of numerous controversial figures, ranging from Booth to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton But even better, he is a superb writer who has a knack for pacing, generating suspense even when you know how stuff is going to play out, and breaking down convoluted and confusing events And, boy, is this story convoluted As Kauffman explains, John Wilkes Booth actually displayed a substantial amount of premeditation and wove a web of innuendo, implied blackmail, and deception that played on the legal standards of the time to convince people to do his bidding Most conspiracies are propelled by silence, but Booth intentionally made as much of his planning as public as possible while also sending as many confusing mixed signals as possible At times, it almost seemed like there was something of Hamlet in Booth s plotting in making the scheme farcomplicated and, well, actorly than was strictly necessary Acting was, of course, a significant facet of Booth s life since it was his and his family s profession As such, the book s title is an apt one Booth s idolization of Brutus s assassination of Caesar was one that loomed large in his mind since his adolescence Curiously, as well educated and well read as he was, it never once occurred to him that most people don t praise Brutus for his actions and instead regard him as a traitor and murderer So, Booth spent the last days of his life on the run, distraught and confused why nobody was praising his imitation of Brutus, seemingly unaware that, well, nobody really praised Brutus on the stage or in real life I sort of connect everything to Jim Jones now after reading Jeff Guinn s book, and there is something about Booth s ease with manipulation that reminds me of Jones Actually, Kauffman reminds me a bit of Guinn, which is a huge compliment from me My favorite part of the book ended up being the discussion of the trial, in which he elaborated quite a bit on how very different the legal system was then It sheds a lotlight on the proceedings Having read the book, I now concur with Kauffman that certain elements of the trial were certainly unfair, but a lot of what strikes us that way now would not have been deemed problematic in the 1860s in any courtroom There are so many facts packed into this book that, at some point, I would like to reread it Until then, I ll probably just pester people with random weird facts I learned from it about 19th century courtroom procedure, Civil War era Maryland, and American Brutus might cause to stop dead in their tracks any history writers planning explorations of similar territory How am I going to top that they d ask Answer You very likely never could Michael Kauffman s exploration of John Wilkes Booth and his conspiracies and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln seems to cover it all.Shame on me for judging a book I haven t read yet but own , but James Swanson s Manhunt, which came four years after Kauffman s book, seems to be the mainstream alternative to American Brutus The volume of reviews for Swanson s book here and its lack of footnotes tag it as mass audience history The truth is, I don t see how it or any other work could surpass Kauffman s book, which has several revelations For completeness and detail, American Brutus is amazing It is extraordinarily detailed I hesitate to use the word exhaustive because it implies, well, exhaustion it s instead endlessly fascinating for those interested in delving deeply into the death of America s 16th president and the man who dramatically carried it out.Kauffman s 2004 book contains astonishing research, and the author in fact uncovered a few details overlooked by others, and a thorough analysis of the events leads us down some fascinating roads Kauffman suggests that Booth did not break his leg in the leap from the president s theater box after shooting him, but later, when his horse fell on him in the escape American Brutus 4.5 stars, rounded up for thoroughness starts with the assassination itself, but that is just the beginning, of course What we get is an almost minute by minute chronicling of authorities reaction and search, the viewpoints of the many witnesses, and the onion peeling of Booth s several plots Kauffman presents not a static, Booth as villain portrayal of the killer, but a nuanced, revealing look at the evolution of a charismatic Marylander with Southern sympathies who, in effect, turns his back on his own succeessful life to follow his dark beliefs Kauffman gives emphasis to just how clever Booth was in incriminating others and ensuring the fealty of the other conspirators Well aware of the laws of the times, Booth realized how easy it would be to surreptitiously involve others in his plot, making them unable to speak against him, even if they were not an active part of it, without implicating themselves The most well known of these moves was Booth s note to Vice President Andrew Johnson that implied a relationship, but Kauffman digs much deeper In detailed description, we see the movements of Booth and those in his web David Herold, Lewis Powell, Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt to name those who died for their involvement , but also of people who may not have had a working knowledge of what exactly Booth was up to The plural of the subtitle conspiracies is deliberate Booth s machinations, stretching over most of a year, initially yielded a plot to kidnap Lincoln, transport him to the Southern capital and use him as currency to free Rebel prisoners And the assassination plot itself, of course, could have been far, far worse A vicious attack on Secretary of State William Seward could easily have ended in his death, and the planned slayings of Johnson and Gen Ulysses Grant never came off.It s astonishing to us today to think how little protection the president had in the 19th century The White House was a public building then ordinary citizens could visit anytime they wanted Lincoln had virtually no security at Ford s Theater, and traveled to the country almost completely unprotected Booth s plot to kidnap him in the country, though foiled, would have been relatively easy I love the way Kauffman starts with the assassination and the sometimes chicken with its head cut off actions of the shocked authorities in its aftermath, and the gradual death of Lincoln, then turns to a short biography of Booth that goes chronologically until we re back in Ford s Theater much later as the foul deed is done Kauffman s research meticulously follows Booth in his travels as the plots slowly take shape Booth was one of the most famous actors in America, who at one point was making 25,000 to 30,000 a year in the 1860s but squandered most of his money in his dogged plotting.Then, of course, it s the manhunt, the trials, the aftermath, what happened to the entire cast in the years that followed the central event of their lives Included in this wrapping up is the fascinating detail that Booth s brother Edwin, also an actor, was nearly shot on stage in 1879.The book also excellently captures the social, political and legal climate of the times Instead of just a blow by blow of the trials, Kauffman explains just how different American law was in the 1860s, how stacked against the defendants things were, especially in the trial before a military commission that the plotters faced American Brutus drags a little in the trial section, and maybe a wee bit during the manhunt for Booth, but it s never less than interesting I also came away with an imperfect understanding of Ford Theater s layout, particularly the president s box but that s a quibble Along the way are astonishing little details that make you shake your head in wonder John Mathews, who worked at Ford s Theater, stayed across the street at the Petersen house he came home to find Booth stretched on his bed, the same bed in which Lincoln, hustled across the street after the shooting, soon would die That Kauffman reveals this last bit of holy shit information in parenthetical form gives you an idea of the ordinary wonders of this story.Yes, American Brutus is the definitive story of Booth and the Lincoln assassination. I picked up this book after reading a review of Manhunt which said that it wasn t as good as American Brutus I never did read Manhunt but American Brutus is a very interesting history, covering not only the assassination, but also giving a thorough biography of Booth as well as covering the post assasination trials of the conspirators There is an interesting stucture to the book The first part IIRC covers the lead up to the assasination from the viewpoint of Booth The next section covers a history of Booth and the other conspirators Then there is a section that follows the immediate activities from the assasination through the events of the manhunt, but told from the point of view of the Federal officials I may have a section swapped into the wrong place but the basic point is that the story doesn t constantly jump back and forth between the conspirators to the Federals The book is a bit hard to follow at times because of all the characters and the fact that at times they are assuming aliases, but overall it s a facinating look not just at the bare facts of the assasination, but also delves into the Booth family, Washington politics and the attempt afterwards for many of the participants to color their own versions of the facts to emphasis their roles or cover up their blunders The author takes great pains to identify his sources and the value or lack thereof he places on them, making the book interesting in yet another aspect, that being how a historian tries to change bare and conflicting facts into a cohesive narrative. Michael Kauffman provides a very detailed look at the Lincoln assassination and all of the members involved from the planning to their manhunt and the results that followed Don t let the title fool you This is farthan just a biography of John Wilkes Booth Kaufmann pulls along voluminous sources of primary information to explore the build up of the conspiracy from the debates about whether or not to kidnap the president and finally the plan to kill him at Ford s Theater The author pieces together much of the planning information and provides a clear flow of events from the Stuart boarding house to the plans laid at Ford s Theater on the famed night From Booth s time as an actor on the stage to his struggling loyalties to the South the stage was set for the assassination The book also tracks the other facets of the attacks on Seward and the planned attacks on other government members that ended in failure.The second half of the book focuses on the escape of the assailants and the efforts of Stanton s war department to bring them to justice As the fugitives fled in all directions and some not even leaving DC the war department sent orders to all troops to block roads and deploy cavalry Amazingly John Wilkes Booth and his compatriots still escape the city As they flee to what they hope will be a sympathetic South they find that southerners have turned against them and are horrified by his actions As detectives are brought in from all over the country and one of the largest investigations in American history is launched hundreds of people are swept up for questioning and many will be held as material witnesses to the crime Booth is shot and killed at a farm near Orange VA but his co conspirator is caught with him and brought to trial along with many others including Mary Stuart who will become the first female to be executed by the Federal Government Kauffman also spends time covering the military tribunals that tried the conspirators and condemned four of them to death and several others to imprisonment on a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico.Overall this is an extremely well written book that is filled with detail on the assassination efforts of the conspirators and their manhunt It is gripping and holds the readers interest while providing a host of details Easily the best book to start with on the assassination and well worth an addition to any Civil War Library.
Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies book, this is one of the most wanted Michael W. Kauffman author readers around the world.
- 544 pages
- American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies
- Michael W. Kauffman
- 15 November 2017 Michael W. Kauffman