The Lincoln Assassination: Crime & Punishment, Myth & Memory
edited by Harold Holzer, Craig L. Symonds and Frank J. Williams, Fordham University Press
In this intriguing new anthology, 10 prominent scholars ponder the “public, judicial and memorial reaction” to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865. In attempting to “explore the legal, cultural, political and even emotional consequences” that surrounded Lincoln’s untimely death, this collection of essays delivers on what it sets out to do—and then some.
Most of the selections are deferential to Lincoln, but one intriguing essay by Thomas P. Lowry shows that not everyone mourned the president’s passing. For a decade Lowry and his wife, Beverly, scoured tens of thousands of transcripts from Union military courts and commissions and found that while “the vast majority of the army’s rank and file, and its officer corps, felt bereft by the news of Lincoln’s death…a small but vocal minority felt otherwise.” Lowry cites many colorful examples. “I’m glad the old son of a bitch is dead,” exclaimed a soldier in the 1st Oregon Territory Cavalry, a sentiment that earned him 10 years in prison. A member of the 8th California Infantry was actually sentenced to death for saying, “Abraham Lincoln…ought to have been killed long ago” (though lesser punishment was eventually granted on his appeal).
Lowry concludes, “These records show that in the wake of national tragedy, the courts were inclined to treat outbursts of expressed enthusiasm for Lincoln’s murder with strict justice.” But several essays also explore the complex web of judicial and legal developments that arose in the assassination’s wake. Altogether, the anthology presents an engrossing view of the reaction to Lincoln’s death.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.