In addition to all the books about Abraham Lincoln being published this year to honor his bicentennial, many others explore the people in his life and his tragic death. Two standouts among them are The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight From the Gallows, by Andrew C.A. Jampoler, and Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, by James L. Swanson.
John Surratt, John Wilkes Booth’s most elusive accomplice, was serving as a courier and agent for the Confederate government when he also became an intermediary for Booth in December 1864. The son of co-conspirator Mary Surratt, who was hanged for her role in the plot to assassinate Lincoln, young Surratt was on a mission in Elmira, N.Y., on the night the Lincolns attended Ford’s Theatre. Young John, who was also implicated in the assassination plot, subsequently became the most wanted man in America. He fled first to Canada, then overseas.
Jampoler plows through largely uncharted waters to reveal the story of the peripatetic Surratt’s many escapades before his capture in Egypt in 1866. He was extradited back to the United States and stood trial for 53 days before being acquitted.
Jampoler recounts all this and much more in great detail. The waters get a bit muddy, however, when he delves perhaps too deeply into side issues that are only marginally relevant to Surratt’s story. Overall, however, this is a fine, in-depth examination of John Surratt, a shadowy figure who heretofore has escaped close scrutiny.
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, meanwhile, is targeted at younger readers. Despite that, it is a thorough and captivating account of Lincoln’s assassination and the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, based on Swanson’s best-selling 2006 book Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.
Swanson, who admits that his own fascination with Lincoln dates back to his boyhood years, pairs his mastery of the subject with a sensitivity for the influence that his words might have on impressionable young minds. In pre – paring this edition, he wisely consulted school-age readers. They reportedly advised him, “Keep in all the blood and gore but not so much that our parents flip out.”
Augmented with more than 70 photographs and other period illustrations, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer should please, as well as educate, children and parents alike.
Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.