Lincoln Discussion Symposium

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In today's WSJ, Terry Alford gives his personal best on the Assassination. His first choice suprised me.
1) Why was Lincoln murdered? Eisenschiml
2) The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies. Hanchett
3) Blood on the Moon. Steers
4) American Brutus. Kauffman
5) Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination. Bogar
It would be interesting what the choices of the readers.
His choices don't surprise me (and I would now suggest Fortune's Fool). In the case of Eisenschiml, I can only surmise that Terry puts it as #1 because it inspired so many good historians to recognize bad history and go after the facts and the truth instead of speculations.
The Eisenschiml book is just too far out for me!Confused

I'd vote for "Blood on the Moon" and "American Brutus" in no particular order. I consider them both classics, truly the authority on the Lincoln assassination as well as the conspiracy leading up to it.
(04-18-2015 01:44 PM)LincolnToddFan Wrote: [ -> ]The Eisenschiml book is just too far out for me!Confused

I'd vote for "Blood on the Moon" and "American Brutus" in no particular order. I consider them both classics, truly the authority on the Lincoln assassination as well as the conspiracy leading up to it.

Eisenschiml was exactly what he termed himself to be - An Armchair Historian. He lounged around and made up suppositions and created a lot of controversy and problems for future generations.
Here is the text of the entire article:


Terry Alford
on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln
April 17, 2015 3:22 p.m. ET

Why Was Lincoln Murdered?
By Otto Eisenschiml (1937)

1. A Chicago chemist with no historical training, Eisenschiml wrote his generation’s most popular book on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Pledging “a scientific pursuit of the truth,” he faulted earlier authors for failing to ask critical questions, like why Lincoln was unguarded at Ford’s Theatre. Eisenschiml responded with pioneering research. Unfortunately, he had little idea how to interpret what he discovered. He concluded that the Civil War had been deliberately prolonged by a Northern clique in order to ensure the triumph of abolitionism. With that mission accomplished, this malign faction, he believed, turned on Lincoln; John Wilkes Booth was simply their puppet. Eisenschiml’s style was vexing. Inviting his readers to join him in a spirit of honest inquiry, he submerged them in a torrent of unanswered—and often unanswerable—fog-of-war questions. Why did General Grant, the guest of honor, fail to appear at Ford’s Theatre with the President? Why was Booth never brought back alive? and so on. After creating more confusion than he dispels, Eisenschiml congratulated himself for truth telling.

The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies
By William Hanchett (1983)

2. Historical writing on the assassination—much of it shoddy, partisan or even paranoid—had accumulated for a century when William Hanchett arrived to survey the field. He was distressed at what he found. Civil War scholars, treating the assassination as lightning from a clear sky, saw it as an aberration unworthy of notice. Mr. Hanchett’s was one of the first books on the assassination written by an academically trained historian. Like an old-fashioned schoolmaster with a rod in his hand, he chastised the unscholarly in a book filled with insight, insult and retort. Mr. Hanchett had mixed hopes about his ability to vanquish conspiracy nuts, however. “Believers in conspiracy are not discouraged by lack of evidence,” he lamented.

Blood on the Moon
By Edward Steers Jr. (2001)

3. While Lincoln’s life had been the subject of good scholarship for decades, his death, left mostly to avocational historians, was fraught with accidental and willful errors. Edward Steers, a former research scientist at NIH, remedied this problem with “Blood on the Moon,” the first reliable general history of the people and events of April 14, 1865. Mr. Steers saw the murder of the president as no aberration. It was a logical consequence of wartime passions. Only when properly placed in the context of the war’s closing chaos, he argued, does the assassination make sense. Mr. Steers’s Booth, far from being anyone’s tool, was fully rational and able. But he also hated African-Americans, and he was enraged at what Lincoln did for the cause of their liberation. While Mr. Steers flirts with controversial themes, he knows the difference between speculation and fact, and he hammers the latter home. Some conspiracy theorists, he writes, cast Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s secretary of war, as a villain: “Stanton is portrayed as an archangel of death, orchestrating the murder.” But such theories were “based on flawed and even fabricated evidence, all designed to titillate the reader and create a type of shock history that, although financially rewarding to the author, misleads.”

American Brutus
By Michael Kauffman (2004)

4. Fired by a lifelong fascination with the assassination, Michael Kauffman poured decades of research into this large volume, which, despite its title, is not a Booth biography but a biography of the assassination itself and its cast of characters. Mr. Kauffman based his book on a study of every single document in the 11,000-page “Lincoln Assassination Suspects” file at the National Archives. From this record, compiled in 1865, he draws much of his text. His goal: “to avoid using any quote, fact or anecdote that is incompatible with the earliest sources.” The result, while somewhat limited in the richness that later recollection can supply, is wonderfully fresh and vivid. Mr. Kauffman is nothing if not original. His Booth is a master conspirator of cunning and complexity. But the assassin’s luck ran out when his horse fell on him, breaking his leg. (The leg was not broken at the theater, Mr. Kauffman asserts.) The book’s you-are-there style is a strength. When William Bell is brought to identify the assailant (a co-conspirator of Booth’s) who attempted to assassinate his boss, Secretary of State William Seward, simultaneously with the attack on Lincoln, “detectives watched Bell closely as he looked at the men who had just walked in. Bell scanned the crowd slowly, looking back and forth, studying faces, returning glances. . . . Then, standing face-to-face, he dramatically raised his hand and pointed a finger right at the face of that fearsome giant.”

Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination
By Thomas A. Bogar (2013)

5. While the fates of Lincoln and Booth are well-known, what about the 46 actors, stagehands, ushers, musicians and knockabouts at Ford’s Theatre that night? Thomas Bogar, one of the nation’s premier theater historians, drags these characters out of the wings and into the spotlight in this prodigiously researched book on the most memorable evening in the history of the American stage. Some of those present were marginal individuals, like “Peanuts” Burroughs, a teenager who held Booth’s horse that night and then disappeared from the historical record. Others left theatrical life forever, traumatized by the murder. An irrepressible few seemed buoyed by the occasion, dining out for years on their experiences. Orchestra conductor William S. Withers, lucky to fall out of Booth’s way as the assassin made his escape, may have actually believed his own later claims that he struggled heroically to capture the villain. Clearly, “the lives of those who were present backstage that night would forever be divided into Before and After,” the author writes. A labor of love for Mr. Bogar, the book shines throughout with his excitement.
Thank you for posting this, Roger - to me Mr. (Prof.?) Alford nails it. I am always a bit reluctant to comment on assassination "expertise" topics (knowing of my very limited knowledge compared to that of the many experts on the forum), but I especially agree on "While Mr. Steers flirts with controversial themes, he knows the difference between speculation and fact, and he hammers the latter home" - and I highly and in general appreciate authors who do so, or at least leave no doubt about what is what in their works (which at times I find difficult to determine in "American Brutus"). As for this, one book I love and often use to look facts up is W. E. Reck's "A. L. - His Last 24 Hours". (And since its publication, "JWB Day-By-Day" has become another one.)
Hi Roger, thanks for the excellent synopsis of the reading material.

Eva, I own Reck's "Last 24 Hours" and I agree it's compelling. I couldn't put it down even though I knew what was going to happen of course....
I have never felt that Reck gets the credit he deserves either. Everybody raves about Jim Bishop, but Reck took his work several degrees higher to a true historian's level. I also feel the same about George Bryan's Great American Myth. Bryan's work was the staircase on which Bill Hanchett added the railings.

I am also going to make a very personal comment here: Having known each of the mentioned authors (except Eisenschiml) over a period of at least forty years, they were each helped through the work of James O. Hall. Tom Bogar may be the only one who was not able to meet with Mr. Hall in the course of his writing due to the latter's illness and demise. I know those two would have thoroughly enjoyed each other's findings and friendship. Mr. Hall was an expert on the opera, Tom. How's your background in that arena?

I know that the others spent hours, days, weeks, months, and years with Mr. Hall in his home going over his research, which was freely given. It brought tears to my eyes when I saw that Terry had dedicated the book to Mr. Hall and had used a line that I used on the program for the memorial service that we held for JOH at Surratt House -- HISTORIAN, MENTOR, FRIEND.
Laurie, my greatest regret in all my research on the assassination was missing out on knowing Mr. Hall. I was in the early stages of my research when he passed away, but I was at least able to attend his memorial service in the library named for him, which meant a lot. I would have given almost anything for the chance to have talked with him. And, yes, we would have talked opera--of which I don't claim to be any authority, but it is one of the things that brought Gail and me together Smile
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