Sunday Burgs book review
Reviewed by Charles “Dutch” Tubman of Christiansburg. He works for Norfolk Southern’s Coal Business Group in Roanoke.
“The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln” is a superbly-crafted work of alternate history. It’s 1868 and three years since Abraham Lincoln has been gravely wounded in Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth while Vice President Andrew Johnson was assassinated by the other Lincoln conspirators. Lincoln recovers slowly but completely, and continues working towards his vision of a fully re-integrated South. For many of the same reasons that Johnson was impeached, the Radicals (Black Republicans) have brought charges against Lincoln, not only for the pace and style of his Reconstruction plans, but also for a number of the Constitutionally-questionable actions that the ‘real’ Lincoln undertook during the War; closure of newspapers, suspension of habeas corpus, dismissal of state legislatures and the jailing of critics, Copperheads and other Southern sympathizers.
Carter has added additional intrigue into his story including a shadowy Southern resistance movement, an equally secretive Black protection army, the head of the newly formed Secret Service, the ruthless Layette Baker and the gruesome murder of one of Lincoln’s attorneys and an African American woman assumed to be a prostitute. Overshadowing all of this is the mysterious secret agent ‘Chanticleer’, who has information that could lead to the death of anyone who possesses it.
A number of things in Stephen Carter’s 1868 Washington, D.C., are not what they seem, and the entire production is seen through the eyes of Abigail Canner, a 21-year-old “young woman of color” from a free black family who is the first female Law graduate of Oberlin College. Although this would not happen until a number of years later in “our” world, Professor Carter does a remarkable job of bringing her to life and giving her credence.
Abigail, who has been hired as a law clerk by one of Lincoln’s attorneys upon the recommendation of one of her professors, bides her time while performing such non-lawyerly tasks as cleaning and running errands. Eventually she and Jonathan Hillman, a fellow junior clerk in the firm, form a partnership that leads them deep into a trail of deception, intrigue and personal danger in their efforts to derail President Lincoln’s enemies.
During a recent interview on National Public Radio, professor Carter talked about the challenge of creating authentic dialogue for Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, the president is only given half a dozen extended monologues in this book. A number of other historic figures are given greater rein including Dan Sickles, Kate Sprague, the socialite daughter of cabinet member Salmon P. Chase, Benjamin “Beast” Butler, Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, and Lincoln’s brilliant but ruthless Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.
Perhaps Professor Carter’s greatest accomplishment is recreating the nascent black middle class life in the District, and painting multi-dimensional characters in this fascinating window into the past.
“The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln” never fails to entertain (and in some wise, educate) and the mill race of an ending will ensure that the reader does not quickly forget this masterful work of literature.
Reviewed by Tory Leahy of Radford. She is the Children’s Assistant at the Christiansburg Library.
In “Bloody Times: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis,” James L. Swanson manages to describe the events that unfolded in 1865 and the remarkable men involved in great detail. The author uses photographs, train tables, newspapers and letter excerpts to help illustrate the scope of their influence in those moments and beyond. The subject matter is covered thoroughly and the book manages to be surprisingly thin (Score!). Swanson includes helpful bonus material such as, a note to readers, a who’s who (for both the Confederacy and the Union), a glossary, and titles for further reading. The glossary is especially helpful in the excerpts which use old fashioned phrases and the Who’s Who helps keep all of the key people in order.
The title suggests a lot more blood than the book delivers, but I don’t think readers will be disappointed. The writing is fast paced and the excerpts and photographs breathe life into the stories. Did you know it took 18 days for Abraham Lincoln to reach his final burial place? Would you have wanted to be traveling with a dead body for that long on a train? Did you know that there were rumors that Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, tried to escape capture dressed as a woman? The deaths of both Lincoln and Davis represented the endings of dramatic chapters in our country’s history. The author’s chapter on “Places to Go” quickly reminds us of how close we live to a wealth of knowledge. Richmond and Washington, D.C., have museums, cemeteries and monuments that can unlock more of our Nation’s rich past. This is the young adult adaptation of the author’s adult version of this book entitled, “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse.” Suggested interest level: Grades 7-10.
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