The Lincoln Assassination Riddle

The Lincoln Assassination Riddle

Revisiting the Crime of the Nineteenth Century

Edited by Frank J. Williams and Michael Burkhimer

Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio, 2016, 224 pages

Book Review published on: April 28, 2017

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln at the hands of John Wilkes Booth changed the course of American history in ways we are still dealing with today. Most Americans know the story of Booth shooting Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre and then leaping off the balcony to make his escape. Few, however, know of the various conspiracies that led to this fateful day.

The Lincoln Assassination Riddle explores the mysteries of the assassination from a variety of perspectives. The book is a compilation from leading experts—Michael J. Kline, Blaine V. Houmes, Steven G. Miller, Laurie Verge, Burrus M. Carnahan, Joan L. Chaconas, Michael S. Green, Michael Kauffman, Betsy J. Ownsbey, Edward Steers Jr., Tom Turner, and others—as they study this crime of the century from numerous perspectives. The book does an excellent job of showing the web of conspirators centered on an assassination plan in Baltimore, a kidnap plot in and around the District of Columbia, and various conspiracies associated with leaders throughout the Confederacy. It was fascinating how the authors linked each conspirator to one another and ultimately to Booth through the research of over two hundred separate articles directed to people who either knew about the plot or might have known. Also included in this book are important discussions of Booth’s escape route in southern Maryland and its effects on the assassination. Controversial figures like Louis Weichmann and Mary and John Surratt are profiled and the evidence against them examined.

There were three major flaws that made this book a hard read. First, since it is a compilation of various authors, there are duplications of facts, assumptions, and critical information from the names of the conspirators, the associations of each of conspirator, and the background stories surrounding each conspirator. Second, the descriptions of the fatal wound to Lincoln was too technical for a layman or nonmedical professional. Finally, the conclusions were disappointing. After all the robust discussion, the book concludes that the same outcome would have occurred in 1865 would occur today—Lincoln’s death. After discussing the links in the Baltimore kidnapping conspiracy, the conclusion was that Booth was involved “seems likely.” The same is true with the trial of Mary Surratt. Was she guilty, yes. Did she know about the plot to assassinate Lincoln, one author stated, “I tend to say no.” To a reader unfamiliar with the complex backstory of the conspiracies surrounding Lincoln’s assassination, I thought the evidence was compelling and would have thought the authors would have more decisive in their conclusions.

Even with the flaws associated with the book, it is a compelling compilation of works by well-respected researchers and is fascinating background into the conspiracies surrounding the plots to first kidnap and then assassinate the sixteenth president of the United States. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in Lincoln’s life and ultimately, his death.

Book Review written by: Col. James L. Davis, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas