Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bloody Crimes - book

Bloody Crimes The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse, James L. Swanson (William Morrow, N.Y., 2010).

As I have never been a Civil War aficionado, or a Lincoln “buff,” when someone gave me this book for Christmas I approached it with a certain amount of skepticism. Without the subtitle I would have assumed it was a book about crime, perhaps serial killers or some such thing. In fact, as the author tells us in the Introduction, it comes from Ezekiel 7:23, “Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence.” “Bloody crimes” is also a phrase used by Lincoln when he warned in his second inaugural address that slavery was a bloody crime that might not be expunged without the shedding of more blood.

As I knew nothing about Abraham Lincoln’s elaborate funeral, and even less about the fate of Jefferson Davis, I came away having learned a great deal. I had no idea that Lincoln’s funeral lasted for some sixteen days and involved transporting his corpse more than 1600 miles in part by horse-drawn hearse and, more importantly, by train. During this long trip (with no refrigeration) the corpse was attended by a pair of morticians who employed all their professional skills to preserve it for viewing by a public that exceeded one million citizens. This funeral was an absolutely monumental task for that period of time, but it came off without a hitch, right on schedule, as the train traveled all the way from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln was finally laid to rest. It was a scene of unimaginable grief as thousands lined up to view the corpse and mourn at every one of the many stops along the way.

The bulk of the book is taken up with the description of this pageant of death, and it is described in such excruciating, and even somewhat gory detail, that I found it excessive. I believe the author is correct when he suggests this was more than merely a funeral for a President, but also represented the overwhelming relief on the part of most that the horrible, deadly war, with such an incredible waste of life, was at last over.

This is not a book about the assassination itself, although it is briefly described, as is the pursuit and death of John Wilkes Booth, nor is it a book about slavery. What makes the book of special interest is the author’s weaving of the time lines of Lincoln’s funeral with that of the fate of Jefferson Davis. While the death train is in one place, Davis’s location and state of mind is also noted. Communication being as it was at that time, Jefferson Davis was not aware for several days that Lincoln had been assassinated. Although he had nothing whatsoever to do with the assassination, Davis was aware that he might be blamed for it, and he was. A reward of $100,000 was offered for his capture (that was truly a huge amount of money at that time). Several of his aides were also charged, each with a $25,000 on their heads.

Although after Robert E. Lee surrendered his army it was obvious the war was over, but Davis did not think so and urged other Southern troops to fight on. Morale, however, was so low, and the desire to return to their homes was so great, most of them simply refused to fight on and began to disperse. Davis thought he might cross the Mississippi and fight on in the West, but that was not to be. He probably could have made his way out of the United States and found refuge in Mexico or even in Europe, but being a man of honor and a gentleman, he refused to do so. His wife and children were themselves fugitives and trying to escape capture. The few letters between Davis and his wife were truly moving in their expressions of love and loyalty. As Davis refused to run away as he might have, he was, of course, eventually captured, put in chains, and humiliated by his captors. Curiously enough, after he was held for a time, no charges were brought against him, he was released and, although without many resources, lived into his 80’s, never believing he or the South had done anything wrong. He and his wife were reunited and lived happily for quite a long time. Abraham Lincoln became recognized as one of our great Presidents, Jefferson Davis has faded into relative obscurity. Bloody Crimes offers some insights into the personalities of these two great men, and is well worth reading if, like me, you know little about the Civil War, those who fought it, and the final outcome of some of the participants.


Seeker said...

Davis refused to run away?

Where did you get that idea?

Davis and Lee both ran from Richmond on the mere false RUMOR of a breech in the line. Lee ran first, so what was Davis to do with a few hundred men?

Southerners at the time tried to show Davis was a coward for running, but Davis stuck around longer than Lee and his 10,000 men.

The interesting thing is WHY Davis stayed till nightfall -- he gathered the gold.

Furthermore this book tries to be politically correct, as one must even 150 years later. So intense are the feelings even now, true scholarship is thrown overboard, everyone must show Lee and Davis as near God like as possible.

But Davis was caught in a dress. And no, the report of the dress was not manufactured -- it was real. Contrary to what Bloody Crimes tries to tell you.

Varina Davis all but admitted he had on a dress, saying in her own letter that she tried to convince the Union soldiers "he is my mother".

Let me repeat that -- Varina Davis own letter, available even today online, shows that SHE wrote that she told the Union troops Davis was her MOTHER.

That's her own quote. Do you see it in Bloody Crimes? No.

Davis's own aid wrote that he wore a dress.

The union soldiers could be lying, but every soldiers there said for the rest of their lives that he wore a dress.

But the dress was a small matter actually. He was running for his life, and a dress was the smart way to escape detection. There was literally an army looking for him, and a fantastic reward to any civilian to captured him.

Covered up in this dispute, is Davis's cowardice upon capture. Forget the dress! The man was running away from his wife and children, trying to reach horses 200 feet away.

Davis would later claim he was trying to reach guns on the horses, to protect his wife. And there were guns on the horses.

But there were guns back where Davis was too - much closer!

The real story should have been Davis cowardly run from Richmond with the gold, and then his more cowardly run away from his family.

Let me point out that I never even heard of Davis dress story for most of my life -- and when I heard of it, I assumed it was balderdash nonsense.

Only when I read Varina Davis own letter -- where SHE claimed she told the Union troops Davis was her MOTHER -- did I start to wonder. And the more I looked at the reports from the time, and the complete letters from his wife, and his aide, did I realize,

1) he had on a dress.

2) he was running away from his wife and children.

Now, if books like BLoody Crimes would deal with the real evidence -- maybe there is away to reasonably claim Davis wore no dress. But so far, not a single solitary attempted repudiation of the dress story, even MENTIONS these things.

That is the real kicker. Surely the "scholars" who study these documents know that Davis wife wrote she told the Union soldiers Davis was her mother. It's in HER OWN LETTER to the Blairs!

They quote the letter! But they don't mention that part.

Incredibly, who does the author of Bloody Crimes quote, as the authoritive expert on the dress question?

He quotes Jefferson Davis! Davis of course claimed he wore no dress. But nearly everyone else there, including his wife and aide, show something else entirely.

This shows why people should reallly suspect "historians" and read the original stuff yourself.

Thank God for Google! If not for Google and the internet, we might forever be stuck with accepting "historians" selective "quotes".

Seeker said...

By the way, I was so taken with this "dress story" that I started a blog about it.

It's not finished, and I am no scholar.

This dress matter is of no great consequence -- what bothers me is the lack of candor in history. The dress story is just one of a hunndred such things I have ran across.

Now, I can see if you are a devotee of Davis, that you would skip the embarrassing truths, and argue your case with selective "facts" you pick out to your advantage. We all do that. It's human as exhaling.

But the author of Bloody Crimes is trying to hold himself out to some kind of scholarship. He has footnotes and the whole shebang.

Davis was a human, and humans don't like to be shot or hung. He was wisely running for his life.

At what point can we be candid about this period? Oh I know, the war is over. No use trouncing on people's reputations, and all that. Leave a man and his cause a shred of decency.

A few years ago I innocently started to use Google Books to read antebellumm books and newspapers. I just thought it would be fun. If I were in a physical library, I would love to see the old books and papers. SO I used Google to see them.

Wow -- I was stunned. God ordained slavery and the torture of slaves, some of these books said. We spread slavery because God tells us to.

The torture of slaves is Godly --slaves even owe sexual obedience!

I found out things I never heard in schoool. Dred Scott decision -- it's not about "citizenship". It says blacks are SO inferior, that no white man can possibly believe blacks have any rights whatsoever that whites must respect. Blacks have no more rights than a stack of lumber.

In fact, Dred Scott goes even further! No one told me that. Dred Scott said no congressional act, no state act, NOTHING, could even grant blacks any rights.

Then I read more. Jeff Davis books -- he claimed that the "intolerabe grievance" that caused secession was that some people in the North (he meant Lincoln) has spoken out against the Dred Scott decision!

Holy Cow!! No history class ever told me that. Why not?

Then I read where Southern papers reported their own leaders Five Ultimatums -- all about the spread of slavery BY FORCE against the will of the people.

I never heard that -- yet it's headlines in SOuthern papers, under the banner "THE TRUE ISSUE".

Pretty soon, you gotta wonder, what in the heck is going on here?

These things are in SOUTHERN books, SOUTHERN papers, from the time! Not later. Not by someone trying to expose or embarrass them. These were writting, apparently, proudly and loudly.

Why is there such a disconnect between what the original documents and speeches and books and newspapers say, and what we are taught?

The Davis dress story is one such example. There is not a single solitary book, that I know, written from 1900 on, that has enough candor to even admit the odd things, like Davis wife herself claiming SHE told the soldiers he was her mother. Not ONE.

Is all history so distorted? If so, why even bother reading it?