A NOTE TO READERS
The story you are about to read is true and truly shocking. It has been 150 years since the beginning of the Civil War, the bloodiest war in our nation’s history, a conflict so full of horror it is almost impossible to describe. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, only days after the end of the war, was a terrible tragedy. Much has been speculated about the events leading up to the murder and immediately afterward, but few people know what really happened.
Before historian Martin Dugard and I began writing this book, I thought I understood the facts and implications of the assassination. But even though I am a former teacher of history, I had no clue. The ferocious assassination plan itself still has elements that have not been clarified. This is a saga of courage, cowardice, and betrayal. There are layers of proven conspiracy and alleged conspiracy that will disturb you. You will learn much in these pages, and the experience, I believe, will advance your understanding of our country, and how Lincoln’s murder changed it forever.
This book is a departure from the contemporary nonfiction I have written for more than a decade and from the daily news analysis that I do on television. But the lessons you will learn within these pages are relevant to all our lives. For those of us who want to improve the United States and keep it the greatest nation in the world, we must be aware of the true heroes who have made the country great as well as the villains who have besmirched it.
Finally, this book is written as a thriller. But don’t let the style fool you. What you are about to read is unsanitized and uncompromising. It is a no spin American story, and I am proud of it.
April 3, 2011
Long Island, New York
SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 1865
The man with six weeks to live is anxious.
He furls his brow, as he does countless times each day, and walks out of the Capitol Building, which is nearing completion. He is exhausted, almost numb.
Fifty thousand men and women stand in pouring rain and ankle-deep mud to watch Abraham Lincoln take the oath of office to begin his second term. His new vice president, Andrew Johnson, has just delivered a red-faced, drunken, twenty-minute ramble vilifying the South that has left the crowd squirming, embarrassed by Johnson’s inebriation.
So when Lincoln steps up to the podium and delivers an eloquent appeal for reunification, the spiritual message of his second inaugural address is all the more uplifting. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations,” the president intones humbly.
Despite his exhaustion, Lincoln is charismatic. And momentarily energized.
Suddenly, the sun bursts through the clouds as he speaks, its light enveloping the tall and outwardly serene Lincoln. But 120 miles away in the Virginia railroad junction of Petersburg, any thought of serenity is a fantasy. The Confederate army, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, has been pinned inside the city for more than 250 days by Union forces under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. Though living in trenches and reduced to eating rats and raw bacon, Lee’s men will not surrender. Instead, Lee is