One of my main characters is mistaken for John Wilkes Booth in the flurry to hunt down the man responsible for killing President Lincoln. While researching the plausibility of this hook, I’ve become intimate with the movements Booth made today, 150 years ago. I’ve created a nifty little timeline free for you to download or pin, and in the days to come I hope to continue the timeline as it took the nation twelve days to find Booth.
Most people know Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865. How many of you did the math to realize this was 150 years ago? While researching for my latest work-in-progress, I’m counting down the days from Appomattox (the Confederate surrender) to Lincoln’s death. Both because it is the hook that kicks off my work-in-progress, and in memory of the great humanitarian, Lincoln.
As part of my work-in-progress, I’ve wanted to include snippets from Columbus newspapers. This is most likely where my characters would have looked for information about the nation, and Lincoln’s killer. The timeline of Booth’s plans to “abduct” the president (I’ll get into this in a different blog post), the shooting, and the twelve day chase after Booth is a pretty anxious reading of the local newspapers.
Seriously, it’s like reading about 9/11, but without the benefit (or unfortunate awareness) of having watched the planes crash on the TV myself. No one knew what had happened for certain, except that Lincoln was dead. But! I’m getting ahead of myself. So far in history, all Columbus knows is that the war is over.
Think about it… today on April 11, 1865, Columbus had just heard the news that the war had ended at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. That would be like hearing today that the War in Afghanistan is finally over. That the first ever draft had come to an end. That the bloodiest war in the history of the United States had concluded.
Columbus, Ohio had plans to celebrate! You see, people had no idea what was coming, as you can tell from this snippet, which was published today 150 years ago…
GOVERNOR’S PROCLAMATION. The State of Ohio, Executive Department, April 8, 1865.
The God of Battles has blessed our armies, and the glorious cause of human freedom. Under His approving smiles the patriotic and brave men in the field have achieved unparalleled triumphs.
The rebel Capital has been conquered, and given back to the Union, and the army that held it in rebellion has been broken and scattered. The military power of the rebellion–the strongest obstacle to peace–has received a terrible shock, and our gallant armies are pursuing it to final extinction….
Daily Ohio Statesman. (Columbus [Ohio]), 11 April 1865 : 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
Columbus had plans for a big parade, all the lights to be lit on homes at night, etc… and it was made known that every loyal citizen of the Union had the duty of making the celebration a success. Columbus was going to celebrate the results of what happened at Appomattox, and they were going to party hard.
Quite obviously, things were still pretty charged in the nation, including Ohio. Sure, Ohio was a supporter of the Union and sent the most soldiers of any Union state to support the Federal Army.
But Copperheads i.e. Northern Democrats who supported negotiations with the Confederate States, also wrote newspapers in the central Ohio area. They were not so excited about the Union victory, but what could they say?
After four years of dreadful and desolating war, we seem to be approaching peace. After four years of absolute and bloody disunion, we appear to be on the eve of a restored Union. Many have believed the thing impossible. We have not been of that number.
The idea of conquering, subjugating and territorializing the Southern States is about to be abandoned by the Administration North, while on the other hand the project of a separate government South, is being abandoned by the men there who chiefly have given dignity and importance to the struggle, and they who opposed secession at the first, and who have been reconstructionists ever since, are getting the control.
All that is wanting now, is fair and honorable terms–“the Constitution as it is, and the Union as it was.” That “true reconcilement” may yet grow between the sections and stronger bonds of Union than ever, all history attests….
Dayton Daily Empire. (Dayton [Ohio]), 11 April 1865: 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.
A couple of days later, Lincoln and his wife would be attending a play, hoping to have a nice evening out after having won a momentous war. Columbus would be lighting candles and having parades, intent on celebrating the same.
It’s rather mind-boggling, how innocent the country still happened to be, before Booth aimed that revolver.
Last Saturday (April 3) I went to my first ever Echoes in Time theatre at the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society). This event is new to me, but according to the coordinator Mike Follin, it has been running for about six years. That’s six years of me missing out, you guys.
The topic for this talk was “Who Really Killed Lincoln?” which of course piqued my interest given my work-in-progress. I had to ask, why were they asking who killed Lincoln, don’t we know this for sure? Well, yes, and so we learned from Mike who played the “investigator.”
The Echoes in Time Set Up
This particular Echoes in Time theatre started with the room set up to look like an 1800s personal study. Our seats were stadium style in the other half of the room, probably enough to hold 30 or 40 people. I made sure to pick a spot near the aisle and under a light, since I figured I’d be taking copious notes (I did) and didn’t want to distract anyone (pretty sure I didn’t). The audience was a range of ages, mainly on the elderly side, but there was one family with school-age children. I was the only young professional, as it were.
Once we were seated, an Ohio History Connection rep came to welcome us, thank us for attending, and mention the topics coming up for the theatre. There’s going to be a talk about the Reconstruction era in June, which is already on my calendar.
After that, our investigator shuffled into the room and was surprised to see he had an audience. He accused us of sneaking into his office, which elicited chuckles. Then he realized his opportunity, and he announced that since he had our captive attention, he was going to chat about the conspiracy theories, which is exactly what we wanted.
The Conspiracy Theories
The question, therefore, was not, “who pulled the trigger?” Come on, we all know that was John Wilkes Booth. The question instead was, “Who put John Wilkes Booth up to pulling the trigger?” That, of course, is a far more interesting question. Was Booth the mastermind we’d all like to believe? Was Booth a cog in the wheel? We learned there are five major popular theories about Booth’s participation, listed below:
- Grand theory
The Confederate government hired Booth to kidnap Lincoln to force negotiations to end the war. When the war ended, the plan turned to assassination.
- Simple theory
Booth was a Confederate patriot and racist who meant to kidnap Lincoln, not kill him. When kidnapping plans fell through because the war had ended, he turned to revenge and shot Lincoln. Using his acting prowess (he was the George Clooney of his day), he manipulated others into realizing his plan, and taking the fall with him.
- Eisenschiml’s theory
Secretary of War Stanton was behind the assassination, because he didn’t do enough to stop it, and he didn’t like Lincoln anway. Evidence shows Stanton respected and admired Lincoln, and no one expected this, so he did his best to shut down the city to catch Booth.
- Banker/Jews theory
Important European bankers like the Rothschilds offered Lincoln loans to finance the war, but he found other means; what an insult! Plus, Lincoln’s Reconstructionist policies were mild, which would have destroyed Rothschild commodity plan to take advantage of a crippled American agriculture.
- Pope theory
Lincoln won a case for a Catholic father against a Bishop in his early lawyer career, and apparently the Catholics never forgave him. It’s a long game, and a long shot because there’s absolutely no evidence to support this since no one can confirm if Booth was Catholic or had any religious affiliation.
The presentation was great, mainly because Mike is an entertaining historian. He had side comments that had us chuckling the entire time, and yet I still managed to scribble down four A4 (letter sized) pages of notes. He shuffled out of his office, thanking us for listening to his ramblings, and we applauded. Then he returned as Mike the historian (rather than the “investigator” character), welcoming questions and talk of other theories he didn’t have time to mention.
One guy was super into talking about how the United Kingdom probably helped the plot because they wanted to support the Confederacy. Mike shot that down pretty quickly with some interesting facts, and saying you can always find a connection if you really want to. I made a point of chatting with Mike after everyone left, and he was kind enough to give me contact information so I can shoot him a question whenever. So helpful for my new book!
All in all, I’m excited to attend my next Echoes in Time. If you’re in town, make sure to look up the Ohio History Connection’s event calendar. It’s affordable (only $10) and well worth the time. Plus, you can wander around the free rotating exhibits for the rest of the day, which is always fun.
P.S. Since I’m sure you’re curious, historical evidence supports the Simple Theory.
With the restart of the latest WIP, I’ve been using Evernote to collect research about living in 1864 Columbus, OH during and right after Lincoln’s death. As convenient as it is, I kinda miss the old way of doing research.
Once upon a time, I ran to the library to grab all the books on a topic. I filled paper journals with notes to reference when I couldn’t remember a clothing detail etc. It got a bit unwieldy the more mobile my life became. I have a bin of research for Catching the Rose, which I wrote back in high school, so my research methods weren’t quite so methodical and clean. I filled two paper journals of notes for Haunting Miss Trentwood, covering transportation, clothing, the rise of the “independent woman” in 1880s England, and even English law.
For this new untitled Work-in-progress, I’m trying something different: Evernote.
Evernote is nice because it allows me to “clip” interesting paragraphs, images, and other online research. It captures the URL for me, so I can go back and build my bibliography without fear of missing something. And, best of all, it provides tagging and searching capabilities! When I’m trying to remember just who tried to bust all those Confederates out of the Lake Erie-based Johnson’s Island prison, I can do it easily.
So it works for my mobile life of bouncing around town writing in different locations per my schedule and availability. I can look something up on my phone, which is awesome, but actual collecting of materials is best on a laptop. And it’s making a sorted bibliography super easy to create!
I’ll try to do a better job sharing some of the things I’ve been learning, whether that particular research detail makes it into the book or not. In terms of progress, I’ve written two-and-a-half chapters and it’s felt like pulling teeth, but at least it’s progress!