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Lincoln's Assassination

Lincoln's Assassination

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Edward Steers, Jr.


E-book (Other formats: Hardcover)
12 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

For 150 years, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln has fascinated the American people. Relatively few academic historians, however, have devoted study to it, viewing the murder as a side note tied to neither the Civil War nor Reconstruction. Over time, the traditional story of the assassination has become littered with myths, from the innocence of Mary Surratt and Samuel Mudd to John Wilkes Booth’s escape to Oklahoma or India, where he died by suicide several years later. In this succinct volume, Edward Steers, Jr. sets the record straight, expertly analyzing the historical evidence to explain Lincoln’s assassination.

The decision to kill President Lincoln, Steers shows, was an afterthought. John Wilkes Booth’s original plan involved capturing Lincoln, delivering him to the Confederate leadership in Richmond, and using him as a bargaining chip to exchange for southern soldiers being held in Union prison camps. Only after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia and Richmond fell to Union forces did Booth change his plan from capture to murder. As Steers explains, public perception about Lincoln’s death has been shaped by limited but popular histories that assert, alternately, that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton engineered the assassination or that John Wilkes Booth was a mad actor fueled by delusional revenge. In his detailed chronicle of the planning and execution of Booth’s plot, Steers demonstrates that neither Stanton nor anyone else in Lincoln’s sphere of political confidants participated in Lincoln’s death, and Booth remained a fully rational person whose original plan to capture Lincoln was both reasonable and capable of success. He also implicates both Mary Surratt and Samuel Mudd, as well as other conspirators, clarifying their parts in the scheme.

At the heart of Lincoln’s assassination, Steers reveals, lies the institution of slavery. Lincoln’s move toward ending slavery and his unwillingness to compromise on emancipation spurred the white supremacist Booth and ultimately resulted in the president’s untimely death. With concise chapters and inviting prose, this brief volume will prove essential for anyone seeking a straightforward, authoritative analysis of one of the most dramatic events in American history.


Edward Steers, Jr., a scientist retired from the National Institutes of Health, is the author, editor, coauthor, or coeditor of thirteen books, including Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln; The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia; The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence; The Trial: The Assassination of President Lincoln and the Trial of the Conspirators; and Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Abraham Lincoln.


“Steers delivers a page-turning narrative that thoroughly explains the motivations and actions of John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices, in the process demolishing various myths and conspiracy theories. Steers carefully contextualizes the assassination to show that Booth’s crime was not arbitrary but instead manifested a larger movement to remove Lincoln from power. . . . Scholars may continue to debate whether or not Edwin Stanton, standing at Lincoln’s deathbed, committed his departed friend to the ages or the angels, and to some extent the grieving secretary’s cryptic phrase portended the subsequent myths and fabrications that have enshrouded many accounts of Lincoln’s death. Peeling back many of these obfuscating layers, Steers combines’ careful attention to historical detail with crisp prose, rendering a captivating retelling of this national tragedy.”—Sean A. Scott, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

“Steers engages readers by making them aware of historiographical con­troversies in the process of presenting his own views. At times Steers delves into more minutiae than might be expected for an introductory text. . . . Lincoln's Assassina­tion not only introduces readers to its topic but also gives them a glimpse into the intensity with which the community of people who research and write about the assassination continue to argue about what really happened.”—Gerald J. Prokopowicz, Journal of Southern History

“Edward Steers Jr. has produced a wonderful, concise summary of the Abraham Lincoln assassination, explaining the realities and the myths to historians and to the general public alike. . . . Steers is one of the acknowledged experts in America on the Lincoln impact, both during his presidency, and the tragic events of his demise. He knows how to capture a reader, and clarify major and minor points, including those that have been in dispute for a long time.
       “While any reader of scholar interested in Abraham Lincoln’s life and death should read more of Steers’ works, reading this short study is certainly a good start, and might be for some, conclusive enough to satisfy most curiosities about the most dramatic turning point in American presidential history, the death of the man considered by almost all reputable scholars to be the greatest president in American history.” –Ronald L. Feinman, Journal of Illinois History

“Edward Steers has packaged his vast knowledge of the Lincoln assassination and its perpetrators in this concise, fast-paced, and penetrating narrative. If you can read only one book on the subject, this is the one to select.”—James M. McPherson, author of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

“Steers is well known as one of America’s leading assassination scholars. In Lincoln’s Assassination Steers provides a concise summary of his decades of research and writing about the death of the sixteenth president. This book is highly recommended for those seeking a fuller understanding of this cataclysmic event which marked a violent end to the Civil War and set the tone for Reconstruction as the nation thirsted for vengeance.” —Thomas R. Turner, editor of The Lincoln Herald

“The assassination of Abraham Lincoln has been shrouded in folklore ever since that tragic night. Dr. Steers, the preeminent Lincoln assassination scholar of a generation, shines his torch of knowledge against the blinding mythology of history to illuminate the truth. Quick and easy to read, this volume sheds light where darkness has ruled for far too long.”—Joseph Garrera, executive director, Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum