Grade Level: Seventh Grade
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer was an amazing read! The author, James L. Swanson, is incredibly educated about the assassination of Lincoln. The historical information presented in this book is outstanding.
As I read through this book, my heart would beat faster as Swanson described the chase for John Wilkes Booth. The description of the plot to assassinate Lincoln was well laid out. The description of the days later were intense. I did not know about the near misses in arresting Booth. He manages to escape from the calvary multiple times.
There are several things to be aware of in this novel. Mostly, the descriptions of the murder of Lincoln and the attacks on the other governmental official. On page 41, the author writes, “The ball ripped through his chestnut-colored hair, cut the skin, penetrated the skull, and because of the angle of Lincoln’s head at the moments of impacts, made a diagonal tunnel through Lincoln’s brain. The wet brain matter slowed the ball’s speed…” Later he mentions Dr. Leale’s attempt to relieve pressure on the brain. In both instances, the author states that the doctor uses his finger to remove the blot clot from the bullet wound. In one description he mentions “Fresh blood and brain matter oozed through Leale’s fingers.” (page 77)
Chapter III presents a vivid description of the attack on Secretary of State Seward. The author describes how Powell attacked multiple people in the house that night in attempt to get to Seward. These attacks include pistol whipping Seward’s son Frederick. Powell engages in hand-to-hand fighting with a veteran and guard of Seward. He also attacks Seward’s daughter Fanny. Swanson writes, “The blade slashed open Seward’s cheek so viciously that the skin hung from a flap, exposing his teeth and fractured jawbone.” Later on page 169, there is a picture of Seward showing the scar he received from the attack.
Most of the book focuses on the chase for Booth. Swanson lays out the route Booth took after shooting Lincoln. He lists the people who assisted him on his way south. In one instance, Booth hires an African-American to help him. Personally, I found this interesting seeing as Booth was a very proud confederate and pro-slavery.
In the epilogue, Swanson mentions the fate of those charged with the assassination of Lincoln, Seward, and Vice President Johnson. One of those was Mary Surat. She was the first woman hanged by the US Government. Swanson uses pictures from newspapers from the time throughout his book. A word of warning: the image of the hanging of the four members of Booth’s plot is in the epilogue. Swanson also tells his readers that the man in the booth with Lincoln goes crazy and kills his wife.
Overall, this book was an amazing read. The information is strongly supported by historical sources and much research on the part of the author. If your child is interested in Lincoln, then this book is a must read.
Lesson Plan Ideas:
- Your child could do a science experiment over coagulation.
- Use the map on page 62 to practice directions. They could plan an alternate route for Booth to take from Ford’s Theatre.
- Create a timeline over the events of the two week search. TEKS 8.1A talks about using chronology and identifying important eras and dates in history.
- Kids can create a newspaper article over the assassination of Lincoln or even the capture and death of Booth.
- Write a diary entry as one of the characters.
- Create a witness statement.
- Created a wanted sign for Booth and the men in his group.