Monday, August 8, 2011
Nonfiction Monday: Bloody Times
written by James L. Swanson
Source: Mebane Public Library
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Like the previous Chasing Lincoln's Killer, James L. Swanson has adapted one of his adult works, Bloody Crimes, and created a version for younger readers. Bloody Times juxtaposes the multi-city funeral procession of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln with the flight from Richmond of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Swanson crafts a riveting narrative once again that keeps you glued to the page even though you know how this is going to turn out. As a history nerd, I was aware of these two events, but Swanson has added a lot of depth to my knowledge. The level of mourning for Lincoln is heartbreaking as thousands stand in often rainy conditions to get a brief glimpse of the fallen president. Assistant Adjutant General Edward D. Townsend has the unenviable task of supervising the funeral procession from town to town, making sure the train arrived and left on time. Swanson's details give us a picture of what a monumental task it was to lead Lincoln's body to eventual burial in Springfield, Illinois. I appreciate the brief stories of people who met the procession and left tokens of their respect. Especially touching was a group of young girls that created a flower arrangement for the accompanying casket of Lincoln's previously deceased son Willie. At this same time, Jefferson Davis is fleeing further and further south as Union troops advance and move to end the war. These sections read like a cliffhanger as you wait for Davis to be captured. He has difficulty bringing himself to the realization that his cause is lost and that his life is in imminent danger. I found the section of the book that deals with how Jefferson Davis has fared in the annals of history to be particularly interesting and thoughtful.
If you teach specifically about the Civil War, you can read passages of Bloody Times to give students a sense of the mood of the country as the war ended. You could also ask students to put themselves in the position of President Andrew Johnson and ask them what they would have done with Jefferson Davis once he was captured. Bloody Times could be the starting point of many interesting history discussions.
Here is a link to the Smithsonian Institute's Civil War 150 commemeration. There seems to be a ton of material here.
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