Chasing Lincoln’s Killer


James L. Swanson

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Chasing Lincoln’s Killer Study Guide

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Brief Biography of James L. Swanson

James L. Swanson was born to a family of storytellers. His grandfather worked in the Chicago police department and regaled the family with stories of gangsters during the prohibition era and protesters against the Vietnam War. His grandmother, who worked at tabloid newspapers in Chicago, bought him an engraving of the Deringer pistol that Booth used to shoot Lincoln for his tenth birthday, beginning a lifelong fascination with the sixteenth president and with his assassination. He has a law degree from UCLA and has was a special assistant in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. Swanson has also written books about the manhunt for Confederate President Jefferson Davis and about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
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Historical Context of Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer begins as the four-year Civil War was coming to an end. President Abraham Lincoln led the Union in the war against the eleven states of the South, which wished to secede and form a new country, the Confederate States of America, where the system of slavery would be continued. Lincoln had been reelected in a landslide victory in November 1864, although the states that had seceded to form the Confederacy did not vote. Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term on March 4, 1865. By early 1865, the Confederacy was in an inferior position to fight the war. A naval blockade disrupted trade, run-away inflation reduced the value of Southern currency, agriculture had been decimated and many Southerners had fled their homes for safety deeper in the South, sometimes bringing their slaves with them. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia at the Appomattox court house. The end of the war was not officially declared for more than a year however, when the final scattered pockets of Confederate resistance were put down. But before that happened, and just five days after Lee’s surrender, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln.

Other Books Related to Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

Swanson adapted Chasing Lincoln’s Killer from his work of adult history Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. He asked young readers to read his book for adults and comment on which parts they thought would be most interesting to people of their age. They told him to be sure to leave in all of the gory details, which he did.
Key Facts about Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
  • Full Title: Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
  • Where Written: Washington, DC
  • When Published: 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Biography, History
  • Setting: Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia
  • Climax: John Wilkes Booth is discovered hiding in a tobacco barn in Virginia.
  • Antagonist: John Wilkes Booth

Extra Credit for Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

February 12. James L. Swanson and Abraham Lincoln share a birthday.

Change of heart. Thomas Jones, the Confederate spy who arguably did the most to help Booth and Herold during their twelve-days on the run, wrote a memoir in 1893 describing his role in Booth’s escape. Jones wrote that over time he had come to realize that the assassination of Lincoln was a terrible crime. He did not, however, say that he regretted helping Lincoln’s killer.