Sunday, August 04, 2019


I am listening to the historical thriller podcast series 1865. It is a radio drama (an older form that I had forgotten how much I liked) and picks up on the night Lincoln was shot. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is the main character, and John Wilkes Booth turns out to have more connections to other major players than I knew. Rather ugly connections, actually.  President Andrew Johnsoneven, and Booth's secret fiancee Lucy Hale, the daughter of John Parker Hale, the radical Republican Senator from NH, just for openers. I am finding it fascinating. I recommend this highly.

First there is information I had never known, which left me dumbfounded.  I am not an expert on the Civil War, but I do pay attention as things go by and know at least a bit.  Or perhaps I don't, and only know one of the preferred narratives. Every episode some new twist is introduced and I recoil saying "That can't possibly be true."  Yet when they discuss (between each episode) the actual historical support for their dramatic choices, those are the well-attested items, while the ones I had thought unremarkable are where they took some license.

Secondly, it is always good to be reminded that the events of history take place in real time, and the people making decisions and living them out do not know what we do.  We read back what we know in a dozen ways that deceive us.  It was a very big deal that Booth was still at large for two weeks after the assassination, and this influenced far-reaching decisions, such as the declaration of martial law. That Mrs. Lincoln in her derangement refused to leave the White House created an enormous PR problem for everyone, and no one quite knew what to do about it, and it see-sawed the balance of power among those left to run the country. The surrender of Lee was not the end of the war, but we now regard subsequent actions as mere mopping-up. We only know that Booth was eventually caught and killed, against orders, and that Mrs. Lincoln did eventually leave and let President Johnson move in, and that General Johnston did shortly surrender. For us, mere footnotes among larger events.  For them, the dominant questions of the moment.


Sam L. said...

"We only know that Booth was eventually caught and killed, against orders, and that Mr. Lincoln did eventually leave and let President Johnson move in,..." Mrs. Lincoln did eventually leave, as Mr. Lincoln, being dead, was no longer residing there, and had no opinion to voice.

Where exactly is this radio play being broadcast? Inquiring minds want to know...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It's a podcast, not really on the radio. Thanks for the edit. I will fix it.