The shocking assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one of the most dramatic stories in American history. In “Lincoln's Last Days,” Bill O’Reilly adapts the saga he recounted in his bestselling “Killing Lincoln” in a new illustrated edition that will thrill young readers and adults alike. Here's an excerpt.
Abraham Lincoln, the man with six weeks to live, is anxious. The speech he is about to give is vital to the peace of the country. Since the Battle of Fort Sumter took place in South Carolina in April 1861, the United States has been a “house divided,” locked in a civil war between the free North and the slaveholding South. Led by South Carolina, a total of eleven slaveholding states in the South have left the Union and formed a separate nation, the Confederate States of America. The states that seceded felt that maintaining the institution of slavery was essential to their economy and they were willing to leave the Union rather than outlaw slavery.
Lincoln tried to stop the states from leaving, but they refused his peaceful appeals. When Confederate troops fired on Union troops at Fort Sumter, Lincoln had no choice but to go to war. This civil war has not only divided the nation, it has also split countless families, pitting fathers against sons, and brothers against brothers. It is a situation that even affects Lincoln’s family. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, has relatives fighting for the Confederacy. Much blood—too much blood—has been shed in this terrible conflict. Lincoln sighs, hoping that it will end soon, and with the Union victorious.
Fifty thousand men and women are standing in pouring rain and ankle-deep mud to watch Abraham Lincoln take the oath of office to begin his second term.
Lincoln steps up to the podium and delivers an eloquent appeal for reunification in his second inaugural address.
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“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations,” the president says humbly. As he speaks, the sun bursts through the clouds, its light surrounding the tall and outwardly serene Lincoln.
Although Lincoln does not know this, 120 miles south of Washington, at the important railroad and communications center of Petersburg, Virginia, a siege that started in June 1864 is nearing its end. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, has been pinned in and around the city for more than 250 days by Union forces under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. Lee knew if he didn’t defend Petersburg, the road to the Confederate capital of Richmond would be wide open. The capture of Richmond by Union troops would be a powerful symbolic victory, telling everyone that the end of the Confederacy was near. So Lee ordered his army to stay, dig trenches, and fight.
But now, in April 1865, Lee’s army is weak. At this point, if Lee remains and continues to defend Petersburg, his forces will be destroyed by Grant’s Army of the Potomac, which grows stronger in men and guns with each passing week. Lee knows that Grant is preparing for an overwhelming attack. Lee plans to have his army slip out of Petersburg and escape south to the Carolinas before that happens. If he succeeds, Lincoln’s prayer for a reunified United States of America may never be answered. America will continue to be divided into a North and a South, a United States of America and a Confederate States of America.
Lincoln’s inaugural speech is a performance worthy of a great dramatic actor. And indeed, one of America’s most famous actors stands just yards away as the president speaks. Twenty-six-year-old John Wilkes Booth is inspired by the president’s words—though not in the way Lincoln intends.
The president has ambitious plans for his second term in office. Ending the war and healing the war-torn nation are Lincoln’s overriding ambitions. He will use every last bit of his trademark determination to see these goals realized; nothing must stand in his way.
But evil knows no boundaries. And a most powerful evil—in the person of John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators—is now focused on Abraham Lincoln.
Reprinted from "Lincoln's Last Days" by Bill O'Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman © 2012 by Bill O'Reilly. Used with permission of the publisher, Henry Holt and Company, a division of Macmillan.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive