Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Manhunt

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Manhunt

The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

by James L. Swanson

Manhunt by James L. Swanson
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2007, 496 pages

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Booth's father, Junius Brutus Booth, emigrated from England in 1821 and quickly established himself as one of the great actors of the day. Most of his children were born out of wedlock, and most followed him onto the stage. John Wilkes Booth started his career in 1855 in Baltimore, and then in Philadelphia. Initially, he didn't show promise but in 1858 he moved to Richmond, Virginia where he became more confident as an actor and grew popular with audiences.

He temporarily enlisted in the Confederate army in 1959 in order to witness the hanging of abolitionist John Brown - afterwards he returned to Richmond and was discharged. He did not fight in the Civil War (apparently having promised his mother that he would not join the Confederate army). However, according to some reports he was actively engaged in smuggling medical supplies to Confederate forces.

He left the stage in 1864 to concentrate on his oil investments (bought from his earnings as an actor, at the height of his career he earned $20,000 a year) but turned over his interests to his brother and a friend the same year, having grown impatient with his lack of immediate success.

He then traveled to Montreal to meet with various men associated with the Confederacy. He began planning an operation to capture the President in order to force the release of Confederate prisoners of war confined in Union prisons. The attempted kidnapping took place in March 1865, but was foiled because the President changed his plans and attended a luncheon rather than visiting a hospital outside Washington, as scheduled.

Two weeks later, in April 1865, General Grant surrendered. Five days later, Booth assassinated Lincoln inside Ford's Theatre.

Coming Soon: Manhunt, the movie: Harrison Ford is slated to play Col. Everton Conger, who led the hunt. Apparently filming was due to start in late 2006 but according to the Internet Movie Database it is still in pre-production; and Booth has not been cast. If Swanson has a say the role will go to Johnny Depp, who he thinks "would make a terrific Booth ... because Booth was considered one of the handsomest, most popular men of his time. You'd have to cast a Booth-like person who would exude the same characteristics."

This article was originally published in March 2006, and has been updated for the February 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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