I conducted my own investigation into the assassination of Abraham Lincoln after viewing Robert Redford’s, The Conspirator, a film that documents how a kangaroo military court sent an innocent Mary Surratt to the gallows to cover up the real assassination plot. It’s obvious she was railroaded if you just read the transcripts of the trial, but why?
When I told some people what I was doing, many asked if I’d read Bill O’Reilly’s recent book on the subject. I had no idea he’d written the book, much less that it had become a huge bestseller and launched a franchise of similar historical assassination books.
But after a month of research using mostly original documents from the era, I had to check out Killing Lincoln. It took me about 20 minutes to speed read the book because this is territory I know quite well at this point, so I was skimming major points of evidence, looking for rabbit holes and wanting to see which crucial characters were addressed and which left out entirely.
Unfortunately, O’Reilly pretty much faithfully follows the official cover story Booth was a lunatic operating with a small band of conspirators. His book didn’t cover the trials, so he doesn’t reveal the government’s case was based on proven perjuries.
You can’t analyze the assassination with any degree of success unless you study the role of Sanford Conover (real name Charles Dunham), the double agent and newspaper reporter who groomed the witnesses for the original trial. Another important figure left out of most books is Simon Wolf, of B’nai B’rith, who was close to John Wilkes Booth and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. We know Wolf held a private meeting with Booth the day of the assassination at the National Hotel because many years later, Wolf wrote about this meeting in his memoirs, and seems to have told some lies while doing so, so what was Wolf covering up?
O’Reilly invents a lot of details and pretends to know people’s inner thoughts, but never figured out the alleged assassination attempts on Vice President Johnson, General Grant and Edwin Stanton were all invented for the trial, and there’s not a shred of evidence anyone was supposed to be killed that night except Lincoln and William Seward, which makes total sense since they were the only ones pushing for Southern forgiveness. Lincoln wanted to pardon the South and allow them back into Congress after the war, something that greatly upset the radical Republican cabal that had captured Congress and actually put Lincoln into power. But Lincoln was drifting off the course set by his party leaders, and that’s why he was murdered.
I just published my own book in time for the 150th anniversary: Killing Lincoln: The Real Story, because O’Reilly never gets close to the truth.
The key suspects in this case are Edwin Stanton, Thaddeus Stevens, Salmon Chase and Ben Wade, and I’ve uncovered forensic evidence from the period that links them to the plot. Funny how Stevens and Wade never get a mention in O’Reilly’s book, even though they held a meeting with other leaders of the radicals in Congress the day after the assassination during which Stevens referred to Lincoln’s death as a “godsend.”