|Noted Fox News political commentator Bill O'Reilly and a collegue Martin Dugard have just released a new book "Killing Lincoln" about the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, Seward and Johnson plus the manhunt, trial and execution afterward.
O'Reilly's forward dated April 3, 2011, states the book is "written as a thriller" but asks the reader not be fooled by the style. He says the book is "uncompromising and unsanitized." He calls it a "no spin American story,"
going on to state he is proud of the book.
I couldn't wait to read the book because this is a part of American history that fascinates me. I was hoping that O'Reilly and Dugard might have something new to bring to the table about this subject, perhaps definitive new research or a new interpretation of events surrounding the conspiracy.
What I did find in my close reading of the book is an error on page 197 of the hard bound edition. This page deals with the history of the house called "Old Clubhouse" in which Secretary of State William Seward lives.
O'Reilly writes "Tragedy paid a visit to the building in 1859 when a congressman shot his mistress's husband on a nearby lawn. The husband, Philip Barton Key, was a United States attorney and the son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote 'The Star Spangled Banner.' Key's body was carried inside the club where he passed away in a first-floor parlor."
The three persons involved in the scandal O'Reilly writes about are in error. The unnamed Congressman was Daniel Sickles, later Major General Sickles. Who the congressman shot was NOT his mistress's husband but his own wife Teresa's lover, Philip Barton Key.
Sickles would later stand trial and be acquitted using the first known successful temporary insanity defense.
I was surprised to see such an error in a best selling history book. I looked in the back of the book to see where O'Reilly attributes this information, but the style is different than more exacting history books. O'Reilly and Dugard list books they read for each chapter of this book, but it is left to the reader to read those books too and seek possible references for statements in the book.
Fortunately I have read several, though not all, of the books the authors site such as "April 1865" by Jay Linik, "American Brutus" by Michael W. Kauffman and "Manhunt" by James L. Swanson.
O'Reilly and Dugard do give the reader with some interest in the national trauma of Lincoln's assassination, a fascinating and fast paced presentation of the topic. However, for those that have read "American Brutus" or "Manhunt" or even "April 1865, "Killing Lincoln" may seem like little more than a review or amalgam of those books and others on the topic.
As for the error, it makes one wonder about some other facts in the book, but without specific attributions in the back, one will need to research further any material covered that seems vague or has been treated differently by other authors.
If you are curious about the book and want to read it yourself, here is some information: "Killing Lincoln", Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Company, LLC, New York, copyright 2011. $28.00. (I purchased my copy at Amazon.com.)
I hope some of you will read "Killing Lincoln". I would love to know of you see the book in a different way than I do.