Book Review – When [Abraham] Lincoln Died by Ralph Borreson

Abraham LincolnWhen Lincoln Died is a wonderful old book published in 1965 by Ralph Borreson, who had a lifelong fascination with Abraham Lincoln.  Borreson has successfully pulled together old photographs and drawings from every facet of the time from Lincoln’s death until his burial.  The subtitle of the book says it all “the assassination, the final funeral journey, the pursuit and trial of the conspirators, the complete story in pictures and in the words of his day.”

This last part is the most intriguing.  The photographs in and of themselves are fascinating and instructive.  But along with each one Borreson has arranged relevant extracts from Lincoln’s own letters and speeches, and the letters and speeches of those around him.  For example, there are the words used to describe the wounds by Dr. Leale, the first doctor to reach the fallen President.  Leale says:

“I placed my finger on the President’s right radial pulse, but could perceive no movement of the artery…I lifted his eyelids and saw evidence of a brain injury. I quickly passed the separated fingers of both hands through his blood-matted hair to examine his head, and then I discovered his mortal wound…I easily removed the obstructing clot of blood from the wound and this relieved the pressure on the brain. The history of surgery fails to record a recovery from such a fearful wound and I have never seen or heard of any other person with such a wound and injury to the sinus of the brain and to the brain itself who lived even for an hour.”

Lincoln lived for about 9 more hours without ever regaining consciousness.

The book intertwines these fabulous old photos with the insightful reactions of those closest to Lincoln as the death watch passed.  Borreson does the same with the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth, the capture and trial of the conspirators, as well as their hangings and imprisonment, and then the long train ride home back to Springfield, Illinois for burial.

The book was published on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s death.  It is a fine tribute indeed.

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