Sunday, August 26, 2012

Getting a Glimpse at LINCOLN'S LAST DAYS (Grim Facts, Review, Lesson Plans, Cutting Across Content-Areas)

As mentioned in previous posts. Lincoln's Last Days: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever, hot off the presses (it came out last week) is an asset for any library or classroom.  This graphic text (with LOTS of photos, maps, illustrations - not a graphic novel)  is a special illustrated edition of the #1 New York Times bestseller "Killing Lincoln" written by Bill O'Reilly that was adapted by Bill O'Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman.  I loved reading every bit of the book which is chock-full of gory, grim details describing Lincoln's last days -from the end of the Civil War (leading to the fall of Richmond and Lee's surrender)  to the wild chase and capturing of John Wilkes Booth and his collaborators. While this book is geared for middle and high school readers, it reads so well, and is so full of information, it will be enjoyed by ALL who read it.

Let me first tempt you with some 'gems' of information found throughout the book...then I'll share my review...and end with teaching ideas (for those still with me).

First, a YouTube clip with O'Reilly reading the Prologue and parts of Chapter 1 (this clip is a bit over 8 minutes):
And Here is A Grim Glimpses of the Civil War:
  • On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1856, Appomattox Court House (which at that time was the name of a little village in Virginia named after its courthouse)- when Lee and a small group of aides (with a flag of truce) rode up to a spot between Union and Confederate lines to surrender, Grant was miles away suffering from a severe migraine headache.  It took two hours for the Union soldiers to acknowledge and respond  Lee, who was informed an attack was imminent.  They returned to their lines, the attack was launched, and when Lee tried to surrender a second time - this time sending a hastily written through Union lines - while under fire, the Union colonel in charge told them that he did not have the authority to break off the attack.  Eventually Lee's request for surrender was taken to General George Meade who ordered a 60-minute truce.  Lee's request was then taken to Grant and they met later at the the Wilmer McLean farmhouse at Appomattox Court House to sign a truce.
  • After the war, Robert E. Lee applied for a pardon for his acts.  Then Secratary of State, William H. Seward gave this request to a friend as a souvenir.  As a result, it was never filed.  The document was discovered over 100 YEARS later.  President Gerald Ford officially reinstated Lee as a U.S. citizen in 1975.
  • While soldiers had to be at least 18 years old, boys as young as 12 were allowed to enlist and serve as "DRUMBEATS" a noncombat position.  Troop movement commands were communicated by different drumbeats and bugle calls.  As a result, while this was considered a 'noncombat' position, these boys found themselves in the thick of battle and many were wounded and killed as a result.

  • While women were not allowed to enlist, approximately 400 women cut their hair short, disguised themselves as men and fought for both sides.  This was not especially difficult to do as there were no physical examinations with enlistment.
Grim glimpses of Lincoln's assassination:
  •  Booth's plan began in 1863 as he recruited 'a gang' to help him kidnap Lincoln. The change from kidnapping to murder occurred at the last minute - two days before the murder.
  • Booth's efforts were funded by (then Confederate president) Jefferson Davis who had set aside more than $1million in gold to pay for acts of espionage and intrigue against the Union. Much  of this money was kept in Canada.
  • Booth's plot to kill Lincoln was not the first threat against Lincoln's life.  The first plot was "The Baltimore Plot, 1861"  when the Knights of the Golden Circle planed to hoot him as he traveled to Washington for his inauguration.
  • Only in 1864 did Lincoln begin having any semblance of armed protection beyond the walls of the White House. Two armed officers remained at his side from 8:00 AM -4:00 PM; one officer stayed from 8:00 PM until midnight, and a fourth remained with him from midnight until 8:00 AM the next morning.  Secret Service officers had not yet been established.
  • John Parker, the bodyguard who accompanied Lincoln to the theater,was sitting outside the door the the Lincoln's balcony box.  Parker was bored, couldn't see the play, and got thirsty.  So, he pushed his chair against the wall and left to go to Taltavul's Star Saloon next door- leaving Lincoln, Mary, and their two guests, Major Henry Reed Rathbone and his fiancee Clara Harris - with no protection. Nor did he attempt to offer any assistance (or even appear for duty) after the shot was fired.
  • Lincoln was shot at approximately 10:15 PM, Friday April 14, 1865 as a bullet was sent through is head. While still technically alive, Lincoln never regained consciousness.  He was taken to the Petersen House nearby where attended by physicians. Saturday, April 15, 1865 at 7:22 AM Lincoln drew his last breath and at his side, Secretary Stanton uttered, "Now he belongs to the ages."
[The text here reads: "The stress of the Civil War was hard on everyone.  But mo one carried a greater burden during the war than President Abraham Lincoln. This photographic sequence starts with a photograph of him in 1858, when he was 49 years old. The last photograph, taken in 1865, when he was 56 years old, shows how much the responsibility and anguish of the war aged him over the span of just seven years.]
 REVEIWING Lincoln’s Last Days: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever This is one of those non-fiction books with that ‘I-can’t-put-it-down’ fiction read. It is written in a ‘first-person’ perspective, making you feel like you’re there for the whole ride.   
The font is easy on the eyes, the paragraphs short and inviting, and there are photos, maps, and reproductions of historical images, battles, and fascinating paraphernalia on just about each page.  These images paired with succinct descriptions make it an exciting read– even when you already know the ending.  (Spoiler alert: Lincoln dies at the end and there’s a very cool chase sequence as they hunt his killers.) The book's format also makes it an excellent tool for focusing on visual and verbal literacy.
Lincoln’s Last Days is broken into four parts. The first section describes “the beginning of the end” of the Civil War. The second describes the assassination conspiracy detailing the players, their reasons for involvement and the twists and turns their machinations had to endure.  The third part describes Lincoln’s last day culminating in his tragic assassination, and the fourth ends with the chase for Booth and his cohorts. 
The book also has some super ‘extra’ features that are helpful to its readers:
·      “Key Players” are briefly described under four categories (Lincoln, his family, staff, cabinet and ‘others’; the assassination conspirators, associates and captors; Union army officers and soldiers; and Confederate officers and soldiers), helping the reader better grasp where each figure ‘fits’ in history.  
·      Abraham Lincoln Time Line –covering his adult life from marriage to death
·      John Wilkes Booth Time Line – covering his birth to death
·      Finding Lincoln in the Nation’s Capital – a map and key locations pertinent to this story
·      Military Terms
·      A fantastic “Afterward” section with absolutely awesome facts
·      Bibliography
 Below are guided-reading lesson plans and lessons for classroom use BERORE reading the book, and WHILE reading the book for those interested.  There are suggested lessons for each section of the book... 
Feel free to read and use them at your convenience.  
Thank you for your visit  - and PLEASE... leave your reactions, questions, opinions, and fun facts in the comments. 

Guided Reading Lesson Plan:
Before Reading: Divide the room into three stations and place a poster at each station. [For visual enrichment, it may be helpful to use a particular icon to represent each one.]  The posters should be set up as follows:
1.     One station will represent the Confederate states (you may want to use the battle flag of the Confederate States of America as its icon).  Create three columns on this poster. At the top of the first column write:  Why did they want to secede from the Union? At the top of the second column write: Why was slavery so important to them?  On the top of the third column write:  Who were some of the famous Confederate soldiers and politicians?
2.     Another station will represent the Union states  (if you use the flag of the Union army - make sure it has 34 stars).  Create three columns on this poster.   At the top of the first column write: Why did the Union not want the Confederate states to secede? At the top of the second column write: Why was the abolishment of slavery so important to them? On the top of the third column write:  Who were some of the famous Union soldiers and politicians?
3.     The third station will represent “The  Players  in this unfolding story (you may want to use an icon of people, or of Lincoln and booth - you may want to use the image attached).  Create two columns for this poster. At the top of the first column write: What facts do you know about Abraham Lincoln and his assassination? At the top of the second column write: What facts do you know about John Wilkes Booth, his accomplices, and their plans to assassinate Lincoln and his cabinet?
Booth (above) Lincoln (lower center) at the Inauguration, from the Library of Congress
Now divide your students into three groups. Assign each group of students to a station.  Instruct them to go to the station, brainstorm their ‘best answers’ as directed by the questions on that poster and record their answers in the designated columns.  When they are done, have each group present their notes and posters to the others.
Once discussions are complete, introduce the book.
During Reading:  As this book is so full of history and discussion points, and this space is limited, I have detailed only a few choice ideas divided into four parts, one for each part of the book.
Part One: The Beginning of the End of the War  - some teaching, discussion, and homework suggestions:
·      The story here begins with the imminent fall of Richmond, Virginia (Lincoln has 13 days to live). Before reading, you may want to discuss what the authors mean by “the beginning of the end of the war” and why (before reading) they think this is so important to the ‘story’.
·      In Chapter 4, Richmond has fallen and Lincoln comes to the city.  Slaves gather around him as he tours the city before entering The Confederate White House, home of its President, Jefferson Davis.  Page 16-17 notes that “Lincoln’s eyes roam over the elegant wood desk, which Davis had so thoughtfully tidied before running off two days earlier. ‘Then this must be President Davis’ chair' he says with a grin…” There is also a photo of what the room looked like (elegant with two flags of the Confederacy and a portrait of Jefferson Davis.  Discuss with students what they think Lincoln may have been thinking sitting in that room, how it might have compared to Lincoln’s office, and what might the significance be of the room being ‘tidied’.
·      Chapter 5 covers the “day-and-a-half trudge” taken by Lee and his men to Amelia Court House, Virginia (from Petersburg, just outside of Richmond) with little to no supplies of food.
o   Have students look at a map to determine the distance (in miles and/or kilometers) and have them determine how long it took, on average, to walk a mile (carrying whatever they may have been carrying). 
o   Look at a topographical map of the area and photos (can be found online or in an atlas).  Looking at the topography, why were these poor soldiers unable to find food?  What must it have been like for them (after losing Richmond) to walk foodless and sleepless?
·      On page28-29 the authors write, “Lee hears the thunder of approaching hooves.  General Thomas Lafayette Rosser, an outgoing twenty-eight-year-old Texan, gallops his cavalry into Rice’s station.” Notice the age of this general.  Discuss how is it that a twenty-eight-year-old can be a general.  How old were Lee and Grant?
·      At the end of this first section, discuss why this part – which had nothing to do with Lincoln’s assassination was so important.
Part Two: The Conspiracy to Assassinate  - some teaching, discussion, and homework suggestions:
Booth's derringer pistol
·      On page 61 the authors write that, “Monday, April 10, 1865…The war is over! Strictly speaking, this is not true.” Create a chart with two columns.  At the top over both columns write this quote. Beneath the quote label on column “Why True” and the other “Why Not So True.” Have students fill in both columns as a class, in groups, or individually for homework.   You may (if/when appropriate) compare this to Charles Dickens’ famous sentence “It was the best of times it was the worst of times” in a discussion of the power of words.
·      Chapter 17, “Tuesday, April 11, 1865” opens with, “Abraham Lincoln is speaking tonight at the White House, and everyone wants to hear.” Booth and his associates Herold and Powell are there to hear it.  Find a copy of this speech and ask students to react to it both as Union and then as Confederate sympathizers. Here too you may want to make a chart of Union and Confederate reactions.
·      In this section we learn that as of 1862, Lincoln began having military protection beyond the walls of the White House (in part because of a previous attempt on his life in Baltimore 1861).  This may be an excellent topic for research papers: The formation of the Secret Service.
Part Three: Lincoln’s Last Day  - some teaching, discussion, and homework suggestions:
·      Page 100 has a Ford Theatre advertising poster announcing President Lincoln’s presence for that evening’s (April 14, 1865) performance of Our American Cousin.  Compare that poster’s appearance to what an advertising poster today might look like.  Discuss the power of print (font, size, vocabulary) and image then and now. Discuss the power of visual and verbal literacy and the messages they can relay.
·      On page 160 the authors note that, “When the war started in 1861, a curfew was established around the capital and strictly enforced.”  Discuss with students the why this was done and its significance.  You may also want to relate and discuss how and why curfews are still enforced in wars including World War II Britain.
·      This section relays the assassination attempt on Lincoln AND his cabinet members.  You may want to discuss what the ramifications of assassinating a president are versus the ramifications of assassinating a president and his cabinet.
·      This section verbally maps out the whereabouts of Lincoln and Booth throughout the day.  You may want to chart them on a street map to visually relate how their paths crossed throughout the day (much like is done for television crime scenes). A map is provided on page 110.
·      Chapters 37-39 detail how doctors helped treat President Lincoln.  You may want to discuss how medicine has and has not changed over the years.
Part Four: Chasing the Assassins  - some teaching, discussion, and homework suggestions:
·      On page 200 the authors have included a wanted poster for Booth and his accomplices Harold and Surrat.  A reward of $50,000 was offered for Booth, and $25,000 was offered for Harold and Surrat.  MAKE SURE THEY NOTICE THE FINE PRINT AT THE BOTTOM which ADDS that “In addition to the above, Sate and other authorities have offered rewards amounting to almost one hundred thousand dollars (for all three) making an aggregate of about TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS). Have students compute the approximate value of these rewards today.  Do they think it’s a realistic price/reward for the crime and the effort needed to recover the perpetrators?
o   To do this you can take the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for 2012 and divide it by the CPI for 1865.  You can “Google” this information…or, use the amounts below:
  •    According to a link sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, $1 in 1850 is worth $27.84 in 2012. [So $27.84 X 50,000 = $1,392,000; $27.84 X 25,000 = $696,000.  Then calculate the additional State rewards for all three: $27.84 X 200,000 =  $5,568,000]
·      On page 225, the authors include a page from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.  Discuss the layout of this paper compared to newspapers today.  How are the formats different/similar.  You may also want to discuss the choice of the image presented and why the editors may have used that particular one.
·      The book ends with: “As the spectacle of the hangings fades from the public’s preoccupation, Lincoln’s reputation grows.  He becomes an icon, representing the fairness and strength of purpose that most citizens feel are America’s best characteristics.” You may want to discuss the pros and cons of capital punishment as well as the image these hangings must have left on Americans in 1865.
·      Make sure students read the afterward chapters.  They are fascinating and chock-full of AWESOME facts.
Thanks for your visit - happy teaching!!  Please leave your reactions and feedback in the comments, and I hope you visit again soon.


  1. Awesome! I just starting reading some Magical Treehouse book about Abe last night with the boy I nanny. New follower

  2. This is super cool! I love Abraham Lincoln and that period of history, and since we'll be homeschooling, I can't wait to teach our kids all about it.

    New follower from the Monday Mingle :)

    Chantal @ Scattered Seashells (

  3. Hi! I'm stopping by from the blog hop and your newest follower!


  4. great history recap!

    Have a great week! Drop by and say hello!

  5. Hiya, I just stopped by after visiting the Naptime Review Blog Hop! Nice history lesson ;-)

    I am your newest follower on Google Friends. Hope you can stop by my place too!

  6. Fantastic info! I love it. I focus on how to use history in creative ways in our homeschool as well as how to tie social history into our family history. Your entry and info will be a great addition! I'm going to pin it on 2 of my homeschool-related boards on Pinterest. I found you through the Hip Homeschool Moms blog hop. Very glad I clicked on Lincoln. :)

    Have a great week! - Stephanie

  7. Very interesting. But I had dismissed O'Reilly's source book because of all the factual errors. Look at this - or just Google O'Reilly Lincoln errors

    1. Thanks, Roger, I was unaware of this. In reading a bit more (after reading your post), the publisher notes that corrections were made but this is still something to keep in mind. The book does read well, however, and if used with other sources is still a great way to help bring Lincoln's story to life for kids. Even this dispute makes for a great lesson in fact-relating and in the need for multiple sources when doing research!

      Thanks for your comments and information.

  8. What a interesting post... very detailed and informative. Thanks.

  9. I know I need to get this book too. Lincoln has always fascinated me and perhaps the young adult book will help me keep the information straight in my aged head..(:0)
    Thank you for this interesting post Meryl.

  10. Out of all the presidents, Lincoln fascinates me the most! Another great and informative post!

  11. This story proves that it is very dangerous to be the President of the USA. I hope that history won't repeat itself. We live in a hostile world. Great post, Meryl.

  12. Wow I didn't realize that there was a previous assasination plot against Lincoln. He fascinates me as well.

    Happy WW!

  13. Even though it's not the typical type of book that I'd normally read, Lincoln's Last Days sounds like a great read. Thanks for the informative post. Have a great week!

  14. Sounds like an interesting and education book. Your posts always have great ideas for teachers. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  15. Now I want to get that book and learn what I didn't learn in school because I had a horrible rotten History teacher. ;)

    Principal's Office, Foxy Meltdown in the Dentist Chair, Crustache Sandwich Disguise and a Hunger Games Lunch - RTT Rebel

  16. Intriguing! While the facts may not be exact, it really is a great idea to use an absorbing book to help bring history to life. I may have to read through Lincoln's Last Days!

  17. I always love your post. Lincoln is a fascinating subject and I definitely picked up some facts I did not know. Thanks as always for a great post.

  18. It was interesting to read that the money was stored in Canada. Very interesting!

  19. Beautiful pieces of history!

    Golden Rule
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  20. I read Killing Lincoln and loved it. I'm sure the book for children would be just as good. The graphics looks so amazing, I will pick up a copy for my grandchildren.

  21. This is fantastic! My husband is dying to get his hands on this.

  22. Great review! I may have enjoyed U.S. History a bit more if we had been assigned books like this to read.

  23. Looks like a marvellously interactive and visual way to learn about the period. There must be some great resources to add to the study, I imagine it must be one of the first conflicts to be extensively photographed. They reran some of Gore Vidal's interviews here when he died which were an interestingly different view of Lincoln, to a non-American.

  24. Actually visiting from Wordless Wednesday, but have learned some things about Lincoln and the Civil War (although around here half the people call it the "War of Northern Aggression") that I never knew. Until I was 10, my family lived in Maryland, and I remember visiting the Antietam Battlefield. What a wonderful resource!

  25. I found you thru the I love my online friends blog hop! Newest Follower...YAY!

    Ramblings of a Southern Belle

  26. Not sure what to say except for...amazing. I have certainly learned something today.

  27. What an amazing post Great facts. You have put a lot of work on this post. Thank you so much for sharing.Mine is here
    Have you a FANTABULOUS WEEK!!!

  28. What an interesting read and a wonderful piece of American history.

  29. What a wealth of information! Thank you for sharing it with us at Trivium Tuesdays!

  30. Thank you again for all the knowledge you distribute,Good post. I was very interested in the article, it’s quite inspiring I should admit.I like visiting your site since I always come across interesting articles like this oneBlack Leather Jacket