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July 2024
1min read

To a generation in whose memory the murder of a President is still tragically vivid, an account of tileassassination of President Lincoln reads like a bit of current history. AVc know from our own experience the shock and horror such an act of madness evokes, and the story of what happened in Washington on ihc night of April 14, 1865, has a new impact when it is read in the living awareness of what happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

The story has been told many times, but never with the wealth of detail contained in Twety Days a book by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and lier son, Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., which is being prepared by Harper S, Row for publication later this year. In the pages that follow, AMERICAN HERITAGE presents a long excerpt from the first half of Twety Days .

Working in a field made familiar by the extensive researches of her father, the late Frederick Hill AIcsersc, who compiled and left in her care the greatest private collection of Lincoln and Civil War photographs in existence, Airs. Kunhardt, with her son, spent years gathering firsthand accounts of that terrible evening. Here are Lincoln’s last hours, described by the people who played the important parts in them—a presentation of the true stories, the garbled stories, the maybe-so stories, and the outright legends that grew out of the greatest single tragedy in American history. In a sense, the Kunhardts’ book does what a Warren Commission would have done if the dazed government in 1865 had set up such a group. Here is the deeply moving record, as far as a record can be established at this late date.

To this presentation, AMERICAN HERITAGE devotes much more space than it ordinarily gives to any single subject—both because the record is fascinating in its own right and because today’s reader is especially and unhappily fitted to understand it. We have all seen how an event of this kind brings a wealth of stories that just do not add up to anything very coherent. One bit of evidence contradicts another, the weight of it all seems at first to prove one thing and ends by proving something different, and in the end the tragedy is all the more terrible because it does not fit into any orderly historic pattern. The story told in Twenty Days is hauntingly like the story that came out of Dallas.

—Bruce Catton

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