By March 4, 1865, the Civil War had slaughtered more than 700,000 Americans and left intractable wounds on the nation. After a morning of rain-drenched fury, tens of thousands crowded Washington’s Capitol grounds that day to see Abraham Lincoln take the oath for a second term. As the sun emerged, Lincoln rose to give perhaps the greatest inaugural address in American history, stunning the nation by arguing, in a brief 701 words, that both sides had been wrong, and that the war’s unimaginable horrors—every drop of blood spilled—might well have been God’s just verdict on the national sin of slavery.
Edward Achorn reveals the nation’s capital on that momentous day—with its mud, sewage, and saloons, its prostitutes, spies, reporters, social-climbing spouses and power-hungry politicians—as a microcosm of all the opposing forces that had driven the country apart. A host of characters, unknown and famous, had converged on Washington—from grievously wounded Union colonel Selden Connor in a Washington hospital and the embarrassingly drunk new vice president, Andrew Johnson, to poet-journalist Walt Whitman; from soldiers’ advocate Clara Barton and African American leader and Lincoln critic-turned-admirer Frederick Douglass (who called the speech “a sacred effort”) to conflicted actor John Wilkes Booth—all swirling around the complex figure of Lincoln.
In indelible scenes, Achorn vividly captures the frenzy in the nation’s capital at this crucial moment in America’s history and the tension-filled hope and despair afflicting the country as a whole, soon to be heightened by Lincoln’s assassination. His story offers new understanding of our great national crisis, and echoes down the decades to resonate in our own time.
Praise for Every Drop of Blood:
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (History)
“An exemplary account of this critical moment in Lincoln’s presidency . . . [Achorn’s] book captures not only the true essence of this dramatic and traumatic time period in American history, but also the metamorphosis of a presidential inauguration that should be read and cherished by all Americans . . . Achorn’s innate ability to weave memorable stories and personalities together in Every Drop of Blood creates an intimate tale for readers. More impressively, it leads to a new chapter in this great president’s life that will stand the test of time.”—Washington Times
“A masterful narrative of the day, weaving together a cast of characters and events in a compelling work that reads like hands-on reportage from a writer who was on the scene. Achorn magnifies his writing with fresh research, including personal recollections by eyewitnesses and newspaper accounts of the day . . . Achorn’s work is as epic as the topic deserves. His research is remarkable, telling the wider story through minute details and moments of deep meaning . . . A welcome addition to the voluminous canon of Lincoln books. Through these pages Achorn transforms readers into spectators of history as it unfolds.”—New York Journal of Books
“Every Drop of Blood, despite the imagery of its title, isn’t about battles. Its primary focus is on Friday, March 3, and Saturday, March 4, 1865, the day before and the day of Lincoln’s second inauguration, and the speech he would deliver that day . . . Achorn analyzes the speech as an artifact of its time and author. He tracks its imagery and explores how and why Lincoln chose the words he used . . . A good read in our own era, reminding us that no matter how badly divided we feel now, as a nation we’ve been through worse.”—Providence Journal
“Its strength lies less in the events themselves than in the elaborate detail and rich historical context that he musters . . . By the end, as well as mourning Lincoln’s fate, American readers might wish for another chance at politics without malice and with charity to all.”—Economist
“Invaluable . . . A small masterpiece, brilliant in concept and exquisite in execution . . . With skill and massive research, Achorn brings it all into one place on one day for us to see, feel, and ponder.”—Llewellyn King, InsideSources
“Wholly unique, compelling, and revealing . . . Essential reading about the doomed president’s final days in office and the bloody end of the Civil War . . . A significant achievement.”—Times-News
“Achorn’s rich, polyphonic history covers the sumptuous social events as well as the prisoners of war on the muddy streets and the injured languishing in ill-prepared hospitals.”—National Book Review
“Drawing on historical wizardry—diaries, accounts, and memoirs—Achorn has assembled a prismatic portrait of that fateful day which reads like one long rolling dolly shot of history.”—Literary Hub
“Meticulously chronicles President Lincoln’s March 1865 inauguration in this kaleidoscopic history. Drawing from diaries, letters, memoirs, and newspaper reports, Achorn frames a poignant yet familiar portrait of Lincoln with the accounts of several figures who converged in Washington, D.C., for the inaugural address . . . He skillfully plumbs his sources for colorful details and draws memorable character sketches. History buffs will savor this evocative narrative.”—Publishers Weekly
“The author provides rich description of a wide cast of people, including politicians, poets, soldiers, and nurses . . . Achorn is especially insightful in setting the scene for the inaugural, going deep inside the social world of the capital and remarking on the constant positioning for favor or notice . . . A solid history that will allow readers to feel as if they are in the moment.”—Library Journal
“A vigorous, fresh look at a critical time in American history.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Achorn provides a rich, heavily psychological portrait [of Lincoln] . . . A moving chronicle of the country on the eve of assassination.”—Booklist
“It is hard to imagine anyone saying anything new about Abraham Lincoln, the most written-about figure in American history. But Edward Achorn has done it. No one has ever placed Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in such a full and rich context as he has. Achorn recreates the sights, sounds, smells, and the feel of everything, and his Lincoln was never more real. This is the work of a superb imaginative historian.”—Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire of Liberty
“This richly detailed account of the events surrounding Lincoln’s second inaugural address focuses on the many notable and obscure personalities present in Washington as the Civil War neared its end, including such opposites as Frederick Douglass and John Wilkes Booth, whose lives intersected with Lincoln’s in dramatically contrasting ways.”—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom
“A lively, highly readable account of the people, events—and threats—surrounding Lincoln’s second inauguration.”—Joanne Freeman, author of The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War
“Prize-worthy. Achorn is erudite and empathetic, and the book is chock-full of information and telling insights. Achorn sets the scene for the greatest inaugural address in American history.”—Frank J. Williams, founder of The Lincoln Forum and author of Judging Lincoln
“A magisterial analysis not only of Lincoln’s second inaugural but of the context in which it was given. Achorn’s keen eye for the meaningful detail reveals new layers of meaning to both a familiar speech and the divided nation that received them. His gift for telling a good story makes it a must read for historians and general readers alike.”—Maury Klein, author of Days of Defiance and A Call to Arms