Thomas A. Bogar author

Book Reviews

"Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination – Book Review" published on on December 7, 2013.

-- Gerald D. Swick

Five Best Books on the Lincoln Assassination
By Terry Alford
Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2015

"#5. Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination
By Thomas A. Bogar (2013)

While the fates of Lincoln and Booth are well-known, what about the 46 actors, stagehands, ushers, musicians and knockabouts at Ford's Theatre that night? Thomas Bogar, one of the nation's premier theater historians, drags these characters out of the wings and into the spotlight in this prodigiously researched book on the most memorable evening in the history of the American stage. Some of those present were marginal individuals, like "Peanuts" Burroughs, a teenager who held Booth's horse that night and then disappeared from the historical record. Others left theatrical life forever, traumatized by the murder. An irrepressible few seemed buoyed by the occasion, dining out for years on their experiences. Orchestra conductor William S. Withers, lucky to fall out of Booth's way as the assassin made his escape, may have actually believed his own later claims that he struggled heroically to capture the villain. Clearly, "the lives of those who were present backstage that night would forever be divided into Before and After," the author writes. A labor of love for Mr. Bogar, the book shines throughout with his excitement."

-- Terry Alford, Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2015.

"With Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox bringing an end to the Civil War, an undercurrent of unrest ran through the nation's capital. John Wilkes Booth had performed at Ford's Theatre many times and was well known among those preparing to perform Our American Cousin for a crowd that was to include President Lincoln on Friday, April 14, 1865. The question of Booth's influence upon and collaboration with his theater friends at Ford's and the effect of his outrageously defiant act on the rest of their lives is the subject of this book. As Bogar (American Presidents Attend the Theatre) follows 46 actors, stagehands, and managers, mostly from Ford's stock company, from this infamous day until the end of their lives, readers gain a fascinating view not only of the assassination but of these decades of theater history. As in Timothy Good's We Saw Lincoln Shot, the story relies on eyewitness accounts, but instead of being from the perspectives of the theatergoers, the tragic event is now told from new angles. Were those around the theater who had strong secessionist sentiments complicit in the plot to kidnap or assassinate the president? Why were there so many conflicting accounts? Was there a government conspiracy? VERDICT General readers of either U.S. theater history or the Lincoln assassination will gain new insights from this dramatic and different narrative of this tragedy"

-- Barbara Ferrara, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA
Library Journal

"Bogar proves that fresh approaches still can be found and additional light can be shed on Lincoln's assassination, despite all that's been written and discussed about it for nearly 150 years."

-- Pittsburgh Tribune Review

"Bogar displays enormous knowledge of theater craft and players' repertoire. . . . [He] painstakingly rehearses each and every actor, manager or stagehand, many of whom knew Booth well, for a run-through of the horrendous shooting and escape and delineates how individual versions varied hugely and would determine important legal consequences in a court of law. Detail-dizzying."

-- Kirkus Review

"Dr. Bogar's scholarship is original and impeccable. With stunning clarity, this vivid narrative shines a light into the shadows and behind the scenes of the most resonant crime in American history. Backstage At The Lincoln Assassination is an indispensable resource for understanding the width, breadth and scope of the tragedy at Ford's Theatre."

-- Erik Jendresen
Writer/producer Killing Lincoln, Band of Brothers

"Just when we thought there was nothing new to learn about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre comes this important book by theater historian Tom Bogar. It brings the actors and actresses of Ford's Theatre finally – and fully – to life. In a masterpiece of skillful research and synthesis, Bogar immerses us in one of the most dramatic moments in American history while answering questions we thought were unanswerable. A definitive treatment."

-- Terry Alford
Author of Fortune's Fool: The Biography of John Wilkes Booth and John Wilkes Booth: A Sister's Memoir

" Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination is a must read for anyone interested in Abraham Lincoln's assassination or history in general. Author Tom Bogar has accomplished something no other author has: he has put a face to the names of so many people other authors only mention in passing (or not at all). Finally all these folks have been brought to life. The effect the assassination had on the lives of the Ford's Theatre employees and actors is ignored in the standard Lincoln assassination books. For the first time an author has researched the lives of all these overlooked people. It's difficult to call any Lincoln assassination book unique as there are over 120 of them; but Tom Bogar's book is indeed a unique addition to Lincoln assassination lore."

-- Roger Norton
Founder/Moderator, Lincoln Discussion Symposium and Abraham Lincoln Research Site

"Most Lincoln assassination books follow the well-documented trail of Booth into Maryland and Virginia, repeating often-told stories. Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination stays behind at Ford's Theatre, giving an old tale a new, fresh focus that other historians missed for the past 150 years."

-- Clint Johnson
Author of A Vast and Fiendish Plot: The Confederate Attack on New York City

"Thomas A. Bogar's exemplary, balanced, and innovative investigation of the traumatic event of April 14, 1865 at Washington's Ford's Theatre will quickly become an essential study among the plethora of books on Lincoln's assassination. Yet unlike previous tomes that often focus on various conspiracy theories, Lincoln and his killer, actor John Wilkes Booth, take something of a backseat to the forty-six actors, managers, and stagehands present that night in Bogar's original perspective. Meticulously researched and documented, written in a lively and engrossing narrative style, this unique book presents the reader with a vivid and engrossing examination of the impact the assassination had on each of those present backstage or, in the case of the manager, closely involved, with the performance that fateful evening. Bogar follows each of the forty-six from their activities that day to their deaths, tantalizingly noting controversies and questions still unanswered. Even the most ardent of Lincoln assassination addicts will find much to savor and learn in this terrific book."

-- Don B. Wilmeth,
Editor of The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre and coeditor of The Cambridge History of American Theatre; editor of the series, Palgrave Studies in Theatre & Performance History

"Though many books have been written about the Lincoln assassination, many gaps in the story remain. One of the most obvious of these surrounds the people who worked at the scene of the crime -- the actors, managers, and stage crew of Ford's Theatre in Washington. Being acquainted and, in some cases, close to the assassin, they were potential suspects in the case. Some were arrested in the aftermath of the shooting, and one was convicted on the strength of divided testimony from his colleagues. Each survived the experience and moved on with their lives. A few continued their careers on the stage, but most faded into oblivion. Now, with the publication of this marvelous book, Professor Bogar has brought those forty-six important characters back into the spotlight. In doing so, he clears away a century and a half of folklore and mythology, and reminds us how even the minor figures have fascinating stories to tell. They were there, they saw it all, and now at last, their stories will be heard. This is long overdue."

-- Michael Kauffman,
Author of American Brutus

"By uncovering the stories of the largely anonymous actors, managers and stagehands whose lives were changed forever at Ford's Theater, Tom Bogar has found a fresh and exciting angle on the events of April 1865. This is a fascinating account, and an important piece of research."

-- Daniel Stashower,
Author of The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War

"History tells us that the Lincoln Assassination amounted to more than the work of lone gunman John Wilkes Booth. Tom Bogar shows us in this revealing and riveting book just how much more. Bogar has fleshed out stunning details involving more than a few suspects who were inside Ford's Theater that fateful night—along with other never-before-seen primary source material. Highly recommended."

-- Marc Leepson,
Author of Flag: An American Biography, Saving Monticello, Desperate Engagement, and Lafayette: Idealist General.