Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.
Savas Beatie, 2018, 265 pgs., $32.95
Image courtesy of amazon.com
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln has been studied for years, producing some fine content in the way of scholarship. The story of the conspirators who plotted to not only kill Lincoln, but Johnson and Seward as well, hoping to topple the government has been well documented, and often reads like a spy thriller. But what about the man named George Washington Gayle and his involvement? The Million-Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President brings a name to the study of the assassination that hasn’t quite been covered in the past. Christopher Lyle McIlwain Sr.’s addition to the study of Lincoln’s assassination helps us understand more of what this man had to do with this.
Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr. is the winner of the McMillan Prize for his book Civil War Alabama and has also authored 1865 Alabama: From Civil War to Uncivil Peace. He’s been practicing law for more than thirty years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His passion outside of that is nineteenth century history. Outside of his books, he has also written a number of articles in history journals.
As I stated in the introduction, most of the Lincoln Assassination plot, reads much like a spy thriller especially when you tie in the stories of the other conspirators. But who is George Washington Gayle, and why is he so important to the story? Gayle was one of the leading lawyers in Alabama, a connection our main character shares with the author, and was a Unionist for quite some time. But that all changed with California joining the Union as a free state. It was that moment when he changed his tune. When talking about the assassination here in this book, McIlwain goes in depth throughout Lincoln’s career, talking even about other plots throughout the Lincoln’s tenure. McIlwain mentions the Baltimore plot involving the Knights of the Golden Circle. If you don’t know who they are, they’re an interesting secret society during the Civil War, look them up. In 1864, Gayle created an ad stating that if he was given one million dollars, with fifty thousand in advance, he would set forth in motion the plan to eliminate Lincoln, Johnson, and Seward. This all spirals towards the time when Lincoln would be assassinated and the trials that ensued. Gayle would eventually be arrested and taken to Washington D.C. to be tried. Gayle’s story in this book takes us to a different level of the Lincoln assassination, one that brings sufficient research to the subject and presents new material.
I highly recomment this book to anyone interested in Abraham Lincoln, or the assassination plot. This book is presented quite well, with well researched efforts to bring a name to the scholarship that might not be readily known by the people. This is made me interested in reading other works by McIlwain and I do hope that he continues to present more information through the years. This book proves that there’s always more to learn when it comes to the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. Highly Recommend!