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Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War Hardcover – November 2, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The journalistic parentage of this book is apparent. Anecdotes, interesting characters—some well known, others obscure—and facts abound, all presented with obvious zeal by an author who spent 30 years with the Baltimore Sun and has written three other books on the Civil War. What's missing is a structure to help Furgurson's exhaustive research, doled out in brief vignettes, cohere into a compelling narrative. The book is neither the promised urban history nor a history of the Civil War, which has certainly been abundantly documented elsewhere, including in Furgurson's other works (Chancellorsville; Not War but Murder). Instead, the reader gets confusing snatches of both. One chapter, for example, begins with a sequence of anecdotes about three young women who arrive in Washington by different routes; devotes a page to Mary Todd Lincoln's spendthrift ways; veers out to St. Louis and John Frémont's unauthorized freeing of Missouri's slaves; proceeds to a discussion of the imposition of martial law and the political discord it causes; and ends with Julia Ward Howe's penning of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Civil War buffs and Washingtonians well may find in all this more grist for their enthusiasms, but the general reader may grow impatient as the author ricochets from battlefield to ballroom. 16 pages of b&w photos, 3 maps.
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Two images bracket this stirring history. The prologue recalls the arrival in 1859 of an 18-foot sculpture called Freedom, intended for the unfinished Capitol building in Washington, DC. At the book's conclusion, Freedom stands atop the magnificent dome in May 1865, while victorious Union forces parade proudly below and citizens mourn a president murdered barely five weeks earlier. Between these events, equally dramatic scenes played out in Washington, where political struggles could be as vicious in their own way as anything transpiring on wartime battlefields. Furgurson brings everything to vigorous life: Lincoln's indomitable character and his skill at manipulating friends and foes in his efforts to preserve the country; the partisan, sometimes corrupt news reporters driven by self-interest; idealists and healers seeking to do good; spies ferreting out secrets; complex and odd characters from all social strata who populated the city during the war years. The attention given to the experiences of mid-19th-century women and African Americans is notable, and as a whole the author's scholarship updates and complements Margaret Leech's Reveille in Washington (Simon, 2001), a Pulitzer Prize-winner long considered the standard work on this topic. Freedomis as readable as it is well documented.–Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (November 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375404546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375404542
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,133,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I mean the author no disrespect.
The Dougster
Ernest Furgurson uses the statue atop the Capitol as a metaphor for the survival of the U.S. and the liberation of African-Americans.
B. G. Burton
Mr. Furgurson does a fine job in the retelling of an important story.
Christian Schlect

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Pookie on January 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was very surprised to read the negative review of this book. I agree the "journalistic parentage" of this book is apparent, but I disagree with the "ricochet" comment. The book IS about Washington during the Civil War. The problem with any book about Washington D.C. is that, because of its status as the nation's capital, it's impossible to focus only on the city itself. Any book that did so would be seriously flawed and incomplete. A history of Washington must take into account, at least periodically, the effects that actions in Washington have on other parts of the country, and what events in other parts of the country do to change the situation in Washington. This is doubly true of the Civil War era.

I found the mix of local and national issues and events not at all confusing and in fact, quite palatable. Furgurson seamlessly weaves in events such as John Fremont's action in Missouri and Ben Butler's actions on the Virginia Peninsula, for example, with local events in Washington. The importance of the interaction between these events is self-evident. Indeed, such masterful weaving is half the book's charm.

_Freedom Rising_ is not meant to be a source for report writing (although it works as background reading); it's meant to be an enjoyable read, and at this task Furgurson succeeds masterfully. I would recommend this book, and I will be more likely to read Furgurson's other books in the future.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By B. G. Burton on January 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ernest Furgurson uses the statue atop the Capitol as a metaphor for the survival of the U.S. and the liberation of African-Americans. Even throughout the turmoil of the war, construction of the Capital continued, albeit haltingly, its progress symbolizing the triumph of the Union. This book is a must read for anyone who lives or works in the capital.

Riddled with southern sympathizers and spies, the capital nevertheless became a truly federal city. Slave markets stood on the south side of Independence Ave, now a two-mile-long chain of government departments, and even on Lafayette Square. D St. and 21st, the present location of the State Department, was a huge stables; on Boxing Day, 1861, a fire broke out that killed thousands of horses and sent thousands more running through the city. For days afterwards, the city stank of burned horse meat. Present day conservatives would say that they still haven't cleaned out all the horse---- from the area. Federal Triangle was the red light district, catering to all tastes; digs have found piles of bottles of expensive French champagne where the bawdy houses one stood. Constitution Avenue was a canal -- Tiber Creek -- and all of the mall west from the Washington monument was the Potomac. Within months of the outbreak of war, Washington saw a string of firsts -- the first use of trains for strategic mobility, the first use of aerial reconnaissance, the first machine gun, the first suspension of habeas corpus, the first nursing corps, the first aircraft carrier (a balloon moored to a boat in the Potomoc that allowed the feds to observe the Confederate withdrawal from Occoquan and the Pohick Creek area where I now live).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The Don Wood Files on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a masterful book - a street-level, street wise view of the Civil War from Pennsylvania Avenue and its tributaries. Furgurson writes of all the high and low lifes, generals, prostitutes, slave pens, piles of amputated limbs, mud, malaria, con men and spies that invaded Washington during the 1860s. The City was part morgue, part hospital, completely political and closely allied to the Southern cause.

Furgurson writes this book like a forensic detective with the flair of a novelist. Here is a sample:

"On a given evening in the early summer of 1861, toward midnight, no one stirred at William Seward's house on the east side of the square, where Lincoln often came to talk strategy and swap stories....The windows were dark at Gideon Welles's home, looking south from H Street toward the White House. The entrance to St. John's Church, Benjamin Latrobe's little 1816 gem, where every President since Madison had worshiped, was shut against the night. But across Sixteenth Street, so close to all this quiescent power and anxiety, a portly senator range the bell of a brick townhouse, and a hall lamp briefly lit his eager face as he was admitted to the presence of Rose O'Neal Greenow."

That paragraph could have been a dry recitation of events. But in Furgurson's hands, the tale is a 'little gem,' like St. John's Church, of a Senator unknowingly sleeping with, and spilling secrets to, a Southern spy. This is "you are there" journalism at its best.

If you live or work or visit Washington DC in search of the Civil War's legacies, you will take Furgurson's visions with you when you walk its streets. All the people and many of the buildings are long gone, but Furgurson's book has stemmed history's tide for a long time to come.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peter Thomas Senese - Author. on November 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I must begin this review by stating that this is the first book I have ever read on the Civil War. My review, thus, will be from the perspective of a person who possessed limited knowledge of the subject in retrospect to the other fine reviewers who have written in great detail about the subject.

Overall, I enjoyed Ernest B. Furgurson's 'Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War', as I found many interesting and well researched subject matter easily presented and carefully constructed in the narrative. Through an incredible amount of research that is well placed, Furgurson managed to keep my interest from the beginning of the book, which starts out with the creation of Lady Liberty's bronze statue, all the way through the inevitable. In between, the reader learns of the many scandels, the outlandish behavior of all the players, the suggested but failed compromises, and the evolution of the slavery issue from not as significant with respect to Lincoln's desire to keep the Union as one, to the importance of the matter in keeping the country one nation. In contrast to the detail, I felt some of the more important players were minamized, particularly of U.S. Grant. There were times that I felt there was a lack of consistancy on the author's direction, but was more than willing to take the journey, and understand the issues presented in the country's capitol.
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