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Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – June 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“This teeming Washington, described in all its wonderful, eccentric detail, provides the perspective from which Leech examines the overall pursuit of the war, among whose elements were the ineptness, intransigence, and obstructive jealousies of many of the Union generals…. This is a character-driven history and a chronicle of a city, but it is, also, a deft review of military strategy and of political maneuvering between and within political parties.  It is, too, a fast-paced account of the developing exigencies that resulted in, among other things, the suspension of habeas corpus, the levying of income tax, conscription, and, most momentously, in the emancipation of slaves, first in Washington and then universally. "—Katherine Powers, B&N Review

“In 1860, Washington was a raw country town, a symbol trying to be a city. By 1865 it had become the nation’s capital. Reveille in Washington is packed and running over with the anecdotes, scandals, personalities, and tragi-comedies of the day. Here you will meet young Andy Carnegie organizing military transport; a Patent Office clerk named Clara Barton suddenly discovering she has a real vocation; Matthew Brady, obsessed with the idea that he could make a photographic record of a war; Louisa M. Alcott and Walt Whitman finding their great moments in hospitals. It’s a wonderful story.”
—Clifton Fadiman, The New Yorker

“Published in 1941, this remains the best single popular account of Washington during the great convulsion of the civil War. Vividly written, with hundreds of cameo portraits, from president Lincoln to the humblest citizen.” —The Washington Post

"Leech, who published three novels before this work of history appeared in 1941, offers a smart and witty account of wartime Washington’s transformation from an administrative backwater to the locus of renewed federal power. This encyclopedic portrait won Leech, who died in 1974, her first of two Pulitzer Prizes for history...Reveille in Washington could stand on its own as a first-rate chronicle of how the political elites handled the war. Many of Leech’s characters are familiar names from American history, and they are brought to life in a new way with the spark of her pen...But the book’s main character is really the city itself...Several writers—Walt Whitman in Specimen Days, Louisa May Alcott in Hospital Sketches—wrote more intimately and movingly about life in the capital during the Civil War, but neither did so with the scope or the ambition of Leech. The steady clip of Leech’s accomplished book is in a way perfectly suited to Washington." -- The New Republic

“Winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize, this history of the nation’s capital during the Civil War is a rich, beautifully written narrative.” —“Ten Neglected Classics,” The American Scholar

About the Author

Margaret Leech (1893–1974) was an American historian, novelist and dramatist. She twice received the Pulitzer Prize in history, for Reveille in Washington (1942) and In the Days of McKinley (1960); with the former she became the first woman to receive a Pulitzer in that category.
James McPherson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. His other bestselling books include For Cause and Comrades, Drawn with the Sword, What They Fought For; Gettysburg; and Fields of Fury. A professor at Princeton University, he lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590174461
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590174463
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Lonya VINE VOICE on July 28, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
And let our hearts and eyes, like civil war;
Be blind with tears, and break o'ercharg'd with grief.
The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth, Act II. Scene V

On March 4, 1861, President Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address, expressed the hope that the "mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." Exactly, four years later, on March 4, 1865, President Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address, called on all Americans to go forward with "malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." Those two stirring pleas to our better natures serve as ironic bookends for an American Civil War which unleashed carnage and bloodshed on American soil the likes of which had never been before, and hopefully never will be seen again.

Margaret Leech's magisterial "Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865" was originally published in 1941. As James McPherson notes in his brief Introduction, Leech wrote and published the book just before WWII transformed a rather provincial capital city (aptly described by JFK as "a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm") into a world capital. As the book opens, Washington, D.C. barely qualified as a city, let alone a nation's proud capital.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dabí Sánchez on June 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
Leech's Reveille in Washington is an out-and-out masterpiece that can be read--like all masterpieces--repeatedly for profit. Not merely a great Civil War book, this is a stunning achievement in language and portraiture. I haven't yet read McPherson's introduction but to have Leech's book introduced by the preeminent Civil War historian of our time will be an experience. Adding to my dog-eared copy of an old print edition, I've just ordered the Kindle edition.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By K. Egan on January 7, 2012
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This is a wonderful book about how the Civil War changed the city of Washington from a derided and lampooned muddy "village" with a scattering of buildings to the hub of a national, centralized, federal government. The War itself is discussed only to the extent it affected the residents of the City -- how news came to the residents first from the streams of casualties coming to Washington hospitals up the Potomac River from the front; how Confederate sympathizers continually disrupted daily life; how the artillery at Manassas and Fort Stevens mingled with the rumble of streetcars on Pennsylvania Avenue; how Willard's hotel fed the many visitors to town and what the hotel fed them all with (pheasant, oysters, venison -- the fruits of Maryland agriculture); why the Army of the Potomac generals continually failed to advance on General Lee; Mary Todd Lincoln's battle with her demons, and how the refuse of War fertilized the fields and turned the war-time harvests into bumper crops. The book describes who lived where in town, which buildings served what roles, where the troops camped around town, how the Army used the Capitol buildings (as a bakery, as a hospital, etc.). A fascinating read that made this reader at least wonder how the Union ever won the War.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. R. Apthorpe on April 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I gave this book 5 stars because in my mind the author, Margaret Leech, is definitely an outstanding writer, was well versed in the subject and really painted a vivid picture of the city and the people it. My great great grandfather and three of his brothers died in the Civil War and I became interested in the subject after doing some research on how they died and after watching the PBS series by Ken Burns. Ms. Leech uses a wealth of words that were common in the day but are out of fashion today, but thanks to the built-in dictionary in my Kindle, I was able to learn their meanings with ease. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in this time period in our country's history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By JohnCiccone on October 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm a licensed tour guide in Washington, DC, and I find this book to be extremely valuable as a source of information on history, anecdotes, scandals, and personalities of this period in Washington. Moreover, it gives keen insight into the political machinations of Lincoln, adminnistration officials, members of Congress, military leaders and others during the war.

The author's style draws you into the material and delights with charming observations and insights.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Beadles on April 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
I have wanted to read this book for many years, but it was out of print until recently when the Kindle and other version were issued. The author describes in fascinating detail what it was like to live in Washington during the Civil War. Big events like the two Battles of Bull Run as well as details of daily life for civilians are related. I gave the book only 4 stars since the book is marred by the author's unfortunately antiquated views of African Americans. The book was written in the 1940s when many people held what now would be considered racist views. The author probably was not a particularly prejudiced person for her time, but she was unable to transcend her time. Still. a book well worth reading.
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