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VINE VOICEon July 28, 2011
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. As the Civil War began there was no dome on the Capitol and the Washington Monument was not much more than a pile of granite. The streets were dirty and unkempt, open drainage ditches carried raw sewage across most of the avenues, and the town was filled with bawdy houses and transients. The book highlights not just the progress of the war but also the transformation of the city into a true national Capital.

I was captivated by Reveille for a number of reasons. Leech's research seemed very thorough and her writing was excellent. She has an exceedingly fine eye for detail and was able to convey those details to the reader. This is particularly true when she describes the city itself. I've worked in Washington for the last 20 years and my office sits right in the middle of "old Washington." I see the old General Post Office and Ford's Theatre from my office. Every day I walk the streets and look up and see remnants of Civil War era Washington. As Leech tells her story those streets and buildings came alive for me with almost a fresh set of eyes. That is a rare feeling for me, that sense of living and walking though history. Leech's book invoked those feelings throughout.

In addition to her ability to bring a city to life, Leech has also done an admirable job of bringing the city's characters to life. Leech has a sharp eye not just for Lincoln, Seward, McClellan Grant and the larger than life big players in the war, but also casts a sharp and detailed eye on lesser-known figures. Washington was a southern city in those days and sympathy for secession and slavery was more the norm than the exception. Leech is able to weave these characters, large and small, seamlessly into her narrative while also providing a wealth of information of the war that was waged in the Virginia countryside within `spitting' distance of the capital.

Written in 1941, some contemporary readers may find Leech's prose-style a bit dated and perhaps a bit too florid. Some have even suggested (elsewhere) that Leech's prose-style seemed to almost channel what may have been the prose style in fashion during the Civil War. I did not have any such problem and in fact Leech's writing had the same page-turning effect on me that some of the best fiction has. The only jarring notes I heard involved her use of common terms for slaves and freemen (`colored' for example) which while they may have been perfectly acceptable in 1942 seem quite out of place in 2011. Again, that is a reflection on our national evolution and not a criticism of Ms. Leech and I set it out for the benefit of potential readers who may have qualms about such things, even in period pieces.

I think Leech's "Reveille in Washington" is a tremendous addition to accounts of the Civil War. One may despair that we have never consistently acted upon the better angels of our nature or lived our lives with malice toward none, but Leech's book brings to life a time in our nation's history where much blood was shed to swell the chorus of our union. In that sense this book is one that bespeaks a mighty hope.

Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
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on January 7, 2012
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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on June 12, 2011
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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on April 30, 2013
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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on October 28, 2015
I can see why David McCullough refers to this as one of his favorite books. I am mid-way through my second reading. Why this is not a required text for AP or IB high school history, or used liberally at the college level, I do not know. Superb.
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on June 24, 2015
One of the best books I have read on the Civil War. I portray Mary Lincoln and have read a lot. This gives me a lot of "in person" information I can use in my presentations. People love to hear the stories I gleaned from this read. I recommend it highly.
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on October 6, 2014
I was interested in reading this book as one that would give me a feeling for the 'home front' during the Civil War. Drawing on newspaper accounts, memoirs etc, it does do that. Much of what Leech presents is quite interesting. Some sections as, for example, descriptions of the tent hospitals prisons were engrossing. In other places, however, Leech goes on about particular people in a way that seemed gossipy. Her presentation of the way various battles affected the mood in Washington was moving , but I felt that I needed more information about the battles to appreciate these changes in mood. Obviously the author couldn't do both. Perhaps someone with more familiarity with the events of the war wouldn't have had this problem. For my tastes, the book was simply too anecdotal. It lacked a narrative line or an argument.
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on May 26, 2014
Reveille in Washington certainly deserves to be called a classic. It is a graphic illustration of how the capital city dealt with the Civil War--loaded with information (sometimes trivia), and seldom wanders beyond the beltline, Events like battles are mentioned only as they impact the city. Essential reading for Civil War buffs. Jim Ingraham
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on June 8, 2015
This is an interesting book which cleared up some falacies that I had learned earlier. However I was not interested in the amount of detail that the author used to describe which person was in charge of each of the army divisions etc. in the Union Army.. and where the battles were. I suppose a true historian would find that very helpful.

I had not known that John Wilkes Booth had first intended to Kidnap Pres. Lincoln, and appreciated the amount of research the author did to tell the story. Her analysis of Mary Todd Lincoln was helpful.
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on October 2, 2012
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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