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Lincoln's Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, DC Hardcover – August 19, 2013
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During the Civil War, Washington, D.C., was a boomtown. Against the distant sound of cannon fire, the city multiplied in size as various groups of people flowed in. Office seekers, military casualties, and escaping slaves lent the city a turbulent wartime sociology that Winkle probes. First, however, he depicts antebellum Washington during Abraham Lincoln’s 1847–49 term in Congress. Recounting Lincoln’s and fellow antislavery politicians’ encounters with the peculiar institution, Winkle underscores the complicated legal conditions imposed on blacks, free and enslaved. He carries the legal scaffolding of D.C. slavery into the war years, when Congress abolished it by gradations, and details each step’s ramifications on Washington’s blacks and whites. Lincoln’s personal and political part in these proceedings does not dominate but rather supplements Winkle’s narratives of people drawn into the city as battle casualties or fugitives from slavery. His anecdotes of individual cases usefully illustrate his deployment of statistics about hospitals and refugee camps. Reminiscent of Margaret Leech’s classic Reveille in Washington (1941), Winkle’s history modernizes a story ever attractive to Civil War readers. --Gilbert Taylor
“When Lincoln became president, Washington was just emerging from its long tenure as a sleepy outpost of Southern proslavery domination of this professedly democratic nation. Kenneth Winkle eloquently chronicles the transformation of the capital wrought by the Civil War, when Washington became the nerve center of a huge war effort that in turn transformed the nation, freed four million slaves, and launched America on its course toward modernity.” (James M. McPherson, author of War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861–1865)
“Lincoln’s Citadel sets a new standard for research and insight into wartime Washington. Kenneth Winkle has taken the political intrigue of the nation’s besieged capital and turned it into the setting for a remarkable series of human stories about the ordinary men and women who rallied to help President Lincoln save the Union.” (Matthew Pinsker, author of Lincoln’s Sanctuary)
“Kenneth Winkle has earned a reputation for original research, expert interpretation, and crackerjack storytelling, and all these attributes are on full display in Lincoln’s Citadel. This is an invaluable addition to the Lincoln bookshelf.” (Harold Holzer, chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, and author of Lincoln President-Elect)
“Well-researched and thoroughly engaging, Winkle’s history is a welcome addition to a body of Civil War literature that too often privileges men and massacres.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Top Customer Reviews
Be advised there are many tantalizing tidbits about DC and its "southern" culture. The statistics on the city's role as a massive depot of war materiel and its many convoluted civil struggles offer informative insights. The carefully developed narratives on the national and local political machinations of the time are also quite engaging.
By far, the most revealing content centers on the African American population--free, slave, runaway, contraband, confiscated and enlisted. Actually, it is the best part of the book and is worth the purchase price regardless of the other material. It reads like a suspense novel and a plaintive history of cruelty, arbitrary oppression, abject poverty, ingenuity, sacrifice and profound aspirations throughout the African American and Abolitionist communities. It describes the death of an abomination and the birth of a new struggle for equality.
Professor Winkle has a fond spot for Mary Lincoln, even though most other recent accounts of the era show her to have been one step away from thievery while at the White House and a significant burden to President Lincoln. He writes (p.205) that some of her troubles can be laid at the feet of White House staff: "A sign of trouble ahead was the hostility Mary Lincoln encountered in her own White House. Abraham Lincoln's secretaries--known as 'snobby and unpopular'--resented her potential influence with the president."
One of these secretaries was John Hay, later a U.S. secretary of state, a significant historical figure greatly admired by many (including me). For an excellent biography of Hay, I recommend, "All the Great Prizes" by John Taliaferro (2013).
Winkle's book moves between a history of the capital city and biographical details of Lincoln's life during his time in Washington. The emphasis, however is on the place rather than on the president. For the most part, Winkle tells his story by subject matter rather than by chronology. The presentation sometimes moves back and forth with a degree of repetition.
The book begins in late 1847 with Lincoln's arrival in Washington, D.C. to serve as a member of the 30th Congress. This is the most biographical part of the book as Lincoln's activities as a Congressman receive detailed discussion. But Winkle's focus remains on pre-bellum Washington, D.C. as he describes the southern slave-holding character of what was then a small, undeveloped city. Winkle develops the turbulence of Washington, D.C. life, with its inadequate police force, poor sanitation, lack of hospitals, and frequent fighting over slavery and abolition. Lincoln's life in Washington D.C. particularly his married life with Mary receive substantial treatment as the book progresses. In general, Mary Lincoln receives a more sympathetic portrayal from Winkle than is the case in other studies.
The history shifts from 1848-- 1850 to the election of Lincoln to the presidency in 1860. Students of the Civil War will be familiar with the broad story, but Winkle offers a fleshed-out account. He describes Lincoln's inaugural journey and shows persuasively that Lincoln and his staff had reason to fear for the new president's life. Lincoln's inauguration brought to the capital a heavy and necessarily intrusive security apparatus that would last for the duration of the war.
Throughout the war, Washington, D.C. was in a state of tension between its southern background and its status as the capital of the Union. In Winkle's account, the city gradually moved from southern to northern in character. Most Civil War histories discuss Lincoln's efforts to hold the border states and to delay emancipation. With this background, Winkle describes the changing character of the African American community in Washington, D.C. He discusses conflicts that arose over the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. But most interestingly, he gives a full discussion of the emancipation process for the slaves held in Washington D.C. beginning in 1862. This critical part of the War's story generally receives only cursory treatment in standard histories.
As Winkle shows, with a southern invasion feared eminent, the Union constructed extensive fortifications in the capital city early in the war, for which General George McClellan deserves substantial credit. Winkle describes how Washington, D.C. expanded to meet the large influx of troops and of civilians. He discusses the building of hospitals and the expansion of arsenals, including several accidents and disasters attendant to the conduct of the war. During the war, a fresh water supply became critical resulting in the construction of an aqueduct still in use. The city remained a breeding-ground for malaria and typhus throughout the war, resulting in, among much else, the death of Lincoln's beloved son, Willie.
Winkle devotes a great deal of attention to the influx of Freedpeople to Washington, D.C., particularly after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. He discusses the conditions at the many camps created to hold and to prepare the Freedpeople for freedom. There were large camps in the city itself as well as in Virginia, on Robert E. Lee's former estate.Winkle discusses the formation of African American regiments with Washington D.C. troops, and he discusses Dr. Alexander Augusta, an early African American physician who became one of the few African American commissioned officers in the conflict. Winkle offers a good discussion of the early movement for civil rights in Civil War Washington, leading to a pioneering desegregation of the city's public transportation system.
Winkle has written a solid, informative history which enhanced my understanding of both Washington, D.C. and of the Civil War. A chapter on the notorious vice that came to the capital city with the pressure of war and the influx of troops would have enlivened the account. The book has thorough documentation in the endnotes, but a bibliography would have been a welcome addition.