On April 14, 1861, following the surrender of Fort Sumter, Washington was "put into the condition of a siege," declared Abraham Lincoln. Located sixty miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the nation's capital was surrounded by the slave states of Maryland and Virginia. With no fortifications and only a handful of trained soldiers, Washington was an ideal target for the Confederacy. The South echoed with cries of "On to Washington!" and Jefferson Davis's wife sent out cards inviting her friends to a reception at the White House on May 1.
Lincoln issued an emergency proclamation on April 15, calling for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion and protect the capital. One question now transfixed the nation: Whose forces would reach Washington first: Northern defenders or Southern attackers?
For 12 days, the city's fate hung in the balance. Washington was entirely isolated from the North--without trains, telegraph, or mail. Sandbags were stacked around major landmarks, and the unfinished Capitol was transformed into a barracks, with volunteer troops camping out in the House and Senate chambers. Meanwhile, Maryland secessionists blocked the passage of Union reinforcements trying to reach Washington, and a rumored force of 20,000 Confederate soldiers lay in wait just across the Potomac River.
Drawing on firsthand accounts, The Siege of Washington tells this story from the perspective of leading officials, residents trapped inside the city, Confederates plotting to seize it, and Union troops racing to save it, capturing with brilliance and immediacy the precarious first days of the Civil War.
The Siege of Washington: The Twelve Days That Shook the Union
From Publishers Weekly
Historians have long been perplexed over why the South didn't attack Washington, D.C., in the early days of the Civil War. In this absorbing history, the siege of the Union capital and the panic over an expected Confederate attack that never came—offer significant insights into the long conflict. The Lockwoods, both historians, examine the two weeks after Fort Sumter, when everyone from Southern firebrands to Abraham Lincoln thought the rebels would seize the isolated and virtually defenseless Union capital, which was surrounded by slave states and had a substantial pro-Confederate population. The rail and telegraph lines were cut by Maryland secessionists, and the capital waited anxiously for Northern soldiers to push through hostile territory to its rescue while enduring food shortages, bank runs, and rumors of approaching rebel armies bent on hanging federal officials. The authors' well-paced narrative captures the suspense of the ordeal and the Union's achievement in improvising a defense from scratch. This vivid portrait of a weak and jittery Washington turns into a story of how Northern vigor and organization trumped Southern élan, presaging the larger war. 40 b&w illus.; 1 map. (Apr.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Interesting and educational book on the precarious position of Washington at the start of the Civil War
on March 27, 2017
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I enjoyed this book, found it easy to read and learned a great deal. I also found the book suspenseful, such as the gripping drama as US troops tried to pass through pro-Confederate areas of Maryland on their way to defend Washington. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Civil War or this time period of American history. I never realized the precarious position that Washington was in as it was basically an island, surrounded by hostile forces in the early days of the Civil War.
One aspect of the book kept me from giving it 5 stars. Over and over we read how people North and South expected Washington to be attacked by the CSA. Everyone is sure that an attack will come on a specific day, but it does not. And then everyone expects the attack to be the next day, but it does not occur. As I read these accounts I kept asking myself - "Well, why didn't the CSA attack???", but no detailed description is given. The book goes into great detail to describe events and decisions from the political and military leaders of the Union, but no similar detail is given as to events and decisions on the CSA leadership side. Yes, I get that the book is centered on Washington, and yes, the book does touch a few times on the CSA aspect, but this is done at a high level and is nowhere near the level of detail given the Union side. Giving more insight into the details on the decision making among the leadership of the CSA and why they did not attack, would present a more well-rounded, holistic view of these events.
My minor criticism aside - I would highly recommend this book. If you are unfamiliar with these events, you will undoubtedly learn some things.
on September 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The brothers Lockwood have presented a very good work regarding the precarious position of Washington City in the early days of the war from April 15-25.
This book shows exactly how vulnerable Washington was to rebel capture after the fall of Fort Sumter, and although we know the outcome of this book, you read it with a pace that would indicate you did not know how it would end.
Washington was a mess. The Capitol was under construction, there was no dome and more importantly there were very few troops in the city under the command of General Winfield Scott, an aged Mexican War veteran who could barely move his bulky frame due to gout. Every day, the nation waited on the decision by Virginia to either stay in or secede. By April 18, it was evident that Virginia would go. On that same day, Robert E. Lee rode to Washington to Blair House where he was offered the command of Union forces. He soon decided to resign his commission and by April 22, he was in Richmond. With that decision, other officers from the South who were undecided, largely elected to go with the Confederacy. I feel that Lee bears a great responsibility for the four years of utter destruction this nation went through, and for a war that set the South back one hundred years.
When Lincoln called for the volunteers to come to the city, regiments from New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts moved by train toward Washington. The problem was that they had to go through Baltimore and had to unload from one train and move a considerable distance to another train that would take them to Washington. At that time, there was a great hostility toward the Union in Baltimore, and mobs of people fought the Union volunteers attempting to change trains in that city. Now, Washington was quickly cut off by hostile states, and rail and telegraph lines were destroyed. In addition, former governor Wise of Virginia led forces to take Harpers Ferry and the Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk. Thankfully, the commander of the small Union force at Harpers Ferry had the good sense to destroy most of the armory which included 15,000 stands of arms. Had this fallen into Confederate hands, Washington may indeed have been captured.
For day after day, the rumors flew through Washington that the city was going to be attacked. Many families left the city and with the arrival of volunteers, the problem of logisitics was very pronounced. Sanitation and quarters were in short supply.
We are introduced to many notable characters. I was a little surprised that there was not more on Lincoln himself but the subject matter is thorough in all other aspects. At least the historian can understand that after this crisis had passed, Lincoln was very nervous about the safety of the capital. We saw this when Lee sent Jackson into the valley in 1862, and again in the summer of 1864 when Jubal Early approached a much better fortified city.
The authors do discuss how much of a diplomatic coup the capture of Washington would have been for the Confederacy but in the end, it did not happen and four years later, Lincoln was the victim of an assassin and the South was no more.
I highly recommend this book.
on June 25, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I didn't realize how truly dangerous Washington City was when Fort Sumter was surrendered to the Confederacy. Rumors abounded about how powerful the South was and they were on the march to capture the Union Capital along with the President and the rest of the government. Lincoln called on national guard from NY, PA and Mass. but they had a terrible journey trying to get to Washington City because of Baltimore. Maryland did not secede from the Union, but they may as well have for their sympathies lay with the South and they blocked all troop trains from the north, tearing up tracks and telegraph lines and actually forming mobs to stop any troops coming to defend the capital. So for 2 weeks the fate of the capital was in dire straits. Turns out most of the rumors were just that and the South was not ready to fight or attack the capital as was the Union prepared to defend it.
It would have been a coup to do so, but Thanks be to God, it never happened.
I love history and this book held my interest down to the last syllable.
on October 29, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this look at the worrisome first days of the Civil War in Washington, DC. For 12 days after the fall of Fort Sumter in April of 1865, Washington was virtually undefended. Lincoln put out an urgent call for 75,000 volunteers, soldiers who were needed, in part, to defend the capital.
Treason was in the air as many government employees and others who were southern sympathizers either spied or actively destroyed defenses. The situation looked bleak as Baltimore mobs blocked northern volunteers from travelling through that city by train (they had to travel 1.5 miles between train stations) and, in fact, killed several Yankee soldiers and deliberately destroyed tracks to disrupt travel and blockade the city of Washington. Lots of intrigue and worry in what was an essentially undefended city as panic and fear left citizens wondering when the secessionists would attack the city, perhaps ending the Civil War before it started.
This is a terrific book that was very informative to me. I'd never thought about the logistics of those early days and I found this fascinating.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I live in the Washington area. I know Washington's history well. But even I was swept up in the Lockwood brothers' terrific narrative as if it were a fiction thriller.Read more
Still reading it but find it very informative. It's great at giving the background information to help me understand the whole story.Read more
Author makes use of newspaper reports, letters home, telegrams, etc. in an attempt to recreate the near panic over a Confederate attack following the secession of SC from the...Read more
I live in DC and was fascinated by the stories and the history.Read more
Interesting area of study. Most readers of civil war history are only vaguely familiar with the vents detailed in this book. The detail proved very interesting to me.Read more
This book explained many things that i did not know and was pleased to understand about this particular time. I understand Lincoln better since reading this book.Read more
What a pleasant surprise this book was. Conveys the situation in D.C. that happened during the fist days of the war. I found this book to be very interesting.Read more
I enjoyed the book. I do believe it is an interesting story that is not often told, unlike battle narratives of Gettysburg and others.Read more
Most people have no idea how easily the South could have taken Washington at the start of the Civil War.Read more
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