Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Seige Of Washington

By John Lockwood & Charles Lockwood

In the months between Abraham Lincoln’s election and inauguration as President of the United States seven states seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.  On April 17, 1861, two days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Virginia was next to leave the Union, and in the weeks ahead she would be followed by Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Though Maryland had not seceded there were many radical elements within it that supported secession from the Union.  With Virginia bordering the nation’s capital to the southwest and Maryland on the remaining three sides, the city of Washington found itself surrounded by those hostile to it.

Upon the surrender of Fort Sumter Lincoln issued an emergency proclamation, calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to suppress the rebellion of the Southern States.  It took twelve days for regiments from Massachusetts, New York and Philadelphia to reach Washington, and as each day passed the city, more and more, became a city under siege.  Washington, more than any other time during the Civil War, was vulnerable to an attack by the newly formed Confederate States of America.

John and Charles Lockwood, in their book, “The Siege of Washington: the Untold Story of the Twelve Days that Shook the Union,” have written an account of those anxious days when the destiny of the capital city was “suspended by a hair.”

Beginning with the firing on Fort Sumter the authors give their readers a day by day guide to the events within, and to a lesser extent without, the borders of the nation’s capital city.

The most expedient route to move troops from the North to Washington was by railroad, and the railroads, and roads converged in Baltimore before heading south.  Within a few days of the President’s proclamation, the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers is the first body of troops arrive in the capital city; they are unarmed.  Secessionists in Baltimore were greatly angered by the passage of Northern troops through their city.  When the men of the 6th Massachusetts became the next body of troops to move through the city, a riot broke out, resulting in the deaths of four soldiers and twelve civilians.

The authors cover in great detail the efforts of the citizens of Baltimore and Maryland to first negotiate with the Federal Government by demanding that Northern troops not be sent through Baltimore, and failing that, secondly to sabotage the railroad and telegraph lines and thereby cutting off Washington’s communication with, and the flow of troops from the Northern states.

Relying largely on diaries, (including those of John Nicolay & John Hay, the President’s private secretaries) the authors take you into the besieged city, and the anxieties of its citizens.  As each day passes, tensions and anxieties grow, leading President Lincoln to wonder out loud “Why don’t they come?  Why don’t they come?”

The Lockwood’s narrative also covers in great detail the efforts of General Benjamin F. Butler & Colonel Marshall Lefferts, of the 8th Massachusetts and 7th New York regiments, respectively, to circumnavigate around Baltimore, to open a route to Washington.

“The Siege of Washington” is very well researched, and easily read.  It contains great end notes, but book is lacks a bibliography.  Its authors have done an admirable job bringing this often overlooked period of Civil War out of the historical shadows and placing a spotlight on it.

ISBN 978-0199759897, Oxford University Press, USA, © 2011, Hardcover, 298 pages, Photographs, Maps, Endnotes & Index. $27.95

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