Book Review: Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union


by John Lockwood & Charles Lockwood

New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011. Pp. xiv, 298. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $27.95. ISBN: 978-0-19-975989-7

In The Siege of Washington, John Lockwood, National Mall Historian for the National Park Service, and his brother architectural historian Charles Lockwood, take on the extraordinary story of Washington during the twelve days that
followed the Confederacy’s initial bombardment of Fort Sumter, that is, from the 13th to the 25th of April of 1861.   With secessionism rife in Virginia and Maryland, a virtually undefended capitol seemed certain to fall to the Rebellion, particularly after rail and telegraph links to the North were cut, on April 20th, isolating the city – in essence putting it under siege -- until the 25th, when the 7th New York and 8th Massachusetts arrived, restoring contact with the outside world.

The story is well cast, with Lincoln, of course, and the aged General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, who, though overweight, would prove to have no fat between his ears, in the lead roles, and such strong supporting characters as Jefferson Davis, Benjamin Butler, one of the true heroes of the moment, and Virginia’s Henry A. Wise, best described as a putschist, as well as cabinet members, senators, representatives, governors, pro- and anti-slavery advocates, soldiers and militiamen, and a number of notable women, including Mary Todd Lincoln, Varina Davis, Clara Barton, and more.

This is a very good read, covering a rather neglected, yet vital period in the Civil War, with plots and counter-plots, subversion, heroism, opportunism, and more, including war planning, mostly notional on the Confederate part, but grimly serious “last ditch” thinking by Union commanders. While there are some small errors, “militia” and “volunteers” are confused, there were no notable defections of enlisted men from the Regular Army, and, despite a hoary myth, Robert E. Lee was not offered command of the Union Armies but a major field command, these are relatively minor.

The Siege of Washington should be read by anyone with an interest in the Civil War.            


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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