The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union
by John Lockwood and Charles Lockwood, Oxford University Press, 2011, $27.95
HORATIO TAFT, A U.S. PATENT OFFICE employee, often took his children to play at the White House with Abraham Lincoln’s youngest boys. But Taft’s diary entry for April 20, 1861, recorded events much more ominous. “Bridges destroyed, tracks torn up, and Steam Ferry Boat over the Susquehanna scuttled and sunk,” he lamented. “Balt[imore] in the hands of the mob. A critical time for Washington.”
For 12 critical days after the fall of Fort Sumter, Washington, D.C., was indeed a city on the brink, geographically and psychologically. Authors John and Charles Lockwood have chronicled these dark days in a lively and thoroughly researched account of how local residents, government leaders and military officers reacted to events—real and imagined—occurring around them. Their narrative, sprinkled with colorful and mostly little-known anecdotes, adroitly captures the uncertainty and tension pervading President Lincoln’s capital.
In the end, no enemy appeared at the city’s gates. By the time the well-trained and fully armed 7th New York Infantry began arriving on April 25, the tension had broken and the danger, such as it was, had passed. But the end of the siege of Washington was only the beginning of a national drama that none of the local actors could have imagined at the time.
Originally published in the July 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.