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Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, DC

 Kenneth J. Winkle, W.W. Norton & Company

In following up on the re-publication of Margaret Leech’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 in 2009, Kenneth Winkle deserves an award for courage. Like Leech, Winkle examines “the attitudes, actions, and motivations,” not only of Abraham Lincoln and Washington officials, but also of the citizens of the nation’s capital.

For example, Winkle tells us about the military commander who sent Union cavalry to the city jail to “release every escaping slave, also his black woman cook, who…had been arrested…as a contraband, and she was needed to get breakfast for him and his family.” The jailor resisted the order and was arrested, but then Union men in charge of the jail were arrested by a U.S. marshal. All this had to do with the marshal’s enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law.

Winkle also provides a timeline of the city, including Lincoln’s defining the war powers of the presidency by suspending habeas corpus; institution of the first income tax; conscription; and the single greatest act of political courage of any president: emancipation. Winkle’s steady pace is perfectly suited for Washington, then and now. He shows how D.C. changed in the conflict and how its safety was always endangered, internally and externally, which affected the war’s conduct.


Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.