Monday, April 25, 2011

New and Noteworthy: Why Didn't The Confederacy Seize Washington in April 1861? Was It Lee's Fault?

Excerpts from Jim Cullen's Review of John Lockwood and Charles Lockwood's The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days that Shook the Union (Oxford, 2011) which appears on the History News Network, April 24, 2011.

"Historians like to remind us that collective memory is a process of remembrance and forgetting. In the case of contemporary Civil War historiography, there is a growing recognition that historians themselves have lost sight of something important in recent decades: the depth and power of Northern unionism. Much of the work of the last half-century has focused on American racism (cause in its own right in the case of the Confederacy, fact of life in the case of the Union), or impersonal structural forces like capitalism, whether industrial or slave-based, in the coming of the conflict. And the major social changes of the sixties -- that's the 1960s, not the 1860s -- have placed great emphasis on the role of individual struggles and collective oppression of important demographic segments of the population. Amid these legitimate and useful avenues of scholarship, it is sometimes hard for students of the war to imagine, much less remember, that millions of Americans had a deep and abiding commitment to the idea of a constitutional republic, one for which hundreds of thousands proved willing to risk their lives. Books like Joan Waugh's recent biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Gary Gallagher's newly published The Union War and Adam Goodheart's recent 1861: The Civil War Awakening have reconnected with these currents. In an indirect but powerful way, so do brothers John and Charles Lockwood in The Siege of Washington."

"This volume is the first book-length treatment of a standard episode of the master narrative: the tense two-week period in April 1861 following the fall of Fort Sumter, when Washington DC was essentially a federal island in a Confederate lake, situated between a Maryland itching for the chance to secede from the Union and a Virginia that would formally succeed in doing so. In these desperate days, with railroad and telegraph lines cut, the national capital was extraordinarily vulnerable."

"What the brothers are best at, though, is capturing the awakening of Northern patriotism in the face of the crisis. This was apparent in the enthusiasm with which the the Union states responded to President Lincoln's call for volunteers, but also a newly assertive unionism that surfaced in what had always been a de facto Southern city."

"The Lockwoods periodically check in with the Davis administration, still in Montgomery, as well as Virginia politicians and Robert E. Lee, who declined Scott's offer to command the U.S. army. We learn at one point that Washington never fell in large part because Lee commanded that Virginia troops would not take the city, but we get no clear sense of why, or why the Confederacy as a whole did not capitalize on what appeared to be a golden opportunity."

The full text of Jim Cullen's Review of The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union by John Lockwood and Charles Lockwood

CWL: Frankly speaking, of the many March and April releases this book had little appeal to CWL. But after reading the review, specially in regard to the importance of Unionism as motivation and the possibilty that Lee, due to his previous loyalty did not press his command forward, is intriguing. CWL might work this book into the reading schedule before Memorial Day or Flag Day.

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