A lively account of the capital’s evolution from southern backwater to world center during the blood-soaked Civil War.
Former Baltimore Sun reporter Furgurson continues his series of closely observed Civil War histories (Not War But Murder: Cold Harbor 1864, 2000, etc.), charting the District of Columbia’s fortunes during the conflict. When newly elected Abraham Lincoln arrived in the capital in 1860, the city was sharply divided: “ . . . boisterous Republicans who called themselves ‘Wide-Awakes’ . . . had kept quiet until the last weeks of the presidential campaign. . . . Then, sure that history was with them, some 500 paraded openly, with a few blacks tagging along behind.” Against them were arrayed proslavery Democrats, for Washington was a decidedly southern town in geography and spirit, and “both Virginia and Maryland, the two states that enclose the capital on the Potomac, had rejected Lincoln by overwhelming margins.” When Lincoln also arrived, Furgurson writes, there were fewer than 500 federal troops in the capital, with most of the army thinly spread along the western frontier. This put the government at great risk during the inaugural days of secession—during which time Lincoln received plenty of death threats, some sounding eerily like that issued by John Wilkes Booth—and required the formation of volunteer militias. The government quickly attended to the southern leanings of the capital by requiring all officeholders to swear an oath of loyalty to the government, then declared martial law; in the exchange, the mayor of Washington was jailed for refusing to swear allegiance. The remaking of the city continued throughout the war so that, Furgurson writes, “Washington would be more than a meeting place for delegates from states with notions of their own sovereignty; Lincoln had made it the seat of a forceful central government. Henceforth the world would say that the United States is, not are, a power among nations—its name transformed by war into a singular noun.”
Pure pleasure for Civil War buffs.