DESPERATE ENGAGEMENT by Marc Leepson

DESPERATE ENGAGEMENT

How a Little Known Civil War Battle Saved Washington, D.C., and Changed American History

KIRKUS REVIEW

Sharp assessment of the single Confederate victory north of the Mason-Dixon line, the only military engagement during which a sitting U.S. president came under hostile fire.

In an efficient narrative, journalist Leepson (Flag, 2005, etc.) describes all principals engaged in the Battle of Monocacy and offers useful mini-portraits of subsidiary characters. It was July, 1864. Ulysses Grant had every able-bodied, experienced Union soldier with him outside Richmond and Petersburg, where he was pounding the Confederates. Under severe pressure, Robert E. Lee ordered his “Bad Old Man,” General Jubal Early, to move through the Shenandoah Valley into Maryland and invade under-defended Washington, D.C. Forty miles outside the capital, Union General Lew Wallace, blamed by his superiors for malfeasance at Shiloh (and better known later as the author of Ben-Hur), forced Early’s hand at Monocacy. Wallace’s valiant stand ended in defeat, but it left Confederate troops depleted and exhausted as they marched on to Ft. Stevens, within sight of the Capitol dome. Unable to immediately go into battle, Early paused for a fateful day, time enough for Grant’s veteran Sixth Corps reinforcements to arrive and man the parapets. From there, Lincoln himself watched some minor skirmishing before Early decided to retreat. In the tradition of James McPherson’s study of Antietam, Crossroads of Freedom (2002), Leepson offers not only military details, but also the political consequences of the failed invasion. Had Early succeeded, the spectacle of Confederate forces rampaging through Washington would surely have deflated Northern morale, added to Dixie’s almost empty coffers, sunk Lincoln’s hopes for the 1864 election and won over foreign powers to the flagging Southern cause.

A smart consideration for the general reader of one of the many intriguing what-ifs that can be asked about the Civil War.

Pub Date: July 12th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-312-36364-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2007




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