WARTIME WASHINGTON by Virginia Jeans--Ed. Laas


The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee
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 The political and social intrigues of Civil War Washington are given vivid, gossipy immediacy in an unusual treasury of letters from a member of a prominent Union family to her naval officer husband. A true insider, Elizabeth Blair Lee--daughter of Lincoln advisor Francis Preston Blair and sister of both Union general Frank Blair and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair--was privy to the most intimate workings of Union politics. But it is ``Lizzie'' herself, straightforward, opinionated, and insightful, who emerges most forcefully from these 368 journal-like letters to her ``Dear Phil,'' Samuel Phillips Lee, himself a distant cousin to Robert E. Lee. Far from embodying the myth of passive 19th-century womanhood, Lee is revealed as keen observer of the unfolding conflict, with a sparkling irreverence (referring to the disliked President Buchanan as ``Old Buck'' and the proud Jefferson Davis as ``King Jeff'') and a stubbornness that finds her tirelessly agitating to get her husband better ships (``Hot after a steamer for you today''), important postings, and confirmation as an admiral. Living on the edge of battle (``This morning at daylight the morning guns seem very loud to me...it was the Battle at Bull Run--30 miles off''), Lee busies herself with volunteer work and the affectionate education of her young son, offering along the way an unprecedented picture of life in Washington's inner circle. Although lacking the intellectual acuity of Confederate journal-keeper Mary Boykin Chesnut, Lee proves herself more than worthy of serious scholarly treatment. Editor Laas (History/Missouri Southern State College), though, despite obviously careful research, presents her material in unimaginative, almost perfunctory, form, with confusing, repetitive footnotes, and a lack of substantive aids (e.g., a family tree to keep the various Blairs and Lees straight; more frequent historical notes). A valuable academic document, if ill-constructed for a wider audience. (Sixteen pages of illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-252-01802-8
Page count: 600pp
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1991