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Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm… Federalist No. 10

Although this is a very interesting book its title can be misconstrued and help perpetuate a fundamental understanding of the War for Southern Independence that is wholly incorrect. While we have illustrated it faithfully with prints from the Library of Congress we were unable to locate any depictions of the 20,000 strong Confederate army ready to lay siege in April 1861 because it was – and is – a myth. What we have realized from the illustrations is that the Republic of Washington, Adams and Jefferson did not even survive to completion of its capitol before Lincoln turned the union from a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection into the guarantor of exactly that.

Full-length portrait of Abraham Lincoln seated next to small table, February 24, 1861

Full-length portrait of Abraham Lincoln seated next to small table, February 24, 1861

Fort Sumter was built on harbor land specifically deeded to the federal government for harbor defense – specifically to create a crossfire with Fort Moultrie – and for no other purpose. It is a long recognized principle that if the grantee fails to meet the terms of the gift of the grantor that a deed may become null and the property revert to the grantor. By turning the guns of Sumter from positions defending the harbor to positions commanding the city of Charleston the deed of 1841 [this was NOT property that had ALWAYS belonged to the federal government] was compromised and the state was in a position to reassert its prior and superior claim to the land. It is unfortunate that it used its militia rather than the courts to do so but the popular view that conflates Fort Sumter in 1861 with Fort McHenry in 1814 is as inaccurate as most of the myths surrounding the War.

Photograph shows crowd of people viewing Lincoln's inauguration by the under-construction U.S. Capitol.

Photograph shows crowd of people viewing Lincoln’s inauguration by the under-construction U.S. Capitol.

Which last point brings us to the problem of the so-called siege of Washington. Listen to the words of Jefferson Davis, I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came. This was not a man with territorial ambitions who wanted to see any flag fly over any state capitol other than that state’s flag. The earliest organization of the Army of Northern Virginia came in October of 1861 – and even then it was not mobilized against Washington and so no military action prior to first Manassas. The South neither needed nor wanted Washington any more than the rest of the country needs or wants it now, it was a pariah then – as now – and the sooner people are disabused of the misconceptions of the causes and opening of the War of Northern Aggression the sooner the can begin to understand it true consequences.

Photograph shows participants and crowd at the first inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. Lincoln is standing under the wood canopy, at the front, midway between the left and center posts. His face is in shadow but the white shirt front is visible. (Source: Ostendorf, p. 87) "A distant photograph from a special platform by an unknown photographer, in front of the Capitol, Washington, D.C., afternoon of March 4, 1861. 'A small camera was directly in front of Mr. Lincoln,' reported a newspaper, 'another at a distance of a hundred yards, and a third of huge dimensions on the right ... The three photographers present had plenty of time to take pictures, yet only the distant views have survived.

Photograph shows participants and crowd at the first inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, at the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. Lincoln is standing under the wood canopy, at the front, midway between the left and center posts. His face is in shadow but the white shirt front is visible. (Source: Ostendorf, p. 87) “A distant photograph from a special platform by an unknown photographer, in front of the Capitol, Washington, D.C., afternoon of March 4, 1861. ‘A small camera was directly in front of Mr. Lincoln,’ reported a newspaper, ‘another at a distance of a hundred yards, and a third of huge dimensions on the right … The three photographers present had plenty of time to take pictures, yet only the distant views have survived.

The siege of Washington : the untold story of the twelve days that shook the Union  John Lockwood and Charles Lockwood  Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, c 2011  Hardcover. xiv, 298 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

The sixth regiment of the Massachusetts volunteers firing into the people in Pratt Street, while attempting to pass through Baltimore en route for Washington, April 19, 1861

The sixth regiment of the Massachusetts volunteers firing into the people in Pratt Street, while attempting to pass through Baltimore en route for Washington, April 19, 1861

On April 14, 1861, following the surrender of Fort Sumter, Washington was “put into the condition of a siege,” declared Abraham Lincoln. Located sixty miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the nation’s capital was surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. With no fortifications and only a handful of trained soldiers, Washington was an ideal target for the Confederacy. The South echoed with cries of “On to Washington!” and Jefferson Davis’s wife sent out cards inviting her friends to a reception at the White House on May 1.

Ninth Massachusetts Infantry Camp near Washington, D.C., 1861

Ninth Massachusetts Infantry Camp near Washington, D.C., 1861

Lincoln issued an emergency proclamation on April 15, calling for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion and protect the capital. One question now transfixed the nation: whose forces would reach Washington first-Northern defenders or Southern attackers?

The famous New York Seventh, just after reaching Washington in April 1861

The famous New York Seventh, just after reaching Washington in April 1861

For 12 days, the city’s fate hung in the balance. Washington was entirely isolated from the North – without trains, telegraph, or mail. Sandbags were stacked around major landmarks, and the unfinished Capitol was transformed into a barracks, with volunteer troops camping out in the House and Senate chambers. Meanwhile, Maryland secessionists blocked the passage of Union reinforcements trying to reach Washington, and a rumored force of 20,000 Confederate soldiers lay in wait just across the Potomac River.

Top illustration shows crowds on the docks waving farewll as boats loaded with Army troops departs. Bottom illustration shows soldiers,some civilians, and mattresses on the floor in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Top illustration shows crowds on the docks waving farewell as boats loaded with Army troops departs. Bottom illustration shows soldiers,some civilians, and mattresses on the floor in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Drawing on firsthand accounts, The Siege of Washington tells this story from the perspective of leading officials, residents trapped inside the city, Confederates plotting to seize it, and Union troops racing to save it, capturing with brilliance and immediacy the precarious first days of the Civil War.

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