Saturday, May 26, 2018
Books

Review: 'Lincoln's Citadel' shows how Civil War transformed Washington

Conceived in the 1790s by French architect Pierre L'Enfant, Washington, D.C., was a capital "federal city," imposed upon a "local city of southern towns, villages, and farms that had preceded it." By the mid 1800s the streets of Washington, except for paved Pennsylvania Avenue, were a vast geometric grid of dirt roads that, when it rained, turned into elongated swamps of foot-deep mud.

Public sanitation was nonexistent. Epidemic diseases such as scarlet fever, measles and typhus were a constant threat. President Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son, Willie, died of typhoid fever in February 1862.

Crime was rampant, and Washington's woefully inadequate police force kept a minimum of order. And despite its federal, Northern connection, Washington was, when Lincoln assumed the presidency on March 4, 1861, a dynamic, Southern, slave-owning city.

Kenneth J. Winkle, Lincoln biographer (The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln, 2001) and professor of history at the University of Nebraska, has written a revealing work, Lincoln's Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, D.C. Unlike most Civil War books that deal with generals or battles, Winkle's volume concentrates upon the "interior history" of America's capital and how it transformed during this contentious period as the nation itself transformed.

Winkle begins his story in December 1847, when Illinois' Abraham Lincoln, a newly elected Republican member of the House of Representatives, moved into Mrs. Ann Sprigg's boardinghouse, nicknamed "Abolition House" because nearly all the congressional boarders sympathized with that cause. Then, jumping ahead 12 years, he describes newly elected President Lincoln's ignominious February 1861 entrance into Washington. As Lincoln's train made its 800-mile trip from Springfield, Ill., letters threatening death dogged him. "May the hand of the devil strike you down before long — You are destroying the country. Damn you — every breath you take." Changing trains and sneaking through hyper-dangerous Baltimore at 3:30 a.m., Lincoln sported a concealing "broad-brimmed felt hat that he could pull down over his eyes and a 'Gentleman's shawl' that he could pull up over his face." He also stooped "to disguise his conspicuous six-foot-four-inch height."

Winkle examines Lincoln's desperate attempts to keep up Washington's defenses against "border state" (i.e., neutral) Maryland and openly defiant Virginia, whose Confederate flags could be clearly seen flying across the Potomac River. After the Union's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Bull Run, just 30 miles from the capital, Lincoln ordered that both sides of Washington's three bridges across the Potomac be fortified. He ordered the construction of 68 new forts, 93 artillery batteries with 800 cannon, and 20 miles of trenches to surround the city. Gen. George B. McClellan, in charge of the city's defenses, now commanded 50,000 infantry troops, 1,000 cavalry and 650 artillerymen. Medical personnel, especially nurses, were badly needed as 1 million casualties poured into Washington's hospitals.

Fugitive slaves from seceding states flocked to the capital, and freedom. On April 16, 1862, Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, forerunner to the more geographically comprehensive Emancipation Proclamation (effective Jan. 1, 1863). Winkle tells us that 40,000 fugitive and freed slaves came to Washington during the Civil War.

By war's end, Washington had become a cleaner, more sophisticated, more Northern city. A better water supply was installed, better sanitation, lighting, police, schools. The war had transformed the nation and, spectacularly, this city.

Comments
Notable: Books for the beach

Notable: Books for the beach

NotableBooks for the beachSuit up: It’s time for a few new books built for vacation reading.By Invitation Only (William Morrow) by Dorothea Benton Frank is the latest serving of Frank’s trademark warm humor and engaging characters, set around two wed...
Published: 05/25/18
Judy Blundell brings on summertime on Long Island in ‘High Season’

Judy Blundell brings on summertime on Long Island in ‘High Season’

NightstandJudy BlundellSince it’s Memorial Day weekend, we decided to touch base with Judy Blundell, whose new book is High Season. The novel’s protagonist is Ruthie Beamish, director of a small museum who, to make ends meet, rents out her seaside ho...
Published: 05/25/18

Events: Pulitzer winner Jack Davis to discuss ‘The Gulf’ at Oxford Exchange

Book TalkUniversity of Florida historian Jack E. Davis (The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea) will discuss and sign his Pulitzer Prize-winning book at 1 p.m. May 27 at the Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Admission $5, applicable towar...
Published: 05/25/18
Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

Review: Family matters in David Sedaris’ ‘Calypso’

David Sedaris gets right to the point in the opening of the first essay in his new book, Calypso: "Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll ac...
Published: 05/24/18
Review: Strait-laced writer Michael Pollan explores psychedelics, and leaves the door of perception ajar

Review: Strait-laced writer Michael Pollan explores psychedelics, and leaves the door of perception ajar

Microdosing is hot. If you haven’t heard — but you probably have, from reports of its use at Silicon Valley workplaces, from Ayelet Waldman’s memoir A Really Good Day, from dozens of news stories — to microdose is to take small amounts of LSD, which ...
Published: 05/24/18
Bancroft: Philip Roth deftly explored male lust, Jewish identity, American history and politics

Bancroft: Philip Roth deftly explored male lust, Jewish identity, American history and politics

Philip Roth, one of the most potent voices in American fiction, died Tuesday night of congestive heart failure in a New York City hospital. He was 85.Mr. Roth was the last man standing of a generation of fiction writers sometimes called "the great wh...
Published: 05/23/18

Events: Tarbell.org founder Wendell Potter to discuss, sign book

Book TalkTarbell.org founder Wendell Potter (Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It) will discuss and sign his book at 4 p.m. May 23 at the St. Petersburg Main Library, 3745 Ninth Ave. N.Applications are ...
Published: 05/21/18
The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

Tom Wolfe’s best writing lifted real people into legend: car designers and astronauts and disciples of LSD. With that writing, Wolfe lifted himself into legend as well. The author of 16 books, including such bestsellers as The Right Stuff and ...
Published: 05/18/18
Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

On a July day, Terry Maitland, one of the most popular men in Flint City, Okla. — high school English teacher, Little League coach, husband and father, recently named the town’s man of the year — attends a teachers convention in a city over an hour’s...
Published: 05/17/18

Events: Gilbert King to discuss ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ at Inkwood in Tampa

Book TalkCutter Wood (Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Crime) will discuss and sign his nonfiction book about a murder on Anna Maria Island at 6 p.m. May 14 at Bookstore1, 12 S Palm Ave., Sarasota.The Gulfport Historical Society p...
Updated one month ago