Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865

Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865

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by Margaret Leech

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1860: The American capital is sprawling, fractured, squalid, colored by patriotism and treason, and deeply divided along the political lines that will soon embroil the nation in bloody conflict. Chaotic and corrupt, the young city is populated by bellicose congressmen, Confederate 
conspirators, and enterprising prostitutes. Soldiers of a volunteer army swing


1860: The American capital is sprawling, fractured, squalid, colored by patriotism and treason, and deeply divided along the political lines that will soon embroil the nation in bloody conflict. Chaotic and corrupt, the young city is populated by bellicose congressmen, Confederate 
conspirators, and enterprising prostitutes. Soldiers of a volunteer army swing from the dome of the Capitol, assassins stalk the avenues, and Abraham Lincoln struggles to justify his presidency as the Union heads to war. 

  Reveille in Washington focuses on the everyday politics and preoccupations of Washington during the Civil War. From the stench of corpse-littered streets to the plunging lace on Mary Lincoln’s evening gowns, Margaret Leech illuminates the city and its familiar figures—among them Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, William Seward, and Mary Surratt—in intimate and fascinating detail. 

   Leech’s book remains widely recognized as both an impressive feat of scholarship and an uncommonly engrossing work of history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This teeming Washington, described in all its wonderful, eccentric detail, provides the perspective from which Leech examines the overall pursuit of the war, among whose elements were the ineptness, intransigence, and obstructive jealousies of many of the Union generals…. This is a character-driven history and a chronicle of a city, but it is, also, a deft review of military strategy and of political maneuvering between and within political parties.  It is, too, a fast-paced account of the developing exigencies that resulted in, among other things, the suspension of habeas corpus, the levying of income tax, conscription, and, most momentously, in the emancipation of slaves, first in Washington and then universally. "—Katherine Powers, B&N Review

“In 1860, Washington was a raw country town, a symbol trying to be a city. By 1865 it had become the nation’s capital. Reveille in Washington is packed and running over with the anecdotes, scandals, personalities, and tragi-comedies of the day. Here you will meet young Andy Carnegie organizing military transport; a Patent Office clerk named Clara Barton suddenly discovering she has a real vocation; Matthew Brady, obsessed with the idea that he could make a photographic record of a war; Louisa M. Alcott and Walt Whitman finding their great moments in hospitals. It’s a wonderful story.”
—Clifton Fadiman, The New Yorker

“Published in 1941, this remains the best single popular account of Washington during the great convulsion of the civil War. Vividly written, with hundreds of cameo portraits, from president Lincoln to the humblest citizen.” —The Washington Post

"Leech, who published three novels before this work of history appeared in 1941, offers a smart and witty account of wartime Washington’s transformation from an administrative backwater to the locus of renewed federal power. This encyclopedic portrait won Leech, who died in 1974, her first of two Pulitzer Prizes for history...Reveille in Washington could stand on its own as a first-rate chronicle of how the political elites handled the war. Many of Leech’s characters are familiar names from American history, and they are brought to life in a new way with the spark of her pen...But the book’s main character is really the city itself...Several writers—Walt Whitman in Specimen Days, Louisa May Alcott in Hospital Sketches—wrote more intimately and movingly about life in the capital during the Civil War, but neither did so with the scope or the ambition of Leech. The steady clip of Leech’s accomplished book is in a way perfectly suited to Washington." — The New Republic

“Winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize, this history of the nation’s capital during the Civil War is a rich, beautifully written narrative.” —“Ten Neglected Classics,” The American Scholar

Product Details

New York Review Books
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New York Review Books Classics Series
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Meet the Author

Margaret Leech (1893–1974) was an American novelist, biographer, and historian. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for History and one of only two people to win it twice, first in 1942 for Reveille in Washington and again in 1960 for In the Days of McKinley (for which she also won the Bancroft Prize). Leech was born in Newburgh, New York, and graduated from Vassar College in 1915. She then moved to New York City, where she found work in the advertising and publicity departments of Condé Nast. Following World War I, she served on the American Committee for Devastated France and took up journalism and fiction, eventually publishing three novels, The Back of the Book (1924), Tin Wedding (1926), and The Feathered Nest (1928), before turning to history. A member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table, where she was known for her sharp tongue, she collaborated with Heywood Broun on a biography of Anthony Comstock (1927) and with Beatrice Kaufman on a play, Divided by Three (1934). In 1928 Leech married Ralph Pulitzer, editor and publisher of The New York World. At the time of her death Leech had begun work on a new history, The Garfield Orbit. Completed by Harry J. Brown, the book appeared in 1978.

James M. Mcpherson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Among his other books are For Cause and Comrades, Drawn with the Sword, What They Fought For, Gettysburg, and Fields of Fury. A professor at Princeton University, he lives in Princeton,
New Jersey.

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Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
TD3 More than 1 year ago
When I initially bought this non-fiction look at the nation's Capitol I anticipated a factual, but potentially plodding work. Wrong! After my first read I decided to add it to my Civil War book collection and found an autographed hardback that I enjoy reading again every year or two. Published in 1941, it's easy to see why this book earned the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1942. Her book is highly engaging, providing a fresh and unique look at the nation's capitol and the men and women who helped transform this sleepy Southern backwater into the powerful and vibrant city we are familiar with today. The "reveille" in the title has several meanings. Reveille is first a reference to the city's awakening from peace to war. It's also a reference to the bureaucratic and military power that characterized the city during and after the Civil War. In 1861, Washington was surrounded by slave-holding states and the institution was legal in the city itself. Here too you will find insights into the era's intrigues and politics. You'll meet the highly egotistical Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and his debutante daughter Kate, the Princess Di of her time; the pompous Gen. George G. McClellan, who considered President Lincoln an interfering and inferior "ape"; and Sen. Henry Wilson, a powerful politician who was a key source of military secrets he thoughtlessly shared in bed with Rose Greenhow, a known Southern sympathizer. I highly recommend this fascinating and well-written book!
suzabelle More than 1 year ago
I bought this as a gift for my daughter in law, who is a civil war buff. I understood that this is the definitive book on the CW in the DC area, which is where they live. She was thrilled to receive it, and I will expect that she will let me know more after she reads it. Suzabelle
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Margaret Leech's history of Washington City (Washington D.C. to us in modern parlance) is a jewel. Winner of the 1942 Pulitizer for history. Inclusive of wonderful, rare illustrations, chronology of main events, biographical notes, bibliography, and index. Highly recommended