Reading – Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 by Margaret Leech – 20 in a series

I’ll be highlighting books that I am reading (or re-reading) on all sorts of topics this year — Douglas

Reading – Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 by Margaret Leech – 20 in a series

Reading - Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 by Margaret Leech - 20 in a series

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History is fascinating, but the smaller, more intimate stories of historical events can often get lost among the “big picture” history of other books. Reveille in Washington is a book that focuses one small, yet infinitely important, town during the American Civil War, Washington, D.C. We are led through the streets of Washington as war begins, cannons are heard on the horizon and a seemingly endless flow of men arrive, are mustered into the U.S. Army, sent off to battle and, for many, return horribly wounded to try and survive in hospitals surrounding the capital.

We learn of secessionists who pack up and leave for the South as the battles begin. Some cheer Confederate victories, run supplies and information through the Union blockades and, in some cases, find themselves locked in military prisons with no hope of release.

We learn of the mud, the stink, the heat, the humidity, the disease-carrying mosquitos that haunted the swampy city each summer. We follow politicians as they come and go, battle on the Congress floor and fight among themselves in Lincoln’s Cabinet Room.

Reveille in Washington reveals the day-to-day reality of Washington during the Civil War and allows us to reflect on a new angle of that conflict.


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.

Previously in (Re)Reading:

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