Sept. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Historians Capture Tension of War

Slave-holding Maryland was a nest of intrigue, and Baltimore had a well-earned reputation as a violent place. In those days, Charm City was known as Mob City for the annual Election Day riots that occurred in the years leading to civil war.

The immediate effect on Washingtonians of the Baltimore attack was to increase the fear. People began to wonder if anybody was ever going to come to their aid. Secessionists in towns around the capital tried to block railroad access.

But the attack on the 6th Massachusetts — coming as it did on the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord — galvanized the North. Members of the 6th became the “Minute Men of ’61.” Washington, which Lucius Chittenden wrote bore the “aspects of a besieged town,” was still having to fend for itself, but at least now its residents knew there were Northern soldiers moving to its relief.

The April 24 edition of the Washington Star was headlined “NO TRAINS — NO TELEGRAPH — NO ANYTHING,” but it was almost over at that point. The next day, the eagerly awaited 7th New York Regiment marched into town, and most of the fear died away amid concerts and celebrations.

The Civil War is probably the most well-chronicled event in American history. The Lockwoods don’t unearth any startlingly new material here — all their major sources have been used before. But “The Siege of Washington” adds to our sum of knowledge about the war by putting those earliest days on a well-lighted stage and focuses our attention on just the right actors.

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