On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumpter in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor. The next day, Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort to Confederate General Beauregard. Thus, began America’s Civil War.
During the years leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter, Southern sympathizer Secretary of War John Floyd had posted the majority of Union troops west of the Mississippi while Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey, another Southern sympathizer, had ordered most of the US navy to set sail for the West Indies while nearly all the rest of the US ships were dry docked behind Confederate lines in Norfolk, Virginia.
The new Union President, Abraham Lincoln, on April 15th, issued a call for 75,000 troops to be raised by Union states to suppress the rebellion and defend Washington. There was much speculation about who would reach the Capitol first - Federal or Confederate troops.
With Washington left essentially undefended (there were only 1500 US troops in the city), Confederate President Jefferson Davis vowed he’d be living in the White House by May 1st. Mrs. Davis even sent out invitations to her friends living in the North to join her at the White House on May 1st for tea. It was rumored that there 20,000 Confederate troops within striking distance of the Capitol.
With Federal troops deployed in the west and the navy sailing for the West Indies, Washington, DC was left vulnerable. It was an easy target for the taking. For 12 days, Washington was cut off from the North and reinforcements.
Strangely, though, despite calls for “On to Washington” sounding across the South, there was no attempt by the South to take the US capitol.
Author John Lockwood explains why Washington was not attacked in “The Siege of Washington.” Subtitled “The Untold Story of the Twelve Days that Shook the Union,’ Lockwood unlocks the mystery behind the South’s failure to take Washington. There has been speculation that had the South acted, the Civil War would have ended with the fall of Washington and the bloodbath that was the Civil War would have been averted. Instead, the first battle of the Civil War took place two months later at Bull Run.
We all know the outcome of this drama. Nevertheless, Lockwood sheds new light on the story of the beginning of the Civil War. For instance, while Lee didn’t resign his commission in the US Army until April 20th, he felt it was more important to shore up Virginia’s defenses rather than take Washington.
This is an easy to read and compelling story of 12 days that changed the face of American history. If you are interested in the American Civil War or want to be more informed about that period of US history, this is a must read.