Lincoln's Citadel

The Civil War in Washington, DC

Kenneth J. Winkle (Author, University of Nebraska)


The stirring history of a president and a capital city on the front lines of war and freedom.

In the late 1840s, Representative Abraham Lincoln resided at Mrs. Sprigg’s boardinghouse on Capitol Hill. Known as Abolition House, Mrs. Sprigg’s hosted lively dinner-table debates of antislavery politics by the congressional boarders. The unusually rapid turnover in the enslaved staff suggested that there were frequent escapes north to freedom from Abolition House, likely a cog in the underground railroad. These early years in Washington proved formative for Lincoln.

In 1861, now in the White House, Lincoln could gaze out his office window and see the Confederate flag flying across the Potomac. Washington, DC, sat on the front lines of the Civil War. Vulnerable and insecure, the capital was rife with Confederate sympathizers. On the crossroads of slavery and freedom, the city was a refuge for thousands of contraband and fugitive slaves. The Lincoln administration took strict measures to tighten security and established camps to provide food, shelter, and medical care for contrabands. In 1863, a Freedman’s Village rose on the grounds of the Lee estate, where the Confederate flag once flew.

The president and Mrs. Lincoln personally comforted the wounded troops who flooded wartime Washington. In 1862, Lincoln spent July 4 riding in a train of ambulances carrying casualties from the Peninsula Campaign to Washington hospitals. He saluted the “One-Legged Brigade” assembled outside the White House as “orators,” their wounds eloquent expressions of sacrifice and dedication. The administration built more than one hundred military hospitals to care for Union casualties.

These are among the unforgettable scenes in Lincoln’s Citadel, a fresh, absorbing narrative history of Lincoln’s leadership in Civil War Washington. Here is the vivid story of how the Lincoln administration met the immense challenges the war posed to the city, transforming a vulnerable capital into a bastion for the Union.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • August 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-34942-9
  • 5.5 × 8.3 in / 528 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Winkle’s book [ties] together several disparate elements—Lincoln’s life story, the complex evolution of abolitionism, and the changing physical, social and political fabric of the city itself—into an exemplary, illuminating whole…This is the book’s most important service: It shows how Lincoln and the city he came to love moved together toward freedom, a history here firmly grounded in all its towering tragedy and glory.” — Scott W. Berg, Washington Post

“Kenneth Winkle eloquently chronicles the transformation of the capital wrought by the Civil War, when Washington became the nerve center of a huge war effort that in turn transformed the nation, freed four million slaves, and launched America on its course toward modernity.” — James M. McPherson, author of War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861–1865

Lincoln’s Citadel sets a new standard for research and insight into wartime Washington. Kenneth Winkle conveys the political intrigue of the nation’s besieged capital and the remarkable human stories about the ordinary men and women who rallied to help Lincoln save the Union.” — Matthew Pinsker, author of Lincoln’s Sanctuary

“A marvelous book—and a must-read!” — Jay Winik, author of April 1865

“Kenneth Winkle has earned a reputation for original research, expert interpretation, and crackerjack storytelling, and all these attributes are on full display in Lincoln’s Citadel. This is an invaluable addition to the Lincoln bookshelf.” — Harold Holzer, chairman, Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and author of Lincoln President-Elect

“A revealing work…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.” — Chris Patsilelis, Tampa Bay Times

“Winkle brings an extraordinary depth of knowledge and an uncanny eye for detail to this gripping portrait of a city on the rise…[T]here’s been no shortage of Lincoln scholarship…[but] Lincoln’s Citadel demonstrates that there’s always room at the top of the pile.” — Daniel Stashower, Washington Independent Review of Books

“[Winkle’s] talent for crafting narrative history [enables] him to paint a rich portrait of wartime Washington that will engage and edify…Those wishing for a glimpse of the real war will find it in Lincoln’s Citadel. Thorough, well-researched, and engagingly written.” — Matthew Norman, Civil War Book Review

“A fine portrait of a remarkable population of all sorts, all in their own way…living under the threat of disaster and the promise of triumph simultaneously…Any reader familiar with the vibrant capital of today will recognize the origins of its personality in Winkle’s portrayal.” — William C. Davis, History Book Club

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