Robert E. Oshel, PhD
The History Press, 2014, 176 pgs.
Image courtesy of Confederate Book Review
The town of Silver Spring played an important role in what some historians consider the assault of Washington D.C. Robert E. Oshel, PhD, has produced a work which chronicles the town during the battle and even talks about what happened before the fighting erupted. From the homestead of the Blair family to the invasion of Jubal Early and his men, the town of Silver Spring was more than just a city in Maryland, it hinged the fate of the Union.
Robert E. Oshel, PhD, has written many articles and works on the town of Silver Spring including a history of the library and a walking tour of one of the parks: Woodside Park. He has lectured on the topic and has a monthly column in the Woodside Park Voice. He is a professor of medicine and biometrics at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, F. Edward Herbert School of Medicine. He lives in the Woodside Park area in Silver Spring, Maryland.
During the Gettysburg Campaign, it was General Jubal Early who was notorious for taking the city of York, Pennsylvania, hostage along with many other cities in the Southern Central Pennsylvania area and demanded a ransom. Robert E. Lee often called Early his “Bad Old Man.” While the Civil War was fought with a sense of honor, Early always seemed to be the exception to the rule and would often allow his men and himself to do what they thought was right which was not always socially acceptable. Here, in Silver Spring in 1864, Early would take the limelight again and face off against the defenses of Washington D.C. Oshel writes a narrative which is both easy to follow and engaging and it brings the reader into a moment in history when the fate of the capital hung in the balance. Showing both the political and the military end of what was happening in the Union at the time of Early’s attack on Washington, Oshel brings a greater sense of humanity to Abraham Lincoln and his family. Too often, there seems to be an immortal writing style of Lincoln and that nothing bad could ever happen to him. But here, in the attack on Washington, the president would place himself in a seat of danger and even be ordered to remove himself for his own safety. Oshel also talks about the urgency of the capital as it attempted to bring some reinforcements up from the Petersburg Campaign to halt the offensive of Early. As his station during the attack, Early used Silver Spring and its resources for the battle. There is even some debate today as to whether or not Early and his men burned down the estate of the Blair family. But what is most prevalent about the account and narrative by Oshel is that Silver Spring offered the best position for Early and his men to strike at not only one fort surrounding Washington but a few others as well. This work also shows the growing career of Jubal Early from the Gettysburg Campaign. There, his men shined under competent leadership during the first day of combat only to be stifled by the higher command structure leading to his failure there. At Silver Spring, he was making the decisions of attack and therefore would not have anyone in the high command structure slowing him down. His failures at Silver Spring would be of his own and Oshel shows that great experience of growth in the man.
In Silver Spring and the Civil War, Oshel brings us a narrative which is inspiring to discover more than what is written in the history books. Many times, the attack on Washington gets overlooked by the actions taking place at Petersburg. This work proves that there is always something new to learn about the Civil War even though the conflict has been over for one hundred and fifty years. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the city of Washington during the Civil War and anyone interested in the career of Jubal Early.