Elihu Washburne by Michael Hill
The Diary and Letters of America's Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris

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This is the remarkable and inspiring story—told largely in his own words— of American diplomat Elihu Washburne, who heroically aided his countrymen and other foreign nationals when Paris was devastated by war and revolutionin1870–71.

Elihu Washburne rose from a hardscrabble existence in New England and the Midwest to become a congressman and diplomat. A confidante of Lincoln and Grant during the Civil War, Washburne was appointed Minister to France by Grant in 1869, arriving in Europe shortly before the outbreak of the Franco- Prussian War. When Bismarck ordered the Prussian army to lay siege to Paris, intent on forcing the French to surrender, Minister Washburne—alone among major power diplomats—remained at his post, determined to protect Americans and German nationals trapped in Paris. After the French capitulation, new horrors struck Paris. The government was toppled by a band of violent revolutionaries, known as the Commune, who embarked on a reign of terror that filled the streets with blood. Once again, Washburne stepped forward to help wherever he could until the Commune collapsed and its bloody orgy ended.

During his ordeal Washburne endured cannon bombardments, brutally cold weather, dwindling food supplies, bouts of ill health, and long separations from his family. He witnessed the plight of starving women and children, riots in the streets, senseless executions, and countless acts of unspeakable violence and bloodshed.

In the midst of it all, Washburne kept a remarkable personal diary that chronicled the monumental events swirling about him. He knew he was at the center of history and was determined to record what he saw. The diary—and letters he wrote to family and officials in Washington—provides a vivid personal account of life during some of Paris’s darkest days. Filled with political and military insight, Washburne’s writings also have an unmistakable charm, at times blending homespun expressions with quotations from Shakespeare and the Bible.

Michael Hill provides essential background information and historical context to the excerpts from Washburne’s diary and letters, which are drawn from the original manuscript sources and collected into one volume for the first time. Through his own words, we come to know and admire Washburne as he struggles to stay alive, perform his duty, and not let his country down. The story of Elihu Washburne is a great American story—the tale of an American hero rising to greatness in the midst of difficult and extraordinary times.

About Michael Hill

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Michael Hill worked in politics and government before establishing himself as an independent historical researcher. He was a co-producer for Ken Burns’s The Civil War series for PBS, a coordinating producer for the Baseball series, and served as a historical consultant for the HBO production of David McCullough’s John Adams. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.David McCullough has been widely acclaimed as a “master of the art of narrative history” and “a matchless writer.” He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, twice winner of the National Book Award, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.Mr. McCullough’s most recent book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, the #1 New York Times bestseller, has been called “dazzling,” “an epic of ideas…history to be savored.” His previous work, 1776, has been acclaimed “a classic,” while John Adams, published in 2001, remains one of the most praised and widely read American biographies of all time. More than three million copies are in print and it is presently in its eighty-second printing.In the words of the citation accompanying his honorary degree from Yale, “As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breathe, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character.”Mr. McCullough’s other books include The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, and Truman. His work has been published in ten languages and, in all, more than 9,500,000 copies are in print. As may be said of few writers, none of his books has ever been out of print.Mr. McCullough is also twice winner of the prestigious Francis Parkman Prize, and for his work overall, he has been honored by the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award and the National Humanities Medal. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received forty-seven honorary degrees.In a crowded, productive career, he has been an editor, essayist, teacher, lecturer, and familiar presence on public television—as host of Smithsonian World, The American Experience, and narrator of numerous documentaries, including Ken Burns’s The Civil War. His is also the narrator’s voice in the movie Seabiscuit.John Adams, the seven-part mini-series on HBO, produced by Tom Hanks and starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, was one of the most acclaimed and talked about television events of recent years.A gifted speaker, Mr. McCullough has lectured in all parts of the country and abroad, as well as at the White House. He is also one of the few private citizens to speak before a joint session of Congress.Born in Pittsburgh in 1933, Mr. McCullough was educated there and at Yale, where he graduated with honors in English literature. He is an avid reader and traveler, and has enjoyed a lifelong interest in art and architecture. He is a devoted painter as well. Mr. McCullough and his wife, Rosalee Barnes McCullough, have five children and eighteen grandchildren.
Published November 6, 2012 by Simon & Schuster. 290 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel. Non-fiction

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Independent historical researcher and producer Hill does a solid job editing these evocative, immensely readable extracts from the letters and diary of former Rep. Washburne (1816–1887).

Sep 15 2012 | Read Full Review of Elihu Washburne: The Diary an...

Publishers Weekly

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Hill, a historical researcher and frequent assistant to historian David McCullough, examines one of France's most tumultuous periods through the firsthand account of Elihu Washburne, then American minister to France.

Aug 20 2012 | Read Full Review of Elihu Washburne: The Diary an...


As U.S. ambassador to France during the war, Washburne witnessed first-hand all its major events—from the outbreak of hostilities to the gruelling four-month-long Siege of Paris and eventual French surrender to the bloody coda of the Paris Commune, where radical communists seized control of the s...

Jan 25 2013 | Read Full Review of Elihu Washburne: The Diary an...

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