Elihu Washburne

Elihu Washburne

The Diary and Letters of America's Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris

Foreword by: David McCullough
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 the ensuing ravages of the Commune.

Elihu Washburne was appointed minister to France by President Grant in 1869, arriving in Europe shortly before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. He stayed at his post even as the Prussian army laid siege to Paris, and afterward when the revolutionaries of the Commune embarked on a reign of terror that filled the streets with blood. He was witness to countless acts of unspeakable desperation and violence, and yet he remained, at great risk to his own life, to protect American citizens and others as best he could.

Michael Hill provides essential background and historical context to the excerpts, which are drawn from the original manuscript sources. Filled with political and military insight, Washburne’s writings tell the tale of an American hero rising to greatness in the midst of difficult and extraordinary times.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451665307 | 
  • November 2013
List Price $16.00
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Read an Excerpt



Within hours after the outbreak of war, on July 15, 1870, word reached Washburne by telegraph in Carlsbad. It was “like a clap of thunder in a cloudless sky,” he wrote. He quickly set out for Paris and along the way was caught up in the frantic mobilization for war. “The excitement was something prodigious, recalling to me the days at home of the firing upon [Fort] Sumter in 1861 . . . The troops were rushing to the depots; the trains were all blocked, and confusion everywhere reigned supreme.” When at last he arrived in Paris on the night of July 18, the city was in chaos.... see more

About the Author

Michael Hill
Photograph by Rebecca Purdy

Michael Hill

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.




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