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A former Congressman and friend of Presidents Lincoln and Grant, Elihu Washburne was appointed U.S. Minister to France just before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. Alone among major-power foreign diplomats, Washburne remained in Paris throughout a siege by Prussian forces. As Parisians starved and shivered through the winter, Washburne aided Americans and other nationals with food and fuel. When the siege ended, the government fell to radicals who instituted a brutal new regime, the Commune, slaughtering innocent people, among them the Catholic archbishop. Once again Washburne helped wherever he could, earning commendation not only from his own government but from the Prussians and French as well.
Washburne's letters and diaries from the time vividly describe the horrors he witnessed. Accompanied by Michael Hill's invaluable commentary, they form the best firsthand account we have of these terrible events. They also quietly inspire us with the example of what one person can do in the worst circumstances to aid those in need and earn admiration for himself and his country.