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Washington D.C in the 1860s: What U.S. Capital looked like during and after the Civil War

Washington, D.C., stands out among American cities because it was conceived as the national capital and needed to be separated from its state counterparts. It was founded on July 16, 1790. Congress authorized the first map of Washington in July 1790. In preparation for the map, Peter Charles L’Enfant requested maps and data concerning London, Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Naples, Venice, and Florence from Jefferson on April 4, 1791. L’Enfant drew a map of Washington as it is today, showing streets, parks, and the site of the President’s House and the Capitol.

When Congress moved from Philadelphia to Washington in December 1800, the Capitol building, the presidential palace (now the White House), and several other government buildings were almost complete. However, the first few years for the new residents in Washington were quite unpleasant because there were few finished dwellings and few amenities. Tremendous changes occurred between 1830 and 1865, beginning with the arrival of Andrew Jackson (served 1829–37). He brought with him a retinue of new civil servants, beneficiaries of the “spoils system,” who democratized social change in the workplace and society. Several challenges faced the community at the time, including an unstable economy, silt in the Potomac River, delays in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal construction, and epidemics.

Washington, D.C., was on the front lines during the American Civil War because of its geolocation. Following the Civil War, the capital slowly transformed into a showplace. Following Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre just hours after the war ended, Washington was plunged into unprecedented despair and desperation. Following the Civil War, the capital slowly became a showplace.

Some stunning historical photos show Washington, D.C., during and after the Civil War.

#1 Smithsonian Institution. By Bell & Bro., Washington, D.C., 1867

#5 Hancock’s Veteran Corps on F Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 1st U.S. Volunteer Infantry, 1865

#6 Union Arch, built by Gen. M.C. Meigs, span of 220 feet, 1863

#7 Aqueduct Bridge, Georgetown, D.C., looking toward Washington, 1865

#8 Arlington Heights, Va. Blockhouse near Aqueduct Bridge, 1862

#9 Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, Broadway & Tenth Street, New York & No. 352 Pennsylvania Av., Washington, D.C., 1865

#11 The Dying Moments of President Lincoln, at Washington, Saturday Morning, 1865

#12 House near Fort Stevens showing effect of shot during Early’s attack on Washington, 1864

#14 Washington Navy Yard. View of dock with large buildings and large cranes and derricks, 1867

#15 Washington, D.C. Six marines with fixed bayonets at the Navy Yard, 1864

#17 Interior of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1867

#18 Headquarters of Gen. M. D. Hardin, Washington, D.C., April, 1865.

#19 Pennsylvania Avenue from Treasury Building, Washington, D.C.

#20 Pennsylvania Avenue from the [Dept. of the] Treasury, Washington, D.C.

#21 Washington, D.C. Soldier springing the trap; men in trees and Capitol dome beyond, 1865

#23 Fort near Washington, D.C. May be Ft. Slemmer, 1864

#24 The ‘Lincoln column,’ first monolith raised, Nov. 1860, Presidential election, being S. column of connecting corridor.

#25 Washington, D.C., taken from U.S. Capitol, with Pennsylvania Avenue at left,

#26 Construction of the new Capitol Dome in 1860. The former Botanic Garden Conservatory, originally located on the National Mall, is in the foreground.

#27 View, looking N. from Capitol roof, Washington, D.C., 1861

#28 The Capitol, President’s Room, Washington, D.C., 1863

#29 Washington, D.C. from the Capitol, looking southeast. Southeast view with New Jersey Ave. on the right and A Street and B Street (i.e., Independence Ave.), 1863

#30 A Civil War scene featuring a view of a Confederate Quartermasters House with a group of officers meeting outside, Washington DC, 1863.

#31 View of trains in the Maryland Avenue depot, Washington DC, 1860s.

#33 Officers of the 55th Infantry at Fort Gaines, Washington DC during the American Civil War, 1863.

#35 View of the aqueduct bridge, in Georgetown, Washington, DC, 1863

#36 New Bridge on the Potomac River Washington, D.C., 1863

#37 Group of patients in front of ward B of Harewood Hospital, near Wasington, DC, 1863.

#38 Mounted guns and ammunition around the perimeter of a fort Washington, D.C., 1863

#39 Entrance to Washington Water Works, Great Falls, Potomac River Washington, D.C., 1863

#41 Hotel entrance to Long Bridge, Washington, D.C., 1863

#42 Aqueduct Bridge, with Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, 1863

#43 Georgetown ferry-boat carrying wagons, and Aqueduct Bridge beyond, from rocks on Mason’s Island, 1863

#44 Central Office of Sanitary Commission, Washington, D.C., 1863

#45 Home of the Sanitary Commission, Washington, D.C., 1863

#46 Wizard gun at U.S. Arsenal Washington, D.C., 1863

#47 The Aqueduct bridge and Georgetown from the Virginia bank Washington, D.C., 1863

#50 Capitol, Washington, D.C., south-east view, July, 1863

#54 Guns and ammunition inside of Fort Carroll, near Giesboro, Washington, D.C., 1863

#55 Treasury Dept. in Lincoln’s time Washington, D.C., 1863

#56 Hospital of Quartermaster Department Washington, D.C., 1863

#57 Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Gallery, 7th & D Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 1863

#59 View of the Long Bridge, over the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., 1862.

#60 The White House, former residence of Mrs. Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, now the residence of Col. Lee, 1862.

#61 View of a Union encampment near Washington D.C., 1862.

#62 View of a 6 pounder Wiard gun, invented by Norman Wiard, at the Arsenal in Washington, DC, 1862.

#63 Hospital and Signal Corps camp quarters near Georgetown, 1862.

#69 Battery Rodgers, Potomac River near Washington, 1861

#75 St. Peter’s Church near White House, Where Washington was Married. General E. V. Sumner and Staff, 1861-65

#78 Officers of the Fifty-fifth Infantry inspecting cannons at Fort Gaines, near Tenley, D.C., 1861

#79 Professor Thaddeus Lowe sets up balloon gas generators in sight of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., 1861.

#80 Portrait of Colonel Ambrose Burnside and his staff while he commanded the 1st Rhode Island Infantry Regiment in 1861.

Portrait of Colonel Ambrose Burnside and his staff while he commanded the 1st Rhode Island Infantry Regiment in 1861.

From left to right are paymaster Lieutenant Henry T. Sisson, Sergeant Major John S. Engs, Major Joseph P. Balch, Colonel John A. Gardner, Burnside, Captain Isaac P. Rodman, chaplain Captain Augustus Woodbury, quartermaster Sergeant Elias M. Jencks, and commissary Captain William Lloyd Owers.

#81 A military band leads the assembled companies of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, Washington, D.C., 1865

#82 Union engineers are timed as they build a pontoon bridge near Washington, D.C., during the American Civil War.

#83 Union soldiers pose outside the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. During the American Civil War the prison was used to incarcerate political prisoners and prisoners of war.

#84 Federal soldiers pose on and around a display of cannons at the Washington Arsenal, Washington, D.C., 1861

#85 Union gunners pose around a 32-pounder seacoast gun mounted at one of the many forts that protected Washington, D.C., 1860s

#86 Large Crowd at Abraham Lincoln Inaugural Speech, 1860s

#87 The 17th New York Battery Artillery Depot, Camp Barry, near Washington, DC, 1861.

#88 Tent life of the 31st Penn. Inf. (later, 82d Penn. Inf.) at Queen’s farm, vicinity of Fort Slocum 1861, War of Secession

#89 Union Army sentries standing guard at the ferry which connects Georgetown in the District of Columbia with Virginia across the Potomac River, 1861

#90 Members of the Union Army’s 96th Pennsylvanian Regiment carry out a drill at Camp Northumberland outside Washington DC.

#91 U.S. Conservatory – Botanical Garden., Bell & Bro, Washington, D.C., 1860s

#92 Grounds from the Agriculture Department, Washington, D.C., 1865

#96 Over the Potomac River at Long Bridge, Washington, D.C., 1860s

#100 Japanese Embassy, Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., 1860

#101 The U.S. Tresury, State Department and the unfinished Washington Monument, 1860.

#103 Building of the United States Capitol Dome, 1860s

#104 Cattle grazing on monument grounds during the American Civil War, Washington DC, 1860

#105 The United States Capitol Building under construction, viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, 1860.

#107 The Smithsonian Institution., Bell & Bro. (Washington, D.C.), Smithsonian Institution, 1869

#108 The four condemned conspirators (Mrs. Surratt, Payne, Herold, Atzerodt), with officers and others on the scaffold; guards on the wall, Washington, D.C., 1865

#109 Washington, D.C. The Long Bridge over the Potomac seen from the city, 1865

#110 Band of 10th Veteran Reserve Corps, Washington, D.C., April, 1865

#111 Drum corps of 10th Veteran Reserve Corps, Washington, D.C., 1865

#112 The grand review of the Army. Presidential reviewing stand, Washington, D.C., 1865

#113 The Grand Review of the Army passing on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., 1865

#114 Washington, D.C. Chain Bridge over the Potomac; Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in foreground, 1865

#115 Washington, D.C. Central Signal Station, Winder Building, 17th and E Streets NW, and Signal Corps men, 1865

#116 Government blacksmith shop, Washington, D.C., 1865

#117 Washington, D.C. Soldier springing the trap; men in trees and Capitol dome beyond, 1865

#118 Ford’s Theater with guards posted at entrance and crepe draped from windows, Washington, D.C., 1865

#119 John C. Howard’s stable on G Street between 6th and 7th, 1865

#120 Lewis Payne in sweater, seated and manacled, Washington, D.C., 1865

#121 Government repair shops. Wheelwright shop, Washington, D.C., 1865

#122 Government repair shops; Wheelwright shop, 1860s

#123 Maimed soldiers and others before office of U.S. Christian Commission Protestant Organization founded by the YMCA to provide religious and social services to Union Troops; Founded in 1861 in New York after the First Battle of Bull Run

#124 Office of U.S. Christian Commission Protestant Organization founded by the YMCA to provide religious and social services to Union Troops; Founded in 1861 in New York after the First Battle of Bull Run.

#126 Battery Rodgers, Potomac River near Washington, 1861

#127 Hospital tents at Camp Carver, with Columbian College building in the background, Washington, D.C., May 1864.

#128 New Bridge over Potomac River. On the Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown Railroad, 1864

#129 Gardner’s Gallery, 7th and D Streets, Washington, D.C., 1864

#130 The U. S. Capitol, with its dome still uncompleted. Washington D. C., 1864.

#131 10Th Veteran Reserve Drum Corps, 1864

10Th Veteran Reserve Drum Corps, 1864

The Veteran Reserve Corps (originally the Invalid Corps) was a military reserve organization created within the Union Army during the American Civil War to allow partially disabled or otherwise infirmed soldiers (or former soldiers) to perform light duty, freeing able-bodied soldiers to serve on the front lines. The corps was organized under authority of General Order No. 105, U.S. War Department, dated April 28, 1863. A similar corps had existed in Revolutionary times. The Invalid Corps of the Civil War period was created to make suitable use in a military or semi-military capacity of soldiers who had been rendered unfit for active field service on account of wounds or disease contracted in line of duty, but who were still fit for garrison or other light duty, and were, in the opinion of their commanding officers, meritorious and deserving.

#132 Artillery group 3d Regiment Massachussetts, at Fort Totten, Washington, D.C., 1864

#133 Exterior view of Douglas Hospital (formerly ‘Minnesota Row’) at 2d and I Streets NW, Washington, DC, 1864.

#135 nion soldiers guarding Confederate prisoners of war at Fairfax Courthouse, Washington, D.C., 1866

#136 No. 189. Maryland Avenue Depot, Washington, D.C., With Engines sent from Alexandria for safety, 1863

#138 Armory Square Hospital, Interior of Ward K, 1863

#141 General McClellan and Staff, Washington, D.C., 1863

#142 The President’s Private Secretary’s Room – White House. Washington, D.C., 1864

#143 The U.S. Treasury from the South West, Washington, D.C., 1866

#145 Corcoran Art Building Penn. Avenue., Washington, D.C., 1864

#146 Agricultural Department, Washington, D.C., 1860s

#147 View of the chapel and other buildings of Armory Square Hospital, at 6th and B Independence Avenue, Washington, DC, August 1865.

#148 Major General A.A. Humphreys leads the Second Corps during a victory parade in Washington, D.C., on May 23, 1865.

#149 Pennsylvania Avenue, Treasury, S.E. United States Capitol, Washington, D.C, 1865

#150 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. Treasury, Capitol, Washington, D.C, 1865

#152 Exterior view of Howard’s Stable in Washington, D.C., 1865

#153 Exterior view of Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., where President Lincoln was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth, 1865.

#157 Grand Army Review. Pennsylvania Avenue. Washington D.C., 1865.

#158 The premises of Price, Birch & Co., dealers in slaves, Washington, D.C., 1865

#159 Hundreds of blacksmiths were employed during the Civil War at the Government Horse Shoeing Shop in Washington, D.C., 1865

#160 The dome of the U. S. Capitol as it appeared under construction in 1865.

#161 The train carrying President Abraham Lincoln’s casket during his funeral remains idle at the station, Washington, D.C., 1860s

#162 Unpaved Pennsylvania Avenue looking toward the Capitol, Washington, D.C., 1865

#163 Pennsylvania Avenue looking towards the Capitol, Washington, D.C., 1865

#164 Surgeons at Harewood Hospital in Wasington DC during the American Civil War, 1865.

#165 The Chain Bridge over the Potomac, with soldiers and guardhouse visible, Washington, D.C., 1865

#166 Cavalry unit passing the Presidential reviewing stand, with guests and guard, during the “grand review” of the Union Army, Washington, D.C., 1865

#167 The Presidential reviewing stand, with guests and guard, during the “grand review” of the Union Army, Washington, D.C., 1865

#168 Infantry passing on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Treasury, during the “grand review” of the Union Army, Washington, D.C., 1865

#169 Cavalry passing on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Treasury, during the “grand review” of the Union Army, Washington, D.C., 1865

#170 Infantry unit with fixed bayonets followed by ambulances passing on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Treasury, during the “grand review” of the Union Army, Washington, D.C., 1865

#171 Spectators gather at the side of the Capitol, which is hung with crepe and flies the flag at half mast, during the “grand review” of the Union Army, Washington, D.C., 1865

#172 Officers and men of the 3rd Regiment Massachusetts Heavy Artillery stand next to their Columbiad guns, Fort Totten, Washington, D.C., 1865

#173 Men and gun of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at ornamental gate of Fort Totten, Washington, D.C., 1865

#174 Sergeants of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, with gun and caisson at Fort Totten, Washington, D.C., 1865

#175 Troops of Company F, 3rd Regiment Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at Fort Stevens, Washington, D.C., 1865

#176 View of men standing outside the government mess house, Washington, D.C., 1865

#177 Field relief wagons and workers of the US Sanitary Commission, Washington, D.C., 1865

#178 Men standing in front of the mess house at the government stables, Washington, D.C., 1865

#179 Exterior view of the mess house at the government stables, with a large group of men gathered around, Washington, D.C., 1865

#180 Interior view showing the mess hall at Harewood Hospital, heated by elaborate stoves, Washington, D.C., 1865

#181 A military band standing before the officers’ quarters at Harewood Hospital, located on the farm of WW Corcoran, at 7th Street Road near the Soldiers’ Home, 1864.

#182 The street and exterior of buildings belonging to the Sanitary Commission Home Lodge for Invalid Soldiers, located on North Capitol near C Street, Washington, D.C., 1865

#183 The ruins of Kalorama Hospital, 23d and S Streets, Washington, D.C., 1856

#184 Officers of 71st N. Y. S. M., Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., 1861.

Officers of 71st N. Y. S. M., Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., 1861.

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#185 An infantry company on parade during the American Civil War, 1863.

An infantry company on parade during the American Civil War, 1863.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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