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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 Long Bridge, Washington, D.C., 1865

Long Bridge, Washington, D.C., 1865

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#2 Long Bridge and Washington, 1863

Long Bridge and Washington, 1863

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#3 Long Bridge, Washington, D.C., 1861

Long Bridge, Washington, D.C., 1861

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arlington Heights, Va. Blockhouse near Aqueduct Bridge, 1862

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

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

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#10 Old Ebbitt Hotel, 1865

Old Ebbitt Hotel, 1865

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

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

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

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

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#13 Fort near Washington, D.C. 1865

Fort near Washington, D.C. 1865

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

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

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

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

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#16 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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#17 Ford’s Theatre, 1868

Ford’s Theatre, 1868

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#23 Fort Totten, 1864

Fort Totten, 1864

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#30 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

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

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

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

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

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

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#33 General Joseph Hooker, 1863

General Joseph Hooker, 1863

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

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

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#35 Small Bridge Near Washington, D.C., 1863

Small Bridge Near Washington, D.C., 1863

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#41 Barracks of Ft. Carroll Washington, D.C., 1863

Barracks of Ft. Carroll Washington, D.C., 1863

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

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

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

Aqueduct Bridge, with Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, 1863

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#49 Interior of Fort Totten Washington, D.C., 1863

Interior of Fort Totten Washington, D.C., 1863

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#50 Cabin John Bridge, looking up stream, 1863

Cabin John Bridge, looking up stream, 1863

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

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

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#52 View in arsenal yard, Washington, D.C., 1863

View in arsenal yard, Washington, D.C., 1863

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#53 View in arsenal yard, Washington, D.C., 1863

View in arsenal yard, Washington, D.C., 1863

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#54 Treasury Buildings, Washington, D.C., 1863

Treasury Buildings, Washington, D.C., 1863

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

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

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

Treasury Dept. in Lincoln's time Washington, D.C., 1863

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

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

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

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

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#59 Aquia Creek Landing, 1863

Aquia Creek Landing, 1863

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hospital and Signal Corps camp quarters near Georgetown, 1862.

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#65 Old Capitol Prison, 1861

Old Capitol Prison, 1861

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#66 Washington Harewood Hospital, 1862

Washington Harewood Hospital, 1862

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#67 Washington, D.C., 1861

Washington, D.C., 1861

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#68 Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

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#69 Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

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#70 Battery Rodgers, Potomac River near Washington, 1861

Battery Rodgers, Potomac River near Washington, 1861

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#71 Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

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#72 Distant View of Arsenal, Washington, D.C., 1861

Distant View of Arsenal, Washington, D.C., 1861

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#73 Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

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#74 Campbell Hospital, D.C., 1861

Campbell Hospital, D.C., 1861

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#75 Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

Washington Harewood Hospital, 1861

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

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

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#77 Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

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#78 Fort on the Potomac River

Fort on the Potomac River

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

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

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

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

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#81 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.

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

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

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

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

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#84 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Large Crowd at Abraham Lincoln Inaugural Speech, 1860s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Conservatory - Botanical Garden., Bell & Bro, Washington, D.C., 1860s

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

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

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#94 View in Washington, D.C., 1862

View in Washington, D.C., 1862

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#95 Post Office Department, Washington, D.C., 1860s

Post Office Department, Washington, D.C., 1860s

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#96 Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., 1860

Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., 1860

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

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

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#98 Statue of Columbus, Washington, D.C., 1862

Statue of Columbus, Washington, D.C., 1862

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#99 Post Office Dept, Washington, D.C., 1860s

Post Office Dept, Washington, D.C., 1860s

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#100 Statue of Washington, 1860s

Statue of Washington, 1860s

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

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

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

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

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#103 Hospital During the Civil war, 1860s

Hospital During the Civil war, 1860s

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

Building of the United States Capitol Dome, 1860s

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

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

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

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

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#107 Washington Monument, 1865

Washington Monument, 1865

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#123 Government repair shops; Wheelwright shop, 1860s

Government repair shops; Wheelwright shop, 1860s

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#124 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

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

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#125 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.

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.

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#126 Campbell Hospital near Washington, D.C., 1861

Campbell Hospital near Washington, D.C., 1861

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#127 Battery Rodgers, Potomac River near Washington, 1861

Battery Rodgers, Potomac River near Washington, 1861

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

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

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

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

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

Gardner's Gallery, 7th and D Streets, Washington, D.C., 1864

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

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

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#132 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.

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