By the time the Civil War ended four years later, D.C. was a changed city, and not just because of the assassination of its most prominent resident. “Hundreds of thousands of soldiers passed through Washington during the war, many of them coming back injured, which greatly altered the city’s landscape,” says Jim Barber, curator of the National Portrait Gallery’s “Mr. Lincoln’s Washington: A Civil War Portfolio.” Ahead of the 150th anniversary of the end of the war, the new exhibition gives us a glimpse of what our city looked like during the nation’s bloodiest conflict.
The Old Capitol Prison, First and A streets NE: This unassuming brick building was constructed to temporarily accommodate Congress after the British burned down the Capitol in 1814. At the start of the Civil War, it served as a prison for Southern sympathizers, including infamous socialites-turned-Confederate spies Rose “Rebel Rose” Greenhow and Belle Boyd. The site was razed in the late 1920s and the U.S. Supreme Court building now stands in its place.
The Grand Review of the Army. Units of 20th Army Corps, Army of Georgia, passing on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Treasury: At the end of the war, the Union’s three main generals, Ulysses S. Grant, George G. Meade and William T. Sherman, paraded their victorious armies down Pennsylvania Avenue. “More than 100,000 soldiers participated in the parades, which took place on two consecutive days,” Barber says. “Just imagine what it would have been like for local residents.” (And you thought the 2013 inauguration was a noisy inconvenience.) If you squint really hard, you can see the newly completed Capitol dome in the distance.
National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW; through Jan. 25, 2015, free; 202-633-8300. (Gallery Place)