Behind the Front Lines:
Almost overnight, a sleepy southern town became the bustling hub of the northern war effort. The conflicts that sometimes flared openly on battlefields within earshot of the capital, simmered in Washington's parlors, hotels, and offices as Confederate sympathizers mingled with Union loyalists.
Encircled by fortifications, Washingtonians braced for attack but went on with everyday life. For relatively provincial newcomers like the Lincolns, the city presented varied social, cultural, and commercial possibilities. Traveling companies of actors performed at Ford's, Grover's, Nixon's, and the National theaters. In the recently completed "Castle," the Smithsonian Institution presented lectures and exhibits. Twice weekly the Marine band performed on the Capitol's west terrace, while Willard's and other hotels held balls and "hops." In the sprawling stalls and sheds of the Center Market at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, white and black vendors sold goods, fresh vegetables, and meats the complemented the wares of shopkeepers along surrounding streets.
Nathaniel Hawthorne declared that the Willard Lobby "may be much more justly called the centre of Washington and the Union that either the Capitol, the White House, or the State Department. Everybody may be seen there... You exchange nods with governors of sovereign states, you elbow illustrious men, and tread of the toes of generals, you hear statesmen and orators speaking in their familiar tones. You are mixed up with office-seekers, wire-pullers, inventors, artists, poets, prosers, (including editors, army-correspondents, attaches of foreign journals, and long-winded talkers), clerks, diplomats, mail contractors, railway directors, until your own identify is lost among them."