At the start of the Civil War, the nation was torn asunder along the placid Potomac river, leaving Washington DC dangling on the fringes of what Unionists deemed as a rebellion. No one was prepared for actual war, especially not Washingtonians, that motley society of statesmen, politicians, southern socialites and Yankee entrepreneurs, civil servants, free blacks, and slaves. Like every worthy old world capital, the city and its people had high aspirations for future grandeur, but for the time being, cows grazed freely around the stone block stump that was the Washington Monument, while pigs preferred the putrid open canal in the shadow of the Capitol building, whose now-symbolic dome was still under construction. Washington, like the nation itself, was a work in progress when the guns of war shattered the notion of constitutional democracy. One man alone among the many left an indelible mark upon the people, the city, and the country. Abraham Lincoln arrived in 1861 hoping to reunite the nation, and by the time of his tragic death four years later, the sixteenth president had recast the course of America.
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Albert H. Small.