Washington was a city of about 61,000 people at the outbreak of the war and not exactly a garden spot. Plagued by heat and humidity during the summer, the city became almost unlivable due, in part, to the “70 distinct stinks” coming from a sewage canal that ran near the current location of the National Mall. Abraham Lincoln spent most of his summer time at the Soldier’s Home north of the city (about a mile from Fort Stevens).
Dozens of Civil War era buildings and statues to war heroes remain in the city. Exhibits at the Museum of American History, the National Archives and the Library of Congress contain Civil War material.
Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site campus
511 10th St NW, Washington DC 20004-1402
Ford’s Theatre President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre April 14, 1865. He died early the next day at the Petersen House across the street. The theater, still active, has been restored to its wartime appearance.
A museum, including the gun used by John Wilkes Booth, is part of the experience here. After he was shot, Lincoln was taken across the street to the Petersen House where he died early the next day. Rooms here have been restored to the time period. The Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership is located next door to the Petersen House and offers galleries exploring the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, his legacy and other aspects of the president’s life.
The theater is open at 9 am daily with last entry at 4:30 pm.
Admission to all the Ford’s Theatre attractions is free, but timed tickets are required. Reserving the tickets prior to your visit is strongly recommended. A service fee is charged for advance tickets. See fordstheatre.org for details and reservations.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
14th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington DC 20001
americanhistory.si.edu, 202-633-1000 (Smithsonian information)
tree stump Iconic items included in the Civil War area of “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit include the chairs and table used by Grant and Lee at Appomattox, the stump of a tree shot to pieces at Spotsylvania, Gen. Philip Sheridan’s horse Winchester (stuffed), part of the armor plating from the CSS Virginia, and items belonging to Gens. William T. Sherman and George McClellan and Col. J.S. Mosby. 10 am-5:30 pm daily. Free.
Civil War Tour
See www.culturaltourismdc.org for a good roundup of Washington historical resources, including Civil War sites, programs and events. For suggested tours with maps and other information click on “Tours and Trails.”
Civil War Defenses of Washington (NPS)
National Park Service effort to describe and locate existing remains of the once extensive Civil War defenses of the capital city. Website and brochure outline the history of the system and locates existing remnants of more than 25 forts in the area. See also Fort Ward in Alexandria VA.
In Rock Creek Park, just west of Georgia Avenue
on Quackenbos Street NW
President Abraham Lincoln risked life and limb to view the skirmishing here July 12, 1864, as Confederate Gen. Jubal Early approached Washington from the north. The Confederates never threatened seriously but shook things up a little. The fort is partially preserved and interpreted.
From the city, take Seventh Street north; it turns into Georgia Avenue. Look for the radio towers, the fort is just to the left behind Emory Methodist Church.
From I-495 take Georgia Avenue south. Less than a mile north of the fort is the tiny but interesting Battleground Cemetery.
President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home
Entrance at Rock Creek Church Road NW and Upshur Street NW, Washington DC 20011
Lincoln and his family escaped the heat of the city and the White House, taking up residence here summers 1862–1864. It was hardly a retreat for the President, though, as he continued to shoulder the burdens of the war a personal grief here. A visitor center with interactive displays and exhibits of Lincoln items introduces the site.
Visitor center hours: Monday–Saturday 9:30 am–4:30 pm; Sunday 10:30 am–4:30 pm. Cottage tours: Monday–Saturday 10 am–3 pm; Sunday 11 am–3 pm. $15/adult (online ticket purchase recommended).
Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office
437 Seventh St NW, Washington DC 20004
The famous nurse lived here during and after the war, sharing space with her supplies and an office devoted to discovering the fate of the Civil War’s missing soldiers. Exhibits include some of the original features of the office and items used by Barton at the site. Open Friday-Sunday 11 am-6 pm. $5. 301-695-1864 extension 1004.
The African American Civil War Museum
1200 U Street NW, Washington DC 20009
Photographs, documents, artifacts and interactive presentations describe the story of the United States Colored Troops. Program helps trace descendents of the black soldiers. Memorial lists the more than 200,000 USCT who served in the Civil War. Open 10 am-6:30 pm Tuesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm Saturday, noon-4 pm Sunday. Free.