As you might remember from Nathanial Hawthorne’s impressions of Washington, the D.C. area was full of soldiers during the Civil War. Luckily for us, we can actually read an account from one of the soldiers thanks to the diary of Maximilian Hartman. A German tailor, Hartman immigrated to the U.S. to live with his brother in Pennsylvania. In 1861, both brothers joined up with the Union Army and headed south. The following is the account of Hartman’s regiment’s visit to Washington in his own words.
November 20, 1861
There is nothing but soldiers from [Baltimore] to Washington along the railroad.
At 6 o’clock in the morning we walked over to the Washington Depot, which is about 3 miles. On our way we passed the Washington Monument, which is built of solid marble and is 250 feet high and is built in the center of the street. But most of the houses that we saw on our way through the whole city are only three stories high but they are most all of them higher than the Mishlers Hotel in Pennsylvania Street in Reading, which is five stories high, and they are all built of fine pressed bricks. But they are nicer than the Reading Bricks are.
We got to Washington about 4 o’clock in the evening where we took out supper... And then slept in a place called Soldier’s Rest, which is the house the President held his Inaugural Ball in. It is about one square from the Capital...
At half past eleven o’clock we started for our camp which is about two miles from the Capital of the United States and we can see all over the town, and we can see the United States Patent Office and the White House, the Washington Monument, but it is not by far finished yet, and it is all built of white marble as is the Patent Office, White House, and the Capitol, but the Dome of the Capitol is all built of iron and made to imitate marble, but it is not done by far yet. There is hardly anything else to be seen around us as far as the eye can see but the white houses of Uncle Sam’s men, and all day you can hear the cannons roar for practicing.
November 30, 1861
This was the greatest day that I ever had and I would not take twenty dollars if I had not seen it before we leave Washington. Our mess of five men and one corporal went to the city and first we went to the United States Capitol which fills three acres of land, but I think it will take about thirty years yet until it will be quite finished. The first is that you see the outside of the fine building which is beyond description in regard to fine sculpture work and the fine statues where about 15 to 20 feet high...
When we come inside of the room under the dome, the whole walls are covered with large pictures which are about 15 feet long and 12 feet high...
We then went up on the dome as far as we could get. Up thre we had a fine view of the whole city and the whole Potomac, the long bridge and Alexandria, the large medical college in Fairfax County, the Maryland Lunatic Asylum, St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, the Navy Yard, the Arsenal, the President’s House, the White House, the United States Treasury, Post Office, Smithsonian Institute, the Washington Monument. After we got down we went into the Senate Room which was just newly painted, but here you can see the luxury of people. After that we went through all the other rooms and into the House of Representatives where they were just fixing up in the basement of the Capitol. They bake all the bread for the Army around Washington.
After that we went to the Smithsonian Institute, but this place beats all I ever saw. In the First place it is a most splendid building, built of brick. When we got into the inside we went into the Museum there. You can see every sort of creature that lives on the earth, in the water, or in the air... There you can sit down in the Library Room and read any book you wish to read. In one room there is all kinds of machinery, a lecture room, and a great many others. If I were to say all that I have seen there it would take me a whole year.
...We went to the Capitol part of the United States and this is the U.S. Patent Office, but her I cannot being to put down as the things there are by the thousands of every kind... We got tired of looking as our eyes got sore with looking at the things there.
We then went to the hospital where they have about 150 men in, but everything looks as white as snow in there. One man had just died when we came there. We then saw the Treasury and Post Office Department, the White House, Washington Monument, the President’s House and a great many other places. And on my way home I bought 1½ pounds of bologna sausage and good loaf of rye bread. The bread was excellent but the sausage was very poor.
Shortly after this entry, Hartman’s regiment left Washington for the Hampton Roads area of Virginia where Hartman was wounded in the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862. He never regained the use of one hand.
Maximilian Hartman Diaries (1861-1862), Special Collections Research Center, SWEM Library, College of William and Mary