A guard patrolling the basement of the Capitol during the Civil War is attacked -- not by enemy soldiers, but by a giant, demonic cat! Over a hundred years later, the "Demon Cat" is still one of Washington's greatest ghost stories, which is saying something in a city with as many phantom residents as the capital. What is the real story of this mystical mouser?
Military leadership, including President Lincoln, saw the potential of military balloons, and the public believed they would change the landscape of the Civil War, aiding the Union’s eventual success. Only two years later though, what would be known as the “Balloon Corps” would be dissolved. So, what ended the use of this promising and successful aerial endeavor?
During the Civil War, the U.S. Capitol served stints as a military barracks, a bakery, and a hospital for wounded soldiers, all while the building was under construction. After the war, the bakery was dismantled and the soldiers left — well, all but one …
If you lived in nineteenth-century D.C. and wanted your picture taken, you couldn’t just whip out your own camera — you’d visit Pennsylvania Avenue NW, known locally as “photographer’s row.” This stretch of the avenue, between the White House and the nearly-finished Capitol building, was home to a cluster of photography studios and galleries. Between 1858 and 1881, the most fashionable and famous was Brady’s National Photographic Art Gallery. It was run by Mathew Brady and his manager, Alexander Gardner, whose partnership endured its own civil war.
When Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables was published in the spring of 1862, it took the world by storm. Within weeks, American audiences began devouring a five-volume translation by renowned classicist Charles E. Wilbour. As the Civil War raged, soldiers on both sides of the lines gobbled up copies and carried them into battle. But here's the thing: Confederate soldiers weren't actually reading the same book as their Northern adversaries, and that was by design.
Sarah Pryor (1830-1912), the daughter of a wealthy Virginian family, lived in Washington from 1859 until the outbreak of the Civil War. In her memoirs written in 1909, she recounts the grand society of antebellum D.C. and the shift to war tensions.
When the Civil War began looming on the horizon, Judith Brockenbrough McGuire (1813-1897) was the wealthy wife of a prominent citizen in Alexandria, and like many on both sides of the conflict, she believed in a speedy and perhaps even non-violent end to the conflict. In the days leading up to the war, McGuire recorded in her diary the increasingly depressing landscape of Alexandria. Give it a read and take a step back in time!
We've all seen Mercy Street, but what was the real-life Civil War experience like for Union Army doctors? Alfred Lewis Castleman, a surgeon in the Wisconsin 5th regiment, provides a glimpse with his 1862 diary. The job was difficult, to put it mildly — rife with medical challenges as well as bureaucratic ones.
One of the most remembered war correspondents was also the youngest reporter in the Civil War, George Alfred Townsend. Born in 1841, Townsend’s reports on the Battle of Five Forks and the Lincoln assassination gained him wide recognition, but before he had the chance to write those, Townsend visited the occupied city of Alexandria. Among his observations: "It would not accord with the chaste pages of this narrative to tell how some of the noblest residences in Alexandria had been desecrated to licentious purposes; now how, by night, the parlors of cosey homes flamed with riot and orgie [sic]."
Rose O'Neal Greenhow hosted some of the most prominent politicians of her time in her house on 16th Street. At the beginning of the Civil War, she turned it into a hub of Confederate espionage. Then, it became a Union prison.