Daily Life in Civil War America

Daily Life in Civil War America

Daily Life in Civil War America

Daily Life in Civil War America

Synopsis

No event in U.S. history has been written about more than the Civil War-a convulsive era that impacted every American-and nor just the over 600,000 who fought in it. But while the battle campaigns, pivotal events, and larger-than-life figures get most of the attention, less often covered are the ordinary citizens swept up in those extraordinary times.

Excerpt

The federal capital at Washington was highly valued as a symbol by 19thcentury Americans. Carefully laid out in a district allocated from within the boundaries of Maryland in order to salve the pride of the South, the nation’s capital city had been under construction since the turn of the century. Americans pointed proudly to the imposing structure of the Capitol building, as well as the General Post Office, the Bureau of the Treasury, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Executive Mansion, as representative of a vigorous young nation preparing to take its place among the leading countries of the world.

Unfortunately, Washington was also symbolic of other things. the plans for the city, like the basic founding concepts of the nation itself, were as pretentious as they were visionary, and in 1860 both lay unfulfilled and disordered. Sprawling along the banks of the Potomac with the “Old City” of Alexandria, Virginia, across the water, the great buildings of the new capital remained incomplete even after the expenditure of vast sums of money and six decades of effort. the Capitol building lay unfinished with its original dome removed—a scaffolding and a towering crane representative of restructuring and rethinking. the wings of the building were “stretched bare and unfinished, devoid even of steps.” the imposing obelisk of the Washington Monument lay as a mere foundation. Blocks of marble, lumber, cast iron plates, and the tools of workmen strewn about the district gave quiet testimony to the fact that the plan for the nation’s first city, like the social and political plan for the American nation itself, was incomplete and open to revision.

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