IN the fantastically dramatic eighteen-sixties there was an archaic town called Washington City. Already the period is half- legendary, and around the place have grown up highly imaginative accounts of contemporary events and persons. At times it has seemed that the more extravagantly lurid the version, the more likely was it to accord with common prepossessions regarding that entangled scene.
During the Civil War, Washington, Federal seat of civil government, was likewise headquarters of the Northern forces on land and sea. It became in effect a military post, ringed with a circumvallation of forts, between which stretched rifle-pits guarded by felled trees whose branches, trimmed and sharpened, confronted the enemy. So near the town was the war's opening battle that naïve Washingtonians actually rode forth in carriages to view the show. Quickly they realized that this conflict was to be no holiday.
From Washington, Union troops set out on their campaigns. There the Sanitary and Christian commissions had their main offices. Into its crowded hospitals (mostly temporary frame structures, though even churches and the museum of the Patent Office were utilized) the wounded were brought. Thither flocked spies, bounty-jumpers, contractors, sutlers, gamblers, dealers in patent camp-furniture, cranks, lobbyists, office-seekers, tailors, camp-followers, journalists, adventurers, "bummers," desperadoes, hangers-on. Thither went busybody politicians and wiseacres to instruct the Administration. Thither went plain folk to seek the wounded and missing; or sometimes, if it might be, to save the