Marshall House, Alexandria, Virginia

The Marshall House at the corner of King and Pitt Streets in Alexandria, around 1861-1865. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Marshall House in Alexandria, VA was built in 1799, originally as a tavern and inn called the Washington Tavern. Some time around the mid-1820s, the name of the tavern and inn was changed to the Marshall House, and by the eve of the Civil War it had become a popular meeting spot for secessionists. One of these secessionists was the recently hired manager of the Marshall House, James W Jackson. Jackson was a fiery secessionist, and months before the firing on Fort Sumter, decided to raise a massive, 18 foot wide Confederate flag up the flagpole that stood at the top of the Marshall House. The flag was so large and conspicuous, that it was reported to have been able to be seen with a spyglass from Washington, DC. To protect his flag, Jackson borrowed a ceremonial cannon from his neighbor and placed it in the backyard of the tavern facing the front door. Exclaiming that the flag would be removed over his dead body, his words would end up becoming perfectly prophetic.

May 24, 1861 marked the day that the Union Army began their advance across the Potomac river into Virginia. Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, close friend of President Lincoln and commander of the famous New York Fire Zouaves (11th New York Infantry), was tasked with cutting telegraph wires leading out of Alexandria. As Ellsworth marched past the Marshall House though, he felt it was his sole duty to first remove the flag of secession from the top of the tavern. Taking Private Francis E. Brownell with him, Ellsworth managed to make his way up to the roof of the tavern and remove the flag. On their descent though, they were surprised by Jackson pointing a double-barreled shotgun at Ellsworth. Jackson immediately shot Ellsworth in the chest, killing him instantly. Simultaneously, Private Brownell shot Jackson in the face and bayoneted him, killing him instantly as well. This incident at the Marshall House would mark the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. Ellsworth’s body would be sent to the White House for public mourning, while Jackson’s actions made Southerners view him as their first martyr of the war.

During and after the war the Marshall House attracted many tourists, soldiers and civilians alike. Many took souvenirs of the carpet, floorboards, or the outside signage. In 1873 most of the tavern burned down by an arsonist. Only the brick exterior remained after the fire. The building was restored after the fire, although with many Victorian style decorations added to the exterior. By the time the Marshall House was razed in the 1950s for downtown development, it resembled little of how it did during the Civil War.

Fittingly enough, the spot where the Marshall House was is today a hotel. The latest iteration of the site is The Alexandrian Hotel, owned by Marriott Bonvoy. Nothing currently marks the spot where Ellsworth and Jackson died, although up until recently there was a plaque on the side of the hotel posted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that read:

THE MARSHALL HOUSE
stood upon this site, and within the building
on the early morning of May 24,
JAMES W. JACKSON
was killed by federal soldiers while defending his property and
personal rights as stated in the verdict of the coroners jury.
He was
the first martyr to the cause of Southern Independence.
The justice of history does not permit his name to be forgotten.

Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly and for a great principle,
he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence of his home and
the sacred soil of his native state.
VIRGINIA

Marriott Bonvoy seems to have quietly removed the plaque after pushback from the community.

Interestingly, the Marshall House also played a much smaller role in the Civil War. In 1859, the tavern issued tokens with an image of Minerva in profile on them. Tokens from private businesses were common before the war in both the North and the South. People hoarded metal coinage, believing their value would go up once war started. To counteract this, many businesses made their own tokens made from less valuable metals to help stimulate commerce. The tokens from the Marshall House eventually made their way down to Richmond, where the engraver Robert Lovett, Jr. used its image of Minerva as an exact model for his Confederate cent prototypes.

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, Concord, New Hampshire

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch on the east side of the New Hampshire State House, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This arch was built in 1892 at the eastern end of the State House grounds, in honor of Concord’s Civil War veterans. It is built of granite, measuring 33.5 feet high and 53 feet in width. It was was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, and it features symbolic elements such as wreaths and shields, and it is topped by a Gatling gun. Just below the gun is the year 1892, and beneath the cornice is the inscription “To the memory of her soldiers and sailors the city of Concord builds this monument.”

The arch was dedicated on July 4, 1892, in a ceremony that drew Civil War veterans from around the state. In reporting on the event, the Boston Globe compared it to the wartime enthusiasm from decades earlier, noting how “Many of the men who today marched through Concord’s streets in honor of this occasion were vividly reminded of the stirring times from ’61 to ’65 when, with buoyant hearts and with martial tread, they departed from the capital city to meet their country’s enemy on the battlefield” In addition to the veterans, other important dignitaries included 95-year-old Nathaniel S. Berry, who had been governor for the first two years of the war, and Harriet P. Dame, a New Hampshire native who served on the front lines throughout the war as a nurse.

During the ceremony, the arch was unveiled by two Civil War veterans. It was then accepted by the mayor of Concord, who in turn introduced the keynote speaker of the day, Senator Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut. In addition to holding various political roles, Hawley had also served as a brevet major general in the war, and during his speech he spoke about what the monument meant to Union veterans. He also spoke of the appropriateness of dedicating it on July 4, a day that emphasized national unity and patriotism rather than sectional differences and conflict.

The first photo was taken about a decade after the monument was dedicated. Since then, this scene has undergone a few changes, including the demolition of a few of the buildings along Park Street in the distance on the right. Overall, though, this view looks essentially the same as it did more than a century ago, and today both the arch and the State House in the background are part of the Concord Civic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia

The Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built over a period of 15 years between 1803 and 1818, and it was originally the home of George Washington Parke Custis. Born in 1781, Custis was the grandson of Martha Washington, from her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis. His father, John Parke “Jacky” Custis, had died when George Washington Parke Custis was only a few months old, and George and Martha subsequently raised him as their adopted son. George Washington died in 1799, and Martha in 1802, leaving Custis a significant inheritance. Also in 1802, Custis turned 21, thus inheriting a fortune in money and land from his late father.

Among his father’s land holdings was an 1,100-acre estate on the Potomac River, overlooking the newly-established national capital of Washington. He named the property Arlington, and soon began construction on a mansion, which would become known as Arlington House. For the design, he hired George Hadfield, a noted architect who was responsible for several important buildings in Washington. The exterior of the house featured a very early example of Greek Revival architecture, with its most distinctive feature being the eight large columns here on the front portico. Although it appears to be built of sandstone and marble, the exterior is actually stucco-covered brick, which was intended to give it the appearance of stone.

The War of 1812 delayed construction of the house, but it was completed in 1818. Custis and his wife, Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, would go on to live here for the rest of their lives, until her death in 1853 and his in 1857. They had four children, although only one, Mary Anna Randolph Curtis, lived to adulthood. In 1831, at the age of 23, she married 24-year-old army officer Robert E. Lee, in a ceremony that was held here at Arlington House. It would be their home for the next 30 years, during which time Lee steadily rose in rank from a lieutenant to a colonel in the United States Army. He served in the Mexican-American War, and more than a decade later he led the group of soldiers that suppressed John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.

Lee’s wife Mary inherited Arlington House after her father’s death in 1857, but the family did not get to enjoy the property for much longer. On April 16, 1861, four days after the attack on Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the main Union army. However, Virginia declared its secession the following day, and Lee declined the offer. Instead, he resigned his commission in the the United States Army and joined the Confederate States Army, where he would command the Army of Northern Virginia for most of the war.

In the meantime, Arlington House quickly became a target for Union forces who were defending Washington. Because of its prominent location overlooking the city, it was imperative that it not fall into Confederate hands. The house was seized on May 24, 1861, and it subsequently became the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. Despite this occupation, though, the Lee family formally continued to own the house until 1864, when it was taken by the federal government for nonpayment of taxes.

Later in 1864, with the Union needing more space to bury soldiers killed in the war, the property became Arlington National Cemetery. Part of the intention behind this move was to forever deprive Lee of the use of the estate, and to that end many of the early burials were right near the house. The first interment occurred on May 13, and thousands more would follow in the remaining 11 months of the war. These included the remains of 2,111 unidentified Union and Confederate soldiers, whose remains were collected from various battlefields. They were buried in a vault behind and to the left of the house, and the spot is marked by the Civil War Unknowns Monument.

Following the war, neither Robert E. Lee nor Mary Lee ever attempted to reclaim the title of the estate, although their oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, successfully sued for its return. However, not interested in living in the middle of a cemetery, he then sold the property back to the federal government in 1883 for $150,000. In the ensuing years, though, the government directed most of its attention to the cemetery itself, with little concern for the mansion. By the time the first photo was taken around 1900, the house was largely unused, and the immediate grounds had been heavily altered from their prewar appearance.

The mansion was finally restored in the late 1920s, although the original focus was on the Custis family, as opposed to the Lees. However, in 1955 the house was renamed the Custis-Lee Mansion, and then in 1972 it became Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, thus placing a greater emphasis on Lee’s connection to the house. It has remained in use as a museum since then, although it was closed for renovations in early 2018, a few months before the first photo was taken. As part of this project, the house will be restored to its 1860 appearance, and the slave quarters and surrounding grounds will also be restored. The work will cost an estimated $12.35 million, and it is scheduled to be completed in January 2020.

Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, Washington, DC

The east front of the United States Capitol, during the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Capitol in 2018:

The first photo was taken around the same time as the one in a previous post, but this one shows the view from further back, with the entire unfinished Capitol dome in view, along with the crowd that had assembled for Lincoln’s first inauguration. It was the culmination of the highly-contentious 1860 presidential election, which saw the splintering of the Democratic Party into regional factions. Lincoln won the four-way race amid threats of secession from the south, and by the time he was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, seven southern states had followed through on their plans.

Because of this, there was a great deal of uncertainty on the day that the first photograph was taken. The start of the Civil War was just over a month away, and there were still plenty of questions about whether the South would be allowed to peacefully secede, or if the newly-inaugurated president would send an army to stop them. Appropriately enough, the backdrop to this event is the unfinished dome of the Capitol. Begun six years earlier, this new dome was still very much a work in progress during Lincoln’s inauguration, and it seemingly represented the as yet unfinished work of uniting the northern and southern regions of the nation.

The Capitol building itself is actually significantly older than this dome, though. Construction began in 1793, and the Senate and House wings were completed in 1800 and 1811, respectively. However, the building was burned in 1814, during the War of 1812, and its reconstruction was not ultimately finished until 1826. At the time, the building was topped by a low dome, which is visible in the first photo of another previous post. As the country grew, though, so did the Capitol building, and two new wings were added in the 1850s. As a result, the old dome looked out of proportion to the old building, so construction began on the current one in 1855.

During the early 19th century, the Capitol became the primary site of presidential inaugurations. At first, these ceremonies were held indoors, in either the Senate of House chambers, but in 1829 Andrew Jackson became the first president to be inaugurated here on the East Portico. This started a tradition that, with few exceptions, continued into the late 20th century. Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration was the last to be held here on the East Portico, and since 1981 the ceremony has – with the exception of Ronald Reagan’s 1985 inauguration in the Rotunda – been held on the West Portico, on the side of the building facing the National Mall and the Washington Monument.

Four years to the day after the first photo was taken, Lincoln’s second inauguration would also be held here on the East Portico. By then, the exterior of the dome had been completed, and Lincoln’s goal of reuniting the nation had likewise been largely accomplished, with the end of the Civil War only weeks away. However, less than a week after Lee’s surrender, and only 42 days into his second term, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, who had actually attended the second inauguration here, and had later claimed that he could have killed Lincoln during the event if he had wanted to.

Today, more than 150 years after the first photo was taken, the East Portico does not appear to have changed much. However, it actually underwent a major expansion starting in 1958, when a new portico was built 32 feet 6 inches in front of the old one. Aside from being built of marble, as opposed to the sandstone of the original walls, this new portico was essentially a duplicate. The old walls remain intact inside the building, although the original columns were removed and now stand in the National Arboretum. The 1958 renovations also involved the removal of two statues that once flanked the east steps. On the left, mostly hidden from view in the first photo, was Luigi Persico’s Discovery of America, and on the right was Horatio Greenough’s The Rescue. Both of these statues featured particularly unflattering depictions of Native Americans, and neither have been put on public display since then.

The other significant addition to this part of the Capitol occurred in the early 2000s, when the Capitol Visitor Center was constructed here. Consisting of 580,000 square feet of floor space on three floors, this massive expansion is almost entirely hidden from view in this scene, as it is located directly under the plaza in front of the East Portico. From this angle, the only visible signs of this underground complex are several skylights, including one on the far left side of the scene.

John Brown’s Fort, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

The fire engine house at the Harpers Ferry Armory, more commonly referred to as “John Brown’s Fort,” as seen around 1860. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The same view in May 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

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This small, seemingly nondescript building was built in 1848 at the entrance to the Harpers Ferry Armory, and was used as a guard house and fire engine house.  Normally, such a building would not be the subject of an 1860s stereocard, but it gained widespread fame just a few years earlier, due to its role in John Brown’s raid on the armory.

On October 16, 1859, northern abolitionist John Brown led a group of 22 men who attempted to take the armory and start a slave rebellion. They succeeded in taking the armory, and took a number of Harpers Ferry citizens hostage, but the plan quickly unraveled and they ended up barricading themselves in this building, surrounded by local militiamen and other armed townspeople.  Eventually, Colonel Robert E. Lee, still fighting in the US Army at the time, led a detachment of Marines, who succeeded in taking the building and capturing John Brown and most of his men.

To many northern abolitionists, John Brown was a hero, but to southern slaveowners he was a dangerous radical and a criminal. He was executed on December 2 in nearby Charles Town, but the failed raid helped to set the Civil War in motion a little over a year later.  The first photo was probably taken within three years of the raid, and in it the building still bears some of the scars from the fight.

Unlike most of the armory buildings, this one actually survived the war, and over time it became a tourist attraction and a symbol of the abolitionist movement. However, many residents feared that it would become a major draw for African-Americans to visit the town, so they were looking for ways to get rid of it.  Finally, in 1891 the owners decided to dismantle the fort and reassemble it at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  It was a colossal failure at the exposition, though; the move cost $60,000, and just 11 people paid the 50 cent admission fee to view the fort.

The fort underwent further dismantlings and reconstructions, before eventually moving to its present-day site about 150 feet to the right of here.  However, it doesn’t have much real historic value, because of the number of times it has been reconstructed and the amount of original materials that has been lost over time.

After the fort was moved from here, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad built new railroad embankments through the site of the fort, so today it is at a substantially higher elevation than it was in the first photo.  The monument, seen in the last two photos, was added by the railroad and marks the original location.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (2)

The town of Harpers Ferry, photographed around 1862. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The view in 2015:

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These two views of Harpers Ferry are remarkably similar, considering how much damage the small town sustained during the Civil War.  The Library of Congress estimates that this photo was taken around 1860, which seems a little too early.  This photo is half of a stereocard from a series called “War Views,” and since the war didn’t start until 1861, it seems unlikely that it was taken before then.  Instead, it was probably taken around 1862; the tents in the foreground were part of a “contraband camp” that the Union army established on the grounds of the former armory in March 1862 to house escaped slaves from the Confederacy.

A number of notable buildings are visible here, with the most prominent being the Armory fire engine house, better known as “John Brown’s Fort,” seen in the center of the photo and explained in more detail in this post.  To the left of the “fort” is the Gerard Bond Wager Building, a three and a half story brick building that was completed in 1838.  Prior to the Civil War it was used as a grocery and dry goods store, and it is still standing today and is operated by the National Park Service as a museum.

Beyond the Gerard Bond Wager Building is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, which was built in 1833 and is still standing today, although with some extensive alterations.  It survived the Civil War, but it was renovated in 1896 to bring its exterior in line with the then-popular Neo-Gothic architectural style.  The original brick walls were replaced with granite, the steeple was removed, and a new asymmetrical facade was built with a taller steeple on the left side.

Another church in the original scene was St. John’s Episcopal Church, seen on the top of the hill to the right.  It was built in 1852 and sustained damage during the war, eventually being repaired in 1882.  However, it was subsequently abandoned in 1896, and today the picturesque ruins are still there, although they are hidden from view by the trees in the 2015 photo.

The last of the prominent historic buildings in these two photos are the four in a row next to each other, seen just below St. John’s Episcopal Church.  All four are still standing today, and the left-most of these is the Harper House, which is the oldest surviving building in the lower town.  It was completed in 1782 by Robert Harper, the town founder who not coincidentally operated a ferry here.  He died the same year it was completed, and it was later used as a tavern, a private residence, and by the start of the Civil War as a tenement house, accommodating up to four families.  To the right of the Harper House is Marmion Hall, which was completed in 1833, and the last two buildings to the right were built in the 1840s as the Marmion Tenant Houses.  These last two were, prior to the war, rented out to armory workers, who were just a short downhill walk away from their jobs.

Today, railroad tracks cover much of the former armory site, and nearly all traces of the historic site are long gone.  However, the town that grew up here because of the armory is, for the most part, preserved in its pre-1860s appearance.  Much of the lower town is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and is run by the National Park Service.