Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
"Imagine a great avenue [with] solid ranks of soldiers, just marching steady all day long, for two days. ..." Walt Whitman.
It took two days for the grand parade of 200,000 victorious Union soldiers described by the great American poet and Civil War nurse Walt Whitman to march down Pennsylvania Avenue past this spot, headed for review by President Andrew Johnson at the White House.
Whitman might have been standing right here on May 23 or 24, 1865. This had been the ceremonial and commercial crossroads of the city since the federal government moved to the banks of the Potomac River in 1800. Pennsylvania Avenue has been an inaugural parade route for every President since Thomas Jefferson. For 130 years, this triangular space before you was the city's town square-home of the Center Market where Cabinet secretaries, government clerks and laborers alike might be seen with a live chicken under the arm.
All around you are reminders of the Civil War. A statue of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, a hero at Gettysburg, commands a small park across Seventh Street. In the plaza across Indiana Avenue, stands a memorial to the founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, dedicated by a few hundred grizzled veterans in 1909. The building where Civil War photographer Matthew Brady had his studio, its exterior only slightly altered, remains around the corner at 627 Pennsylvania Avenue. And the three little buildings at 637-641 Indiana Avenue were witness to it all.
Today, some of the history made here is preserved in the great neo-classical National Archives building just across Pennsylvania Avenue. Market Space is now the hub of a new downtown, alive with theaters and restaurants, a new sports arena, museums, shops and homes-a mixture of activities that reflects its historic role as the heart of the nations's capital.
The Civil War (1861 - 1865) transformed Washington, DC from a muddy backwater to a center of national power. Ever since, the city has been at the heart of the continuing struggle to realize fully the ideas for which the war was fought. The 25 signs that mark this trail follow the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglas, and others, famous and humble, who shaped a nation and its capital city while living and working in historic downtown DC.
Civil War to Civil Rights Downtown Heritage Trail
is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided tour consists of three distinct loops: West, Center, and East. Each one-mile loop offers about an hour of gentle exercise.
A free booklet capturing the trail's highlights is available at local businesses and institutions along the way. To download the free Civil War to Civil Rights Audio Tour, and learn about other DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CuturalTourismDC.org.