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War Leaves Watermark on Iconic Monument

Following President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to quell the Southern rebellion, Washington D.C. looked more like a military camp than the nation’s capital. Prior to and during the Civil War, construction stopped on the Washington monument. During this time, one of the nation’s prized monuments was a shell of its eventual grandeur.

Work began on the Washington monument in 1848. Coincidentally, Lincoln, a little known Illinois senator, was on hand that July 4 for the laying of the cornerstone.The monument to Washington, the country’s first president, would eventually become an obelisk towering over the city that bears his name. By 1856, work stopped on the Washington monument as political turmoil, lack of funds and sectional strife between North and South overweighed any attention for a memorial, even one for the “father of the county.” Most people were concerned whether there would still be a unified country.

When the war started in April 1861, the Washington monument had stood dormant at 152 feet of its eventual 555 feet for seven years. After First Manassas, Major General George B. McClellan was placed in command of what became the Army of the Potomac. During the summer and fall of 1861, McClellan built his army as well as arranging 48 forts in and around the nation’s capital.

With so many troops in Washington, there was an overwhelming need to find a place for them. The grounds around the Washington monument served as a place for Union soldiers to camp.

The 62nd New York Infantry’s headquarters was located near the monument. The New Yorkers often drilled with the unfinished memorial towering overhead.The hillside on which the Washington monument stands was also used as an area for grazing cattle and even a slaughterhouse. Meat was even hung in the uncompleted Washington monument to cure.

Standing only at 152 feet tall, the Washington monument looked quite odd on the horizon. Mark Twain said the monument “looked like a hollow, over-sized chimney.” Despite its odd look, the monument was still a popular tourist attraction. When meat wasn’t hanging in the interior, some climbed the interior scaffolding for a commanding view of the capital.

After the Civil War, the Washington monument remained in a dormant state. People from North and South wanted the monument finished but there was little money available to donate to resume construction.

It wasn’t until 1879 that construction continued. Today, one can clearly see where construction ended prior to the Civil War and where it started post-war.Prior to the Civil War, marble was used from a quarry in Baltimore, Md. After the Civil War, four rows were laid with marble from Sheffield, Mass.

Difficulty in getting delivery of the Massachusetts marble forced the resumption of supplies from another quarry near Baltimore.

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