Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mr. Lincoln's Washington: A Civil War Portfolio

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through January 25, 2015

This show is on the 2nd floor of the Portrait Gallery/American Art building, in a room that's placed exactly in the middle.  I'm never entirely certain to whom this room belongs, but since this is listed as a Portrait Gallery display, I'm categorizing it that way.

The Civil War years were busy ones for Washington, D.C., which the wall notes describe as "dangling on the fringes of what Unionists deemed a rebellion."  Indeed, if Lincoln hadn't prevented the Maryland legislature from seceding, the nation's capital would have been located in Confederate territory - a sobering thought.  D.C. bore little resemblance to the city we know today; again quoting from the wall notes, "cows grazed freely around the stone block stump that was the Washington Monument, while pigs preferred the putrid open canal in the shadow of the Capitol building."  Yeesh, not a place I'd want to spend much time.

The Portrait Gallery building, which was then the Patent Office, served as a military hospital during the war, and when the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry arrived, they were quartered among the patent models.  The first Secretary of the Smithsonian lived with his family in the Castle, which I knew from an exhibit I'd seen there several months ago.

Truly, a different time, far less pleasant than our own.

Verdict: Easy to add on to a visit to another show here.  Worth a look, especially if you like Washington, D.C. history.

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