WASHINGTON D.C. UNDER CONSTRUCTION AND ON A SWAMPFROM
MR. LINCOLN'S CLASSROOM SITE
the Smithsonian Civil War Timeline
HISTORICAL TIMELINE FOR WASHINGTON D.C.
DC is about 1/6 the size of Hong Kong.
1754 Aug 2, Pierre Charles L'Enfant, French engineer
who designed the layout of Washington, D.C., was born.
1787-1788 The Thomas Mallon historical novel "Two
Moons," published in 2000, was set in Washington DC at
1788 Dec 23, Maryland voted to cede a 100-square-mile
area for the seat of the national government; about
two-thirds of the area became the District of Columbia.
1789 Jan 23, Georgetown University was established by
Jesuits in present-day Washington, D.C., as the 1st US
1790 Jul 16, The District of Columbia was established
as the seat of the United States government.
1790 Jul 26, US Congress passed Alexander Hamilton’s
Assumption plan making it responsible for state debts.
Virginia had withdrawn its opposition in return for
having the nation’s new capital located on its borders.
1791 Mar 29, Pres. George Washington and French
architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant examined the a site
along the Potomac River that would become the US
capital. Maryland and Virginia had ceded land to the
federal government to form the District of Columbia.
Chosen as the permanent site for the capital of the
United States by Congress in 1790, President Washington
was given the power by Congress to select the exact
site—an area ten-miles square, made up of land given by
Virginia and Maryland. Washington became the official
federal capital in 1800. In 2008 Fergus Bordewich
authored “Washington: The Making of the American
1791 Apr 15, Surveyor General Andrew Ellicott
consecrated the southern tip of the triangular District
of Columbia at Jones Point.
1792 Apr 14, Pres. George Washington appointed David
Rittenhouse, the foremost scientist of America, the
first director of the US Mint at a salary of $2000 per
annum. Rittenhouse was then in feeble health and lived
at the northwest corner of Seventh and Arch Streets,
then one of the high places of Old Philadelphia, where
he had an observatory and where he later died and was
1792 Jul 31, The foundation-stone was laid for the US
Mint by David Rittenhouse, Esq. The property was paid
for and deeded to the United States of America for a
consideration of $4266.67 on July 18, 1792. The money
for the Mint was the first money appropriated by
Congress for a building to be used for a public purpose.
1792 Oct 13, The cornerstone of the executive mansion,
later known as the White House, was laid during a
ceremony in the District of Columbia.
1793 Sep 18, President George Washington laid the
foundation stone for the U.S. Capitol on Jenkins Hill.
1800 Jun 4, The White House was completed and President
& Mrs. John Adams moved in. [see Nov 1]
1800 Nov 1, John and Abigail Adams moved into "the
President’s House" in Washington DC. It became known as
the White House during the Roosevelt administration.
1800 Nov 17, The Sixth Congress (2nd session) convened
for the first time in Washington, DC, in the partially
completed Capitol building. Previously, the federal
capital had briefly been in other cities, including New
York, Philadelphia, and Annapolis, Maryland. George
Washington- a surveyor by profession- had been assigned
to find a site for a capital city somewhere along the
upper Potomac River, which flows between Maryland and
Virginia. Apparently expecting to become president,
Washington sited the capital at the southernmost
possible point, the closest commute from Mount Vernon,
despite the fact that this placed the city in a swamp
called Foggy Bottom.
1800 Dec 12, Washington DC was established as the
capital of US.
1801 Feb 27, The District of Columbia was placed under
the jurisdiction of Congress.
1801 Mar 4, Thomas Jefferson was the first President to
be inaugurated in Washington, D.C.
1802 May 3, Washington, D.C., was incorporated as a
city, with the mayor appointed by the president and the
council elected by property owners.
1814 Aug 24, 5,000 British troops under the command of
General Robert Ross marched into Washington, D.C., after
defeating an American force at Bladensburg, Maryland. It
was in retaliation for the American burning of the
parliament building in York (Toronto), the capital of
Upper Canada. Meeting no resistance from the
disorganized American forces, the British burned the
White House, the Capitol and almost every public
building in the city before a downpour extinguished the
fires. President James Madison and his wife fled from
the advancing enemy, but not before Dolly Madison saved
the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.
This wood engraving of Washington in flames was printed
in London weeks after the event to celebrate the British
1814 Aug 25, British forces destroyed the Library of
Congress, containing some 3,000 books.
1815 Jan 30, The burned Library of Congress was
1815 Feb, Congress appropriated funds for the
restoration of the White House and hired James Hoban,
the original designer and builder, to do the work.
1817 Oct, Pres. and Mrs. James Monroe moved back into
the restored White House.
1818 Jan 1, An official reopening of the White House
took place after being repaired from burning by British
during War of 1812.
1829 Mar 4, An unruly crowd mobbed the White House
during the inaugural reception for President Jackson,
the 7th US President. The event was later depicted by
artist Louis S. Glanzman in his painting “Andrew
Jackson’s Inauguration” (1970).
1833 The Washington Monument Association was formed to
build a monument to honor George Washington.
1835 Jan 31, Richard Lawrence misfired at President
Andrew Jackson (aka 'Old Hickory') at the White House.
Lawrence fired 2 pistols at Pres. Andrew Jackson during
funeral services for Rep. Warren Davis. Jackson wasn’t
hit and Lawrence, who thought he was the king of England
and that Jackson owed him money, was found to be insane.
1839 Feb 20, Congress prohibited dueling in the
District of Columbia.
1839 Construction began on the Gen’l. Post Office
Building. It was completed in 1847 under architect
Robert Mills and later became known as the Tariff
Building. In 1998 it was leased by the Kimpton Hotel and
Restaurant Group for conversion into a 172-room luxury
1842 The 14-room Anderson Cottage was built. It was
used as a home by Pres. Lincoln for 3 summers from
1844 May 1, Samuel Morse (1791-1872) sent the 1st
telegraphic message as a demonstration between
Washington, DC, and Baltimore [see Jan 6, 1838]. The
line officially opened on May 24, 1844.
1844 May 24, Samuel F.B. Morse, before a crowd of
dignitaries in the chambers of the Supreme Court, tapped
out the message, "What hath God wrought?" to his partner
in Baltimore, Alfred Vail. Congress had appropriated
$30,000 for the experimental line built by Ezra Cornell
between Washington and Baltimore. American portrait
artist Samuel F.B. Morse developed the technology for
electrical telegraphy in the 1830s, the first
instantaneous form of communication. Using a key to hold
open an electrical circuit for longer or shorter
periods, an operator would tap out a message in a code
composed of dots and dashes. Public demonstrations of
the equipment were made in February 1838, but it was
necessary for Morse to secure financial backing to build
the first telegraph line to carry the signal over
distance. In 1843, Congress appropriated the funds for a
37-mile line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
After underground telegraph wires proved unsuccessful,
Morse switched to pole wires.
1846 Aug 10, President James Polk signed a measure
establishing the Smithsonian Institution. The US
Congress chartered the Smithsonian Institution, named
after English scientist James Smithson (1765-1836),
whose bequest of $500,000 made it possible. The
Smithsonian Institute was born and Joseph Henry became
its first secretary.
1847 May 1, The cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institute
was laid in Washington, DC. The building was designed by
James Renwick Jr.
1848 Jul 4, The Cornerstone of the Washington Monument
in Washington, D.C. was laid by President Polk. Each
state of the union was invited to donate a memorial
stone. The white marble obelisk, which is 555 feet tall
and 55 fee square at the base, was not completed until
1884. The public was admitted to the monument on October
9, 1888. Architect Robert Mills (1781-1855) designed the
1849 Dec 29, Gas light was installed in the White House.
1850 Apr, During the debate on the Compromise of 1850,
Senator Henry Foote, a unionist and supporter of the
compromise, drew a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton,
an opponent of the deal. Other senators intervened
before Foote could fire.
1850 Sep 20, The slave trade in Washington, D.C., was
abolished as a provision of Henry Clay's Compromise of
1850. Because each state had its own slavery code when
the District of Columbia was founded in 1800, Washington
had adopted Maryland's laws. Although the 1850
legislation made the slave trade illegal, slavery itself
was still legal. Nevertheless, Washington became a haven
for free blacks. By 1860, free blacks outnumbered slaves
almost four-to-one. President Abraham Lincoln put an end
to Washington's slavery altogether in 1862, freeing
about 2,989 African Americans who were then slaves
according to the slavery code.
1850 The Willard family acquired a 4-story hotel in
Washington DC and turned it into the 100-room Willard
Hotel at 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. In 1901 it was replaced
by an opulent 389-room Beaux-Arts building. In 1968 it
was closed and scheduled for demolition. In 1986 it
re-opened following a $73 million restoration.
1851 Dec 24, Fire devastated the Library of Congress in
Washington, D.C., destroying about 35,000 volumes.
1853 Jan 8, 1st US bronze equestrian statue of Andrew
Jackson was unveiled in Wash. DC. [see Mar 8]
1853 Mar 8, The first bronze statue of Andrew Jackson
was unveiled in Washington, D.C. [see Jan 8]
1854 Mar, A stone, donated by Pope Pius IX, was stolen
from the Washington Monument. Members of the
Know-Nothing Party were suspected.
1854 Nov 6, The king of American march music, John
Philip Sousa, was born in Washington, D.C.
1855 Feb 22, The Know-Nothing Party seized control of
the Washington Monument Association and kept control for
1856 Representative Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery
Democrat from South Carolina, used a cane to attack
Senator Charles Sumner, a Republican abolitionist from
Mass. Sumner was beaten unconscious and was unable to
resume duties for 3 years. Brooks resigned from his seat
but was re-elected.
1858 The original board of the Washington Monument
regained control after the Know-Nothing Party disbanded
due to a split between pro- and anti-slavery factions.
1859 Feb 19, Daniel E. Sickles, NY congressman, was
acquitted of murder on grounds of temporary insanity.
This was the 1st time this defense was successfully
used. Sickles had shot and killed Philip Barton Key, son
of Francis Scott Key, author of "Star Spangled Banner."
He shot Lee, the DC district attorney, in Lafayette
Square for having an affair with his wife. Sickles
pleaded temporary insanity and the sanctity of a man’s
home and beat the murder rap.
1959 Northern and Southern leaders socialized together
for the last time at the Napier Ball in the Willard
Hotel before the start of the US Civil War.
1860 Apr 25, The first Japanese ambassador to the US,
Niimi Buzennokami, and his 74-man staff arrived in
Washington to present their credentials to Pres. James
1861 Feb 4, Winfield Scott, US general-in-chief,
decided to relieve Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee as commander
of federal forces in Texas and bring him to Washington
DC where Lee could take command of forces guarding DC.
1861 Mar 4, The US Government Printing Office, created
by Congressional Joint Resolution 25 of June 23, 1860,
1861 Apr 18, The Kansas Frontier Guards drilled and set
up camp in the East Room of the White House with the
mission to protect President Lincoln from a feared Rebel
attack on Washington. The collection of Kansans in
Washington, many office seekers and politicians, were
organized and led by the state's first senator, James
Henry Lane, a friend of the president and former leader
of the Free State movement in Kansas. With Virginia's
secession from the Union on April 17, rumors spread of
an impending rebel strike on Washington. Lane organized
the force of 50 men and offered their service to the War
Department, arriving in the White House in the evening
of April 18. As additional Union troops entered the
city, the Frontier Guard was dismissed from the White
House on April 19. The unofficial unit was assigned
various positions in the city during the following week
and, in a ceremony attended by the president, was
disbanded on April 25.
1861 Aug 23, Union intelligence chief Allan Pinkerton
placed Rose O’Neal Greenhow (1813/1814-1864) under house
arrest for working as a southern spy working in
Washington DC. She was sent to the Old Capitol Prison
and then was banished to Richmond, Va., in May, 1963.
She had supplied Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard with a warning
that Union General Irvin McDowell was planning an attack
on Manassas in July 1861. Greenhow, a 44-year-old widow
with four daughters, was recruited in 1861 to be the
operating head of the Confederacy’s first spy ring. A
Washington socialite with many friends in high
government circles, Rose was perfectly placed to gather
intelligence about Federal troop strengths and
movements. She drowned in a shipwreck on September 30,
1861 Oct 23, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the
writ of habeas corpus in Washington, D.C. for all
1861-1865 The National Museum of Health and Medicine (NHMH)
was founded in Washington DC to advance medical care
during the Civil War.
1862 Mar 6, Pres. Lincoln proposed to Congress a
revised plan of compensated emancipation for
slave-owners in the District of Columbia and the border
1862 Apr 3, A bill was passed to abolish slavery in
Washington, D.C. [see Apr 16]
1862 Apr 13, In the Washington area volunteers led by
Sarah J. Evans paid homage to the graves of Civil War
soldiers. Villagers in Waterloo, NY, held their 1st
Memorial Day service on May 5, 1866. In 1966 Pres.
Johnson gave Waterloo, NY, the distinction of holding
the 1st Memorial Day.
1862 Apr 16, President Lincoln signed a bill, passed on
April 3, ending slavery in the District of Columbia.
1862 Jul 29, Confederate spy Belle Boyd (1844-1900) was
arrested and confined at Old Capital Prison in
1862 Aug 29, Confederate spy Belle Boyd was released
from Old Capital Prison in Washington, DC.
1862 Nov 17, Union General Burnside marched north out
of Washington, D.C. to begin the Fredericksburg
1862 The Washington DC bordello of Mary Ann Hall at 349
Maryland Ave. was rated at the top of a list of 450
brothels catalogued by the office of the federal provost
marshal. The city had an estimated 5,000 prostitutes, 18
of whom resided at the 3-story brick Hall house.
1863 Jul 2, Mrs. Lincoln was thrown from her carriage
and spent weeks recovering at the Anderson Cottage. The
seat assembly may have been sabotaged.
1863 Dec 1, Belle Boyd, a Confederate spy, was released
from prison in Washington.
1864 Jul 2, Statuary Hall in US Capitol was established.
1864 Jul 11, Confederate General Jubal Early's army
arrived in Silver Spring, Maryland, on the outskirts of
Washington, D.C., and began to probe the Union line.
Confederate forces led by Gen. Jubal Early began an
invasion of Washington, D.C., turning back the next day.
1864 Jul 12, President Abraham Lincoln became the first
standing president to witness a battle as Union forces
repelled Jubal Early's army on the outskirts of
1864 Jul 13, Gen Jubal Early retreated from the
outskirts of Washington back to Shenandoah Valley.
1865 Mar 4, President Lincoln was inaugurated for his
2nd term as President. It was held at the Patent Office,
the site of a military hospital. Four companies of
African-American troops and lodges of African-American
Masons and African-American Odd-Fellows joined the
procession to the Capitol.
1865 Mar 6, President Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Ball was
1865 Apr 14, On the evening of Good Friday, just after
10 p.m., Pres. Lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by
John Wilkes Booth while attending the comedy "Our
American Cousin" at Ford's Theater in Washington DC.
Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth burst into the
presidential box and shot Lincoln behind the ear. Booth
shouted out “sic semper tyrannis” (thus always to
tyrants), Virginia’s state motto, after shooting Pres.
Lincoln. He leaped to the stage, breaking his left leg
on impact, and escaped through a side door. Lincoln was
carried to a nearby house where he remained unconscious
until his death at 7:22 the following morning. Secretary
of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had kept vigil at Lincoln's
bedside, said, "Now he belongs to the ages." As I would
not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This
expresses my idea of democracy.”
1865 Apr 14, A 2nd assassin stabbed the Sec. of State 5
times. George Atzerodt, a 3rd assassin for the vice
president, got cold feet.
1865 Apr 15, President Lincoln died, several hours
after he was shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington by
John Wilkes Booth. Andrew Johnson, Vice-President under
Lincoln, became the 17th President (1865-1869) of the US
upon the assassination. The first Mourning Stamp was
issued after his assassination, a 15-cent black
commemorative. In 1999 Allen C. Guelzo authored "Abraham
Lincoln: Redeemer President," an intellectual biography.
In 2002 William Lee Miller authored "Lincoln’s Virtues:
An Ethical Biography." In 2004 Ronald C. White Jr.
authored “The Eloquent President.” In 2005 Doris Kearns
Goodwin authored “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius
of Abraham Lincoln.”
1865 Apr 21, Abraham Lincoln's funeral train left
1865 May 23, The American flag was flown at full staff
over White House for the 1st time since Lincoln was
shot. Union Army's Grand Review began in Washington DC.
1865 Jun 30, Eight alleged conspirators in
assassination of Lincoln were found guilty after
kangaroo court-martial and brutal treatment by military
1865 Jul 7, The trap doors of the scaffold in the
yard of Washington’s Old Penitentiary were sprung, and
Mary Surratt, Lewis Paine, David Herold and George
Atzerodt dropped to their deaths. The four had been
convicted of "treasonable conspiracy" in the
assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and had
learned that they were to be hanged only a day before
their execution. Shortly after 1 p.m. the prisoners were
led onto the scaffold and prepared for execution. The
props supporting the platform were knocked away at about
2 p.m. Assassin John Wilkes Booth had been killed on
April 26, 12 days after Lincoln’s assassination. Other
convicted conspirators—Edman Spangler, Dr. Samuel Mudd,
Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlin—were imprisoned.
1867 Jan 8, Legislation gave suffrage to DC
blacks, despite Pres. Johnson's veto.