U.S. Capital Prepares for War after Fall of Fort Sumter
On April 15, 1861, the day after Fort Sumter was occupied by Confederate troops in the opening battle of the Civil War, Washington, D.C., accelerated its preparations for the war that was now upon it. Someone who was there wrote a letter (signing it simply as “Observer”) to the Public Ledger describing the scene. This Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, newspaper published the letter on April 16, 1861:
Letter from Washington
Washington, April 15, 1861
Our city is fast assuming all that note of military preparation which characterizes European towns at the beginning of a long war. Outposts are being extended and strengthened; new companies are forming and being mustered into service; cavalry horses are purchased; sentries are stationed about all U.S. public buildings; and quarters of the military have so multiplied that groups of soldiers, and sympathizing citizens, or idlers, are seen at every point. The number of lookers-on convey, perhaps, a good idea of the want of employment that must have existed for a considerable period at this point. Such persons as enlist, get their twenty dollars a month for service in protecting Washington from attack, which thing in itself puts much money in circulation, and goes some ways towards relieving poor and distressed families. Public opinion here is, of course, divided on the section 1 question, but probably a large majority are for supporting the Government.
Orders have gone forth for concentrating companies here from the North as fast as they may be organized. This point is a key position, with Baltimore for one base of operations in this direction, and Carlisle or Harper’s Ferry for another. I hear, in a quarter that is very reliable, that military reconnoissances have been made by officers of the seceded States of the heights across the Potomac, which command this city. Of course those heights will be at once occupied and entrenched by the Government troops, if Virginia enters upon hostilities. Another key point for campaigning is Cairo, in Illinois, where, doubtless, an immense force will be massed to go down the Mississippi. Meantime the mouths of that river will be blockaded, and indeed all ports at the South. Across the river into Virginia, the war and secession spirit is by no means uppermost as yet, but it is supposed by most Virginians that she will go out of the Union, though the Western part of the State may secede from the slave-holding portion.
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