Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
"Carpets, cushions, and hymnbooks were packed away ... ambulances began to stop ... lastly come the surgeons...."
Margaret Leech, Reveille in Washington.
Church spires dominated the skyline of the city of Washington at the time of the Civil War, symbolizing the importance of houses of worship in the religious, social and political life of the nation's capital. While Washington still claims an extraordinary number of historic downtown churches, the Church of the Epiphany is the only original pre-Civil War downtown church building to survive. Its walls were witness to the suffering of the wounded soldiers for whom it was a temporary hospital. Here, as in other churches, planks were laid on top of the pews to make a platform for the beds.
Episcopalians founded the Church of the Epiphany in 1842. By the time of the Civil War, it was located in a residential neighborhood of strong Souther sympathies. Washington, although the capital of the Unio, was a Southern city, carved originally from the states of Maryland and Virginia. Many Washington residents had family and friends in the South, and brothers and sisters and husbands and wives and wives often held conflicting loyalties. Even First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln had three brothers fighting for the Confederacy. Northerners accused the city of being "Secesh," short for secessionist.
At one time, Senator Jefferson Davis, who became the president of the Confederacy, lived nearby and was an Epiphany member. Senator Judah P. Benjamin, later Davis's attorney general, and Senator Robert Toombs, who became Davis's secretary of state, lived on then-fashionable F Street one block over from the church.
The Reverend Charles Hall, Epiphany's rector, balanced his Southern sympathies with loyalty to the Union. He was so persuasive about his loyalty in a meeting with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that the latter began to attend worship services at Epiphany on a regular basis, using the former pew of Jefferson Davis. With Stanton as an example, many Union generals, too, began to attend Epiphany. President Lincoln himself came here for the funeral of General Frederick Lander of the Army of the Army of the Potomac.
below and right
The Reverend Charles H. Hall and The Church of the Epiphany about 1860. New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is in the background. (The Church of the Epiphany.)
below and left
The 1400 block of F Street, left, in the fashionable residential neighborhood near The Church of the Epiphany. In the background is the U.S. Treasury. Future Confederate officials who lived in the area included Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina Howell, below, who attended the church, and Judah P. Benjamin, who later served as Davis's attorney general. (Library of Congress.)
Southern sympathizers leave the capital for friendlier locations. (The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)