02 Nov 2009

Lost Capitol Hill: Lincoln US Army General Hospital

Whitman-rAfter a hopefully entertaining excursion into the spiritual world, I return again to this plane of existence, and my usual musings on Capitol Hill history.

Today’s subject is a temporary hospital built on a piece of vacant land in the wide-open spaces of eastern Washington DC during the Civil War. It was named after the president, and the ground on which it was built today continues to bear that name, thought today as Lincoln Park.

Lincoln United States Army General Hospital was built in 1861 on a rubble strewn field one mile east of the Capitol. The area on which it was built had been originally destined by Pierre L’Enfant to house a mile marker, from which all distances to and from Washington would be measured. Although the land was taken over by the federal government, nothing was done with it (nor was much built nearby) and so the reservation became a dumping ground.


Bird’s Eye View of Lincoln United States General Hospital. Contemporary print. (from LOC)

Originally, the hospital was named ironically after the president, but soon thereafter, it was given this name officially.

The hospital was built of canvas-covered logs, and was considered a model hospital—and a vast improvement over the temporary hospitals built previously around the city in churches and other public buildings.

Lincoln Hospital had 2,575 beds, and was thereby the largest hospital in Washington.

Walt Whitman, who was a frequent visitor, described Lincoln Hospital in an article printed in the New York Times of December 11, 1864, “[Carver Hospital] has more inmates than an ordinary country town. The same with Lincoln Hospital, east of the Capitol. … A wanderer like me about Washington, pauses on some high land which commands the sweep of the city…and has his eyes attracted by these white clusters of barracks in almost every direction.”

Although Lincoln often visited the hospitals around the city, there is no evidence indicating that he visited this hospital. However, a doctor assigned to Lincoln hospital was one of the first to offer aid to the President after the attack by John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln Hospital is also where the first soldier to be buried in Arlington Cemetery passed away. William Henry Christman was admitted to Lincoln Hospital with a case of measles on May 1, 1864, died on the 11th and was buried in Arlington on May 13 of that year.

After the Civil War, the hospital was torn down, but its name was passed on to the ground on which it had been built, first as Lincoln Square, later as Lincoln Park.

Today’s entry is a (lightly edited) excerpt from my book, Abraham Lincoln and the End of Slavery in the District of Columbia, which can be found here.

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