The other day I discovered that my employer, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), was looking for someone to write a post for USTR's blog on our office building and the Civil War. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity! I work in the Winder Building, which served a number of purposes during the Civil War. (The die-hard enthusiasts among you may have heard of this building before.) I'd been meaning to do a post on Winder for months now, but there never was a good time to take some pictures due to the giant tarp that has been draped over our building for well over a year.
I had already done quite a bit of digging on the history of the Winder Building since starting my job at USTR, and uncovered some interesting historical facts and myths. However, writing the post for USTR's blog gave me the chance to dig deeper and to work with some really great people, including the preservationist and research librarians for the Executive Office of the President. These individuals provided me with valuable research assistance, which I found useful in separating fact from fiction. I was particularly excited to examine copies of Washington City directories for 1861-65. These books functioned like the White Pages, minus the phone numbers. I was actually able to track down what government offices were located in Winder during the war based on these directories. And now, without further ado, here is the post as it appears on the USTR website (see here):
Civil War History of the Winder Building
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) occupies the historic Winder Building in downtown Washington, DC. The Winder Building was only thirteen years old when the Civil War erupted in 1861. This year, as the nation begins the commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, USTR would like to share some of the connections our office building has to that tragic conflict.
During the Civil War, the Winder Building – known at the time as “Winder’s Building” – housed several government offices. Occupants included the Navy Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, and the Second Auditor of the Treasury. The Quartermaster General’s Department, under the capable direction of General Montgomery Meigs, led the massive effort to supply the Union Army from offices in the Winder Building. The Army Ordnance Department was also located there, and President Lincoln sometimes stopped by to learn about new weapons being tested by the Union Army. Later in the war, the Bureau of Military Justice, under Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, moved into the building. When Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, Holt led the investigation and prosecution of the conspirators from the Winder Building. The U.S. Signal Corps also constructed a signal station on the roof of the Winder Building in 1865 that was capable of sending messages by flag to troops in the encampments and fortifications around Washington.
|Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs|
|Washington, D.C. Central Signal Station, Winder Building, April 1865|
Over the years, various myths have grown up around the Civil War history of the Winder Building. Some of these myths were enshrined on the historical marker that was placed on the building in 1950. According to one legend, Lincoln was fond of visiting the Winder Building to read telegraphs carrying war news from the front. However, historic evidence indicates that the Telegraph Office was located in the old War Department building across the street (site of the present-day Eisenhower Executive Office Building), and that the Winder Building did not have any military telegraph wires connected to it. It is also unlikely that Lincoln reviewed military parades from the building’s wrought-iron balcony.
Another frequent myth is that Confederate prisoners were held in the Winder Building and that Lincoln visited them there. There is no proof that such a basement prison existed, although civilian suspects were sometimes questioned in the basement.
Some accounts indicate that four successive generals-in-chief of the Union Army (Winfield Scott, George B. McClellan, Henry W. Halleck, and Ulysses S. Grant) maintained their headquarters in the Winder Building. However, at the time of the Civil War, most generals had offices in a building at the southwest corner of 17th and F Streets, N.W. (present-day location of the FDIC).
The Winder Building occupies a key place in the history of Washington during the Civil War. The clerks and military officers who worked there played an important role in the Union war effort over the course of four long and trying years. USTR is proud to call the Winder Building home.