From movies to today’s inauguration, all things Lincoln are in the spotlight. On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln participated in his second inauguration. Thousands of individuals came to Washington, DC, to witness it. The news media of the time were present, reporting on the events of the day.
Photographs of inaugurals usually focus on the President, but in 1865, at least one photographer captured the crowds. This rainy inaugural photo is from the Library of Congress collection and captures Washington, DC, at a key moment. The Civil War was drawing to a close, and Lincoln spoke to that in his address:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all … let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds …”
A reporter for the Sunday Mercury published in Philadelphia on March 5, 1865, wrote about the weather:
“Rain had been falling all yesterday and last night, making the proverbially filthy streets of the political metropolis filthier and more unpleasant than ever. (page 3)”
If you look closely at this photo you’ll see people dressed for inclement weather, wearing heavy overcoats and hats, standing in deep puddles. There are a few children in the foreground. Somewhere in this group are African-American troops who marched in the Inaugural Parade.
A crowd scene like this allows a peek into the past. There is a wide variety of clothing, from wool coats to hoop skirts, worn by these individuals. Take a close look at the hats worn by the men in the crowd. Only one man is wearing a stovepipe hat; the rest are in smaller hats and caps. The man in the tall hat is dressed formally for the occasion. Men of means or who had significant jobs usually dressed the part. In the 1860s, the hat a man wore could tell you a lot about their occupation or fashion habits. For more information on men’s hats, see Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats, 1840-1900.
Do you know about the political leanings of your ancestors?
- There may be images of women bearing suffragette banners or men wearing political memorabilia such as pins.
- Even if your ancestor wasn’t politically active, study the history of your ancestors’ lives to see how political decisions influenced their everyday experiences.
- Take a close look at the pictures in your family, set them in a time frame and investigate the history in your genealogy. There may be images relating to immigration, military service and even social events—all a result of the political situation of the country in which they lived.
Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor: