Marching Through DC

On May 23, 1865, Union General George Meade and about 80,000 men from the Army of the Potomac marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, for a Grand Review of the Armies. The following day, General William T. Sherman led 65,000 of his troops down the same path. The parades marked the formal end of the Civil War, honored the union troops, and lighten the mood in DC after the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Grand Review 150 008a

Missing from those being honored, however, was about 10% of the troops.  And it wasn’t an oversight.

According to the National Archives, about 180,000 African American men had served in the Union army. Another 19,000 African Americans had served in the Union Navy. But in 1865, African Americans were not allowed to march in the Grand Review.

To right that wrong, the African American Museum of the Civil War in DC organized a parade commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Grand Review. This time, the US Colored Troops would march

Grand Review 150 026aI was surprised at how much press the parade didn’t get.  Lincoln assassination events had dominated the news cycle in DC for a couple of days. And even a vintage plane flyover for the 50th anniversary of D-Day was featured in more than a couple of news casts.  But there was nothing about a parade that commemorated the end of the Civil War and — more important to the rest of the metro DC area — was scheduled to shut down a major street in downtown DC for a couple of hours on a summer Saturday.

“Are you sure you have the right day?” asked Mr. History Tourist.

I was pretty sure….

The parade route was from the Capitol to Freedom Plaza, just east of the White House. I took the subway to a spot halfway between and before I got out of the station, I could hear the fife and drums above.

The parade had started about 30 minutes before, but I was there in time to see a big chunk of it. There were lots of civilians in costumes as well.  This young woman was a spectator and I asked to take her photo because she looked so perfect — like a 19th century model.

Grand Review 150 016a

















And for more interesting photos, I got the reenactors returning to their muster areas. What’s more fun than watching a mounted General Sherman and his staff waiting for a traffic light to turn green

Grand Review 150 023a

The Union troops sang as they walked back to their buses.  This group was singing Marching through Georgia when I took this shot.

Grand Review 150 036a






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13 Responses to Marching Through DC

  1. These marches will doubtless go on for a long time – in the UK enthusiasts still reenact our civil war from 200 years earlier!

    • I wish I had been able to see all the Waterloo 200 events this year. I should have planned better.

      I’ll have to see if I can catch an English reenactment next time I’m across the pond. I’ve heard they do American Civil War ones too.

  2. museummutt says:

    I wish I had known about this.

  3. Tom says:

    I wish I had known about this – I didn’t hear or read anything about it in the local press!

  4. You’re right, that young woman is instantly recognizable as Civil War-era in her attire. What a shocking – yet not surprising – travesty that black soldiers were omitted from the original parade. What must have been going through their minds? Probably the same thing black veterans of the subsequent World Wars thought too.

    • I suppose that’s the way it was in those days: you just helped win a horrific war, but we’re not going to let you march in the victory parade. Reminds me of the suffragette parade in DC in 1913: black suffragettes were told not to come. And when they did, they were told to march at the end of the parade while white suffragettes marched behind their state flags. When it came time for the 100th anniversary of the parade in 2013, it was a black sorority that sponsored the anniversary parade.

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