Prussian Military Survey of Washington DC
By Elliot Carter
Kriegsschauplatz von Nord-America (War plan of North America) is an aerial perspective drawing showing Washington DC just before the Civil War. The drawing depicts an enormous stretch of land - over 500 square miles - from Baltimore to Petersburg.
The drawing was commissioned by the Prussian military in 1862, the same year that Otto von Bismarck became Prime Minister. Prussia was a continental powerhouse in the 19th century at the forefront of military science. Their professional officer corps, der Generalstab, watched conflicts all over the world to study developments in tactics and technology.
They also sent official military observers to America during the Civil War to embed with Union and Confederate forces. One development that they took to heart was the importance of railroads and telegraphs in modern warfare.
The small city shown in the drawing is very different from the Washington we know today.
Development is still clustered inside of L'Enfant's grid, bounded by present day Florida Avenue. Suburbs like Tenleytown and Rockville are shown as minor collections of buildings.
The coastline closely hugs the Washington Monument before dredging and landfill reclaimed acres of the Potomac Mudflats.
Georgetown is essentially a separate entity from the Federal City, cut off by an expanse of fields at present day Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle.
Arlington Heights on the other side of the river is also completely undeveloped.
The illustration of the Washington monument incorrectly shows a large base underneath the obelisk. (The base was included in some early proposals, but never built).
The drawing is an amazing feat of creativity, conceiving and executing a vast aerial perspective before the age of flight. You can explore a fully zoomable version on the Library of Congress website.