Washington, D.C. at War is a two-part visual public history project consisting of a bird’s eye view painting of Civil War Washington, D.C. during the Battle of Fort Stevens by Peter Waddell and an accompanying interpretive and crowd-sourcing website. The artist will incorporate suggested and verified additions to the painting received via the website. The painting will travel to various D.C. history venues upon its completion for display.

The Village Monumental
The Village Monumental

Project Details

Artist Peter Waddell will paint a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city of Washington as it would have appeared on July 11-12, 1864, during the Battle of Fort Stevens when Confederate forces under Lt. General Jubal Early attempted to take the Union capital. This painting will show the built environment, topography of the city, other events occurring at the time, and will include the contraband camps to which African Americans fleeing slavery escaped and lived. By mining visual, archival, and secondary sources, this recreated vision of the city will depict the chaos of the partly-developed nineteenth-century city in ways that a GIS mapping project cannot.

This project will have an ongoing, digital component which will manifest as a website offering rich interpretations of the paintings, a space for comments and suggested additions to the paintings, and digital exhibits relating to the paintings and history in it more broadly. The website will make the paintings more widely accessible and will allow them to continue to evolve as new research and crowdsourced suggestions are verified and added to the paintings themselves.        

Meet the Project Team

Peter Waddell

Best known for his paintings of Washington, D.C., history and architecture, Peter Waddell was born in Hastings on the East Coast of New Zealand in 1955. A child of vivid imagination, his ability to paint and draw was always encouraged by his parents Colin and Penny. From Colin, owner of a cabinet making firm and former soldier in Egypt and Italy, he gained his love of craftsmanship and fascination with the ancient world; from Penny, a theatrical costumer and librarian, his ability to create dazzling effects. After considerable success in New Zealand as an artist, Peter came to Washington in 1992 to learn the secrets of the masters as a copyist at the National gallery. Enamored with America and its history from the start, Peter became a United States citizen in 2002. His contributions to the arts in Washington, D.C., were recognized in 2010 when he received the Mayor’s Art Award. Peter is artist in residence at Tudor Place in Georgetown.

Anne Dobberteen, project manager and digital history lead

Anne is a public historian who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in history at George Mason University. Her research focuses on the visual culture of nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. cities. Before beginning her doctoral studies, Anne served as assistant curator of the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at the George Washington University Museum. She has also done other public history work at various organizations in Washington, D.C., and sound edits the podcast Public History in a Virtual Age. More information can be found here.

Get Involved

We are in the planning stages of this project and need your help! Email us with questions, suggestions, or to get involved with this project.

The Indispensable Plan by Peter Waddell
The Indispensable Plan