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Capitol Construction during the War Years

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The Capitol underwent a major transformation during the course of the Civil War. When war broke out in the spring of 1861, the building was in the midst of a major expansion project that had begun 10 years earlier and included the construction of two large wings and a new, taller dome. As soldiers streamed into Washington that April, they set up camp in and around the unfinished Capitol, where they marched, trained, and protected the city from a feared Confederate attack. Building materials intended for the construction of the new dome were converted for use in fortifying the building. Troops were quartered in House and Senate Chambers, and large brick ovens were constructed in the basement to supply bread. Following the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, the Capitol was even used as a hospital for wounded troops. Despite such wartime activities, construction continued. In December 1863, the Statue of Freedom was placed atop the finished dome–a symbolic event that signified the enduring nation in a time of civil war.