Explore by Timeline: Civil War (1861-1865)


U.S. Custom House, Charleston, South Carolina
U.S. Custom House, Charleston, South Carolina. Constructed 1853-1879. Architect: Ammi B. Young.

The Civil War Begins

On April 12, 1861, the South fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Civil War began. After a 34-hour bombardment, the Union surrendered the fort and would not regain it until the final days of the war.

The monumental U.S. Custom House, designed by Ammi B. Young, was still under construction when the war started and was damaged in the shelling. Construction came to a halt, and did not begin again until 1870. The building was finally completed in 1879.

Visit the U.S. Custom House, Charleston, SC


U.S. Custom House, New Orleans, Louisiana
U.S. Custom House, New Orleans, Louisiana. Constructed 1848-1881. Architect: Alexander T. Wood.

The War Continues

As both sides devoted their resources to their respective war efforts, public building construction throughout the country came to an abrupt halt. Federal buildings located near the fighting felt an even greater impact, as they were enlisted to serve new purposes. The U.S. Custom House in New Orleans, though occupied, was still incomplete when the war began. After initial occupation by the Confederacy, it was captured by Union forces in 1862. A makeshift prison, the building held up to 2000 captured Confederate soldiers at one point during the war. Construction resumed in 1871, and the building was finally completed in 1881.

Visit the U.S. Custom House, New Orleans, LA


West Elevation, Department of the Treasury
West Wing, U.S. Treasury Building. Constructed 1855-1860. Architect: Isaiah Rogers.

Isaiah Rogers Chosen to Lead Office of the Supervising Architect

In 1862, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase decided to replace Supervising Architect Ammi B. Young. He appointed a prominent architect named Isaiah Rogers “Engineer in Charge” of the Bureau of Construction; by 1863, his title had changed to “Supervising Architect”. At the time of Rogers’ appointment, construction throughout the country was stalled due to the Civil War. Rogers supervised the completion of the Treasury Department Building’s west wing, and oversaw smaller repair and alteration projects at several other buildings.

Rogers’s tenure with the Treasury Department was brief. He resigned in 1865 due to discord with one of his employees, Alfred B. Mullett, who would succeed him as Supervising Architect.


Lewis F. Powell U.S. Courthouse, Richmond, Virginia
The U.S. Custom House (today the Lewis F. Powell U.S. Courthouse) stands among the ruins of Richmond.

Fall of Richmond

During the Civil War, the Confederacy chose Richmond, Virginia, as its capital. Six days before General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the Confederate government abandoned the city. As Confederate troops evacuated Richmond, they set fire to much of the city. All but two of the buildings in the historic cored burned. One of these surviving structures was the 1858 U.S. Custom House, which had been occupied by the Treasury Department of the Confederacy for the war’s duration.

Originally designed by Ammi B. Young as a custom house with a post office and courtroom, the building reverted to its original use after the war. On May 10, 1866, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was indicted in the building where he had once had a third floor office. The building was renamed in 1993 after former Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and is the oldest courthouse in GSA’s inventory.

Visit the Lewis F. Powell, Jr. U.S. Courthouse, Richmond, VA

Last Reviewed: 2019-02-26