Smithsonian Issued Weapons for Protection During Civil War




Date: April 20, 1861


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Shortly after the commencement of the Civil War on April 12, 1861, Secretary of War Simon Cameron authorizes the issuance of 12 muskets and 240 rounds of ammunition to the Smithsonian "for the protection of the Institute against lawless attacks." The Smithsonian Building was in a vulnerable location, cut off from the rest of the city by the Washington Canal and close to the end of a bridge across the Potomac River, which divided the District of Columbia from Virginia. On April 18 and 19, 1861, secessionists in Baltimore, Maryland had attacked regiments from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts who were on their way to Washington.


  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Cameron, Simon 1799-1889
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • United States. Secretary of War


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • Order from Secretary of War Simon Cameron issuing weapons. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number SIA2012-2952.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Vol. 10, January 1858-December 1865: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Science History Publications, 2004, p. 206.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


  • April 20, 1861
  • Civil War, 1861-1865


  • Weapons
  • Firearms
  • History


United States

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