Being the seat of the US government, it’s easy to forget how divided a city Washington was during the war. The Georgetown Hoya describes the schism on campus as a microcosm of the country in the spring of 1861.
At the time of the war’s outbreak, Georgetown College was a small, all-male institution composed of not only a postsecondary liberal arts college but also a comprehensive preparatory school. Little separated the students of the two establishments, meaning that in 1860 one could bump into a student who was anywhere between 12 and 21 years old.
It was among the older, postsecondary students that the war caused the greatest divide. Many came from the South, some from slave-owning families. According to Curran’s book, some of these students even kept a personal slave with them on campus. Thomas J. Caulfield, a music professor and organist at the school, wrote “Grand Secession March” which became a rallying song for the South Carolinians ,while many of the Jesuits at the college had been writing letters and articles against slavery in the years leading up to the war.
The strains were evident at campus events. On Dec. 18, 1859, the Philodemic Society debated the topic of whether the South should secede. J. Fairfax McLaughlin, a student from New York who studied at Georgetown between 1851 and 1862, wrote about the commotion the debate caused.
“It was getting on war time and everyone was in a belligerent mood. Our debate that night was particularly stormy,” McLaughlin recorded in his book, College Days at Georgetown and Other Papers. “The climax was finally reached, and a scene followed not unlike some of those then frequently occurring in Congress — free fight.