Archive for August, 2015

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The General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument

There is a group of statues spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.”  One of the largest and most imposing of these monuments is the General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument. The massive monument is located in a prominent spot in President’s Park, southeast of the White House and immediately south of The U.S. Department of the Treasury Building, at the intersection of 15th Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Treasury Place (MAP).  And it was this statue that was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Tecumseh Sherman, named for the famous Shawnee Indian chief, was born on February 8, 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio. He was the sixth of eleven children born into the prominent family of Charles Robert Sherman and Mary Hoyt Sherman. His father was a successful lawyer who sat on the Ohio Supreme Court, but died unexpectedly in 1829 when William was only nine years old, leaving his mother with eleven children and no inheritance or means of support. It was at that point that a neighbor named Thomas Ewing, also a successful lawyer, offered to help by taking in one of Mary’s children. Tecumseh was chosen because Ewing wanted the “smartest boy,” and after some discussion between Mary and her oldest daughter, it was decided that he was the best choice.

After being taken in by Thomas Ewing, Sherman was baptized and given the Christian name “William” by Ewing’s devoutly Catholic wife, Maria. She was shocked that the boy had not been baptized and remedied it immediately after he became a part of their family. She also felt the name “Tecumseh” was not an appropriate name, hence he was given“William” as his new first name.  He almost never used the name William though.  When he signed his name he used the signature “W.T. Sherman”, and he was most often referred to by the nickname “Cump” throughout most of his life.

Two years later Thomas Ewing was elected to the U.S. Senate, and went on to serve as Secretary of the Treasury before becoming the first Secretary of the Interior. He became a fixture of D.C. society, and William Tecumseh Sherman’s star rose along with that of his foster father. One of the most significant events during this time for young William came when his foster father secured him a coveted appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He entered West Point as a cadet at the age of 16, and would go on to excel academically, graduating near the top of his class.

The other most significant result of being raised in the Ewing family was growing up with his foster sister, named Eleanor Boyle (“Ellen”) Ewing.  After obtaining Thomas Ewing’s blessing, Sherman would go on to marry his foster sister.  The two were married at a wedding hosted by the Ewings at Blair House, with President Zachary Taylor and his entire cabinet in attendance, as well as Senators Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.  William and Ellen would remain married and devoted to each other for the rest of their lives.

After graduating from West Point in 1840, William Tecumseh Sherman would go on to spend 13 years in the military, serving with honor but no real distinction. After resigning from the military, Sherman attempted several different careers, spending time in California as a vice president of that state’s first railroad, and later as a banker. He then moved to Kansas, where he worked as a lawyer like his father and foster father, and later he moved to Louisiana where he was the superintendent of the Louisiana Military Academy. It was at during his time in Louisiana that it seceded from the Union, and although Sherman was not anti-slavery and sympathized with the South, he was very much against the idea of secession. Stating he could not support an institution that would supply troops against the United States government, Sherman resigned his post as superintendent of the Louisiana Military Academy and moved back north, to D.C.

After returning to D.C., and readying himself to join the Union Army, Sherman met with the newly-elected President, Abraham Lincoln. But he came away from the meeting so discouraged about the lack of understanding about what he viewed as an impending war that he moved to St. Louis and took a position as the president of a streetcar company. The very next month, Sherman was offered the chief clerkship of the War Department with a promise to be made Assistant Secretary of War when Congress came back into session, but he declined.  Later, however, through the intervention of his prominent now father-in-law, Sherman returned to D.C., and after a one-on-one meeting with President Lincoln he was commissioned a Colonel in the U.S. Army.

After the Battle of Manassas he quickly was promoted to Brigadier General, and then Commanding General of the Department of the Cumberland Territory. Interestingly, Sherman is upset inasmuch as never wanted to be the one in charge, a sentiment that he had previously conveyed to President Lincoln during their meeting. But you have to be careful what you wish for, because he soon enough got his wish. In October of 1861, Secretary of War Simon Cameron came to the conclusion that Sherman was unfit to command, and he was relieved of his command and transferred. Within two months, Sherman was put on indefinite leave and returned to his boyhood home in Lancaster, Ohio. There he became so despondent that he contemplated suicide.

Had Sherman remained the president of a street car company in Missouri instead of returning to D.C. and being commissioned a Colonel in the Union Army, or had he gone through with committing suicide after he was relieved of his command, the Civil War may have been very different. Instead, Sherman returned to duty with the help of his father-in-law, and went on to be considered by historians as one of the ablest Union generals of the war. He was the originator and the first practitioner of what the twentieth century would come to know as “total war”, and the harshness of the “scorched earth” policies that he implemented in conducting total war against the Confederate States would enable him to command his troops to decisive military victories across the South from Chattanooga to Atlanta to the famous “march to the sea” across Georgia. In these campaigns and his later push northward from Savannah through the Carolinas, Sherman’s troops carried the war to the Southern home front and blazed a wide path of destruction that delivered a death blow to the Confederacy’s will and ability to fight.  For the accompanying destruction, his name is still cursed in many parts of the South.

Sherman’s service during the Civil War would result in him succeeded General Grant as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army, a post in which he would go on to serve for almost a decade and a half. However, despite his military victories and successful military career, Sherman would also be remembered for a couple of memorable and oft-quoted remarks.

In describing war, Sherman wrote in a letter to Mayor James Calhoun of Atlanta that “war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” He would later revise this statement in a commencement address at the Michigan Military Academy in 1879 to the simple phrase “War is hell.”

Years later, after his retirement from the military, Sherman was frequently talked about as a prospective Republican candidate for President. During the 1870s and 80s, Republican Party movers and shakers often tried but failed to convince him to make a run for the White House. Sherman, however, made no secret of his disdain for politics, and repeatedly declined to run. In fact, he once quipped that he would rather spend four years in jail than in the White House. Sherman eventually ended speculation once and for all in 1884, when at the Republican National Convention he turned down the party’s invitation to become their candidate by saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.” So I think it seems somewhat ironic that his memorial is located so close to the White House.

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The McClellan Gate

“On fame’s eternal camping ground their silent tents are spread, And glory guards with solemn round, the bivouac of the dead.” These words, taken from the first verse of Theodore O’Hara’s poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead”, are inscribed in gold atop the front of The McClellan Gate, which was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Contained within the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, located across the Potomac River in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), The McClellan Gate was constructed in approximately 1871 on Arlington Ridge Road, which formed the eastern boundary of the cemetery at that time. The cemetery was enclosed by a wall with four additional gates, which included Fort Myer Gate, Treasury Gate, Ord-Weitzel Gate and Sheridan Gate,  These gates provided pedestrian and vehicular access to the cemetery, with the McClellan Gate serving as the main entrance.  It served as the cemetery’s main entrance until 1922, when it was rendered obsolete by Congress’s authorization of construction of the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  As part of the bridge project, Congress also approved a wide avenue known as Memorial Drive to link the bridge to the cemetery, and a new entrance to the cemetery, known as the “Hemicycle”, to replace the old entrance gates.

The McClellan Gate is the only gate constructed on the cemetery’s eastern boundary in the 1800’s that remains.  Subsequent expansion of the cemetery eastward in 1971 left The McClellan Gate deep inside what is now designated as Section 33 of the cemetery.

The 30-foot high McClellan Gate is a triumphal arch constructed of red sandstone taken from Seneca Quarry in Maryland. The interior of the structure is in the form of an arch, while the exterior is rectangular with a rusticated facade. On both sides of the arch, a sandstone column with Doric capitals support an entablature. The structure has been described as Victorian in architectural style, although the entablature is Neoclassical. In addition to the verse from the Theodore O’Hara poem, the upper portion of the cornice of the arch is inscribed with the name “McClellan” in gilt capital letters. The lower portion of the cornice is inscribed: “Here Rest 15,585 of the 315,555 Citizens Who Died in the Defense of Our Country From 1861 to 1865”.  Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs, who was Quartermaster General of the United States Army and founded Arlington National Cemetery, also had his last name inscribed on the east side of the gate’s south column.

Also sometimes referred to as The McClellan Arch, The McClellan Gate was the first memorial in the D.C. area to honor Major General George B. McClellan. An equestrian statue, known as The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial, was later built in 1907 to honor the former General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Both sides of the McClellan Gate are inscribed with lines from O’Hara’s poem. Atop the back, or the west face of the gate’s arch, is inscribed, “Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, dear as the blood ye gave, no impious footsteps here shall tread on the herbage of your grave.”

Bivouac of the Dead is believed to have been a favorite poem of General Meigs. In fact, Meigs was so impressed with the poem that in addition to ordering the inscriptions on the McClellan Gate, he also had lines from the poem inscribed on wooden plaques and placed throughout Arlington National Cemetery. The wooden plaques were replaced with either bronze or iron ones in 1881. Further, in his position as superintendent over all Army cemeteries, he also had similar plaques placed in Antietam National Cemetery, Fredericksburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg National Cemetery, and Vicksburg National Cemetery, among others.

Interestingly, O’Hara originally write the poem in 1847 in memory of the Kentucky troops killed in the Mexican War, did not give his permission for his poem’s use to commemorate Civil War dead at Arlington National Cemetery. His family learned of the inscriptions only after the gate became nationally famous in the years after its construction.

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The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

On this lunchtime bike ride I went for a leisurely ride on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which is located in southeast D.C. and runs along banks of both sides of the Anacostia River (MAP). Although the trail is not yet complete, extensive improvements and additions have been made to the trail in recent years, making it already one of the most scenic and enjoyable trails in the city. To date, 15 of the ultimate 28 miles of the trail are open for use. And completion of the remainder of the trail is a priority project under President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

In the past one of the trail’s biggest obstacles was the need to cross the CSX railroad tracks, which bisected the trail just north of the John Philip Sousa Bridge on both sides of the river. But that hurdle has been overcome with the relatively recent addition of two fiber-reinforced polymer, weathering steel bridges that allow trail users to cross over the railroad tracks.

The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens segment of the trail was started in the spring of 2014 and is currently underway. This portion will extend from Benning Road in northeast D.C. to the Anacostia River Trail in Bladensburg, Maryland, and is expected to be completed by Summer 2016.  The other remaining segments to complete the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail are being constructed as part of the Buzzard Point Trail Project, South Capitol Street Trail Project, various partner development projects along Maryland and Virginia Avenues in southeast D.C., or, in the case of the National Arboretum segment, by the National Park Service.

Once complete, the trail will provide seamless, scenic travel for cyclists, joggers and pedestrians along the Anacostia River, and access to a number of the city’s treasures along the way, including The Maine Avenue Fish Market, Nationals Park, The Yards Park, Diamond Teague Park, The Titanic MemorialThe Washington Navy Yard, Historic Anacostia, Anacostia Park, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, RFK Stadium, and The United States National Arboretum, as well as 16 different communities between the National Mall at the Tidal Basin and Bladensburg Marina Park in Maryland. The trail’s northern end will eventually connect to Maryland’s Anacostia Tributary Trail System for nearly 60 miles of contiguous pathway.

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The Arts of War

“The Arts of War” and “The Arts of Peace” are two distinctly different yet interrelated sets of sculptures located on Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park. Framing the eastern entrances to Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, respectively, the works were commissioned in 1929 to complement the plaza constructed on the east side of The Lincoln Memorial.  Due to budgetary constraints brought on by the stock market crash beginning on Black Tuesday in October of that year, the completion of the sculptures had to be delayed.  Then when they were finally completed a decade later, they had to be placed into storage, again due to a lack of funding.

Then in 1949, some members of Congress suggested that a European nation be asked to cast the statues as part of the Marshall Plan. At the time the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Alberto Tarchiani, was looking for a way to express his country’s gratitude to the United States for America’s assistance in rebuilding Italy after World War II. And after learning of the models in storage, he decided that Italy would use Marshall Plan funds to take on the responsibility of casting and gilding the four statues as a gift and gesture of good will to the people of the United States. The statues were finally cast in 1950, at the A. Bruni Foundry in Rome and the Fonderia Lagana in Naples. After casting, one of the statues was sent to Milan, and another was sent to Florence, while the remaining two remained in Rome and Naples. The cases were then gilded with approximately 100 pounds of 24-karat gold before being returned to the United States and erected in September of 1951. Almost 64 years later, I rode there on this lunchtime bike ride to see them.

Flanking the entrance to Arlington Memorial Bridge, the bronze, fire-gilded statuary group entitled “The Arts of War” was sculpted by an American sculptor named Leo Friedlander. The group consists of two art deco-style statues entitled “Valor”, which is located on the left if facing the bridge from D.C., and on the right, “Sacrifice”. “Valor” depicts a bearded, muscular male nude symbolic of Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. To his left is a semi-nude female striding forward, holding a shield with her left arm. “Sacrifice” shows the same figures. But the nude male is holding a child in his arms, and is bowing his head. The semi-nude female is to his right, her back to him and the horse.

“ The Arts of Peace”, created by American sculptor James Earle Fraser, also consists of two separate statuary groups, entitled “Aspiration and Literature”, which is on the left, and “Music and Harvest” on the right. These Neoclassical statues frame the entrance to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. Both statues feature Pegasus, the source of inspiration and poetry in Greek mythology. “Aspiration and Literature” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right with a toga over his left shoulder and holding an open book, symbolic of literature. Another nude male on Pegasus’ left, dressed in a toga over both shoulders, is depicted aiming a bow backward, which is symbolic of aspiration. A serpent is also portrayed behind the personification of literature, representing wisdom and knowledge. “Music and Harvest” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right holding a sickle and carrying a sheaf of wheat , symbolizing of harvest. A semi-nude female holding a harp, symbolic of music, is on Pegasus’ left. A turtle, symbolizing the belief that art is long and time is fleeting, is also present.

The massive statues are the largest equestrian sculptures in the United States, with each weighing 40 tons, and measuring 19 feet high, 16 feet long and 8 feet wide. Each is mounted on a hollow granite pedestal which has 36 gilded bronze stars at the top, representing the number of states in the United States at the time of the Civil War. The Arts of War and The Arts of Peace are maintained by the National Park Service, and are considered contributing properties to the East and West Potomac Parks Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

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The Arts of Peace

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The Embassy of Cuba

On December 17th of last year, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. Then on April 11th of this year, Presidents Obama and President Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. And on July 1st, President Obama announced the formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. So in recognition of this renewed relationship, often referred to as “The Cuban Thaw”, I decided on this lunchtime bike ride to ride to the diplomatic mission of Cuba to the United States – the newly reopened Cuban Embassy.

The Republic of Cuba actually had a diplomatic outpost in D.C. even before the country existed as an independent nation. In the 1890s, as Cubans mounted a war for independence from Spain, Gonzalo de Quesada established a legation at the fashionable Raleigh Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. After some rebel successes in this war for Cuba’s independence, U.S. President William McKinley in 1897 offered to buy Cuba for $300 million. It was the rejection of that offer, and an explosion in Havana harbor that sank the American battleship USS Maine, that led to the Spanish–American War. In Cuba the war became known as “the U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence”. On December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris and, in accordance with the treaty, Spain renounced all rights to Cuba. The treaty put an end to the Spanish Empire in the Americas, and setting the stage for the birth of the independent Republic of Cuba.

Two decades later, in 1917, Cuba constructed an embassy in the United States, located just two miles north of the White House at 2630 16th Street (MAP) in the northwest D.C.’s Meridian Hill neighborhood. At that time Meridian Hill was home to many of the city’s finest embassies. Close by are the former Italian, Mexican, and Spanish embassies as well as the current embassies of Poland and Lithuania. The Cuban Embassy served in that capacity for the next 43 years, until newly-elected President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and that country’s subsequent decision to closely ally itself with the Soviet Union.

Later, beginning in the 1970s, the embassy building housed the Cuban Interests Section in the United States. The Cuban Interests Section and its counterpart, the United States Interests Section in Havana, were sections of the respective embassies of Switzerland, which acted as protecting power. However, they operated as embassies independently of the Swiss in virtually all but protocol respects.

The United States will be opening an embassy in Havana on Friday at a similar ceremony to be presided over by Secretary of State John Kerry.  I won’t be riding my bike there to see it, though, at least any time soon.

A number of differences and disputes between our two countries remain. These include Cuba’s request that the U.S. return its Naval base in Guantanamo Bay and lift the economic embargo, which Congress has shown little inclination to do anytime soon, as well as the U.S.’s concerns in regard to human rights abuses by the island nation. Whether the reopening of the embassies lead to resolution of these matters remains to be seen, but perhaps it may be a first step in that direction.

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The Bartholdi Fountain

Of all the monuments, statues, memorials, and other interesting places and events in D.C., some of my favorite destinations on my lunchtime D.C. bike rides, especially during the warm months of summer, are public fountains. And there are many of them in the National Capitol City from which to choose. One of the most famous is officially named “Fountain of Light and Water,” but is more commonly referred to as the Bartholdi Fountain.  Located at the corner of Independence Avenue and First Street (MAP) in The United States Botanic Garden in southwest D.C., it was the destination for this ride.

The fountain is referred to as The Bartholdi Fountain because it was created by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. The fountain is based on Classical and Renaissance sculpture, and is composed of a series of basins, supported by sculptures of classical figures. The fountain was cast in Paris by A. Durenne Foundry, and the cast iron is coated with bronze. Standing in the center of a circular marble pool, the fountain weighs 30,440 pounds, stands 30 feet high, and has three caryatid figures 11 feet in height.

The three-level fountain is topped by a mural crown resembling a crenellated city wall. Water spills from the crown over three youthful tritons playfully holding seaweed and splashes into the upper basin. Twelve lamps surround the basin. The crown appears to be held by caryatid figures depicting nereids, or sea nymphs, standing on a triangular pedestal with an ornamental design of seas shells and coral. Three reptiles are positioned at the pedestal’s corners, and spout water while supporting the fountain’s lower vasque. Water spouts from a crown at the top, cascades down into the smaller vasque, and then down into the larger vasque before spilling into the main basin.

The cast-iron fountain was made for the first official World’s Fair in the United States, also known as the Centennial Exposition, which was held in Philadelphia in 1876 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the United States. After the conclusion of the Centennial Exposition, Bartholdi offered the statue for sale for $12,000. However, he could not find a buyer. The following year, at the suggestion of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed the Capitol Building grounds, the U.S. Congress offered him $6,000 for the fountain, half his original asking price. Bartholdi begrudgingly agreed, and in 1877 the fountain was placed at the base of Capitol Hill on what used to be Botanic Garden grounds. It was removed and placed in storage in 1926 in order to facilitate completion of The George Gordon Meade Memorial, and for landscaping improvements around the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. Then in 1932, the sculpture was placed at its current location in the United States Botanic Garden, within the grounds of the United States Capitol Building.

Since the bike rides I write about in this blog take place during my lunchtime breaks at work, I did not visit the fountain at night. But if you are in the city after dark, I highly recommend a visit because to really appreciate the beauty of the Bartholdi Fountain, you’ll need to see it when the cascade of water is illuniated after the sun sets.  Originally designed and fitted with gas lamps, it was one of the first monuments in D.C. to be lit at night. Other than the fact that the lamps were later converted to electricity in 1915, the Barholdi Fountain remains the same popular evening destination that it has been since the 1880s.

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