On this lunchtime bike ride I visited Rawlins Park, which is located between 18th Street, 19th Street, E Street and New York Avenue (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Located on the eastern end of the park is a statue of General John A Rawlins, and it is the a focal point of the park named after him. The monument and park are owned and maintained by the National Park Service. The statue was installed in 1874, and was relocated in 1880, and then again 1886, before eventually being located in Rawlins Park. The bronze statue, which rests on a granite base, is part of a group entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.
John Aaron Rawlins was born on January 13, 1831, in Gelena, Illinois. When his father left the family and departed for California for the great gold rush in 1849, the teenaged Rawlins became the head of the family. Despite receiving little formal education, he became a lawyer and was admitted to the Illinois State Bar a few years later in 1854. He began practicing law, and became involved in state politics. This led t0 becoming the city attorney in the city of Galena beginning in 1857.
Rawlins was a Douglas Democrat, and was a successful politician with a passion for military life by the time the Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, when troops attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Two days later, President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers, and a mass meeting was held in Galena to encourage recruitment. Recognized as a military professional for his prior service, an unassuming ex-captain of the Army, who also clerked for Rawlins’ brother in his leather store, was asked to lead the ensuing effort. That man was named Ulysses S. Grant. Grant would soon
Rawlins became Grant’s aide-de-camp and his principal staff officer throughout the Civil War. Rawlins also became Grant’s most trusted advisor and , according to Grant, nearly indispensable. But perhaps Rawlins’ greatest contribution was being instrumental in keeping Grant, who was known to be a heavy drinker, from excessive imbibing throughout the war. Within eight years Grant would become President of the United States, and appoint Rawlins his Secretary of War.
However, Rawlins’ health declined after taking office. and he would serve as Secretary of War for only five months. Rawlins was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease that claimed the life of his first wife, Emily Smith, nearly eight years earlier. He died in D.C. at the age of 38 on September 6, 1869. He was survived by his second wife, Mary Hurlburt, and two of his three children. He was originally buried in a friend’s vault in Congressional Cemetery, but was subsequently moved to Arlington National Cemetery.
Note: If you stop by Rawlins Park soon, you will have the added benefit of seeing the statue of General John A. Rawlins flanked by a grove of some of the most beautiful magnolia trees in our nation’s capital.