Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’

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Portrait of John J. Crittenden

I have not been writing as often in this blog recently because several weeks ago I fell and broke some ribs.  So I have been unable to ride.  No, I did not fall while riding a bike.  However, it was related to biking.  I wanted to go mountain biking on a section of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail near Mount Vernon.  However, not being an experienced mountain biker and having never previously ridden on that particular mixed-use trail, I decided to hike it first to scout it out and see if it is within my skill set to try mountain biking there.  It was while I was hiking that my foot got caught under an exposed tree root and I fell on a rocky part of the trail, breaking several ribs.  So I decided that since I could not even walk it without hurting myself, perhaps I should first get a little more experience mountain biking on easier trails before going back there to ride.

Having given my ribs enough time to heal, I now feel much better.  But since I haven’t ridden in almost a month, I decided to transition back into riding and make sure that I don’t overdo it.  So for today’s lunchtime ride, I rode to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, to see a painting of John J. Crittenden. He was a politician from the state of Kentucky, and represented that state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and twice served as the U.S. Attorney General.  I went there because tomorrow is the anniversary of Congress’ passage of the Crittenden Resolution, which was named after him.

On July 25th in 1861, just three and a half months after the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed the Crittenden Resolution (also referred to as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution). The resolution declared that the war was being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, including taking any actions against the “peculiar” institution of slavery. The war was fought not for “overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States,” but to “defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union.” The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery remaining intact.

This meant that for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North.  It was not until President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that the abolishment of slavery became a goal.  The Crittenden Resolution is sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the previous 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds margin in both houses of Congress and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.

Today it is difficult to comprehend American society, as it existed back then, in which the institution of slavery was supported or tolerated by the public, and endorsed by the Federal government. However, as difficult as it is to comprehend, we must try. We must try to understand so we can not only understand our own history, but because slavery still exists in this world.  Currently there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world – people forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away. Since slavery feeds directly into the global economy, it makes sense that we would be concerned by the ways in which slavery flows into our homes through the products we buy and the investments we make. Slaves harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast, make charcoal used to produce steel in Brazil, weave carpets in India—the list goes on. These products reach our stores and our homes. So think before you buy, because slavery is not just a thing of the past.

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The African-American Civil War Museum

Whether it’s referred to as the War to Preserve the Union or the War to End Northern Aggression, American Civil War history is all too often thought of in terms of white Yankees from the North fighting against white Southern Rebels, with African Americans relegated to the sidelines of history as their fate was decided for them. The truth, however, is much different.

In 1861 before the Civil War broke out, African Americans comprised about 14 percent of the country’s population, compared to 12.2 percent in the most recent U.S. census.  There were approximately four million slaves in the United States, and almost a half a million free African Americans. But only about one percent of all African Americans in the country lived in the North at that time.

Although African Americans had served in the U.S. Army and Navy during the American Revolution and in the War of 1812, they were initially not permitted to enlist on either side during the Civil War. In the North, a 1792 law barred them from bearing arms in the U.S. Army. Additionally, President Abraham Lincoln did not support it at that time because he was concerned that accepting black men into the military would cause more of the border states to secede. Free black men were finally permitted to enlist in the Union Army in late 1862, following the passage of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, and Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the South, General Robert E. Lee eventually convinced the Confederate Congress to begin enlisting black soldiers near the end of the war. The legislation required the consent of the slave and his master, and would confer the rights of a freeman after the war.

By the end of the Civil War in 1865, it is estimated that 209,145 African-Americans had served as soldiers, participating on both sides, although to a far lesser degree in the South than in the North.  Eventually, several thousand blacks were enlisted in the Rebel cause, but they could not begin to balance out the nearly 200,000 blacks who fought in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) for the Union, and it was too late in the war to make a difference regardless of the numbers.  All together, over 60,000 died over the course of the war, with sickness causing thirty times more deaths than battle.

The African American Civil War Museum, where I went on this lunchtime bike ride, is dedicated to preserving and telling the stories of these men, and African Americans’ involvement and impact during the American Civil War.  The museum is located in the historic Grimke Building at 1925 Vermont Avenue (MAP), just a couple of blocks west of The African American Civil War Memorial in the Shaw neighborhood’s historic U Street Corridor, an area traditionally considered to be the heart of African-American entertainment and theater in the city.

The museum opened in January of 1999, with a mission “to serve the educational needs of its local, national, and international community with a high-quality and effective learning experience while interpreting the history of the USCT and the community life of African Americans prior to, and after, the American Civil War.” This is achieved through the communication of information and stories using historic documents, photographs, newspaper articles, replicas of period clothing and uniforms, military weaponry and other artifacts, seminars by staff, and historic presentations by volunteer re-enactors. With more than 200,000 visitors each year, the museum serves as a unique resource for teachers, scholars, students and professionals of museum studies, as well as the general public. And through the museum’s African American Civil War Descendants Registry, the museum documents the family trees of more than 2,000 descendants of the men who served with the USCT.

As I was leaving the museum, I couldn’t help but think that its importance is even greater at a time like now, when the Confederate flag is getting so much attention and causing debate and divisiveness around the country. The museum enables visitors to instead learn about the largely unknown role of those 209,145 black men who fought for freedom and to preserve the union, the 23 who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the emergence of three important amendments to the Constitution — the 13th, 14th and 15th — which ended slavery, gave blacks equal protection under the law, and guaranteed black men the right to vote.  All in all, I’d say that’s not a bad achievement for a museum.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial

There is no shortage of unusual memorials in D.C., and on this lunchtime bike ride I visited one of them which happen to be dedicated to nuns. Now at first, that might not seem all that unusual. But as the title of the memorial indicates, the context of the nuns being honored gives it an unusual quality. It is the Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial, and it is located at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue, M Street and Connecticut Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial is a tribute to more than 600 nuns who belonged to the 12 orders of nuns who nursed the sick and wounded soldiers of both armies during the American Civil War. It is one of two monuments in the District that mark women’s roles in the conflict, the other being The American National Red Cross Headquarters Building, which was built by the Army Corps of Engineers as a memorial to women of the Civil War.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial not only honors the selfless service of the volunteer nuns during the Civil War, but could also be said to commemorate how that service helped to dispel the anti-Catholic sentiment that existed in America prior to the war. Anti-Catholicism reached a peak in the mid nineteenth century when Protestant leaders became alarmed by the heavy influx of Catholic immigrants, particularly from Ireland and Germany. In fact, nuns and sisters prior to the Civil War would not wear their habits outside of their convents for fear of insult or attack. There was even an instance of an anti-Catholic mob burning down a convent. But as a result of the quality of the nursing they received from these women of God, as well as their general kindness and good cheer, soldiers and others on both sides of the conflict were impressed, and generations of bigotry began to quickly dissolve.

The idea for the memorial originated with a woman named Ellen Jolly, who was the president of the women’s auxiliary branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who said she grew up hearing stories of battlefield tales told by nuns. She initially proposed the memorial to the War Department just after the turn of the century, but the request was denied. After years of gathering additional information in support of the memorial, in 1918 she proposed the idea to Congress, which authorized its construction. However, they refused to fund it. So a committee to raise money for the project was formed by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Headed by Jolly, it took six years to raise the money and construct the memorial, which was finally dedicated in September of 1924.

The Memorial was created by Irish sculptor Jerome Connor, who also created the Monument to Robert Emmet, and the Statue of John Carroll on the campus of Georgetown University, both of which are here in D.C.  He is also reported to have assisted in the creation of  The Court of Neptune Fountain in front of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill.

The Nuns of the Battlefield Memorial consists of rectangular granite slab that sits on a granite base, with a large bronze relief panel on its face. The relief depicts a dozen nuns dressed in traditional habit, representing the twelve different orders of nuns who served. Those orders are the Sisters of St. Joseph, Carmelites, Dominican Order, Ursulines, Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, Sisters of Mercy, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and Congregation of Divine Providence.

On each end side of the slab sits a bronze female figure. The figure on the right side has wings, and is dressed in robes, armor and a helmet, robes to look like an angel representing patriotism. Sitting, she holds a shield in her proper left hand and a scroll in her lap with her proper right hand. She is weaponless to represent peace. The other figure on the left side of the monument is another winged figure, and is depicted wearing a long dress, a bodice and a scarf around her head to represent the angel of Peace.

On the granite above the relief is inscribed: “They Comforted The Dying, Nursed The Wounded, Carried Hope To The Imprisoned, Gave In His Name A Drink Of Water To The Thirsty.” And on the granite below the relief: “ To The Memory And In Honor Of The Various Orders Of Sisters Who Gave Their Services As Nurses On Battlefields And In Hospitals During The Civil War.”

The memorial 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.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Washington Monument

I most often tend to ride to and then write about the D.C. area’s lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path monuments, memorials and other attractions. But for this lunch time bike ride I chose to do the opposite. I visited one of the most well known and widely recognized monuments in not only D.C., but the entire world – the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk known as The Washington Monument. But what I find most interesting about the monument are details about it that are not well-known. Not only did the simplistic appearance of the monument turn out significantly different than what was originally envisioned, it is not located in the place where it was originally intended. And it isn’t even the first Washington Monument in D.C.

Just days after Washington’s death in 1799, a Congressional committee proposed that a pyramid-shaped mausoleum be erected within the Capitol which would also serve as a monument to the nation’s first president. However, a lack of funds, disagreement over what type of memorial would best honor him, and the Washington family’s reluctance to move his body from his Mount Vernon home prevented progress on the proposed project.

Years later, on the 100th anniversary of President Washington’s 1732 birthday, the Washington National Monument Society was formed by former President James Madison and then current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, and began accepting donations to build a monument. Four years later, a renewed interest in construction a monument resulted in a design competition being held by the Society. The winning design came from architect Robert Mills, who also designed a number of Federal buildings in D.C., including the Department of Treasury building, the U.S. Patent Office Building, and the old General Post Office. Mills’ design featured a flat topped obelisk topped, with a statue depicting a Roman-like Washington in a chariot in front of it, along with a rotunda and colonnade, all surrounded by 30 statues depicting the country’s Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War heroes. Excavation and initial construction of the monument began on July 4, 1848.

However, a lack of funding resulted in the need to redesign the monument. In 1876 the current obelisk design was proposed. It was also during that year that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill for the Federal government to fund completion of the monument, which had been stalled by the Civil War. The monument’s construction took place during two phases, from 1848 to 1856, and from 1876 to 1884. A horizontal line of different colored marble from Massachusetts which was used when marble from the original quarry in Maryland was not available is visible approximately 150 feet up the monument, and indicates where construction resumed in 1876.  There is actually a third, less-noticible shade of marble that was used when the builders, dissatisfied with the Massachusetts marble, switched to another quarry in Maryland for the final marble used in the monument.  Thus, there are actually three shades to the exterior of the monument.

In addition to a change in design, a change in location also occurred. Originally, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the city’s architect, had planned for the memorial to be placed due south of the President’s Mansion (now known as the White House), and directly West of the Capital Building. However, the soil at that spot proved too unstable to provide the necessary support for the massive obelisk that had been proposed. So the planned site was moved. The present day monument is 119 meters southwest of the planned site, which is marked by a stone and plaque called the Jefferson Pier.

Delays in construction of the Washington Monument were due to the halting of construction between 1854 and 1877 due to a lack of funds, infighting within the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. It was finally completed in 1888 after more than 40 years of construction, which had begun in 1848. During the interim, however, a comparatively modest monument in the form of an equestrian statue depicting Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton was constructed.  Now known as The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, it was completed in 1860, more than a quarter of a century before the completion of the more well-known monument.

Located at 2 15th Street (MAP) near Madison Drive in downtown D.C., there are many other details and things you may not know about the monument that has become a centerpiece of the National Mall. For example, it held the title as the tallest structure in the world at the time it was completed. It lost that title in 1889 with the completion of the Eiffel Tower. However, the Washington Monument remains the world’s tallest stone structure as well as the world’s tallest obelisk. The monument stands as the tallest structure in D.C., and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future because, by law, no other building in the national capitol city is allowed to be taller than Washington Monument.

Some other interesting facts about the Washington Monument include the following.  The Masonic gavel previously used by George Washington in the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1793 was also used in the Washington Monument’s 1848 cornerstone ceremony, that had an eclectic guest list which included three future presidents, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, as well as Dolley Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Betsey Hamilton and, of course, the then-current President, James K. Polk. Also, there are numerous items and copies of important documents contained in a zinc case in the recess of the monument’s time capsule-like cornerstone, including: the Holy Bible; copies of the Constitution of the United States Declaration of Independence; a portrait of Washington; a map of the city as it was at that time; the 1840 United States Census; all national coins then in circulation including the $10 gold eagle; an American flag; the Washington family coat of arms, and; newspapers from 14 states.

Additionally, the obelisk rests on an artificially constructed knoll that was designed to hide the original foundation. The monument is hollow on the inside, but its inner walls are set with 189 carved memorial stones, which were donated by individuals, cities, states, Native American tribes, companies, foreign countries, and even the pope. There are 897 steps in the staircase that leads to the top of the monument. The walls at the monument’s base are 15 feet thick. The Monument’s 36,491 white marble ashlar blocks, weighing a total of 90,854 tons, are held together by just gravity and friction, and no mortar was used in the process. And lastly, there are lightning rods at the top to protect the structure from lightning strikes, as well as eight synchronized blinking red lights, two on each face, which serve as warning lights to keep aircraft from striking the structure.

So now that you know a little more about the monument that is not quite as simple as it initially appears, I recommend you go see the Washington Monument for yourself.  Whether it is your first time or you have seen the monument before, you may find that you have a new appreciation for it.

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General Winfield Scott Hancock Memorial

General Winfield Scott Hancock Memorial

This bike ride took me to the General Winfield Scott Hancock Memorial, which is located at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of northwest D.C. The equestrian statue was created by American sculptor Henry Jackson Ellicott together with architect Paul J. Pelz. It was commissioned on March 2, 1889, and dedicated on May 12, 1896, by President Grover Cleveland. The memorial is part of a group of statues 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.

Winfield Scott Hancock and his identical twin brother Hilary Baker Hancock were born on February 14, 1824. The twins were the sons of Benjamin Franklin Hancock and Elizabeth Hoxworth Hancock. Indications of Winfield’s future military career started early. He was named after Winfield Scott, a prominent general in the War of 1812. He also attended the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Winfield Scott Hancock was a career U.S. Army officer and was known to his Army colleagues as “Hancock the Superb”. He served with distinction in the Army for four decades, including service in the Mexican-American War and as a Union general in the Civil War. He was noted in particular for his personal leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was also wounded twice.

Hancock was the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 1880. Although he ran a strong campaign, Hancock was narrowly defeated by Republican James A. Garfield. Of almost nine million votes cast, Hancock lost by only thirty-nine thousand votes. Hancock took his electoral defeat in stride, however, and actually attended Garfield’s inauguration.

Some other interesting facts about Hancock include that at the close of the Civil War, he was assigned to supervise the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, including Mary Surratt. Also, he was elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1881. Hancock’s last major public appearance was to preside over the funeral of President Ulysesses S. Grant in 1885.  And Hancock’s portrait adorns U.S. currency on the $2 Silver Certificate series of 1886.  It was also in 1886, in a manner that seems incongruous with the successful life he had led, Hancock died, the victim of an infected carbuncle.
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Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day

Today is Emancipation Day, an official public holiday in D.C. to mark the anniversary of the signing of The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, or simply, The Compensated Emancipation Act.

In 1849, when he was still a Congressman, Abraham Lincoln introduced a plan to eliminate slavery in D.C. through compensated emancipation, but the bill failed. More than a decade later, in December of 1861, another bill was introduced in Congress for the abolition of slavery in D.C. After passing both the House and the Senate, President Abraham Lincoln signed The Compensated Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862, ending slavery in the nation’s capital. The Act freed 3,100 individuals, reimbursed those who had legally owned them and offered the newly freed men and women money to emigrate.  However, the Act only affected slavery in D.C., and slavery throughout the country did not officially end until after the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 until 1865.

Five days after slavery ended throughout the United States when the American Civil War was drawing to a close with General Robert E. Lee surrendering to General Ulysses S. Grant, President Lincoln was assassinated. Lincoln was shot while watching a play with his wife at Ford’s Theatre in D.C. on the night of April 14, 1865.  He died early the next morning, which was 149 years ago, at The Petersen House across the street from the theater.

Based on the passage of the Act, April 16 is now celebrated annually in the city as an official public holiday in D.C.  However, by law, when April 16 falls during a weekend, Emancipation Day is observed on the nearest weekday.  Each year, a series of activities are held during the holiday including a traditional Emancipation Day parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, between 3rd Street and 14th Street in northwest D.C.

The holiday is also celebrated in other areas of the United States as well as many former British colonies in the Caribbean on various dates in observance of the emancipation of slaves of African origin.

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