Posts Tagged ‘President Ulysses S. Grant’

Robert Todd Lincoln’s Gravesite

On this day in 1926, six days before his eighty-third birthday, Robert Todd Lincoln died in his sleep at Hildene, his Vermont home.  He was the son of President Abraham Lincoln.  And his grandson, “Bud” Beckwith, who died in 1985, is the last person known to be of direct Lincoln lineage.  In observance of the anniversary of his passing, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the sarcophagus, where he is buried with his wife Mary and their son Jack.

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn’t make quite the mark on history that his father did, he did have a pretty interesting life.  The following are some of the most interesting and unusual facts about him.

Lincoln was a witness to the assassinations of three presidents, including his father.  The younger Lincoln was there at The Petersen House, where his father was taken after being shot across the street at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth.  Years later, while serving as Secretary of War to President James Garfield, he was with the president at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C. when Charles Guiteau shot him.  Garfield died two months later.  Twenty years after that, Lincoln was a guest of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. McKinley died just over a week later.  After that I imagine that future presidents were quietly glad that these events caused Lincoln to believe he was bad luck, because thereafter he refused to attend state events or accept Presidential invitations.

Lincoln’s life was once saved by Edwin Booth, a famous actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of his father. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  On a crowded platform, Lincoln fell off into the space between the tracks and the platform.  But Booth pulled him by his collar to safety.  The exact date of when this happened is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place before John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln.

After having her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, Lincoln had a strained relationship with his mother.  Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn’t quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Lincoln, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help, so he had her committed following a hearing that declared her insane.  She was eventually able to gain her release.  However, by that point she felt as though she had been publicly humiliated, and never patched up her relationship with Lincoln before her death.

Lincoln was the last surviving member of the cabinets of Presidents Garfield and Arthur.  And he was part of President Grant’s junior staff at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to end the Civil War, and was the last surviving witness to that event.

Lincoln was also a graduate of Harvard University, on the personal staffs of three Presidents beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, a successful and eventually wealthy lawyer, peripherally involved in politics, successor to George Pullman as company president and later chairman of the board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a dedicated amateur astronomer and golfer, and a participant in the dedication ceremonies for The Lincoln Memorial for his father.

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General John A. Rawlins Statue

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.

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

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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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[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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The Emancipation Memorial

On this bike ride I went to see The Emancipation Memorial in the heart of Lincoln Park.  The largest urban park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in northeast D.C., Lincoln Park is bounded by 11th Street on the west, 13th Street on the east, the westbound lanes of East Capitol Street on the North, and East Capitol Street’s eastbound lanes on the south (MAP).  The park is situated one mile directly east of the United States Capitol Building, and four blocks northeast of Historic Eastern Market.  It is one of the oldest parks in D.C., having been included in Pierre L’Enfant’s original 1791 design plan for the national capitol city.  Lincoln Park is maintained by the National Park Service.

The Emancipation Memorial is also known as the Freedman’s Memorial or the Emancipation Group. It was also initially referred to as the “Lincoln Memorial” before the more prominent so-named memorial was built at the western end of the National Mall almost fifty years later.  Designed and sculpted by Thomas Ball and erected in 1876, The Emancipation Memorial depicts President Abraham Lincoln in his role of “The Great Emancipator” freeing a male African American slave.  Lincoln holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand, resting on a plinth.  The ex-slave is depicted crouching at the president’s feet, wearing only a loin cloth.  The former slave’s broken shackles lie at his side.

The bronze statue 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.

The dedication ceremony for this “original Lincoln memorial” was held on April 14, 1876, the 11th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination.  President Ulysses S. Grant attended the ceremony, as did members of his cabinet, and congressmen and senators.  Frederick Douglass, the famed African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman, provided the keynote address to a crowd of approximately 25,000 who were in attendance on that day.

The monument has long been the subject of controversy and a source of mixed feelings.   According to the National Park Service, the monument was paid for solely by freed slaves, primarily from African American Union veterans.  However, despite being paid for by African Americans, some historians condemned it as paternalistic, portraying Lincoln as the savior of a race that couldn’t save itself.  Critics claim that it ignores the active role blacks played in ending slavery, and perpetuates racist ideology because of the supplicant position of the freed slave.  Others recognize that the imagery of the statue isn’t ideal, but embrace it nonetheless as part of history.  They derive its meaning and significance from knowing that it meant something to the people of its time. Perhaps the various thoughts and feelings about The Emancipation Memorial are best summed up by Anise Jenkins, president of an advocacy group for D.C. statehood named “Stand Up! For Democracy.”

In commenting about the statue at a recent Emancipation Day ceremony in Lincoln Park, she stated, “It’s part of our history and it depends what you bring to it.  If you’re ashamed of our history of slavery, then that’s what you bring to it. But we have to be honest. Enslaved people loved Abraham Lincoln. They called him Father Abraham. You can question it from a modern perspective, but you can’t ignore its significance.”

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