Posts Tagged ‘The Civil War’

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As I was riding around the DuPont Circle neighborhood in northwest D.C. on this lunchtime bike ride, I saw a plaque mounted underneath a window on the front of a house located at 1608 R Street (MAP).  So naturally my curiosity compelled me to stop and read it. The commemorative plaque indicated that the house formerly belonged to Charlotte Forten Grimké, and inasmuch as it possessed national significance in commemorating the history of the United States, was designated as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. Not knowing who Charlotte Forten Grimké was, or why her house would hold such importance, I researched it later after I got back from my ride. The following is what I found out.

Charlotte Louise Bridges Forten, who would be known as “Lottie,” was born on August 17, 1837, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Mary Virginia Wood and Robert Bridges Forten, members of an affluent and influential black abolitionist family. Her family was involved in the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, an anti-slavery network that rendered assistance to escaped slaves, as well as founding members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and young Lottie grew up in the family tradition to become one of the most influential antislavery and civil rights activists of her time.

Forten also grew up to become a teacher. She attended the Higginson Grammar School, a private academy for young women, where she was the only non-white student in a class of 200. After the Higginson School, she studied literature and teaching at the Normal School in Salem, Massachusetts, which trained teachers. Her first teaching job was in Salem, where she was the first African-American teacher to be hired in Massachusetts, and probably was the first in the country to teach white students. Later Forten was the first black educator to join the Port Royal Experiment, a program during the Civil War to set up schools to begin teaching freed former slaves and their children in South Carolina.

After the war Forten retired from teaching, and obtained a position as a clerk at the Philadelphia branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, where she worked recruiting teachers. It was while she was employed there that she met her future husband, Francis J. Grimké.  They were married in December of 1878, when Charlotte was 41 years old and Francis was 28. The nephew of famed abolitionists and feminists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké Weld, Francis was a Presbyterian minister. They eventually moved to D.C., where Francis became the pastor of the prominent Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in D.C., a major African-American congregation. They had one daughter, Theodora Cornelia, who died in infancy. She lived out the rest of her life with Francis in D.C., where after many years an invalid due to tuberculosis, she died of a cerebral embolism in 1914.

In addition to her extensive work as an antislavery activist and advocate for justice, one of the things for which Charlotte is best remembered is her writings. She also developed a passion for writing poetry, many of which focused on antislavery. During the Civil War, she wrote essays about her experience as a teacher among southern blacks which were published in The Atlantic Monthly under the title “Life on the Sea Islands”, which brought the work of the Port Royal Experiment to the attention of Northern readers. But it is her journals that stand out as the most prominent of her writings. Beginning in her childhood, she kept many journals diligently throughout her entire life. In fact, it is through these journals that we know today how passionate Charlotte Forten was against slavery. She wrote that she simply could not understand why so many whites thought that they were better than blacks. She also wrote about her daughter’s death and her busy life with her husband. Today, her journals are a rare example of documents detailing the life of a free black female in the antebellum era.

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Eastern Market

There used to be a city-wide system of public marketplaces in D.C. The system was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the city, which called for an Eastern, a Central and a Western Market. The markets were intended to supplement existing markets in Georgetown, and across the Potomac River in Alexandria, and provide a steady and orderly supply of goods to urban residents. One of those markets is still in operation today. Known as Eastern Market, it is located at 225 7th Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and it was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson issued a proclamation calling for Eastern Market to be set up at 7th and L Streets, near the Washington Navy Yard in southeast D.C. The original market received heavy damage during the British attack of 1814 known as the “Burning of Washington,” when many of the Federal government’s buildings, including the Department of the Treasury Building, the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building were burned. The market was repaired and remained active until a half a century later, when the Civil War caused a disruption in the availability and delivery of supplies. The market resumed normal operations after the war, but continued to struggle and fell into a state of disrepair. By 1871 Eastern Market was nearly abandoned, and was described in a local newspaper account as a “disgraceful shed.”

Eastern Market relocated in 1873 to its present location in a building designed by Adolf Cluss, a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the national capitol city by designing dozens of local post-Civil War buildings, among them the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, Calvary Baptist Church, and the Franklin and Sumner Schools. Enjoying a renewed success as Capitol’s Hill’s population increased in the early 20th century, the market needed to expand. So the city’s Office of Public Works, under architect Snowden Ashford, designed the new addition containing the Center and North Halls in 1908.  Eastern Market was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

In the years since, Eastern Market has had more than its share of difficulties, but it has continued to not only persevere, but thrive. In the early 1900’s, the market had to ward off D.C. Health Department, which had made numerous findings of deficiencies with its sanitation. But Eastern Market survived. In the 1920’s a chain supermarket opened right across the street from the market. It cut into its business, but the market survived. Then in the 1940’s, D.C. bureaucrats proposed transforming Eastern Market into a supermarket. And a decade later, a congressional bill envisioned turning a revamped market into a national children’s theater. Neither of these proposals was successful, and the market survived. In the 1950’s, the city license bureau criticized the market as uneconomical, and in 1960’s the D.C. health commissioner declared Eastern Market “a menace to public health.” But the criticisms of the market were no more successful in shutting down Eastern Market than the proposals to change it. Additional challenges could not bring an end to Eastern Market either, such as vendors having to work without leases when the city refused to renew expired leases, a proposal for a freeway to run through the site, and the urban economic downturn after riots in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Eastern Market’s continued existence occurred in 2007, when the building was badly damaged by an early-morning 3-alarm fire. Part of the roof collapsed, and The Washington Post has described the South Hall as “gutted so badly that birds can now fly in through the front windows and out the back ones.” Following the fire the Mayor vowed to rebuild Eastern Market, and even provided a temporary market annex, known as the “East Hall,” across the street on the grounds of Hine Junior High School to be used during the rebuilding process. After two years of reconstruction work, Eastern Market reopened its doors in June of 2009, ending the only extended hiatus in the market’s 210 years of continuous operation.

The other city markets are now long gone. Center Market, where the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building is today, was razed in 1931. And Western Market, which was located at 21st and K streets in northwest D.C., was closed in 1961. But when the D.C. government closed the other public markets, Charles Glasgow, Sr., who operated two stalls at Eastern Market, suggested that he assume management responsibility for the market. The Eastern Market Corporation was formed and leased the South and Center Halls, now managed by Eastern Market Ventures. So Eastern Market remains open, and continues to host a thriving farmers’ market.

Everything from finest meats, poultry and seafood, to pasta, delicatessen, baked goods and cheeses from around the world are sold from indoor stalls during the week.  There is also a lunch counter where you can get a bite to eat while you shop.  And on the weekends, recently-harvested produce direct from farms in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are sold outside along the covered sidewalk.  Artisans and antiques dealers also sell their goods outside the market on weekends, while live music adds some entertainment, making Eastern Market a popular stop for locals as well as tourists.

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Major General John A. Logan

Major General John A. Logan is a public artwork by American artist Franklin Simmons, who also sculpted The Peace Monument located on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building.  It is located in Logan Circle at the intersection of 13th Street, P Street, Rhode Island Avenue, and Vermont Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.  An equestrian statue, it is mounted on a bronze base and depicts Logan wearing a long coat, boots, gloves and a hat, with long hair and a drooping mustache. He is mounted on his horse, holding onto the reins with his left hand and holding a downward-pointed sword in his right.  The 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, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Alexander “Black Jack” Logan was an American soldier and political leader.  He served in the Mexican-American War and was a General in the Union Army during the Civil War, during which the men under his command gave him his nickname based on his dark eyes, his black hair and mustache, and swarthy complexion.

Logan later entered politics as a Douglas Democrat, so named after fellow Illinois politician Stephen A. Douglas.  He was initially elected and served as a State Senator in Illinois, during which time he helped pass a law to prohibit all African Americans, including freedmen, from settling in the state.  Logan subsequently went on to be elected as a U.S. Congressman, but resigned after three years to join the Union Army.  After the war, Logan resumed his political career, now as a Republican, and was again elected to Congress.  During this time he was selected as one of the managers to conduct the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.  Later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, but after failing to win reelection returned to Illinois to practice law.  He later ran for and regained his seat in the U.S. Senate.  He also ran but was an unsuccessful candidate for Vice President on the ticket with James G. Blaine in the election of 1884.  After the unsuccessful run for national office, he was reelected to the U.S. Senate, where he continued to serve until his death.

Despite his success in a variety of professional and personal endeavors over the course of his lifetime, he had no schooling until age 14.  It was then that he studied for three years at Shiloh College.  After leaving to serve in the Mexican-American War, he came back to study law in the office of an uncle, and then went on to graduate from the Law Department of the University of Louisville, after which he also practiced law with success intermittently throughout his lifetime.

However, despite his very successful military, political and legal careers, Logan is perhaps remembered as the founder of Memorial Day and the driving force behind it being designated as an official Federal holiday every year on the last Monday of May.  Originally known as Decoration Day, it was intended to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.  It took years, however, until the Federal holiday, which extended to only Federal employees and D.C., was adopted nationally and by the states.  New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day a legal holiday, and most other Northern states soon followed suit.  However, the states of the former Confederacy were unenthusiastic about a holiday founded by a former Union General and memorialized those who, in Logan’s own words, “united to suppress the late rebellion.”  Much of the South did not adopt the Memorial Day holiday until after World War I, by which time its purpose had been extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.  Several Southern states continue to also set aside a day for specifically honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day.  It is also observed on the last Monday in May in Virginia, but the date varies in other states.

Upon his death, Logan’s body lay in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building before being laid to rest at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, the forerunner of Arlington National Cemetery.  There he is entombed in a mausoleum along with his wife and other family members.

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The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s first post as President on The White House’s Official Facebook page. Using his iPhone, he posted a famous quote from George Washington, who once said, “The thing about quotes from the Internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”  After updating his online status, I can imagine him then going for an evening walk on a cool, crisp autumn day, much like it was today. Perhaps stopping by Saint John’s Episcopal Church across the street, and maybe even going past his memorial and taking a stroll around The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall on his way home.

Actually, today is the anniversary of the beginning of Lincoln era’s communications equivalent, the first transcontinental overland telegram.  It was sent on this day in 1861, after 112 days of construction, that Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph.  And the first telegram was sent to President Lincoln in D.C., from California Justice Stephen J. Field in San Francisco.  In the message, Field predicted that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

The telegraph was received at the telegraph office within the War Department, which was located in a building to the west of the White House. It was known as the Annex, and became very important during the Civil War, with President Lincoln visiting the War Office’s telegraph room for constant updates and reports and walking back and forth to the “Residence”. The original structure was replaced in 1888 by construction of a new building of French Empire design, the “State, War, and Navy Building.” The building was later renamed to honor General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and is also commonly referred to as the Old Executive Office Building.

So on for this bike ride, I chose to ride to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located on 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C., and is situated just west of the White House between Pennsylvania Avenue and New York Avenue, and West Executive Drive.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building was designed by Alfred B. Mullett as the supervising architect, with much of the interior designed by Richard von Ezdorf. It was built between 1871 and 1888, and is now maintained by the General Services Administration. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1971. It was vacated completely in the late 1930s, and the building was nearly demolished in 1957. Then in 1981, plans to restore it began. The building is currently occupied by various agencies that compose the President’s Executive Office, such as the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council. Many White House employees have their offices in the massive edifice. Its most public purpose is that of the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office, which is mainly used for special meetings and press conferences.

Interestingly, the building was the site of another telecommunications first. Dwight D. Eisenhower held the first televised Presidential news conference in the building’s Indian Treaty Room in January 1955

As I paused to take a few photos with my cell phone, I couldn’t help but reflect on both the differences and similarities between then and now in terms of communications, politics, and the world. The telegraph line immediately made the Pony Express obsolete, which officially ceased operations two days later. The overland telegraph line then operated until it was replaced a mere eight years later by a multi-line telegraph that had been constructed alongside the route of the newly-completed Transcontinental Railroad. Much like today, I guess technology changed fairly often even back then too.

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The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial Statue is a public artwork, and is located in front of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic parish, in a median at the confluence of 16th Street, Park Road and Sacred Heart Way (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The statue depicts a bronze figure of James Gibbons seated, wearing cardinals robes, with his right hand in a raised position as if giving a blessing.  In his left hand he is holding a cross that hangs from his neck.  The base, which is made of granite, has a relief of a shield topped with an ecclesiastical hat. The shield has the coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Cardinal’s personal coat of arms.  Around the shield are rows of tassels that represent the ranks of clergy. The statue was authorized by Congress and President Calvin Coolidge on April 23, 1928, at no expense to the United States. The piece was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, and created by Italian sculptor Leo Lentelli.  It was unveiled in August of 1932, a date chosen to coincide with the Knights of Columbus’ 50th anniversary.  The statue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Cardinal James Gibbons was born in 1834 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Irish immigrant parents.  After his father fell ill with tuberculosis, he moved the family back to Ireland, where he believed the air would benefit him.  After his father died in 1847, his mother moved 19-year old James and the rest of the family back to the United States in 1853, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After deciding to pursue the priesthood, Gibbons entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland.  After graduating from St. Charles, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  On June 30, 1861, Gibbons was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Francis Kenrick of Baltimore, and served during the Civil War as a volunteer chaplain at Fort McHenry.  In 1868, at the age of 34, he became one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the world, and was known by the nickname “the boy bishop.”  From 1869 to 1870, Gibbons attended the First Vatican Council in Rome, and ultimately was the last of its participants to die.  In 1877, the Baltimore-born Gibbons became the head of the oldest archdiocese in the United States. Also in 1887, he helped found The Catholic University of America in D.C., and served as its first chancellor.  Nine years later, in 1886, Pope Leo XIII named him as the second-ever U.S. cardinal.

A man who was often viewed as the face of the Catholic Church in America, Gibbons was also an advocate of the labor movement of those days, and played a key role in obtaining permission from the Pope for Catholics to join labor unions.  And in his dealings with the Vatican, he and other “Americanizers” championed the separation of church and state.

An ardent proponent of American civic institutions, Gibbons called the U.S. Constitution the finest instrument of government ever created.   He was also a frequent visitor to the White House.  Gibbons knew every president from Andrew Johnson to Warren Harding, and served as an advisor to many of them.  President William Howard Taft honored him for his humanitarian work at the 1911 golden jubilee celebration of his ordination. And in 1917, President Theodore Roosevelt hailed him as “the most venerated, respected and useful citizen in America.”

The George Gordon Meade Memorial

The George Gordon Meade Memorial

The George Gordon Meade Memorial is a public artwork by American artist Charles Grafly, and is located at 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue  (MAP) in northwest D.C. Residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania commissioned the sculpture to commemorate the man who is best known as the Union General who defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, which not only involved the largest number of casualties of the Civil War, but is considered a major turning point of war. The 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.

Born the eighth of eleven children, George Gordon Meade was born in Cadiz, Spain, where his father worked as a U.S. naval officer.  Following his father’s death when he was only 13 years old, Meade’s family found itself on the brink of financial bankruptcy and returned to the United States in 1828 to settle in Pennsylvania.  In 1831, at the age of 16, Meade received an appointment to the United State Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1835. He then served in the U.S. Army briefly during the Seminole War before retiring. He worked in the private sector as a civil engineer until 1842, when he asked to be reinstated to the Army. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, and served constructing lighthouses and breakwaters in New Jersey and Florida. Four years later during the Mexican-American War, he was present but saw no major combat at several major battles. He returned to topographical work after the war in near the Great Lakes until his services were again called upon at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Despite being one of the few Union generals who began his life and career in a foreign country, Meade quickly rose through the ranks. Meade was promoted from captain to brigadier general, and helped work on the defenses of Washington before joining the army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan. He was involved in the Seven Days battles at Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, and Glendale, where he received several serious wounds. After recuperating, he went on to fight at the battle of Second Manassas, the battle of South Mountain, Antietam, the battle of Fredericksburg, and the battle of Chancellorsville. By 1863, Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac, succeeding General Joseph Hooker just one month before meeting and defeating General Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. Subsequent to his victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade was promoted to brigadier general in the regular army, and went on to be involved in the Bristoe Station and Mine Run campaigns, and the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. General-in-Chief of Union Forces Ulysses S. Grant requested that Meade be promoted to major general, which was approved by President Abraham Lincoln. Meade served under General Grant for the last year of the war, but was not present at the surrender of Lee’s army in Appomattox, and was largely overshadowed by Grant.

After the war, Meade returned to Pennsylvania and held several military commands. While still on active duty, he died in1872 in Philadelphia, from complications of his old wounds combined with pneumonia.

The D.C. memorial to Meade consists of a cylinder shaped statue featuring a figure of the General on the front. Meade stands in front of six allegorical figures standing side by side. They represent Loyalty, Chivalry, Fame, Progress, Military Courage and Energy, and were thought by the artist as the traits needed to make a “great” general. Loyalty and Chivalry are shown removing Meade’s cloak, which symbolizes the “cloak of battle.” Loyalty also holds a wreath and garlands above Meade’s head, representing the Meade’s deeds. There is also a figure representing War featured on the back of the memorial. Atop the monument is a gold finial with the state seal of Pennsylvania, and an inscription at the base of the monument reads, “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Major General George Gordon Meade, who commanded the Union forces at Gettysburg.”

The memorial was originally installed in 1922 at Union Square near the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, but was moved into National Park Service storage in 1966 due to construction. In 1983 it was finally installed at its current location.

 

Statue of Brevet Lt. General Winfield Scott

Statue of Brevet Lt. General Winfield Scott

In a city replete with statues and memorials, locals often get so accustomed to their presence that they tend overlook many of the smaller ones.  On this bike ride I went to visit one such memorial – the statue of Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott.  Located in Scott Circle Park at the intersection of 16th Street and Massachusetts and Rhode Island Avenues in Northwest D.C. (MAP), the statue is located in a park situated in the middle of one of the city’s infamous traffic circles.  The 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.

Known by the nicknames “Old Fuss and Feathers” and the “Grand Old Man of the Army,” Winfield Scott was a U.S. Army general who served on active duty as a general longer than anyone else in American history.   In a 54-year career that began when he was 21 years old, Scott became a key military leader during the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Aroostook War, the Mexican-American War, the Second Seminole War, and the early days of the Civil War.  At the end of his service, he served as Commanding General of the United States Army for twenty years, longer than any other holder of the office.

However, there were also a few less stellar footnotes in his otherwise illustrious career.  Unable to persuade New York militia members to follow orders during the War of 1812, he was forced to surrender to the British and became a prisoner of war.  Also, at one point he was court-martialed and suspended for a year.  But in the end, many historians rate him as one of the most effective and successful American commanders of his time.

After becoming well-known and popular as a result of his military service, he decided later in life to enter politics.  He was so popular, in fact, that the Whig Party passed over their party’s own incumbent President Millard Fillmore for reelection, and instead nominated Scott in the 1852 presidential election.  However, in the fall’s general election Scott was unsuccessful, losing to Democrat Franklin Pierce.

As I was in the park watching the cars driving quickly by, or pedestrians hurriedly using the park as a shortcut on their way to their destinations, I couldn’t help but think that most of these people were not just oblivious to many of the city’s statues and memorials, but were overlooking their significance as well.