Posts Tagged ‘Theodore O’Hara’

Battleground National Cemetery

On this lunchtime bike ride, while I was riding north on Georgia Avenue with no particular destination in mind, I came across a small cemetery, located at 6625 Georgia Avenue (MAP).  Located near Fort Stevens in the city’s Brightwood neighborhood, I found out that it is named Battleground National Cemetery, and it’s a military burial ground managed by the National Park Service, together with other components of Rock Creek Park.  Later, I found out a lot more.

The cemetery was created after the Civil War Battle of Fort Stevens, which took place on July 11 and 12, 1864.  The battle was significant in that it marked the defeat of General Jubal Anderson Early’s Confederate campaign to launch an offensive action against the poorly defended national capitol city.  The Battle of Fort Stevens also gained notoriety as being the only military action in which the commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln, came under direct fire from an enemy force.  President Lincoln lived, but during the battle, 59 soldiers were killed on the Union side, and there were approximately 500 casualties on the Confederate side.

After the battle, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs seized an acre of farm land to use for burying the dead. Under direction from President Lincoln and General Meigs, forty were buried on the evening of July 12, 1864, on the battlefield site. That night, Lincoln came to the site to dedicate it as Battleground National Cemetery.

The piece of land seized for the cemetery was previously part of a fruit orchard owned by farmer James Malloy.  When he returned to his land after the dust cleared from the battle, Malloy was upset that his land was taken and challenged the action. Through an act of Congress passed on February 22, 1867, the land was acquired and officially transferred to the Federal government, and on July 23, 1868, payment made to Malloy.

Battleground National Cemetery is one of our Nation’s smallest national cemeteries. The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by two Civil War vintage 6-pounder, smoothbore guns.  Also near the entrance are monuments commemorating each of the units which fought at Fort Stevens.  They were the 25th New York Volunteer Cavalry, the 98th Pennsylvania Volunteer, the 122nd New York Volunteer, and the 150th Ohio National Guard.

The center of the cemetery is marked by a central flagpole, surrounded by 41 regulation marble headstones, marking the remains of the honored dead of Fort Stevens. Behind these headstones and to the east, stands a marble rostrum used to conduct yearly Memorial Day services. The four granite pillars are in memory of the four volunteer companies who fought at Fort Stevens.

Also within the cemetery grounds is a series of cast iron markers containing the first of the twelve stanzas of a poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead,” which was written by Theodore O’Hara in memory of those men who perished during the Mexican-American War.  The poem, as well as the words of the Gettysburg Address found on the side of the caretaker’s lodge, are reminiscent of many national cemeteries.

For an aimless bike ride with no particular destination in mind, I sure came across a lot of interesting history.  Unfortunately, that portion of Georgia Avenue is not particularly bike friendly.  So I imagine the vast majority of those driving hastily by in their vehicles probably have no idea of what they are passing by, and the history behind it.

         

         

    

         

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

BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

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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.