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This is the archive for April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

One of the more familiar songs to emerge from the Civil War and one that still makes its way into the recording studio is The Vacant Chair. For some reason though, this song has taken on a country or bluegrass feel and, even though written in the form of a poem by a Massachusetts minister and set to music by one of the most prolific tunesmiths of patriotic songs for the North, seems to be increasingly identified as a melancholy anthem to the Lost Cause. I found eight recorded versions of the song on Rhapsody, six of which were rendered as I’ve suggested.

The song, like Lorena, was one that struck a chord in the ranks of the opposing armies and civilians both North and South, few who, by war’s end, had emerged unscathed from the sorrow of its savagery. What we are less familiar with is the story behind the song, of whom it was written for and why. That history begins with an 18-year-old student from Worcester, Massachusetts by the name of John William Grout.

New England was full of them at the approach of the Civil War. A quasi aristocracy of moneyed and privileged young men, educated in private preparatory schools, who advanced their studies at the most prestigious colleges and universities in preparation for assuming by right of supposed natural superiority their place on the top rungs of society as lawyers, politicians, businessmen, and bankers. They were labeled the blue-eyed children of fortune, destiny’s darlings, who were to lead America into the future by virtue of their breeding and polish.

That future was interrupted by war, but none shied away. This was their chance to grab at glory and they enlisted in droves, for duty, for honor, in adherence to a code of chivalrous manhood, taking command of regiments or companies, or lesser responsibility as a first or second lieutenant; never in the ranks or among the Non-commissioned. They used their own influence, or that of fathers, grandfathers, or uncles to situate themselves in elite regiments that would single-handedly reel the rebellious back into the fold.

Grout had martial blood coursing through his veins and gene pool. Descended from English nobility and a fifth great-grandfather who gained a captaincy during the King Philip War, when a confederation of Massachusetts, Wampanoag, and Narragansetts waged bloody retribution against European interlopers, Grout enrolled at the Highland Military Academy, where he became commander of cadets soon after his admission. With his father’s hand guiding him toward a future career as a diplomat, Ft. Sumter mercifully intervened and after wearing down his parents’ objections secured a commission as a second lieutenant in Company D of the 15th Massachusetts Volunteers in July of 1861.

This was no ordinary 18-year-old. Described as being “endowed by nature with rare gifts, physically and mentally” Grout was immensely popular in the regiment and was given responsibility for drilling the men in the art of war, a task he relished and handled with the aplomb of one wizened by experience.

The repetition of training exercises is calculated to ensure the cohesiveness of a fighting force in warfare. But it doesn’t fully prepare men for the initial shock of actual combat, when bullets whiz, when smoke obliterates the surrounding terrain, when the concussion of artillery assaults the senses in surround sound, when the world suddenly compresses into a disorienting whirl of slaughter as comrades fall.

Mudskows ferried the 15th down the Potomac to where bluffs rose above the water, their orders to root out a force of Confederates congregated above the heights. Ball’s Bluff was to become a Union debacle of the highest order. Meeting Confederate skirmishers at the top of the cliffs, Union commanders simply unraveled and withdrew their troops to a battle line at the edge of the precipice, where a turkey shoot ensued. Panicked Union infantrymen scrambled down the embankments for the safety of their boats, only to expose themselves to a further galling fire.

The reports of survivors were all unanimous in their praise of an 18-year-old second lieutenant who maintained calm and presence, assisting the wounded in their crossing of the river to the opposite shore. He was returning for a second attempt at helping his men when pierced by a bullet in midstream. Those closest to where slipped beneath the water remembered his final words, “Tell Company D I could have reached the shore, but I’m shot, I must sink.”

His bodied was later recovered and borne back to his family’s home in Worcester. An entire city mourned as the funeral cortege escorted by the Mayor and a cadre of cadets from the Highland Military Academy marched in slow cadence to the Rural Cemetery where a coffin was lowered into the ground. And it was in that city that the father of a childhood friend of Grout’s, the Reverend Henry Stevenson Washburn, while walking the streets shortly before Thanksgiving in November 1861 turned his thoughts to the death of one so young and full of promise. Those thoughts were expressed in a poem Washburn sent as a condolence to the Grout family and later published in a Worcester newspaper.

The poem probably would have remained an item of local interest but for its discovery by George F. Root. The composer of The Battle Cry of Freedom, Just Before the Battle, Mother, and Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (The Prisoner’s Hope), Root set Washburn’s words to music, giving them new meaning, bringing them into homes where those who sat together and broke bread would leave a place set in front of chair that would be occupied no more.


Photo taken by Jim Sanders
You can follow this link to a very, very dated video of Kathy Mattea, who by the way puts on an incredible live show, to hear one of the better versions of The Vacant Chair.

The Vacant Chair

Words by the Rev. Henry Stevenson Washburn

We shall meet, but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our evening prayer;
When a year ago we gathered
Joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden chord is severed
And our hopes in ruin lie.

We shall meet, but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our evening prayer.

At our fireside, sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell,
At remembrance of the story
How our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner
Through the thickest of the fight,
And uphold our country's honor
In the strength of manhood's night.


True, they tell us wreaths of glory
Ever more will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, Oh early fallen,
In thy green and narrow bed,
Dirges from the pine and cypress,
Mingle with the tears we shed.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Since 1880 he’s guarded his post day and night, through barren winters, interminable summers, the first signs of spring, and as the last leaves have swirled and danced in the November wind to the ground. His eyes are ever watchful, surveying the countryside, musket ready by his side, all part of a standing order to keep safe those who began their sleep at Antietam or in hospitals that stretched from Boonsboro to Sharpsburg. He rises above all of us and the markers that lay at his feet. 4,776 markers. 1,836 nameless, lost forever to those who loved them. As he first saw his own light in the mind of his creator James G. Battersson and took shape and form from James Pollette’s chisel, he rises 43 feet into the sky, where his head can graze the arc of morning sun, ever faithful to those forever reposed and now returned to dust.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

This letter to the Editor appeared in the Friday, April 26, 1912 edition of the Boston Globe. I thought it was appropriate for today, due to the fact that it was published 96 years ago yesterday, when memories of the Civil War remained relatively fresh in people’s minds and “The Bloody Shirt” was still waving in the breeze.

Editor People’s Column – I have read the recent letters in the [Boston] Globe comparing the Northern and Southern prisons during the Civil War.

There is one fact which should settle forever any controversy in regard to their respective merits or demerits, and that is the burial grounds. The graveyards speak for both sides. Compare the graveyard of the Confederate dead at Camp Morton with that of the Federal dead at Camp Sumpter. The one at Indianapolis, Ind. the other at Andersonville, Ga. Of the two, Camp Morton contained much the larger number of prisoners. You can count the graves at Andersonville by the hundreds, those at Indianapolis by the tens. The soldiers who died at Camp Morton were buried in coffins, inclosed in boxes, those at Andersonville in trenches without boxes or coffins. A record of every death, cause of death, name, rank, regiment, company, date of death, name and address of nearest relative and the graves marked and numbered, was kept at Camp Morton.

The Confederate prisoners had ample room, plenty of shade trees on the grounds, and a roof either of wood or canvas under which to sleep or lounge. There was also a good stream of running water wherein he could bathe or fish at times. At Andersonville there was no protection from the sun or storms. A line 20 feet from the stockade kept the soldiers from the shade of the stockade and many a poor man, over-heated, delirious with fever, wandered over the line to reach the little shade near the stockade was shot down. Wood was so scarce in the camp that the roots of the tree stumps were dug up. Within 30 minutes walk of the stockade was timber enough to build a city larger than any in Dixie at that time.

The Southern sun of Sumner killed the Northern bred men like frost kills flies. Dysentery and scurvy and sunstroke claimed thousands. These conditions were inexcusable. Nearby were plenty of shade and good cool water. The scurvy could have been prevented by an issue of fresh vegetables which were grown all about that neighborhood. There were a few issues of green corn, potatoes, onions and melons. The woods were full of wild berries and cherries. Old Wind and Wirz would rather dig trenches for the prisoners than potatoes.

At Camp Morton some did suffer from the cold at times. One winter it was so cold that several guards on duty were frozen to death. What wonder that men from the South should suffer. The hospital where the Confederate prisoners were treated is to this day used by the City of Indianapolis as it city hospital. I lived in that same hospital for two years and know that it is a good, clean, comfortable building. Some additions were made to it and some of the old wooden portions replaced by brick. But the executive or central portion stands just as it did 50 years ago. The prisoners were allowed to have luxuries and dainties sent to them by the Southern sympathizers of which the city had hundreds. They had sent to them great quantities of reading matter, until one day an employee let fall a box, labeled “Sunday School Papers,” which burst, exposing a lot of Navy revolvers and cartridges. That was the beginning of the exposure of the conspiracy of the Knights of the Golden Circle to organize the Northwestern Confederacy. The arming of the prisoners and Morgan, the raider, coming to their aid, and Gov. Morton’s prompt action preventing the success of the conspiracy is another story.

A.N.D., M.D.

Tiverton, R.I.

There’s lot of information on the Internet about Camp Morton, but this link provides a good starting point.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


During my last road trip I made a return visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. The first visit occurred shortly after the Museum opened, so long ago I can’t even remember the year (2000, I think, maybe), and before they moved to their present location at 48 East Patrick St. There have been so many changes they’re too numerous to mention, but if you’re ever in the neighborhood of the Antietam battlefield add the museum to your itinerary.

Rather than writing up a review of museum though, I thought it might be more fun to play a game based on information culled from the NMCW. So put on your thinking caps and lets play Jeopardy!

I’ll take “1858 Medical School Final Exam” for a hundred.

Answer: The Inferior phrenic; celiac; superior mesenteric; middle suprarenal; renal; gonadal; lumbar; inferior mesenteric; median sacral; and common iliac

Question: What are the branches of the abdominal aorta?

“1858 Medical School final exam” for 200.

Answer: Erythrocytes, leukocytes, and thrombocytes

Question: What are the constituents of the bloods?

Same category for 300

Answer: But Ms. Scarlett, I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ no babies

Question: What are the conclusive signs of pregnancy?

Answer: 42

Question: What was the number of medical schools in the United States at the outbreak of the Civil War?

Answer: The Medical College of Charleston (in 1824)

Question: What was the first medical school established in the South?

Answer: August 2, 1862

Question: When was the Union Ambulance Corps established?

Answer: 4,000

Question: What was the number of six mule team wagons that entered the Wilderness with the Army of the Potomac during the Campaign Against Richmond?

Answer: 44,558

Question: What was the number of Union deaths attributed to diarrhea?

Answer: 12

Question: How many pounds of oats or corn did a horse eat per day?

Answer: 15

Question: How many gallons of water did a horse drink each day?

Answer: The techniques included pushing on the chest and waving a fan near the nose.

Question: How did they wake a patient after administering anethesia?

Answer: 8 to 15 minutes

Question: How long did it take surgeons to perform an amputation?

Answer: 83 per cent

Question: What was the percentage of patients shot in the hip who died following surgery?

Answer: Half and of the women, 75 per cent.

Question: How many of the attendants, nurses, matrons, laundresses, or cooks at Chimborazo hospital were black?

Answer: Fortress Monroe

Question: Where was Seminary Hospital located?

Answer: 10 to 40,000

Question: How many Union dead were embalmed?

Answer: 94 per cent

Question: What was the percentage of all recorded wounds caused by a Minie ball?

Answer: In the arms or legs

Question: Where did 70 per cent of all gunshot wounds occur?

Answer: Clara Barton

Question: Who was the Detroit Free Press referring to in 1912 when they said “She was perhaps the most perfect incarnation of mercy the modern world has known”?

Final Jeopardy. The category is Civil War Chaplains.

Answer: 14 out of 165

Da, da, da, da, da, da, da
Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da
Da, da, da, da, da, da, da
Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da

Question: What was the number of black regiments that had black chaplains?

And you, whoever you are, who probably cheated by looking up the questions on the Internet, are our new Jeopardy champion. Congratulations! You’ll return next time to defend your title. Until then, remember that mules only consumed nine pounds of oats or corn per day. making them more cost efficient than horses.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Imagine for a moment if you will that you were on the Board of the Historical Society of Frederick County, Maryland and found out 73 years after purchasing a historic home that it was not what you thought it was and never was what you thought it was. You’d probably suffer through the embarrassment and then bring in a big gun, in the form of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William H. Rehnquist, to make some remarks at the 2004 rededication of the former “Roger Brook Taney House” as the “Roger Brooke Taney House and Museum.”

This sounds like an episode from, take your choice, Antique Road Show or the History Detectives, but the 1798 home purchased by the HSFC in 1930, with the belief that it was once the principle residence of Roger Brooke Taney turned out to be a rental property he had acquired. Some things are better left undisturbed. In this case, research on the home’s history in 2003 uncovered the truth about Taney’s role as landlord. I know my immediate reaction, when I was informed of this by Jennifer, a museum docent, was to look longingly at the front door and rack my brain for a polite way to exit the premises. Why tour something that was not? I shrugged it off and figured what the heck; I had already paid the admission fee. Besides, the opportunity for an individualized tour doesn’t come along everyday.

Taney, who practiced law in Frederick, rented out the property during the period he owned the house from 1815 to 1823, while he himself resided in the center of Frederick in a house since torn down. What you’re left with then is a beautifully restored example of an early 19th century middle class dwelling, replete with a furnished parlor and dining room on the first floor, two second floor bedrooms, one of which is a shrine to the fifth Chief Justice, a kitchen attached to the back of the home, a smoke house, and slave quarters.

Jennifer indicated that the house, which is open only on weekends from April through December, draws about 700 to 1000 visitors a year, a large number of whom are drawn simply by curiosity and without any idea of who Taney was. She seemed impressed by the fact that I pronounced Taney’s last name correctly (Tawn-ee). This has to be a tough gig for any docent, but Jennifer pulled it off with enthusiasm and the tour, as it turned out, was really enjoyable.

Of interest in the home was a larger than life sized bronze replica of a bust of Taney, the original being on display at Frederick City Hall. The bust was the work of Frederick native Joseph Urner, who also sculpted the Alabama monument at Gettysburg. There was also a document signed by Taney which commutated freedom for one of his slaves. I may have misread the document, but it appeared to have been dated in 1848, which is much later than I understood Taney to have taken this action with regard to slaves he inherited.

Taney’s legacy remains under fire in Maryland. Civil rights groups have demanded the removal of his bust from the Frederick City Hall and a statue from the grounds of the State Capitol building at Annapolis. I admitted to Jennifer that I had a tough time with Taney. All this ill feeling harkens back to his majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision, feelings that aren’t going to disappear any time soon and the volume of which may increase in the future.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I admit to having a slightly warped sense of humor. So you’ll have to take that into consideration when I state that one of the truly comical events of the Civil War happened in New Orleans, one orchestrated by Benjamin “The Beast” Butler. The story’s pretty familiar. After the city surrendered, occupying Union troops were subjected to all sorts of verbal insults, incidents of spitting, and other overt displays of hostility by those flowers of Southern womanhood, the ladies of New Orleans. One even took it upon herself to dump a chamber pot on David "Damn the Torpedos" Farragut’s head when he walked underneath her window. That could have been pretty funny if you had been there to see it and I’m sure some who witnessed the incident split their sides laughing. Kurt Vonnegut explained it this way, that humor is derived at the expense of misfortune to others. I’m just wondering what Farragut said when it happened. Could have been something like “Ah, sh_t!”

The culprit in that incident has never been identified. But she played a prominent role in Butler's decision to issue General Order Number 28, which loosely translated said, "Ok ladies, you want to act like whores, I’ll treat you like whores. Any further assaults on my men by bombarding them with loogies, insults against their manhood, their mothers or sisters, or off-key renditions of Confederate fight songs, and I’m going to consider you operating under the influence of a red light and throw your scrawny little Rebel posteriors in jail." Butler’s decree worked, leaving in its wake a chorus of “Well, I declare, never in all my life…”

Legend has it that the North had its own chamber pot lady. Well, not really a chamber pot lady, because Barbara Fritchie showed a little more restraint when Confederate troops marched past her house in Frederick, Maryland on their way to Antietam. Fritchie reportedly waved the American flag out her window and got in some good verbal licks, hurling verbage like “Yeah, I could smell you comin’ when you wus still a mile away.” Her housekeeper was rumored to have been yelling in the background, “Get away from that window before you get shot, you old hag!”

Barbara Fritchie’s story of flag waving in the faces of the invading Confederates was compelling enough to be immortalized in an 1864 poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. But like another epic poem from one of his contemporaries, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," it’s more about metre and rhyme than truth perhaps. In spite of the likelihood that Rebel troops did not approach her home, the myth, or truth if you still cling to it, led to the reconstruction of her home from its original materials and reopening as a museum at 154 West Patrick Street, Frederick in 2005. Unfortunately the door was locked when I tried the knob and I had to settle for peering in the windows. Luckily for me Frederick police, who arrived a short time later to investigate a report of a Peeping Tom, grew restless during my my recitation of Whittier's poem and decided to head for a local donut shop. "Nothing here Sarge. Just another one of those Civil War kooks."

Friday, April 18, 2008

As promised pictures of current exhibits at the Smith Center, the starting point for a tour of the Lincoln Cottage. Hurry, because this exhibit ends April 30th. No, you won't have to use your imagination beginning May 1st, as the Center will have a brand new exhibit on display. A side note, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is projecting 40,000 visitors will tour the Lincoln Cottage before the end of the year. Again, if planning a visit get your tickets in advance. A link, if needed, is provided at the end of The Lincoln Cottage Outside and In.


As promised, pictures from my April 11th tour of the Lincoln Cottage:





Note: Click "Read More" for additional pictures

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This ad from the April 17, 1862 edition of the Washington Real Estate Guide:

For Rent: Beat the summer heat! Breezy and spacious 34-room summer cottage in quiet, gated community, with 24-hour guard posted at entrance. Spectacular views of city and Potomac. Fireplace in every room. Modern gas lighting in parlor, dining room, and wood paneled library. Pine floors. Indoor running water. Separate his, her, and children’s water closets. Separate servant quarters. Attached kitchen with two brick bake ovens in back of house. Easy 3 mile commute to the city. Telegraph service coming soon! Discount for Federal Government employees. Small pets okay. Available June to November. Inquire of D. Herold, 509 10th St. NW.

After a seven-year fifteen million-dollar restoration project, the National Trust for Historic Preservation reopened what has become known as the Lincoln Cottage to the visiting public on February 18th. The summer home, which stands on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, formerly known as the Soldiers Home, was designated a National Historic site in 1973 and a National Monument in 2000.

Abraham Lincoln is reported to have spent one-quarter of his presidency at the cottage to escape the oppressive Washington summers, as well as provide a quiet retreat for his family following the death of his son Willie. There’s an open debate as to whether Lincoln actually drafted the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation at the cottage, but, as curators point out, the subject certainly weighed heavily on his mind while there.

Located three miles from the White House, in what was then an isolated area of the city, James Buchanan was the first President to take up summer residence in the home originally built in 1841 by George Washington Riggs, a prominent Washington banker. Riggs had sold 250 acres of land to the Federal Government in 1851, which, in turn, constructed a retirement enclave for disabled Army veterans, an effort largely guided by General of the Army Winfield Scott and Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War.

The Lincoln family carted between ten to fifteen wagon loads of furnishings to and from the home for each of the three summers they occupied the unfurnished home. Lincoln himself made a daily half-hour commute to his office at the White House either by horseback or carriage, sometimes in the company of cavalry, on other occasions without taking any precautions for his own safety. That carelessness nearly cost him his life in August 1864 when a sniper put a bullet through a hat he was wearing and also put ideas in John Wilkes Booth’s head, who initially formulated a plan to kidnap the President from the route followed between the White House and cottage.

Hourly tours of the cottage, which are limited to 20 people and cost $12 (advance ticket purchases are strongly recommended) begin at the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center. The Center, which plans to rotate exhibitions, had four rooms devoted to a separate theme, including "Wartime Washington," "Lincoln the Commander-in-Chief," "The Lincoln Family at the Soldiers' Home," and the "History of the Soldiers' Home," as well as pictures of preservation efforts. One of the innovations that makes for a remarkable experience is sitting around a long conference table and envisioning yourself as a member of Lincoln’s cabinet as computer monitors generate various war-time scenarios faced by those men, scenarios which include debates on emancipation and the performance of Union generals. On display too, is a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation on loan from a private New York collector, the pen Lincoln used to sign the document, and the ink well into which he dipped the pen.

The actual tour of the cottage began with a short video and question and answer period in the Smith Center’s small theater. We were then taken outside by our guide Emily Robinson for the brief walk across the street to the cottage.

Once inside visitors glimpse a sparely furnished residence with historic paint colors adorning the walls. The dining room, for example, situated to the right of the front entrance, is a milky white color and barren of any adornment, although a table and chairs are currently on order. Restorers had no interior photos to guide them, so a lot of restoration work is based on educated guesses and knowledge of period. The home itself was in fairly good structural condition when restorations began, but flooring had to be replaced. A second floor bedroom, which contains a preserved square of the original flooring, offers evidence of cracks and gouges and explains why new pine boards were laid.

In a bow to this era of multimedia virtually every room is equipped with a wide screen television, which plays a cued video providing historic detail on that particular setting. Supplemented by a running dialogue from our guide Emily, the two worked in concert to provide a fast paced and informative overview of the times and the setting. Of most interest to our group were a $30,000 reproduction of Lincoln’s small desk and the library. Emily pointed out the original desk is currently at the White House, where it’ll stay put, while copies of Shakespeare and others of Lincoln’s literary tastes are opened for view on a small table in the dark paneled library.

Diverting from the usual path followed by most Washington tourists and paying a visit to the Smith Center and cottage is well worth the time and an important addition to an understanding of our 16th President. We walk where he walked, in an environment where he was able to, as they say, let his guard and hair down, a place he last visited two days before John Wilkes Booth came calling.

Tomorrow: pictures of the Smith Visitor's Center and the Cottage.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The following is from the April 18, 1882 edition of the Washington Post


Twentieth Anniversary of Colored Freedom

The Finest Parade Since the Proclamation –
Mass Meeting at Lincoln Hall – Speech
Of Prof. Greener Congratulating the Colored People

The twentieth emancipation anniversary of the District of Columbia was celebrated yesterday under circumstances that make it a brilliant and successful demonstration. The day was exceedingly beautiful and pleasant, and the entire colored population of the District participated in the ceremonies, either as spectators or actors. The crowds gathered at the City Hall at an early hour and by the time the procession was formed in line the whole space around the building was densely occupied by people. The whole scene was remarkable for picturesque beauty, the colored people manifesting more interest in the occasion than they have done for several years back.

It was about one o’clock when Col. Perry Carson, the chief marshal started the procession. He was assisted by his chief aids, Chas. H. Marshall right aid, Addison Day left aid…The procession moved in the following order:

First division: Company A, Butler Zouaves forty-five men…Capital City Guards, thirty-five men…Webster Rifles, fifty five men…with a Baltimore band and a large number of carriages, in which rode the orator of the day, Prof. R.T. Greener….and many clergymen…

Second division: Grand United Order of Chaldenus, 175 men,,,Mount Arah Lodge…Golden Arrow Social Club, Liberty Eight…Behind this division came a chariot drawn by four white horses, upon the throne of which sat Miss Ella Ward, surrounded by a bevy of beautifully dressed little girls as maids of honor.

Third division: Knights of Moses…Ancient order Knights of Jerusalewm…Order of Moses…Grand Lodge, Gallilean Fishermen…The Grand Lodge bore a banner of with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and numbered about thirty men on foot, while the officers rode in carriages.

Fourth division Good Samaritans: Columbia Pioneers of Alexandria, Va….East Washington Pioneer Club in carriages. Sumner Mounted Guards…Eastern Star Twilight Cadets…Following this division was a chariot from East Washington, containing Misss Albertine Miller as queen…

The procession moved over the route published in yesterday’s POST, the line of march being filled by thousands of people, who crowded the sidewalks and occupied house steps, windows and all other available places for observation. The procession was reviewed at the White House about 3 o’clock by President Arthur, who stood alone on the portico till the line had passed. It was about 4:30 before the procession reached City Hall.

On passing the Arlington Hotel, the procession was reviewed by the District Commissioners, and at the City Hall by the chief marshall. After reaching the latter place the procession was dismissed.

The mass meeting in the evening was held at Lincoln Hall, in which the immense audience congregated. The portraits of Lincoln, Sumner and Wilson overhung the stage, on which were seated the president and secretary of the meeting…and others. Douch’s band was in attendance.

Rev. Dr. Rankin opened the meeting with prayer, and was followed by Mr. O.S.B. Wall, the master of ceremonies, in an opening address. Mr. Wall called the attention to two points in the subject under consideration. First. That the district emancipation, though a local affair, was a forerunner of general emancipation; and, secondly, the freedom and citizenship of the Negro were regarded as simply an experiment. Continuing, he said:

While we have made material progress in these directions, there yet remains much to be done to destroy and entirely obliterate race distinctions and race prejudices and to break down the barriers to our complete recognition as equals in all departments of our Government. To accomplish these things we must rely chiefly upon our own efforts, our own exertions and our own industry, energy and perseverance. The education of our children and the accumulation of wealth are among the essentials in this direction. Those will do more to give us standing and recognition than all the legislation that is possible to be enacted for the next quarter of a century. But we must not only give our sons and daughters a literary education, but we must also give than an industrial education, train them in the different callings, trades, occupations and professions, and thus make them useful and valuable members of society, and of the communities in which they live.

Dr. S.L. Cook, then read, instead of the proclamation of emancipation, the act of Congress abolishing slavery in the District.

Prof. Richard T. Greener, the orator of the evening, here read an interesting and philosophical paper, discussing the political events immediately prior to the proclamation of District emancipation, the condition both of the country and the Negro race twenty years ago, the rapid progress of the Negro since that event, the utter refutation of the illemended prophesies against Him, the prospects of his still speedier and higher advancement, and the possibilities in the near future when all social barriers between the black and white races shall have been removed, and as one people they advance to their utmost development. He presented several striking pictures of the Republican leaders prominent in emancipation. Concluding, he said: We are living in the midst of a great social revolution equal in extent and violence to, though unmarked by, the sanguinary excesses of the social upheaval of the last century, known as the French revolution.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

47.8 miles to the gallon. That was the average fuel consumption in my Civic Hybrid during this past weekend’s road trip to Frederick, Maryland and the West Virginia panhandle. The trip led me to ponder some of life’s mysterious questions.

Why do West Virginia drivers insist on riding up your bumper on two lane roads, following closely enough that you can see the bugs in their grills in your rear view mirror? One person told me it was because they wanted to show you what they were going to have for lunch. Another told me the drivers were probably independent suppliers for local McDonald’s franchises. I don’t know who to believe.

So here we are on Tax Day and I feel sort of lost, because we broke a long standing tradition. Normally it’s a race to the Post Office to beat the midnight mailing deadline, but this year we filed early. I’m going to miss the adrenaline rush.

While millions of Americans dread tax season and April 15th in particular, if you’re Dick Cheney you have a big smile on your face. Last year the V.P. pulled in a tax refund in the neighborhood of $22 million. The advice I’d give to Mr. Cheney is to increase the number of exemptions he’s claiming on his W4, in order to reduce the amount of Federal withholding tax taken out of his bi-weekly pay check. Obviously the White House Payroll office is taking out way too much money.

And lets congratulate all the folks at Turbo Tax as they celebrate the company’s 147th anniversary of assisting people in finding every loophole and deduction written into the Federal Tax Codes. This year’s special software edition has a glowing testimony from, you guessed it, Vice President Dick Cheney.

Turbo Tax, in case you weren’t aware, was the brain child of Iowa farmer Elmer Dunedorf, who founded the company in an empty grain silo in 1861 following Congressional passage of the Revenue Act of 1861. The company saw further expansion in 1862 when reform measures introduced a 3 per cent tax on incomes up to $10,000, and a 5 per cent rate for incomes over that amount. Luckily for the little guy, anyone making less than $600 was exempt from paying taxes. Elmer, who by the way is Vice President Dick Cheney’s third cousin twice removed, was one of the few people who actually built a better mousetrap and people have been beating their way to Elmer’s silo ever since.

Monday, April 14, 2008

One word and one word only is engraved on the monument to Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C. Nothing else is needed, but his last name. His name is elevated above all others who fought in the American Civil War. And so how is that a man with no formal training as an artist or a sculpture could further elevate this greatest of all generals and produce a work so powerful, so utterly magnificent? I don’t know that we can ever fully appreciate or comprehend the creative process. But we can see the end result and stand in awe of its genius.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

From: Mejia, Leslie (CFSA)

Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2008 4:48 PM

To: CFSA – All Staff

Subject: Holiday Reminder

Good Afternoon Everyone:

We have a holiday next Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 is a legal holiday for District of Columbia employees. It is Emancipation Day.

If you are an essential employee, please check with your supervisor to see if you are scheduled to work on this day.

For more information on Emancipation Day, please click on the link below.



Wednesday, April 09, 2008

This article is from the July 4, 1909 edition of the Washington Post

Honor to Loyalty

Veterans See Belated Due Paid G.A.R. Founder

The Nation paid belated honor yesterday afternoon to the memory of Benjamin Franklin Stevenson of Springfield, Ill., the founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, when a memorial commemorating not only his personal loyalty, and devotion to country, but also the loyalty and devotion of all who wore the blue, was unveiled at Seventh street and Louisiana avenue, in the presence of President Taft, who formally accepted it on behalf of the government, and who later reviewed a military parade, which was possibly the most pretentious held in Washington in the last two or three years, excepting only the inaugural parade.

The exercises were attended by hundreds of veterans from this city and Baltimore, and several times during their program enthusiasm ran extremely high. The welcome which the old soldiers gave President Taft was especially warm.

…After the deliverance of an invocation…Gen. Louis Wagner, of Philadelphia, the treasurer of the memorial committee formally presented the memorial to the commander-in-chief of the G.A.R. Just as Gen. Wagner began speaking the band which had accompanied the Maryland delegation took up a position on the edge of the crowd and began playing “Maryland, My Maryland.” The general’s voice was completely drowned.

“If some one will stop that concern out there,” he shouted, “I’ll go on.”

President Taft chuckled and the crowd waited until police closed in on the exuberant Baltimore musicians. Then Gen. Wagner continued his address. Telling of the work done in raising funds for the construction of the memorial and of the assistance rendered the project by Mr. Taft, when secretary of war.

Commander-in-chief Henry M. Nevius, of the G.A.R., who was introduced as having risen from a sick bed to be present, formally accepted the memorial on behalf of the organization of which he is the head. In referring to the sacrifices and struggles of the Union forces during the war he referred to Gen. Jubal A. Early’s fruitless raid on Washington and his personal participation in the engagements at Fort Stevens and further up the valley when Sheridan drove the Confederates back.

The memorial was then formally unveiled…As the flags which covered it were drawn up the band crashed out with “The Star Spangled Banner,” and every one stood as the clear soprano voice of Mrs. Anna Grant Fugitt took up the strain.

Three wreaths were placed on the steps of the memorial…all [by] daughters of veterans. As President Taft arose to formally accept the memorial for the United States he was presented with a boquet of flowers…

The President was in splendid voice and made himself heard by every one present…

"We are met to dedicate a memorial to a Union soldier, who served four years as a surgeon in the civil war, and who also builded an institution by which there should be united in the bonds of fellowship all the sweet association, all the deep lessons of loyalty, and all the pride of patriotism that such a civil war as that could arouse in millions of hearts…But how much greater must be the sweet association and the bond of union between men who for four years passed through the dangers of the civil war; those who survived thinking of the tender memories of those who gave up their lives for their country; those surviving carrying with them the sweet association, the stories or courage, and the tales full of humor, and of pathos. I conceive no bond of union stronger than that which unites the men who fought from ’61 to ’65 in the grand army’ and it was the credit of the founder of the Grand Army of the Republic that he saw the solid basis upon which such a structure as that great society could be erected...."

…As the President sat down Senator Warner shouted out: “All you old soldiers stand up and give the President three rousing cheers. Let’s see how loud you can make ‘em."

The veterans jumped to their feet and handed out a line of cheers, under the leadership of the Missouri statesman, that made the chief executive almost shudder because of their vehemence.

“They haven’t lost their voices yet, senator,” he said, smilingly.

Mrs. Fugitt sang “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” next, and hundreds joined in the chorus with genuine enthusiasm and feeling.


Note: Click "Read More" to see additional photos

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.
William Tecumseh Sherman

On October 15, 1903 a vast sea of people gathered in Washington, DC for the dedication of Carl Rohl-Smith's monument to William Tecumseh Sherman. It was a day when veterans representating the victorious Armies of the Tennessee, the Potomac, the Cumberland, and the Ohio paid homage to a nation's hero. Following the Invocation and an introductory address by Major General Grenville M. Dodge, Sherman's 10-year-old grandson, William Tecumseh Sherman Thorndike, aided by two soldiers, pulled on a rope to unveil the equestrian statue. When the raucous applause and cheers quieted, President Theodore Roosevelt stepped to the podium to deliver remarks, directing Americans to remember the sacrifices of an earlier generation and their own responsibility to the future. They are words we can all take to heart on April 8, 2008.

…. Our homage to-day to the memory of Sherman comes from the depths of our being. We would be unworthy citizens did we not feel profound gratitude toward him, and those like him and under him, who, when the country called in her dire need, sprang forward with such gallant eagerness to answer that call. Their blood and their toil, their endurance and patriotism, have made us and all who come after us forever their debtors. They left us not merely a reunited country, but a country incalculably greater because of its rich heritage in the deeds which thus left it reunited. As a nation we are greater, not only for the valor and devotion to duty displayed by the men in blue, who won in the great struggle for the Union, but also for the valor and the loyalty toward what they regarded as right of the men in gray; for this war, thrice fortunate above all recent wars in its outcome left to all of us the right of brotherhood alike with valiant victor and valiant vanquished…We of the present, if we are true to the past, must show by our lives that we have learned aright the lessons taught by the men who did the mighty deeds of the past…Their lives teach us in our own lives to strive after not the thing that is merely pleasant, but the thing which it is our duty to do. The life of duty, not the life of mere ease or mere pleasure, that is the kind of life which makes the great man as it makes the great nation.

…In the long run, then, it depends upon us ourselves, upon us the people as a whole, whether this Government is or is not to stand in the future as it has stood in the past; and my faith that it will show no falling off is based upon my faith in the character of our average citizen. The one supreme duty is to try to keep this average high. To this end it is well to keep alive the memory of those men who are fit to serve as examples of what is loftiest and best in American citizenship. Such a man was General Sherman. To very few in any generation is it given to render such services as he rendered; but each of us in his degree can try to show something of those qualities of character upon which, in their sum, the high worth of Sherman rested – his courage, his kindliness, his clean and simple living, his sturdy good sense, his manliness and tenderness in the intimate relations of life, and, finally, his inflexible rectitude of soul and his loyalty to all that in this free Republic is hallowed and symbolized by the national flag.


Click "Read More" for additional pictures

Monday, April 07, 2008

The building I work in is located in Southwest Washington. We’re within a stone’s throw of a number of Federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Education, N.A.S.A., and FEMA. The Department of Transportation was directly across the street until they were moved to the Navy Yard to make way for a $350 million building renovation. Exit our building and look to the right, the Air and Space Museum, two city blocks away, sits as a barricade, blocking a view of the National Mall.

The immediate area, labeled “the Federal Triangle,” is filled for the better part with the uninspired vision of architects who produced squat, spare, rectangular buildings. It’s a sterile environment that transforms itself to a virtual ghost town after 4:30 p.m, though our building, fortunately or unfortunately, is alive with Social Workers entering through its doors and metal detector with abused or neglected children in tow 24/7/365.

A highway and a major commuter artery dissects Southwest into three distinct areas. Cross the highway and you’re into a residential area filled with town homes, condominiums, and apartment buildings, all bearing the same mark of blandness. The third section, across South Capitol Street, was populated by warehouses, vacant lots, and a variety of nightclubs catering to a unique clientele, but is undergoing a billion worth of construction thanks to the decision to locate a new ballpark for the Washington Nationals in that area.

Historically Southwest was one of the poorest neighborhoods in D.C., the first stop for huddled masses when they migrated to the Nation’s Capitol. That is until the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when federally sanctioned bulldozers and wrecking balls leveled every existing structure within a fifteen to twenty square mile blight zone. And I mean every existing structure, with three exceptions, one of which was St. Dominic’s Catholic Church.

St. Dominic’s stands a block away and I've gazed at it almost every workday for the past eight years. I’ve always admired its tall copper clad steeple, which has aged to a beautiful green patina. On the occasions when I’d walk by I was always struck by its architectural details, its slate roof, the stone masonry walls. Not even as remotely ornate, or as impressive as the National Cathedral, I had nonetheless developed a fondness for the building. One piece of history drew me inside. That piece was a stained glass window donated by Eleanor Boyle Ewing Sherman, wife of William Tecumseh Sherman. A devout Catholic, “Ellen,” had attended St. Dominic’s during her husband’s tenure as General of the Army from 1869 to 1883, during which time he was situated in Washington for all but two years.

Originally built in 1852, the church flourished even during the Civil War era and was later expanded to include a priory, school, and convent. Parishioners, then comprised mainly of Irish-Americans, generously donated a series of stained glass windows depicting the life of St. Dominic and an 1885 Hilborne Roosevelt pipe organ is still in use. The organ is reportedly only one of 12 surviving instruments built by Hilborne, the preeminent organ builder of his time and a cousin to Teddy, between 1879 and 1893.

I'll open the door and take you inside, to an interior with beautiful gothic architecture, and stunning stained glass.

(Click on "Read More" for additional pictures)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Remember that stack of papers I mentioned Monday, the one where I found the Washington Post article on Lincoln’s clothing being moved from the Ford’s Theater museum? Well I found another Metro section in the same pile, this one dated August 11, 2007. The headline for the lead story on that date was “32 Miles of Trash and Treasures. Bargain Hunters Crawl for Other People’s Clutter in Shenandoah County.”

That story was about the third annual community yard sale that stretched from Strasburg, where gas was selling for the low, low price of $2.67 a gallon, down the Jackson-Lee Memorial Highway, past a Civil War marker for the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, through Woodstock, on into the town of Edinburg, 18 miles from Strasburg, and finally ending at New Market.

“They came in from Maryland…in campers from Pennsylvania and SUVs from Delaware. By the hundreds…” to “find that perfect something you didn’t even know you wanted. A plaster owl. A Victorian love seat. An antique burbon tumbler. And not even have to pay too much for it.”

Carroll Estepp, who worked at a local Exxon station in Strasburg voiced a complaint though. “It’s too conglomerated. You walk out in the road and you’re like as to become a hood ornament. Besides, the only thing I’d want to buy is guns.”

Much as I love a good flea market, the reason for saving the paper was a story on the restoration of the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a four-year 11.2 million dollar project that, when completed in the fall of this year, will be housed in a building adjacent to the new Gettysburg Military Park Visitors Center. Each of the 14 sections of the 377-foot-long painting, completed by Paul Philippoteau in 1884, measures 26 feet wide and weighs in at 950 pounds.

According to the story by Post staff writer Michael Ruane, Cycloramas were all “the rage” during the 1880s and ‘90s. These mammoth paintings, often depicting famous battles such as Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Second Bull Run, drew overflow crowds wherever they were displayed. Having a theater capable of holding the paintings was akin to a city having a major sports franchise. Washington had two of the circular theaters, one close by the Treasury Building that stood five stories tall.

The paintings, including nine separate depictions of Gettysburg, followed a rotating circuit among cities. Philippoteaux and his team of artists were responsible for producing four of the Gettysburg cycloramas. The first of his works was exhibited in Chicago, while the one at the Gettysburg Battlefield Park was commissioned for display at Boston. The other two hung in New York and Philadelphia.

Philippoteaux’s work was especially lauded for its attention to detail. Utilizing photographs taken by Gettysburg photographer William Tipton, “before the monumentation craze,” Philippoteaux hired artists, selected for their individual skill in recreating landscapes, people, or animals, to complete the projects. When the Chicago painting was unveiled in 1884, former Union General John Gibbon remarked “I never before had an idea that the eye could be so deceived by paint and canvas.”

There is only one other cyclorama known to exist today. That painting, discovered in a burnt-out Chicago warehouse in 1965, was donated to Wake Forest University in 1996 and sold to a group of private buyers last year.

When the crowds faded in the late 1880s it’s a miracle the Boston painting survived and eventually found its way to Gettysburg. Cut into pieces and stored in a wooden crate on a vacant lot, it was set on fire two different times before being rescued by Albert Hahne, a Newark, New Jersey Department store owner, who hung pieces of it in his emporium. In 1913, Hahne, ever the entrepreneur, moved the painting to a specially constructed building on Cemetery Hill, in time for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the battle. It would remain in this building until 1942 when purchased by the National Park Service. The Park Service would, in turn, restore the painting and return it to public view in 1963, the same year they ordered the demolition of Hahne’s building.

Abused, misused, battered, and bruised, much like the troops at the battle it depicts, the painting, in the words of conservator Mary Wootton, “really is a treasure.”

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Poor George Meade. His was one of the last of the Civil War monuments to be erected in Washington, an honor that occurred 55 years after his death. Sculpted from marble by Charles A. Grafly, the monument was unveiled on the National Mall, near the Grant Memorial, on October 19, 1927. According to information I’ve read only a handful of veterans who served under Meade were in attendance. In 1969 the National Park Service made a decision to remove the memorial from the Mall and placed it into storage until 1983, when a suitable location was found at the corner of 3rd Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue.

During the time I shot pictures a group of adolescent skateboarders made use of the surrounding obstacles, including the wide base and low steps of the monument, to perform tricks. My curiosity ran high and I asked them if they knew anything about the statue and the person it was dedicated to. All seven came up blank. Only one recognized the name George Meade, but he couldn’t connect the name to anything in particular. Sic transit gloria (Glory fades).


Glory, however, does not fade when the cherry blossoms are in bloom along the Tidal Basin.

Note: Click on "Read More" for additional pictures

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Baseball finally returned to Washington, DC on Sunday, March 30th. Forget the fact the Montreal Expos relocated to the city in 2005 and played three years at R.F.K. Stadium, because baseball was never meant for a multi-purpose mixing bowl. This was the real deal, with foul poles and fences placed at baseball appropriate distances, with the prerequisite nooks and crannies befitting retro ballparks. Forget the horrid past that was baseball in the Nation’s capitol, when the Nationals/Senators won only two American League pennants and one World Series championship in 60 years. The ghosts of Clark Griffith, Bucky Harris, Walter Johnson, Rick Farrell, Goose Goslin, and Sam Rice, the only members of the Washington baseball fraternity enshrined at Cooperstown, were watching from the dugout, from the pitcher’s mound, from behind the plate, and from the outfield for certain. It’s unknown what they would have actually thought of the brand spanking new ballpark, unknown what they would have actually thought of the near capacity crowd, when they themselves toiled before fans who attended at two-thirds the rate of the American League average during their playing careers, before Calvin Griffith used “blacks don’t attend baseball games” as his excuse to pull up stakes and caravan to a new promised land in 1961. They probably all would have marveled at the sight. Those who attended the 2008 Home Opener, including yours truly, certainly did.

In spite of a walk off moon shot by Third Baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the bottom of the ninth, the outlook for 2008 Nationals is probably grim and a return to all those seasons when they were the bottom feeders in the American League likely. But anyone arriving at the ballpark Sunday, whether by car, bus, or as sardines on Metro trains, was treated to a Times Squaresque barrage of neon and music, a hundred foot red carpet, and groups beseeching everyone to sign petitions for the impeachment of George Bush. I don’t know if Bush is considered a beleaguered President, but there were more than a sprinkling of boos throughout the stadium when he was introduced to throw out the first pitch. And speaking of the President, his presence at the ballgame caused a one-hour delay in getting into the ballpark as everyone was subjected to a bag check, followed by a metal detector scan.

In spite of long lines at the concession stands and restrooms, which were to be expected at an opening game in a new venue, beer was in ready supply and the only item hawked in the stands during the game. The only snafu I personally observed occurred in the bottom of the third inning when the smaller scoreboards on the first and third base sides stopped functioning. They were fixed and fully operational before the top of the fourth.

Baseball moves at a pace that not everyone appreciates. As a hedge against potential boredom on those nights when the home team is, say, trailing 13-2, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 59 vendors, offering amenities ranging from a children’s playground, a store where you can build a teddy bear or Screech, the National’s mascot, a video arcade, batting cage, and 12 local food vendors, including Ben’s Chili Bowl, a DC landmark. Do video arcades and build a bear stores fit into my ideally constructed ballpark, no, but then neither does the largest electronic scoreboard in North America. What can I say? I’m a ban both the designated hitter and Inter-league play kind of guy.

Washington should be proud of its moument to the National pastime. Even Adrian Fenty, who’s into his fifteenth month as mayor and opposed funding of its construction while a member of the City Council, was all smiles when he walked down the line I was standing in before the game shaking hands and probably still all smiles, even though booed when introduced just prior to the start of the game. I couldn’t be totally certain, but it sounded like he won over Bush. No, this wasn’t a booing crowd; it was a beaming crowd basking in the razzle-dazzle and spit and polish of the place.

Washington is still in the process of birthing a genuine love for the hometown team. People move to DC from other parts of the country and still have allegiances intact. In some ways it’s a tough sell, but regardless the park is going to be filled this year. A new park always draws. According to a person I spoke to at the ticket sales office they’re hoping to hit 3 million in attendance. The old Nationals/Senators drew 1.2 million in their best year, 1946. The key to survival will be what occurs in year two and on into the future. Attendance dropped 500,000 in the second year and another 200,000 by the time the Nationals finished their third and last year at R.F.K.

Still, with all the hoopla I can’t help but think, pardon me Washington, pardon me Baltimore, Frisco, Pittsburgh, and most of all pardon me “The House that Ruth Built” and Green Mon-sta Nation, that Wrigley is still the jewel of baseball diamonds.


Arriving by Metro

Note: Click on "Read More" to see more pictures. Additionally, the failure to make any mention of the Texas Rangers, who played in Washington and averaged 8200 fans a game between 1961 and 1971, was purely intentional. Washington baseball fans have suffered enough without rubbing more salt in their wounds.