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This is the archive for March 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Frank Milligan, Director of the Lincoln Cottage, barely had time to brush the biscuit crumbs off his shirt after eating at Kevin Levin’s breakfast, before he was called to present. He began with a gloomy forecast. In the next two to three years expect lots of museums to either merge or close their doors due to tough financial times. The Lincoln Cottage may weather the approaching storm, being that it’s under the stewardship of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Last year, after completion of major renovations, the doors to the cottage were opened again to 35,000 visitors. Based on timed tours, that’s about 10,000 below capacity. “It’s an important historical setting,” Frank said, as “it’s the only place Lincoln lived at that can talk about Lincoln as President.” The Lincoln home in Springfield was a pre-Presidential residence, while the White House has undergone so many changes since 1865 that Lincoln’s presence is virtually indiscernible to the public eye.

The mission of the museum is to “talk about his ideas that he fought for while he lived there.” “This is not a cottage, but a country home built by a banker who wanted to make a statement.” The house sits on grounds that continue as they were intended, a home for veterans. There are currently 1,100 veterans in residence, most from the Viet Nam era and until only recently started to outnumber World War II vets.

The question always arises as to “why Lincoln would get on a horse and ride three miles through often dark and dangerous territory.” “The Soldier’s Home meant something to Lincoln.” It was “an intimate environment,” where visitors appeared with less frequency than at the White House. Staff have thus far been able to identify 300 of those visitors who made that same ride from Washington during the four years the Lincoln family occupied the cottage, generally from May to November when they’d unpack up as many as fourteen wagons full of furniture and personal belongings. It offered the seclusion of 300 acres that have changed little over time and, situated on the second highest point in Washington with a seemingly never-ending breeze, provided a panoramic view of the city and the Potomac.

The public is made aware that Lincoln dealt with both the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment while present at the cottage and are educated as to what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution meant to him personally. Visitors seem to respond favorably, many commenting “I understand Lincoln now.” “It’s an exiting place,” says Milligan, with “an exciting story to tell…It’s not important where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. It is important as a place where he thought it through.”

I've made one visit to the Lincoln Cottage. As I commented to Frank during a break, his presentation "got me fired up to make another visit."

A recent addition to the cottage grounds is a life sized bronze of Lincoln wearing his famous stove pipe hat, standing next to his favorite horse, Old Bob, looking back toward the front door. Milligan said it represents Lincoln as he’s about to depart for the White House and is perhaps the most symbolically defining image of Lincoln’s ties to this summer home.

Photo by "southbound 7" from

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The following was excerpted from the November 20, 1879 edition of The Washington Post.


Yesterday’s Grand Pageant

A Magnificent Process

Distinguished Soldiers In The Ranks

Ceremonies At The Bronze Statue

The Army Of The Cumberland And Its Heroes

Yesterday was the liveliest and most noted day that the District cities have seen since the grand review on those sunny summer days in 1865 sent 200,000 veterans from the license of the camps and the frays of the field back to the workshops and the counting-houses of quiet and orderly peace. The unveiling of the statue of Gen. George H. Thomas, the great soldier of the Union side in the late civil war, whose rigid science and stern devotion to systematic duty won the last, and if not the decisive, certainly the hardest fought battle of the war, was the occasion of the calling to the District a large number of persons and the creating of grandest and at the same time the most orderly enthusiasm that have been seen or created here, certainly since the close of the war. The movement, originating with the members of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland, and engineered by them to as perfect a success as ever crowned systematic efforts with triumph, outgrew its original conception, and became a National work, into which all men, without distinction or difference of opinion, entered heartily and enthusiastically. The city of Washington, in the last two days, became crowded with strangers, invited guests from the most prominent ranks of society, and distinguished citizens from all sections of the land. The most notable feature of the whole movement was its spontaneous enthusiasm, so to speak, and next, and quite as remarkable, the utter absence of disorder….

Following [the meeting of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland] came the forming of the vast procession, which exhibited a longer line of men in rank than Washington has seen since the grand review in 1865. Formed at the foot of the Capitol it reached up the avenue to Four-and-a-half street west, and overflowing those bounds surged up the latter street to Louisiana avenue. The entire column, composed of civilians, soldiers, ex-soldiers, representatives of all the executive departments of the Government, with organizations from abroad, passed up the Avenue, filed in review before the White House and [President Rutherford B.] Hayes, and taking up its line of march to the northwestern part of the city, broke ranks at the Thomas Circle to await the ceremonies of unveiling the statue. All along its line of march the citizens and the public departments vied with each other in decorating houses with the gayest of insignia, flags, banners and streamers, till the streets wore a carnival look. At the circle thousands of people had gathered before the procession arrived at that point. Mr. Hayes and family, the Cabinet ministers, the Judges of the Supreme court, the District officers, the Foreign diplomatic corps and hosts of the most prominent citizens sat in the raw, gusty pauses of a chill November day for hours in patient attention to the ceremonies. Those ceremonies were of the most interesting kind, and were carried out to perfect success, unmarred by a single failure or accident. At night the city was illuminated, and the exercises of the Society of the Cumberland at its tent attracted 15,000 guests.

The Remarks of Stanley Matthews [Senator from Ohio 1877 to 1879 and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court 1881 to 1889]

The name of George Henry Thomas – soldier and patriot – has already been inscribed on that scroll of honorable fame which posterity will reverently guard in the archives of our National history. Today Art, summoned to its proper work, lifts aloft the dignity and majesty of his person, as the society of the Army of the Cumberland, by these public acts and solemn ceremonials, dedications to the people of the United States the form and presence of its beloved commander….

There was nothing in him fluctuating, mercurial, or eccentric. He was set, inflexible, undeviating, steering steadily by the stars upon the arc of a great circle. He was resolute, unyielding, with a fortitude incapable of intimidation, or dismay, and yet without pretension, boasting, self-assertion or noisy demonstration. He was conspicuous for modesty and dignity, and was altogether free from affectation or envy.

At the age of twenty, in 1836, he entered the military academy. In 1840, having graduated, he was commissioned as a second-lieutenant, and rose, successively, through every intermediated grade, until, on December 15, 1864, the date of the first day’s battle at Nashville, he was promoted to be a Major-General in the army of the United States.

At the beginning of the Rebellion, in 1861, he had attained the forty-fifth year of his age, the full age of a matured and ripened manhood. He was no longer in the flush and hey-day of impotouous youth…He was neither genius, accomplishing results without apparent means, by lightning stroke of magic and mere will; nor was he a favorate child of fortune, winning success by accident and chance, against odds, plucking the flower safety out of the nettle danger, when by the common laws of human conduct he ought to have suffered the penalty of rashness and improvidence. One of the valuable lessons of his military career is, that every success rests upon the rational basis of a thorough organization of the means necessary to insure it; that valor is nothing better than blind and bloody persistence, unless supported on either flank by knowledge and prudence….

In this unnatural contest George H. Thomas adhered to the Government to which he had sworn allegiance, and not to its enemies in arms. He was born, it is true, in Virginia, but his home and country was the United States of America…His reason told him where his duty lay; his conscience bade him follow it. In the uniform of an officer of the army of the United States he followed its flag across the Potomac, at the head of troops and in obedience to its lawful commands upon the soil of his native State, sacred to him only as it was consecrated to the Constitution and the Union. And if his conduct and career was in contrast with that of others of her sons whom on that account, she has preferred to honor, nevertheless, a generation in Virginia will yet arise who will learn and confess the truth, that George H. Thomas, when he lifted his sword to bar the pathway of her secession, loved her as well as these and served her better.

This monument, consecrated to-day to him whose fame we celebrate, is also sacred to the memory of that invisible host without whom he was nothing – the unrecorded dead, the untitled soldiers of the Union, the vanished and nameless of the Army of the Republic, who were not merely willing to die, but to be forgotten, so that the memory of the good their death should bring might live after them. As long as the love of country shall survive among the generations of this people, or liberty make its home under the protection of our National institutions, the example of their patriotic devotion will not die for lack of honorable remembrance or worthy imitation. We stand with uncovered heads and hearts laid bare to-day, in the presence of an innumerable company of these heroic spirits – witnesses, sympathizing with us in these solemn and patriotic ceremonials, honoring the memory of our great soldier and patriot.


Monday, March 09, 2009

The following was excerpted from the April 10, 1901 edition of The Washington Post

In Memory of Logan

Bronze Equestrian Statue of Hero Unveiled

Lauded as Patriot and Warrior

With the President of the United States [William McKinley], his cabinet, and the veterans of his Army of Tennessee, and hundreds of civilians gathered in honor of the occasion, the bronze statue of Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, soldier, patriot, and statesman, was unveiled yesterday afternoon in Iowa Circle [since renamed Logan Circle]. The widow and many members of the family of the dead hero were in attendance, as was the sculptor whose art had molded in deathless metal the figure of the great warrior whose glorious memory was honored. Tribute was paid to the patriotism, the power as man and soldier, the devotion to country and right by President McKinley, by Senator Chauncey M. Depew, and by Gen. Granville M. Dodge, who had been one of General Logan’s associates in arms.

Excerpts from remarks by Sen. Chauncey M. Dupree of Illinois:

There was no more uncompromising section of the United States in which to rear a Union man and a Federal soldier than the ancient Egypt of Illinois. It had been settled by slaveholders, and the sons of slaveholders and its people, from blood relationship, sympathy and association, were in thorough accord with the slaveholding States from which they had come. Young Logan became their idol, and he was their Representative in Congress. The nearly unanimous vote by which he was sent to Washington illustratated the closeness and confidence between himself and this constituency. He was a tower of strength for the reactionary views and purposes of the slavery leaders in Congress, but underneath the sentiment and principles of the party to which he was devoted burned a spirit of liberty....

When hostilities began, a weaker man than Logan would have sided with his constituents in their sympathy with the South. Had he been with them, an insurrection in Southern Illinois, barring the way of the Union army to Kentucky and Tennessee, would have been a frightful blow to the success of the national cause....

Logan is the finest example of the volunteer soldier. Around the nucleus of a little army of 25,000 regulars gathered a million of volunteers, who formed, in an incredibly brief space of time, the most magnificent and resistless body of solidery of modern or ancient times. They demonstrated, in the quickness with which the army was mobilized and disciplined; in the steadiness and endurance which it exhibited as if trained veterans and in its peaceful disbandment and return to the pursuits of peace after the close of the war, that the strength and reliance of our country rest upon its citizen soldiery....

The magnanimity and generosity of this thunderbolt of war were as marked as his courage. When Grant became impatient because Gen. Thomas lingered at Nashville, instead of moving upon the enemy, he sent Logan to supersede him. When Logan arrived at Cincinnati, he learned that Thomas had started. He knew that he could reach Thomas’ army before a battle, and that he had before him that great temptation and opportunity for a soldier – a significant and decisive victory. But he knew that Thomas had made the preparations with such care that failure was impossible. He knew that the honors were due to the organizer of the prospective triumph, and he delayed plucking the laurels that were within his grasp, that they might adorn the brow of Thomas....

So again in the bloody battle of Atlanta, McPherson fell at the beginning of the fight. He was the idol of the army and one of the most brilliant, accomplished and promising officers of the war on either side. The command devolved from the West Pointer to the volunteer. It is the testimony of Grant, Sherman, Howard, and of all his superior officers and contemporaries that in no conflict of the war were the troops more ably and skillfully handled than by Logan. Not only was he the directing genius, planning and ordering the execution of the complex details of a widely extended field, but at the critical points, upon his black charger, this ideal soldier, with his flowing raven hair and flashing eyes, the incarnation of battle, was rallying the routed troops and leading them again to attack and to victory....

The most gratifying tribute to himself and the best expression of the opinion of the volunteer army in regard to him was his election as the first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, repeated as often as he would accept the place. Long after all but the leaders of the civil strife on either side are forgotten, Logan’s memory will remain green because of the beautiful memorial service which he originated, and which now in every part of our reunited land sets aside one day in the year as a national holiday in order that the graves of the gallant dead, both on the Federal and Confederate side, may be decorated with flowers. It is no longer confined to the soldiers of the civil war, but continued to those of our latest struggle. The ceremony will exist and be actively participated in while posterity remains proud of heroic ancestors and of their achievements, and our country venerates the patriotism and the courage of those who died for its preservation or its honor....

The Statue

The pedestal is twenty feet high in height. On its west face is a group representing Gen. Logan and other officers of the Army of the Tennessee…The mounted figure of the statue itself rises fourteen and one-half feet above the pedestal. Gen. Logan is represented as riding along the line of battle, his sword drawn and carried low in his right hand…The attitude chosen for the soldier is one of strength and power, and his steed seems all but endowed with life. The pedestal is one of the most artistic in the Capital, and both horse and rider convey all impressing sense of dignity and strength. The figures are exactly double life size, and, weigh together, five tons.





Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Two blocks from the “Spirit of Freedom” memorial, at 1200 U St. NW, is the African-American Civil War Museum. Not the tiniest museum I’ve ever entered, but it ranks up there among the smallest, being that it’s comprised of a narrow eight foot foyer lined with pictures, and a shorter but narrower hallway that then leads into a room approximately two hundred and fifty feet square. The walls are again adorned with pictures and posters, but disappointingly, beyond slave shackles arranged on a windowsill, few original artifacts.

I busied myself by reading the narratives on the walls and studying the pictures, a number of which would be familiar to anyone who’s explored the African-American Civil War experience. Perhaps more importantly, the museum acts as an online and onsite research center, providing resources, a link to the National Park Service’s Civil War database, and educational programs, both at the museum and on an outreach basis.

While my visit was planned, curiosity drew in a black family from Virginia, who happened to be walking by. The husband admitted he wasn't aware of the museum's existance. The couple’s two children were fidgety, normal behavior for kids in a place that doesn’t have lots fun things to hold their attention. But the parents and I listened closely to Hari Jones, the curator and Assistant Director of the museum. Jones fired off non-stop facts about African-American troops and then, tailoring his remarks to the husband whose ancestors lived in South Carolina, spoke of successful efforts by blacks in clearing Confederate troops from South Carolina's Sea Islands. Shifting his focus, he then began pointing out inaccuracies that plagued the movie Glory. For example, there were no former slaves in the regiment and, according to Robert Gould Shaw, only two men in the regiment were illiterate. I thought he was off in his facts when he stated only “35” members of the 54th Massachusetts were killed during the assault on Battery Wagner. Somehow that figure seemed awfully low. I didn’t challenge that though, nor the inaccuracy of his Sea Islands story, but remained silent. I checked casualties figures for the 54th later, confirming that 116 were killed and another 156 were wounded or missing out an estimated 600 who initially marched toward the waiting garrison.

There was a loose-leaf binder on a table, the pages of which contained research conducted by Juanita Patience Moss, documenting over 1,000 African-Americans who served with white regiments during the war. This was an area of research that was foreign to me and one I never gave thought to. These men served in regiments from virtually every Northern state, including three with the 24th Massachusetts Infantry. Moss' research has been published as “The Forgotten Black Soldiers in White Regiments,” by Heritage Press.

Like most historical museums, it's obvious the AACWM is hard pressed for money. Visitors are asked to donate rather than pay an admission charge. While its mission is to educate a multi-ethnic audience, I suspect the museum is not fully embraced by the audience it most wants to reach. In spite of a war that led to the emancipation of slaves, in spite of the fact that large numbers of African-Americans fought to ensure that freedom resulted, the legacy handed down by African-Americans among themselves dismisses the Civil War as "a white man's war." In considering a hundred years of post-Civil War history, there's more than sufficient reason for anyone to chant that mantra with conviction.

The museum, which can be easily reached by taking the Metro to the Shaw-Cardoza stop, is open Monday to Friday 10 to 5 and Saturdays from 10 to 2.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

To some, it’s a statue. But to me, it’s lives standing up there.”
Kevin Douglass Greene, Great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass

132 years after a bill to fund a monument to honor African-American soldiers who had fought for the Union died in the House of Representatives, tribute finally met its due when the “Spirit of Freedom,” was dedicated on July 18, 1998. July 18th wasn't a date picked from thin air, but has meaning as it denotes the 1863 storming of Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts.

Louisville native Ed Hamilton’s bronze convex sculpture, fronted by three musket-bearing soldiers and a sailor with his hands on a ship’s wheel, stands in a square paved with natural stone at the corner of 10th and U streets in Northwest Washington to commemorate 209,135 African-American soldiers and sailors who fought for the Union during the Civil War. On the reverse, closely grouped and symbolizing a family, are two adult females, one holding a baby in her arms, two small children, and an adult male placing his hand on the barrel of a musket held by another soldier, as if gesturing his gratitude. Seated behind the memorial is a low convex wall inscribed with the names of all African-Americans who served and sacrificed their lives for country and freedom.

I’d be remiss if I failed to point out other Ed Hamilton works, including one honoring William Clark’s slave York, an important member of the Lewis and Clark expeditionary force which stands in Louisville, the Amistad memorial in New Haven, CT, the Joe Lewis Memorial in Detroit, the Booker T. Washington Memorial Garden in Norfolk, Virginia, and a bust of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers at the NAACP national headquarters in Baltimore.

The following pictures were taken on two different visits to the monument.