Controversial Proposal for Grant Memorial
Ask anyone what they think is Washington, D.C.’s most impressive presidential monument and they’re sure to mention Washington, Lincoln or Jefferson. Even though the Grant Memorial is beautifully sited at the foot of the U.S. Capitol, so Ulysses and his horse (below left) have a eyepopping view of the National Mall, the Union’s most prominent general often gets short shrift—perhaps due to his monument’s environs.
The setting for sculptor Henry Merwin Shrady’s masterpiece seemed perfect when the monument was unveiled at the centennial of Ulysses Grant’s birth in 1922, but today it is less than ideal. Adjoining streets have been gobbled up for Federal employee parking. And it’s increasingly hard to get close enough to appreciate the monument’s grandeur; you have to risk your life crossing several lanes of traffic to get the full impact of the world’s second-largest equestrian sculpture. That’s why the National Park Service has come up with three proposals, ranging from improving the water element and adding restrooms and a gift shop to removing the pool and paving much of the area, to create an “urban civic square.”
To date, those proposals haven’t been well received. Some believe that none of the changes would enhance the sculpture, while others think the government is just looking for a place to corral protesters away from the Capitol steps. What happens next? An initial public comment period was due to end in February, after which a “preferred alternative” will be discussed at meetings across the nation this summer. Stay tuned for more details once the dust settles.
The Most Endangered Battlefields
One would hope that in 2008, after years of effort, people would respect the hallowed ground of Civil War battlefields and they would be protected places. Unfortunately, that is far from the case, and to help raise awareness of the looming dangers faced by important sites, the Civil War Preservation Trust recently released its annual list of the 10 most endangered battlefields, a slate that includes sites ranging from the East Coast to the Ozark Mountains.
The Trust also lists 15 “at risk” locations, including such familiar names as Brandy Station, Petersburg and Kennesaw Mountain, Ga. For more information and how you can help the CWPT, visit www.civilwar.org.
A Fresh Look at Boonville
Union Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon’s defeat of Confederates led by State Guard Colonel John S. Marmaduke at the Battle of Boonville, Mo., on June 17, 1861, was Missouri’s first Civil War battle, and constituted a crucial loss for Missourians bent on pushing their state into the CSA. A systematic survey of the site had never been undertaken before last year, when the Missouri Civil War Heritage Foundation employed archaeologist Doug Scott for the job. Scott launched his search between Boonville and the Missouri River last November. His goal was to map the battlefield’s extent (problematic, since a running fight quickly developed) as well as the militia camp. Although his report is still pending as of this writing, photos of some discoveries there confirm Boonville as a significant battle site.
Tracking an Evasive Past
On a steep mountain road in Clarke County, Va., some 40 of Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby’s rangers swooped down on 100 Federal cavalrymen on February 19, 1865. Their goal: to rescue 25 of their own men, taken prisoner the night before. Major Adolphus “Dolly” Richards led the avenging rangers in their attack that Sunday afternoon near Mt. Carmel Church, where they decimated the Union column, killing 13, wounding many more and capturing 63—and freeing their comrades. Mosby would later de scribe the Mt. Carmel attack as “the most brilliant thing our men ever did,” yet it was only one success among many for the Rebel cavalry leader, dubbed the “Gray Ghost” for his uncanny ability to elude capture.
Thanks to the postwar work of Confederate veterans, the haunts of Mosby and other storied Rebels can be more readily traced today in Clarke County, Va., as well as nearby Jefferson County, W.Va. Fifty years after the end of the war the J.E.B. Stuart Camp of Confederate Veterans marked the locations of strategic battles in Clarke with 10 2-foot-tall granite monuments. The Jefferson County Camp of the United Confederate Veterans performed a similar service, setting up 25 concrete obelisks at battle sites.
How to find those markers today? Handy brochures complete with a map are available to help you trace the past despite new subdivisions, altered road names and the like. For Clarke County, either call the Historical Association at 540-955-2600 or visit www.mosby heritagearea.org for additional information (GPS coordinates are even provided). If you plan to be in West Virginia, visit www.jefferson historicalwv.org for maps and brochure info.
Lincoln’s Spiritual Home Opens
When President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home opened its doors to the public on February 18, director Frank Milligan made it clear that visitors should be ready to do more than just ooh and aah over its period interiors. “There are so many stories to tell here,” he said. “We want people to know how important this house was in Abraham Lincoln’s life.”
The Gothic Revival–style cottage in Washington, D.C., served as a second home for the 16th president and his family beginning in June 1862. They stayed there throughout the summer and most of the fall for three consecutive years, with Lincoln choosing to brave the six-mile round trip every day to his office at the White House.
The just-completed $15 million renovation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation was challenging, given the scarcity of photos and records of furniture and furnishings. But what makes it unique is the multimedia approach used to help visitors envision Lincoln’s time there. The rooms are equipped with video and audio monitors that provide dramatizations of significant events. And next door is the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, where it’s possible to adopt the personalities of Lincoln’s key cabinet members and even debate critical wartime issues.
All tours are guided, with space limited to 15 per tour. Open 10-4 Monday-Saturday, noon-4 Sunday. Reservations are recommended. Visit www.lincoln cottage.org or call 202-829-0436.
Centennial Emancipation Commemorative
Most of us can’t remember when postage cost as little as a nickel, but that was the going price in 1963, when the U.S. Post Office issued its Emancipation Proclamation Anniversary stamp. A striking graphic depicting the broken chains of slavery, it was the first stamp to be designed by an African American, Georg Olden— the grandson of an escaped slave who fought in a Union regiment during the Civil War. At a ceremony on May 1, 1963, President John F. Kennedy praised Olden’s design as “a re – minder of the extra ordinary actions in the past as well as the business of the future.” It was issued in Chicago on the opening day of the Century of Negro Progress Exposition.
The stamp’s designer, a pioneer in broadcast graphics, earned seven Clio Awards (for creative advertising in design, print, radio and TV). In a 1954 interview with Ebony magazine, Olden looked back on his career and said: “Acceptance is a matter of talent. In my work I’ve never felt like a Negro. Maybe I’ve been lucky.”
Mort Künstler Art at Walter Reed
Thirty of well- known artist Mort Künstler’s prints will soon be displayed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Vaccarro Hall, which is used by Iraq War veterans with extensive medical problems. Half of those prints come from Künstler’s Civil War series. The display is the result of the artist’s visit to the center in 2007, when he decided he wanted to do something to enliven the wounded troops’ surroundings. “I saw their injuries, and it tore my heart out,” he said. “I hate war, but if I can do something to cheer these guys up, I will do it.” He offered his prints to the hospital through the Walter Reed Society at a discount.
Originally published in the June 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.