A Few Washington, DC Civil War Sites

28 01 2009

A couple weeks ago my son received an invite to tour the White House, so on the spur of the moment we headed on down that way (see here).  We didn’t have any time to visit with any friends, but we did manage to squeeze in some sightseeing.  Click smaller images for great big giant ones.   First up was the Blair House, across Pennsylvania Ave from the White House:

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This was the home of publisher Francis Preston Blair, Sr., adviser to Presidents back to Andrew Jackson, and father of Montgomery (Lincoln’s Postmaster General) and Frank Jr. (Union Major General who commanded a corps under Sherman during the March to the Sea and Beyond).  Frank Sr. was also the great-great-great grandfather of actor Montgomery Clift, who served in the Union Army in Raintree County:

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The Clift-Blair relationship is murky – Clift’s mother claimed to be the illegitimate child of Montgomery’s son Woodbury, but it was never proven beyond a shadow.  Photos show a strong resemblance between an older, beat-up Clift and Great-Grandpa Montgomery Blair.  At least, I think so:

clift blair 

It was here in the Blair House that Colonel Robert E. Lee, prior to his resignation from the United States Army, was “felt out” for command of a Union army (not “the” army, as is commonly said, but as Lee himself said, the army that was to take the field – probably either Patterson’s or McDowell’s army) by Frank Sr.

Today, the complex of houses (four, I think) makes up the President’s guest house, used by visiting heads of state.

After that we took a walk around the White House…

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…via the Treasury Building, behind which is this monument to Uncle Billy:

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We took a long walk to the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial, which was the one place other than the White House my son wanted to see (there’s a good boy):

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I’m always better for visiting the memorial.  This time I had a nice conversation with the ranger on duty, while my wife and son were in the gift shop. 

We returned to the White House via 17th St., and stopped briefly at F to take a picture of The Winder Building.  Today the building serves as the headquarters of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).  When it was built in 1848, at five stories it was the city’s first skyscraper.  In 1854, it was purchased by the Federal government, and during the war served as the headquarters of Winfield Scott, Henry Halleck, the Quartermaster General, the Army Ordnance Department, and the Bureau of Military Justice.  This is where the President lamented that “the bottom is out of the tub”, and where JAG Holt conducted the investigation into Lincoln’s assassination.

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The Winder building plays a prominent role in the often used account of First Bull Run written fifty years after the battle by Peter Conover Hains, whose 30 pdr Parrott opened the fight.  At the beginning of the Cosmopolitan Magazine article Hains recounted that his June, 1861 West Point class mustered into Federal service “in the old Wilder [sic] Building, opposite the war department” on June 25th, 1861.  He wrote that there President Lincoln shook hands with each member of the class.  I’ve been annotating the article – very, very slowly – and have found a number of problems with it, including this otherwise innoccuous episode.  More on that later, but keep in mind that Cosmo published much of the writings of one Sally “LaSalle” Pickett.  The army also had its central signal station on the roof of the building:

signal

I’m hoping to get down to Washington in the spring or summer, and hope to have a few days to spend sightseeing and visiting friends and e-quaintances.  So much to see, so little time.





A Few Charleston Civil War Sites

15 10 2007

 

Last week my family spent a few days visiting with my brother in Charleston, SC.  He lives on the water just off Ft. Johnson Rd., on James Island.  On April 12, 1861 artillery at Ft. Johnson opened fire on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor to initiate hostilities between the Confederacy and the United States.  From my brother’s dock you can see the local landmark Morris Island Lighthouse.  Morris Island is the site (now submerged) of Battery Wagner.  Across the street from my brother’s house, on private property, is the remnant of a Rebel battery, which was part of the island’s defenses.  I believe this battery was Ryan, Tatom or Haskell, but I have to check into that more.  Only a few yards from his backyard is the site of one end of Hatch’s Bridge, which ran to Secessionville during the war.  And a quick jaunt across Clark’s Sound brings you to Secessionville Manor, used as a hospital after the Battle of Secessionville (here’s a picture…click the thumbnails for larger images). 

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The long and the short of it is you can’t swing a dead cat in my brother’s neighborhood, or in Charleston for that matter, without hitting some piece of Civil War history.  I could literally spend weeks down there sightseeing.  While I only seem to be there for a few days at a time, I always manage to work in little CW excursions, not always an easy task when accompanied by a nine-year-old son and his mom who has little interest in my hobby.  This time we saw three Bull Run related sites.

As part of an hours long afternoon on the water we worked in a sea tour of Castle Pinckney, where Bull Run prisoners were briefly held (see here and here).  Below are three views, including a close up of the overgrown interior.  Note the curved wall which I believe gave the fort its medieval name.  Access to the island (Shute’s Folly) is restricted, but I hope to get permission to go ashore the next time I visit.   

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Toward the end of our cruise we looped by the Morris Island Lighthouse.  Though not constructed until 1876, the lighthouse has a pretty strong Bull Run connection.  Its foundation was designed and built by Major Peter Conover Hains, who as a lieutenant and graduate of the West Point class of June, 1861 fired the first shot of the Battle of Bull Run from a 30-pdr Parrott rifle.  The lighthouse is suffering the ravages of time and the sea, but an organization is actively trying to save it, and procedures are under way. 

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The next day we had some time to kill, and to my surprise the family agreed to kill it by taking the cruise out to Ft. Sumter.  It was a beautiful day, if a little hot.  This time I got a picture of the storm flag, which flew over the fort during the bombardment.  The larger garrison flag, damaged in a storm earlier, is on display in the NPS visitor’s center near the aquarium, but flash photography of it is verboten and you can only view bits of it at a time.  Here are some images of the fort, the parade ground, the big guns, the storm flag, and my son.   

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To round out the afternoon, we drove over to Magazine St. to see the Old City Jail.  When the Bull Run prisoners were moved out of Castle Pinckney, the officers were sent to the City Jail and the enlisted men wound up at the Race Course on the outskirts of town.  During the fire of December, 1861, the guards abandoned the jail to help fight the flames, and the prisoners, including Colonel Michael Corcoran of the 69th NY State Militia, were left to fend for themselves.  They escaped out a window and spent the night huddled together for safety.  I don’t know if it was this window. 

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The next time I visit, I must try to find the site of the race course – as described in David Blight’s Race and Reunion, it was also the site of the earliest Memorial Day ceremony – and Magnolia Cemetery, where the only Bull Run prisoner to die in Castle Pinckney was buried.  But in Charleston, it’s always so much to see, so little time.








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