Civil War in USA, 150 years ago
President Lincoln had to sneak into town after his being elected to office. The city of 75,000 people in 1860 was a mess: incomplete buildings and statues, smelly canals, swamps, wild pigs. Today, visitors can find artifacts that indicate what was once here. There is a canal gate house still standing on Constitution Avenue near the Washington Monument. One will not find the canal however as that is long gone, except in Georgetown. From Georgetown, one can bike ride for 250 miles to Cumberland Maryland following the old canal and passing some reconstructed locks, gates, and gatekeeper houses.
The Washington Post is beating the drum this week end with a Civil War special section as we are at the 150 year mark. What does that mean on personal terms?
My Grandfather was born in 1901. He would be 109 years old today, born 41 years after the Civil War. But his father, James Almond George was born in 1859, the year the first skirmishes occurred. His father Richard was a participant in the Civil War, fighting for the Union.
On my Mother’s side of the family, a Great Grandpa Irons fought for the Union too, but her Mother’s family were all from Virginia and the deep South, fighting as Johny Rebs.
“President-elect Lincoln arrived to a less-than-monumental Washington
By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2010
On the cool autumn Tuesday that Abraham Lincoln would be elected president, the Washington Evening Star reprinted on its front page a dispatch from a British reporter covering a recent visit by the prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.
"The Prince has arrived in this strange city, whose streets of ill-built houses connect to the most noble public buildings, and where one has to admire the city as a city always in the future tense," the London Times correspondent wrote of Washington. "It will and must in history be one of the greatest capitals the world has seen, but as yet it seems to want a deal of building, alterations, and improvements, before it can be a worthy legislative center of this great empire."
If anything, the reporter was too sanguine in his description. The city that awaited Lincoln that fall remained a far cry from the populous, gleaming capital that it would become after -- and largely because of -- the Civil War. It was, as author Margaret Leech wrote in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865," "a mere ambitious beginner, a baby among capitals."
"Built to order at the dawn of the century, it gave after sixty years the impression of having been just begun," she wrote. "Washington was merely a place for the government. It was an idea set in a wilderness."
That wilderness was a dirty and disagreeable swamp of a place, where pigs and cattle roamed freely, where alleys reeked with the stench of raw sewage, where dysentery and diarrhea inflicted their annual toll, where saloons and brothels and gambling parlors easily outnumbered restaurants and theaters. The unpaved streets stayed muddy in the winter and dusty in the summer, always marked with ruts from wagons and carriages and always littered with the manure of the horses that pulled them.
The Capitol dome was three years from completion, and herds of cattle grazed at the stump of the Washington Monument, which sat less than a third finished. The handful of grandiose structures, among them the White House, the Treasury Building and the Smithsonian Institution, sat amid vast open spaces largely unpopulated and uncultivated.
There were islands of social life, such as dinner parties in the dignified mansions of Georgetown and grand cotillions on Capitol Hill and by the Navy Yard. At Willard's Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, society women and boisterous men mingled in the smoke-filled bar, and much of the business of government took place in hushed conversations. But mostly, Washington remained a backwater. Diplomats from Europe considered it a hardship post.
"It was a Southern town, without the picturesqueness, but with the indolence, the disorder and the want of sanitation," Leech wrote. "Its lounging Negroes startled Northern visitors with the reminder that slaves were held in the capital. Hucksters abounded. Fish and oyster peddlers cried their wares and tooted their horns on the corners. Flocks of geese waddled on [Pennsylvania] Avenue, and hogs, of every size and color, roamed at large, making their muddy wallows on Capitol Hill and in Judiciary Square. People emptied slops and refuse in the gutters."”