200 Years Ago, DC Burned

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In the evening on August 24, 1814, British troops led by Major General Robert Ross arrived in Washington after taking casualties but defeating a small American force at nearby Bladensburg, MD. The short version of the story notes that shots were fired at the British, who responded by burning the public buildings in the city before departing the next day. For more, here’s an excerpt from John McCavitt’s article from the upcoming issue of The Capitol Dome. Look out for the full article soon, which includes a new explanation for why the British chose to burn only some of the buildings in the capital. Here, McCavitt discusses who might have fired those infamous shots.

Family portrait of General Robert Ross, reproduced courtesy of Mr. Stephen Campbell, Rostrevor, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Family portrait of General Robert Ross, reproduced courtesy of Mr. Stephen Campbell, Rostrevor, County Down, Northern Ireland

 

Excerpt from “Capitol Conflagrator? Major General Robert Ross”
…A parley to discuss terms of surrender had been sounded by drum and by trumpet. According to the British they carried a flag of truce.1 No response was received to the sounding of a parley. As [Major General] Ross’s small party approached the Capitol and passed the Sewall Belmont house on the way, a volley of shots rang out. Two British soldiers were killed and several were wounded.2 Ross himself narrowly missed death or serious injury. His horse, however, was killed and the mount of the trumpeter also was shot.3

Several British officers reported that the firing came not only from the Sewall Belmont house but from other nearby houses, as well as from a party of up to three hundred Americans based at the Capitol.4 Ross ordered up a brigade of troops and instructed them to fire a volley of shots at the Capitol with a view to deterring further resistance, reinforcing the impression that the British believed they had come under fire from the hallowed corridors of the American legislature.5

….In the years since the British occupation of Washington, debate has raged about the identity and number of assailants who opened fire on Major General Ross and his advance guard. Most American accounts attributed the attack on Ross to an Irish barber named Dixon, also known as Dickson.6 “Chief barber” to Congress for more than twenty years, for some he was a Figaro-type, a talkative, good-humoured man.7 While there is evidence to suggest that Dickson was involved in the attack on Ross, he was far from the only one who opened fire on the British.8 It was a volley of shots that rang out, not just a single report. Again, while they may not have acted alone, the hardest evidence about who attacked Ross indicates the involvement of some of [Commodore Joshua] Barney’s sailors who had remained in the Capitol area [after the Battle of Bladensburg earlier that day].9 The Capitol and the houses from which shots were fired at the British were not immediately burnt after the shooting incident. Still Ross tarried in the hope of negotiating a deal.10

[But t]he attack on Ross and his advance guard indicated to the British that the Americans were not going to negotiate. And so the burning began.

 

Notes
1. G.R. Gleig, The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans (1821; 3rd ed., corrected and revised, London: John Murray, 1827), p. 129.
2. T.A.J. Burnett, The Rise and Fall of a Regency Dandy: The Life and Times of Scrope Berdmore Davies, (London: Murray, 1981), pp. 223-25.
3. Ibid.
4. James Scott, Recollections of a Naval Life (London: R. Bentley, 1834), 3:298; Michael Crawford, ed., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 2002), 3:220-23; MacDougall letter to Times (London), May 25, 1861.
5. Richard N. Cote, Strength and Honor: The Life of Dolley Madison (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.: Corinthian Books, 2005), p. 303.
6. Walter Lord, The Dawn’s Early Light (New York: Norton’s, 1972), p. 161.
7. “Sketches of Private Life and Character of William H. Crawford,” Southern Literary Messenger 3(April 1837):262-65.
8. Glenn Tucker, Poltroons and Patriots: A Popular Account of the War of 1812 (Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1954), 2:553.
9. Lord, Dawn’s Early Light, p. 161. See also Steve Vogel, Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation (New York: Random House, 2013), p. 168.
10. Tucker, Poltroons and Patriots, 2:553.

Political Portraiture in the United States and France during the Revolutionary and Federal Eras, ca. 1776-1814

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A new conference organized by former U.S. Capitol Historical Society Fellow, Prof. Todd Larkin of Montana State University will examine political portraiture in the United States and France, 1776 to 1814. The conference will be held September 25-26 in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

PolPortPoster

The Montana State University Foundation and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery invite scholars, students, connoisseurs, and friends of American-French cultural exchange to attend the conference, which will mark the bicentennial of an important historical event: the British capture of Washington, D.C., in 1814 and their burning of the Capitol along with Congress’s state portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

European and North American scholars from universities and museums will discuss aspects of diplomatic strategy, democratic representation, and republican identity as promoted in portraits. This conference is made possible by generous support from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the Henry Luce Foundation.

This event is free and open to the public.
For more information, go to http://npg.si.edu/event/conference.html
Seating is limited, so please make a reservation at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/political-portraiture-in-the-united-states-and-france-conference-tickets-12277491307?aff=es2&rank=0

Unpacking the Image: 1950s Census

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While doing some Tweet-of-the-Day research that didn’t pan out, I came across a terrific cultural artifact.

Original caption: “A homeowner takes a break from cutting the grass to be interviewed for the 1950 census.” (Census Bureau)

There are so many incredible details in this picture, which presents a specific image of 1950 that reminds us that the stereotypes we traffic in about the past have some basis in reality–or at least in a reality that was attractive at the time and not just now. It must be a publicity photo; the flora suggests a California location.

Now look again–the man on the left has supposedly been mowing the lawn. In dress pants, a button-down, and a tie! And the man on the right is walking door-to-door in a similar outfit, including white shoes. Check out the now retro-cool lawnmower, and note the laundry hanging out in the upper left corner. (Now there’s a detail that suggests a setting that wasn’t fabricated.)

What would an analogous PR piece look like today? Well, here’s a poster from the 2010 census.

Encouraging young Hispanics to participate. (Census Bureau)

It’s looking outdated already, in its own way.

OK, two more from the 1950 census, with captions from the Census Bureau. Then I’ll stop.

“An enumerator interviews President Truman and the first family for the 1950 census.” (Census Bureau)

More white shoes!

“An enumerator collects information from a mother while her son ‘supervises’ the progress of the interview.” (Census Bureau)

There’s a series of image galleries for each census year on the Census Bureau’s history pages. Enjoy!

 

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: A Fifty Year Retrospective

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–by Lincoln Webb, USCHS intern

The latter half of twentieth century was an era defined by a monumental geopolitical confrontation between two behemoths: the United States and the Soviet Union. Among many other things, the Cold War was a struggle between ideals, and with the impetus supplied by George F. Kennan’s “long telegram,” it became the primary objective of the United States to contain communism. Containment took many forms from 1946 until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Fortunately, most of the time it was economic containment, as epitomized by the Marshall Plan in 1947, which was used to undermine Soviet influence in regions such as Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. However in other instances such as Korea, Vietnam, and the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the Cold War quickly escalated toward prolonged military confrontation, known widely among historians as “proxy wars.”

The USS Maddox in Australia in 1967.

The most memorable and protracted of these proxy wars was Vietnam, which developed in its earliest stages in late 1955. The war reached a new level of intensity on August 10, 1964—fifty years ago this Sunday—when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Congress had quickly passed this resolution in response to the attack on two U.S. Navy destroyers, USS Maddox and Turner Joy, in international waters by the North Vietnamese on August 2 and 4. With only one representative and two senators voting against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, the level of Congressional mandate behind accelerating the war effort was immense. Above all else, this act gave President Johnson the authority to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” At the same time, this was by no means a formal declaration of war. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution—to an extent beyond any other Congressional action before it—gave the executive branch more authority to take military action, both conventional and covert. This legacy of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution has had far-reaching implications for United States foreign policy over the past half-century.

Pres. Johnson signs the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library)

The most direct corollaries that have followed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution are the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and the Iraq wars. During the administration of George W. Bush, the decision to go to war in Afghanistan, more so than other wars, is remarkably within the same vein as the Tonkin Resolution. This is primarily due to the fact both of these followed a so-called “black swan” event that galvanized the American people against those who had attacked them. Additionally, both of these wars have inspired a similar sentiment among the American people, as both instances have made the populace discontented with the protracted nature of a war that seems unnecessary to continue.

Yet there is perhaps an even more unpopular trend that has developed due to the increased presidential authority first provided by the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Events such as Jimmy Carter’s actions in Iran, Ronald Reagan’s involvement with the Contras, Bill Clinton’s decision to send troops to Haiti, or even Barak Obama’s use of drones in the Middle East all fall in line with the Presidential authority in foreign affairs outlined by the Gulf of Tonkin Revolution. Each has a decidedly secretive quality independent of Congressional oversight, which often leaves the American people uneasy, if not outraged.

Much debate has surrounded what degree of autonomy the president should be given to conduct military operations in the advancement of national interests. In instances such as Pearl Harbor and September 11, it would seem popular mandate seems to afford a large degree of freedom to the president. However, in the absence of such overt attacks on the United States, it is often the case that US military action seems ultimately unsavory. Regardless of whether someone thinks US foreign policy of the past fifty years has been justified or not, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution has played an important part in shaping how the United States has conducted itself on the global stage.

Music, Song, and Fireworks: Thirty-Three Years of Capitol Fourth Performances on the West Lawn

-by Ronald M. Johnson

On July 4, 1981, in the hour and half before the Washington Monument fireworks began, thousands of locals and visitors to the city gathered on the U.S. Capitol Grounds to enjoy the always entertaining Pearl Bailey, accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, sing patriotic and popular songs. There were also thunderous marches and inspirational readings that night as a national television audience joined over 200,000 at the event. It proved a magical night of music and song. As evening fell, and the sky lit up, the event concluded with cannon firing as the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

A new tradition was born that night, one that continues to this day. Organized and staged by Jerry Colbert and the non-profit Capitol Concerts, Inc. he had founded, the show proved an instant hit. Those at the performance and others watching across the nation registered their approval with comments and support. Such musical occasions have had a long history in the nation’s capital. This event, however, and its continual reoccurrence every year, can be seen as the launching of a new, sustainable, and growing use of the Capitol Grounds and other public spaces in Washington for musical performances.

Neil Diamond performs at the 2013 Capitol Fourth concert.

Neil Diamond performs at the 2013 Capitol Fourth concert.

This blog will review the origins of that first Capitol Fourth, the long period of gestation which brought it about, and invite readers to respond with their own recollections of the evening. The blog builds off of a large body of existing commentary about the role that the U.S. Capitol and the larger National Mall has played in fostering a broader public appreciation of our country’s musical traditions.

The historic roots of the 1981 concert are deep in 19th and 20th century musical performance history. As James R. Heintze has noted, musical concerts on July 4th began in the late 18th century and continued to expand in number over the next two centuries, at first in cities such as New York and Boston and then, after the Civil War, increasingly in Washington. He documents that the tradition of summer concerts was well established in the national capital by the turn of the twentieth century, particularly on the Capitol Grounds.

During the first half of the new century, stimulated by the momentous impact of two world wars and the Great Depression, Americans increasingly enjoyed patriotic marches and popular music that sounded sentimental themes and words. In the post-WWII years, the west side of the Capitol Grounds—along with National Sylvan Theater near the Washington Monument—became the focus for a growing number of musical performances. As the Cold War settled in, the call for more concerts with patriotic music increased. Even the 1960s and anti-war protest did not slow the rise of such events, such as in 1970 when Kate Smith sang “God Bless America” at the July 4 “Honor America Day” ceremony in Washington. Throughout the decade, in cities across the nation, summer night concerts with patriotic music provided enjoyment as the sense of national pride grew.

In that context, the National Symphony Orchestra launched the first concert on the Capitol Ground’s west lawn on July 4, 1979. The event immediately drew a large crowd prior to the fireworks. After that first concert, a young PBS producer who had arrived in Washington a few years earlier, approached the organizers of the event about televising the festivities. They accepted his offer. Jerry Colbert’s vision of the event as “a party at the most special building in the country” led him to found Capitol Concerts, Inc., a non-profit organization which raised the funding needed and moved the event to a new level. His motive was clear: “We need to come together as Americans,” he told Rebecca Smith in 2008, ”’and remember it’s been a great experiment in democracy.”

From the beginning, Colbert showed a genius for bringing together the technical and logistical support needed to host a live-telecast event that, through the network of PBS stations, would reach a national audience. Every year since that first concert, he has expanded the dimensions of the event, from working with a multitude of governmental entities, including the Military District of Washington, National Park Service, and Architect of the U.S. Capitol, to bringing together a small army of savvy television producers and talented artists, many of whom essentially donate their time and efforts to bring the concert off. He has been quoted as saying: “You have to juggle a lot of hats when you do this,” referring to the myriad of roles he fulfills throughout the year and especially in the final staging of the event.

Over the years, the event has also reflected the broader context that frames the music. In the 1980s, as the first concerts were staged, the technical underpinning of the Capitol Fourth evolved and expanded. Better broadcast and filming equipment emerged as well as improvements in sound and recording. In the early 2000s, weather conditions, always a potential problem, led to a larger and more protected performance shell, erected each year in late May for the Memorial Day Performance, also staged by Colbert’s non-profit organization, and ready for use again five weeks later.

The long list of well-known MCs and both emerging and established performers have documented the changing tastes in popular music while, at the same time, providing for new ways to perform the traditional patriotic melodies that are at the heart of the show. In 2002, new security procedures were adopted in light of the 9/11 tragedy. Finally, by 2012, the size of the live audience and that of national viewership elevated the Capitol Fourth to first place as the nation’s largest combined audience to attend and view by telecast a live performance, a ranking it continues to enjoy today. As the nation has changed and evolved, so has this remarkable event over the last three decades.

In brief, this is the story and the history, but what do you personally remember about the Capitol Fourth concerts? The Blog of History is interested in hearing from you. We welcome any thoughts and, if you wish, any statement on how the music and fireworks have enriched your own understanding of the Capitol Grounds as a venue for celebration. We look forward to your comments.

Note on Sources: There is a wealth of material on the Capitol Fourth concerts on-line. The Capitol Concerts, Inc. website provides good information on the event at http://www.pbs.org/a-capitol-fourth/home/ and the biographical sketch of Jerry Colbert found on the Faith and Politics Institute website at http://faithandpolitics.org/jerry-colbert/ provides an interesting perspective on the man behind the event. Rebecca Smith provides background on Colbert at http://magazine.holycross.edu/issue_42_3/42_3_colbert?page=2. Finally, the historical background on July 4th musical performances has been explored by James R. Heintze, American Musical Life in Context and Practice to 1865 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1994). Heintze’s on-line chronology of July 4 musical performances is accessible at http://www1.american.edu/heintze/music.htm.

Memorial Day 1958, A Nation Remembers:  World War Two and Korean War Unknown Soldiers Lie in State in the Capitol Rotunda

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-Ronald M. Johnson
Georgetown University

Flag draped coffins bearing the remains of two unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean conflict lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda in May 1958. Architect of the Capitol photo

Flag draped coffins bearing the remains of two unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean conflict lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda in May 1958. Architect of the Capitol photo

It was a moment born of war and remembrance. Two flag-draped caskets, side by side, rested on black catafalques in the filtered light of the Capitol Rotunda. Long lines waited patiently to view them. Many of those who passed by must have thought of Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Inchon Landing, and all who had died in those and other battles during the preceding years of war.

Fifty-six years ago, during the last days of May, an event filled with poignant emotion unfolded in the Capitol Rotunda when a special tribute honored two unknown soldiers who had died serving their country during World War Two and the Korean War. As Congress had done in 1921 when a single unknown soldier laid in state in the Rotunda and was then moved to be the first so honored in the recently constructed Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This time the site hosted two individuals who had lost their lives in battle, their identities “known but to God,” as stated on the Tomb.

During a three-day period lasting from May 28 to 30, 28,000 people passed through the Rotunda, over 6,000 arriving the morning before burial. At 1 p.m. on May 30, a funeral procession bearing the two caskets began the slow march to Arlington National Cemetery where burial would occur in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This began the process that would expand the memorial to one representing more than just those who had died in World War One. The site had also earlier become a place of memory for those who had died during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

President Dwight David Eisenhower laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the remains of the World War II and Korean conflict unknowns were laid to rest in 1958. Old Guard Museum

President Dwight David Eisenhower laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the remains of the World War II and Korean conflict unknowns were laid to rest in 1958. Old Guard Museum

The 1958 funeral cortege included military units and featured President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon, along with members of Congress and the Supreme Court. The estimated 100,000 who lined the streets grew silent as the procession passed. “Men bared their heads. Many men and women wept,” noted one newspaper account, as it “appeared from interviews that hundreds of bereaved parents and relatives of war dead had come here in the belief that perhaps the two unknown servicemen were theirs.” Warm temperatures marked the day and the final ceremonies movingly affirmed the significance of the burials.

Few in the crowds who viewed the caskets fully understood the lengthy effort that undergirded this expansion of the Tomb as a site of national memory. The effort was first authorized in 1946 by Congress as Public Law 429, sponsored by Illinois Congressman Charles M. Price, as a way to honor the fallen dead of World War Two. The long process of choosing two unknowns who represented all the branches of the military and the detailed planning of the ceremonies was further extended by the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950.

That conflict, lasting until 1954, led Congress to expand Public Law 429 to include two unknown soldiers who had died during those years. Finally, in 1955, with the selection process completed and the Korean cease-fire line in place, the decision was made to go forth and add the additional soldiers to the Tomb. As in 1921, Americans united around the ceremony and joined in honoring the two lost lives. Later, in 1984, a fourth unknown solider who represented those who died in Vietnam would be added with a similar ceremony at both the Capitol and the Tomb.

The act of honoring the military dead has greatly deepened the tradition of lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda. In death, there must be remembrance. In dying for one’s country, whether a President, Senator, General, Civil Rights activist, or a soldier fallen in battle, there is national remembrance. Such occasions, especially those in the Capitol Rotunda, serve to unite us as a nation and transcend the many factors that otherwise might divide us as a society. We are brought together in a public affirmation of national service and individual sacrifice.

Note on the Sources:  The historical background on the 1958 event can be found in B.C Mossman and M.W. Stark, The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals, 1921-1969 (Department of Army, Washington, D.C., 1991), pp. 93-124.  The New York Times, May 31, 1958 carried a front-page story of the event and provided important details of the event. A helpful on-line source is the Architect of the Capitol’s “Explore Capitol Hill” and its discussion of “Lying in State,” found at http://www.aoc.gov/nations-stage/lying-state.

Capitol Christmas Tree 2013

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–by Lauren Borchard

Last week, this year’s annual evergreen offering arrived at the Capitol, and earlier this week, it blazed forth in all its glory. Speaker John Boehner officially lit the Capitol Christmas Tree on Tuesday. The tree, from Washington State, is decorated with ornaments made by state residents.

USCHS was on hand for the ceremony; USCHS president Ron Sarasin traditionally presents our annual ornament, which this year features the Statue of Freedom. Some of our staff also attended and took very pretty pictures. Enjoy!

For our past posts on the Capitol Christmas Tree and its history, click here or here.

Sunset at the Capitol

Sunset at the Capitol

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The U. S. Marine Band was on hand.

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Viewers crowd onto the Capitol balconies to watch.

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USCHS President Ron Sarasin presents our 2013 ornament.

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It’s getting darker…

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…and darker!

The Statue of Freedom Turns 150

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–by Donald Kennon

One hundred and fifty years ago shortly after noon on December 2, 1863, workmen bolted the head of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome, completing the statue’s installation.  The event was purposely low-key, even though it was marked by a volley of artillery from the Union forts that encircled the city. The New York Times, for example, had only a two-sentence notice in its dispatches from Washington that day: “The head or crowning feature at the statue of Freedom was successfully hoisted to its position on the dome of the Capitol, to-day, amid the cheers of the spectators below and a salute of cannon. The figure is made of bronze, is 19 feet high, weighs 15,000 pounds, was designed by CRAWFORD, and was cast by CLARK MILLS.”

The flag of the United States was unfurled from the statue and at that moment a photographer took a picture of the event from the west front side of the Capitol. A copy of that photograph, preserved in the collections of Charles F. Thomas, the engineer who supervised the installation, is shown here courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, whose Flickr feed includes a high resolution image of the photograph.

statue of freedomWe have two other blog posts about the Statue of Freedom .  Check out these posts for more perspectives on the statue’s history and meaning:

Building Freedom: The Story of an Enslaved Man and a Statue

December 2, 1863: The Speech That Was Never Given at the Capitol

The most recent issue of the Capitol Dome magazine has an interesting article by Katya Miller on the productive friendship between Thomas Crawford and Sen. Charles Sumner that culminated in the creation of the sculptor’s masterpiece. You can find the article online here.

“We, the People, Mourn”: The U.S. Capitol Historical Society’s Response in 1963 to the Death of John F. Kennedy

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–by Donald Kennon

If, like me, you are of a certain age, you will always remember where you were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. You never forget the overwhelming initial shock and the lingering sadness, but you also remember how this national tragedy brought people of all walks of life together.

The casket of President John F. Kennedy arrived at the Capitol for viewing in the rotunda on Sunday, November 24, 1963.

The casket of President John F. Kennedy arrived at the Capitol for viewing in the rotunda on Sunday, November 24, 1963.

The afternoon of Sunday, November 24, a horse-drawn caisson carried the flag-draped casket from the White House to the Capitol where Kennedy’s body would lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Hundreds of thousands lined up in near-freezing temperatures to pay a final respect. Although the rotunda was scheduled to close at 9:00 PM, it remained open all night. For 18 hours, 250,000 people, some of whom waited in line 10 hours, in a line up to 10 abreast that stretched 40 blocks passed through the rotunda in a massive outpouring of national grief and respect.

Mourners in lines up to 40 blocks long waited as long as 10 hours to pay their final respects to the slain President.

Mourners in lines up to 40 blocks long waited as long as 10 hours to pay their final respects to the slain President.

The United States Capitol Historical Society was just completing its first year of existence in November 1963. Its first major production, the publication of an illustrated historical guidebook to the Capitol, was at the printer, and copies were literally rolling off the press when Kennedy was assassinated. The organization’s leadership realized that an event of this historical significance must be included in the first edition of the guidebook.

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society delayed publication of the first edition of its Capitol guidebook to include coverage of Kennedy's lying in state.

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society delayed publication of the first edition of its Capitol guidebook to include coverage of Kennedy’s lying in state. (USCHS)

Society President Fred Schwengel ordered the presses to stop and the addition of a final two-page spread, “We, the People, Mourn,” that included a photograph of the tribute to Kennedy in the Capitol Rotunda. The text concluded by observing that the President was to have been presented the first bound copy of the book on December 4: “But time makes its changes swiftly, and often shockingly. Now John Fitzgerald Kennedy belongs to history, and his deeds to the Nation’s heritage.”

Getting to Gettysburg

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–by Donald R. Kennon

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. An estimated 9,000 people are expected to attend ceremonies at Gettysburg National Military Park (somewhat fewer than the estimated 15,000 that attended the 1863 event). A Lincoln reenactor will recite Lincoln’s immortal address and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel and Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War historian James McPherson will also speak, though most likely their combined length will not equal the two-hour classical oration by the main speaker in 1863, Edward Everett.

There will be many blog posts about the Gettysburg Address itself, and you should begin by rereading Lincoln’s words and pondering their meaning at the time and their meaning in today’s world as well. But what I want to present here is a part of the story of how Lincoln got to Gettysburg by focusing on the role of his friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.

Brady photograph of Ward Hill Lamon (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection)

Brady photograph of Ward Hill Lamon (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection)

Eighteen years younger than Lincoln, Lamon (the President called him “Hill”) was a young lawyer in Illinois when he and Lincoln met. Although Lamon was argumentative and pugnacious, Lincoln took a liking to the younger man (who was nearly as tall as Lincoln but more burly), and they became law partners from 1852-1857. After Lincoln’s election to the presidency, Lamon served as the president-elect’s bodyguard on the train trip from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. (Feb. 11, 1861-Feb. 23, 1861) and clashed with detective Allan Pinkerton, who had been hired by the railroad to investigate plots to assassinate Lincoln. Lamon discounted the reports of organized assassination plots in Baltimore made by “the detective,” as he referred to Pinkerton. For his part, Pinkerton thought Lamon was a “brainless egotistical fool.”

After Lincoln and Lamon snuck through Baltimore ahead of the scheduled train (on which Mary Todd Lincoln and the rest of the party traveled unscathed through the city the following day), the President appointed Lamon as U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia. Lamon served as the marshal in charge of the arrangements in Gettysburg for the dedication of the cemetery. He and his wife traveled by train with the President’s party on November 18, 1863. Once again Lamon was in charge of security, along with Gen. James B. Fry, whom the Secretary of War had ordered to accompany the President.

Photograph believed to depict the train carrying Lincoln to Gettysburg as it stopped at Hanover Junction in 1863. (National Archives and Records Administration)

Photograph believed to depict the train carrying Lincoln to Gettysburg as it stopped at Hanover Junction in 1863. (National Archives and Records Administration)

A closeup of the Hanover Junction platform showing the tall figure that may be Lamon or railroad president A.W. Eichelberger. (National Archives)

A closeup of the Hanover Junction platform showing the tall figure that may be Lamon or railroad president A.W. Eichelberger. (National Archives)

In addition to providing security on the train, Lamon was responsible for gathering the speakers and dignitaries for the ceremony and heading the procession to the cemetery. Once in place on the 12 by 20 foot platform, he had to command the crowd to keep from pressing against the participants. His role in the ceremony was to introduce Lincoln following Everett’s oration.

The procession to the cemetery on the morning of November 19, 1863 makes its way along Baltimore Street. (National Archives)

The procession to the cemetery on the morning of November 19, 1863 makes its way along Baltimore Street. (National Archives)

Some remarkable photographs of the train trip and the Gettysburg ceremonies indicate Lamon’s presence and his role as “marshal.” The first is a photograph of the train when it stopped at Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania en route to Gettysburg. When this photograph was first found, attention focused on the tall figure wearing a stove pipe hat. First thought to be Lincoln, closer examination revealed the man was too burly and it was thought it might be Lamon, although some think it might well have been railroad president A.W. Eichelberger.

Lamon is also visible in another photograph, which shows Lincoln seated on the platform at the dedication of the cemetery.

Lincoln, hatless and seated, at center and Lamon, in stovepipe hat to Lincoln's left, on the platform at Gettysburg. (National Archives)

Lincoln, hatless and seated, at center and Lamon, in stovepipe hat to Lincoln’s left, on the platform at Gettysburg. (National Archives)

References:

In addition to the links in post above, there are several good books on the Gettysburg Address that merit your attention.  Here are four:

Boritt, Gabor. The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Graham, Kent. November: Lincoln’s Elegy at Gettysburg. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Johnson, Martin P. Writing the Gettysburg Address. University Press of Kansas, 2013.

Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Simon & Schuster, 1993

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