Tag Archives: Washington D.C.

Let Us Remember

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and his family spent summers in a cottage near the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, in Washington, D.C. Although the cottage and grounds were a refuge from the heat of downtown three miles south, the nearby cemetery was a constant reminder of the daily carnage of the war. The cemetery, next to the Armed Forces Retirement Home, is one of only two national cemeteries administered by the Department of the Army, the other being Arlington National Cemetery. The national cemetery is adjacent to the historic Rock Creek Cemetery and to the Soldiers’ Home.

On this Memorial Day weekend in the United States, as we enjoy three days usually spent in some pleasant activity with family and friends, I wanted to spend a few moments thinking about the reason for the holiday.  Holiday seems too festive of a term for a day dedicated to remembering men and women who died in the service of the U.S. Armed Forces, but holiday does come from the word Holy Day. A sacred day.  A day for contemplation.

People around the world have been honoring their dead lost to conflict and war since the beginning of human time.  We can discuss the rightness, the justness or the causes of any war and come to a number of conclusions, but today I just want to think about the incredible sadness of the loss of so many lives and the gratitude I feel to those who died.

Memorial Day in the United States was established after the Civil War to honor fallen Union soldiers, but now covers all service men and women.  At least a million people died during the U.S. Civil War, including at least 600,000 soldiers.  Some have estimated the death toll of soldiers as high as 850,ooo. Memorial Day evolved from Decoration Day, which began during the Civil War among freed slaves and other black American families as a celebration of both black and white Union soldiers who fought for liberation and justice

One who particular bore a heavy load during war was Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, President Lincoln and his family spent part of each year (June – November 1862-64) living in a cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC., near the recently established National Cemetery. The Lincoln Cottage, as it is known now, was a refuge from the oppressive summer heat and clamor of the federal area and downtown three miles south, but the daily burials in the cemetery were a constant reminder of the war’s terrible carnage. President Lincoln would often roam in the cemetery at night in torment over the deaths and the burden of the war. So many died in the Civil War that the six-acre cemetery at the Soldiers’ Home was soon filled.  A much larger new military cemetery was needed, so Arlington National Cemetery was created.  Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs appropriated the land on June 15, 1864 for Arlington National Cemetery from the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Arlington, Virginia. Lee’s wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis was a descendant of Martha Washington.

The Soldiers’ Home was founded in 1851 as a home for retired and disabled veterans of American wars.   Soon after the start of the Civil War, a cemetery was created on its grounds, now called the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.

The National Cemetery’s website states: “Just days after the Battle of Bull Run, the Commissioners of the United States Military Asylum offered six acres of land at the north end of the Home’s grounds as a burial ground for soldiers and officers.  This offer was accepted in late July 1861, and the first burials were made shortly thereafter on August 3.

From 1861 to 1864, the cemetery accepted thousands of soldiers’ remains from 17 of the 25 Union states, quickly filling the six-acre cemetery’s capacity.  An 1874 report on the condition of the cemetery noted more than 5,600 interments, including 278 unknown, 125 Confederate prisoners of war, and 117 civilian relatives of the deceased and employees of the Home.  In 1883, more than nine additional acres were added to the grounds, bringing the cemetery’s total size to nearly sixteen acres.  In 1900, all of the Confederate remains were reinterred in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery.”

The Washington D.C. area is home to many memorials and monuments.

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, the guard is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual. From April 1 through September 30, another changing of the guard is added on the half hour and the cemetery closing time moves from 5 to 7 p.m.

Four memorials in the Washington, D.C., area: Upper left is part of the World War II Memorial; Upper right is a section of the Korean War Veterans Memorial; Lower right is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the lower left is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

About Memorial Day

About President Lincoln’s Cottage at The Soldiers’ Home

About the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery Washington, D.C.

About Arlington National Cemetery

About the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

About Vietnam Women’s Memorial

About the World War II Memorial

About the Korean War Veterans Memorial

History of the Arlington National Cemetery property.

My Blog Post “In Search of Abraham Lincoln”

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In Search of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

My first memory of Abraham Lincoln is a huge face on Mt. Rushmore when I was a preschooler.  You don’t forget that. And who can miss his face on the penny and the five-dollar bill.  The guy is everywhere.

Everyone recognizes Lincoln and not just because he’s monumental and monetary.  He truly is larger than life.

When Anita and I visited the home of the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass (maybe more on him later), a little boy on our tour was silent until he saw the president’s framed photograph on the wall.  “Abraham Lincoln,” he called out.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned how important and rare this president was — and I’m still learning. I want to shout out “Abraham Lincoln,” too.  So this is my shout out.

Abraham Lincoln was burdened with one of the gravest trials a leader can face — holding this nation together.  The Civil War still casts a long shadow over our country.  Three million Americans fought in that war, and more than 600,000 died from both the North and South.  Two of my great great grandfathers fought in it — Peter Gergen, an immigrant from Luxembourg (Illinois military), and John Nelson, an immigrant from Ireland (Pennsylvania military).  Arguments continue to this day about the war’s purpose, meaning and worth.

Thousands of books have been written about Lincoln and about the Civil War.  And we haven’t seen the end to the words written about him, including my own.

In June, my friend Anita and I visited several places in Washington, D.C., that were important to that war or to the leaders in it.

During several years of his presidency, Abraham Lincoln and his family spent summers in this cottage three miles north of the White House. Lincoln commuted to the White House every day by carriage or horse.

One of our stops was Lincoln’s Cottage, an early day “Camp David,” which was restored to what it might have looked like in Lincoln’s day.  It opened to the public in February of this year.  Lincoln and his family spent nearly a quarter of his presidency there, beginning in June 1862.  He’d spend the summer nights there, returning full-time to the White House in November each year.  It’s about three miles north of the White House on the city’s third highest hill.

James Buchanan was the first president to use the cottage as a summer White House.  Lincoln visited the cottage right after his inauguration and hoped to move his family there that summer, but it was not to be.  Fort Sumter was surrendered to the Confederates in April 1861.  Lincoln was overwhelmed with the duties of the war.

In February 1862, his son 12-year-old Willie became ill and died.  Now, the hilltop cottage would be more than just a refuge from the capitol area’s heat and humidity and the siege of people wanting his help. Now, it also would be a balm for his and Mary’s grief.

Lincoln\'s Cottage, rear view. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

This is the back of Lincoln’s Cottage, a 19th century “Camp David.”

Lincoln couldn’t escape reminders of the war. Daily, soldiers would be buried in the adjoining national cemetery, visible from his window. More than 5,000 soldiers would be buried there during the Civil War.  Soldiers were camped on the grounds, and Lincoln would share their coffee, and meet them in camps along his route to and from the White House each day, which took about 30 minutes each way.  He preferred to make the trip alone, and did so sometimes in the beginning, but 25 to 30 soldiers later were assigned to escort him, once thwarting a kidnapping attempt.

He’d often see the poet Walt Whitman along the way.

Among the many words Whitman wrote about Lincoln: “I see very plainly ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression…..”

Whitman dedicated the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” to Lincoln.

This is a rough draft of Walt Whitman\'s poem, \" width=

The cottage was only about a mile from Fort Stevens, which was attacked by Confederate soldiers coming in from Maryland.  Lincoln stood on a parapet to take a look and someone shot at him.

“Get down, you fool,” someone shouted.  Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was later Supreme Court Justice, claimed to tbe the one who told the president to stand down.  Others also tried to take credit for the warning.

Plagued by insomnia, Lincoln would often ride or walk on the grounds and through the cemetery. One time during one of these restless wanderings, someone took a shot at him.  A sentry later found Lincoln’s hat with a bullet hole in the crown. Lincoln was unruffled by these attempts on his life.  Even Mary suffered in an attempt on Lincoln’s life.  Bolts had been loosened from the Lincoln carriage, which flipped over on one of her solo trips back to the White House. Her frequent

Abraham Lincoln could see this cemetery from his cottage and sometimes would roam there at night when he couldn’t sleep. Many soldiers were buried there during Lincoln’s tenure at the cottage, adding to his grief over The Civil War.

headaches became even worse, and her son Robert said that she never quite recovered from the accident.

The Lincolns were planning another summer at the cottage in 1865, but Lincoln was assassinated in April of that year. He had just visited the cottage the day before.

Mary wrote a friend: “How dearly I loved the ‘Soldiers’ Home’ & how little I supposed, one year since, that we would be so far removed from it, broken hearted, and praying for death, to remove me, from a life, so full of agony.”

Retired soldiers still live at the home.  There’s a picnic area near a visitor’s center.  The air is fragrant with the lemony scent of Magnolia grandifolia and the spicy odor of boxwood. It was pleasant in the shade of the towering trees, which our guide said were all post-Lincoln.  For more information about visiting and the cottage’s history go to www.lincolncottage.org  Reservations for the guided tours are recommended.  You can also find a link to a Lincoln Cottage blog on that website.

Two books about Lincoln that I enjoyed are “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin and “Lincoln” by David Herbert Donald.  Both are Pulitzer Prize Winners. Presidents are always good topics to write a book about if you want to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Where Lincoln Sought Refuge in His Dark Hours, link to a New York Times article about Lincoln’s Cottage, his summer White House.

Lincoln died in this small room in the Peterson House, across the street from Ford\'s Theater.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Abraham Lincoln died in this room in the Peterson House, which is across the street from Ford’s Theater, where he was shot.

The Real Lincoln Bedroom: Love in a Time of Strife, link to a New York Times article about new book on the Lincolns’ marriage, which also includes a link to a list of books and other Lincoln topics.  If you are interested in history, the Civil War or Lincoln, this is the site for you!

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