Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Army of the Potomac Sets Off for the Peninsula, March 1862

In mid-March 1862, the Alexandria waterfront was the scene of  a whirlwind of activity.  General McClellan's beloved Army of the Potomac was embarking on transports en route to Fort Monroe, a Union toehold on the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula..  In a three week period, nearly 121,500 men, 14,500 animals, 1200 wagons and ambulances and 44 artillery batteries were dispatched to Fort Monroe.  This logistical feat-- the U.S. Army's largest ever deployment at the time-- was the opening move of the Peninsula Campaign, McClellan's ill-fated effort to strike Richmond via the lower Chesapeake.

A lithograph depicting Alexandria' busy waterfront during the Civil War. (Library of Congress)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Symbolic Import of the National Monuments in Washington

In March 1862, the Washington National Republican  espoused the virtue of the Union cause by noting that none of the significant monuments in the national capital pointed to the South.  I have previously blogged on each side's efforts to link their cause to the founders of the Republic and heroes of previous generations.  The National Republican sought to use the directions that monuments in Washington faced as a metaphor for the country's future.  Of course, in this case the National Republican's  editors conveniently failed to point out the irony that all four national heroes then memorialized in Washington had been southern slave owners.  We may not be as concerned today about directions on a compass, but what statues and monuments in today's Washington face south?
A photograph of the North Side of the White House, including the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the front lawn, taken during the Civil War.
From the Washington National Republican, March 17, 1862:
Symbolic Import of the National Monuments in Washington
As illustrated by past and passing events; and doubtless will be still further illustrated in the future.

1.  Washington's Equestrian statue (situated in the Circle, western Pennsylvania Avenue, facing the East) indicates liberty, strength, stability and invincibility, which, under G-d, are our nation's bulwarks.

2.  Jefferson's statue (in front of the President's Mansion, facing the North, he was the framer of the Constitution), denotes that the strength and defense of the Constitution come from the North.

3.  Jackson's equestrian statue (in Lafayette square, on the North front of the White House, facing the West,) indicates that our nation's progress and expansion will be Westward, until the Pacific ocean be her boundary.

4.  Washington monument (on the Island, unfinished,) proclaims a great country, though incomplete in its strength, majesty, and grandeur; will, nevertheless, go on to perfection, and be as enduring as the granite from which the monument is constructed.

5.  It is remarkable that there is no monument pointing toward the South, as though intended to teach us that the permanent future of that region is not yet initiated, and, of course cannot be symbolized."