We were up and out early this morning to attend an event at the Manassas battlefield. When we got there at 7:45 there was only one other person there, a gentleman from Texas who was playing Pokemon Go on his phone sitting on the porch at the Henry Hill house. He and I had a good conversation for about twenty minutes between ourselves while the Hayfoot stayed back at the visitors center. It was so nice being there early before people began showing up to mark the anniversary of the first battle. I could feel he dew scrunching under my feet as I walked along. The rangers and volunteers told me that most of the events are to be held this coming weekend. These images are all from today.
Incredibly I first posted this five years ago today. I remember being in DC, though not Manassas, that Thursday in 2011. The heat index was in the 120s but they still managed to get a sizable crowd for the 150th anniversary of First Bull Run. We were following it online. The sesquicentennial itself. is already receding into memory.
I am writing this from Washington, DC. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run, which took place only about thirty miles down the road. It was not until I began visiting DC regularly a few years ago that I realized just how close to the capital the Civil War occurred. Fifty years ago today New York State made some history of its own when it donated one hundred and twenty six acres of Virginia countryside to the federal government.
In 1905 and 1906 the New State legislature authorized the purchase of six acres of land for the construction of monuments for the 14th Brooklyn (later renamed the 84th New York), the 5th New York (Duryee’s Zouaves), and the 10th New York (National Zouaves). Each regiment was granted $1,500, which was the standard rate for such projects at the time. (The monuments for the latter two regiments were in recognition of those units’ actions during Second Bull Run.) The three monuments were dedicated together on October 20, 1906, with scores of veterans taking the train from New York City and elsewhere in a pounding rain.
Fast forward to the early 1950s, when New York State officials prepared to give the six acres to the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The deal became complicated, however, when the legislative Committee to Study Historical Sites realized that encroaching development threatened to cut the three monuments off from the rest of the battlefield. Chairman L. Judson Morhouse advised the state to buy an additional one hundred and twenty acres to ensure that the Empire State’s units would fall within the parkland. The state agreed and purchased the acreage in 1952. Later in the decade the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission, Bruce Catton Chairman, proposed to transfer the land to the Park Service during the 100th anniversary of First Manassas in 1961. Not surprisingly, the NPS was amenable to this and so fifty years today Brigadier General Charles G. Stevenson, Adjutant General of New York, handed over the deed to Manassas superintendent Francis F. Wilshin.
At the beginning of the summer I added my chapter from The Wonder of It All into Academic Works with the help of a colleague at work. She recommended to me and others that we post our efforts on social media, etc. And so I figured I would link here to “What a Day with a Park Volunteer Can Do.” Essentially it is the story of how I came to Governors Island 5-6 years back. They asked us not to use names in our submissions. Here though I can say that the volunteer in the title is the great Sami Steigmann. Sami if you are reading this: we will do that interview sometime over the summer.
I am sitting in a coffee shop in Downtown Brooklyn as I type this. It’s clear and bright outside. I was back on Governors Island yesterday. It was good seeing old faces along with some new ones. I can already tell it’s going to be a special summer. We had our orientation, part of which included a special behind-the-scenes look at the restoration of the eagle atop Fort Jay. The sculpture is one of the oldest built-structures in New York City, tracing back to the construction of the fort in the 1790s. Over the centuries that Army and then the Coast Guard did what they could to preserve the sandstone figure; still, because historic preservation falls outside the bounds of their missions, their efforts were helpful but sometimes haphazard. Time, salt air and harbor winds took their toll, and Superstorm Sandy damaged the statue even further. The current renovation work has been progressing with all the accouterments of modern preservation techniques. As it turns out Governors Island National Monument is in the running with nineteen other NPS sites in a competition for funding to further the work. Learn more–and vote–here if you are so inclined. One can vote once a day through July 5.
Find your park.
When I was at the Lee Mansion at Arlington a few weeks ago I picked up a copy of the NPS handbook on the Reconstruction Era. The handbook was published in March and follows the same formula as the NPS offerings about the Civil War, War of 1812, American Revolution and other topics. It contains 12-15 chapters on various topics on the events of 1865-77 from a number of perspectives. What I like so much about these handbooks is that they contain the latest scholarship and interpretation written by leading scholars on the subject at hand. This one has essays by David Blight and Brooks Simpson, among others. Those who followed the Civil War sesquicentennial know that it was quite consciously a do-over of the failed centennial in the 1960s. Professional historians and interpreters have changed our understanding of Reconstruction. One can imagine what Robert E. Lee would have thought about people buying such a title in the gift shop at was once his home. Still the general public has been less quick to catch up to the historians. I suppose it is not all that surprising; the late 1860s and 70s were not an especially heroic time in our history to put it mildly.
Other than Governors Island, the Park Service has few sites that deal directly with WW1. Still I would love to see Eastern National put something together during the centennial. If not the NPS, I guess it would fall to the American Battle Monuments Commission. I think there is enough to put something together, but we shall see. In the meantime make sure to consider this new offering about an era in American history that still shapes our lives in so many ways.
I have written about this a bit in the past but today is the official release date of The Wonder of it All, the book published by the Yosemite Conservancy for which I contributed a story. My chapter tells the tale of the first time I took the Hayfoot to Governors Island. One of the guidelines was that the stories could not give names. Here, though, I can point out that the guide we had was the one and only Sami Steigmann. Sami was later the person who talked me into transferring as a volunteer to Governors Island.
Don’t forget that 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. It was so much fun to be part of a project marking the NPS anniversary. Though the shift of emphasis is different, I approached Wonder in the spirit of Oh, Ranger!, which was itself influenced by a book written by Horace Albright in the 1920s. It is getting warmer by the day. Wherever you are, make the Park Service part of your spring.
With 2015 now in the books we can officially declare an end to the Civil War sesquicentennial. Some pundits claimed it to be underwhelming, but I believe our understanding of the events of 1861-65 is clearer now than it was five years ago. Visitation was up at the Civil War sites, and various bloggers did an outstanding job of telling the story. Scores of others contributed as well. That said, it is a cruel irony that it took the terrible events in Charleston this past June to bring the Civil War’s legacy into most of America’s homes. When they write the history of the Civil War sesquicentennial forty-five short years from now during the bicentennial, Charleston will be a big part of the narrative.
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. National parks themselves date back to the Ulysses S. Grant Administration, and were further aided during Theodore Roosevelt’s tenure when he signed the Antiquities Act in 1906. Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation creating the Park Service itself a decade later. There are few NPS sites relating to WW1 in the United States; most of that work is carried out by the American Battle Monuments Commission overseas. Governors Island here in New York is about the closest one gets to an NPS site relating to WW1. (It is so much else besides that too of course.) I don’t have many details to give away just yet, but this coming summer on Saturday July 23 the National Park Service and the World War One Centennial Commission will be co-sponsoring a day-long event commemorating the First World War. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this and will share more detail as they come. This is the first I am mentioning of it publicly.
The National Park Service theme through December 31st is Find Your Park. Wherever you are, I encourage you to visit the various natural and historic wonders that are waiting to be discovered. And if you live in the New York area, please mark your calendar for July 23 so you can make it out to Governors Island.
(image/Internet Archive book images, via Wikimedia Commons; originally published in Campbell’s new revised third edition Complete Guide and Descriptive Book of the Yellowstone Park)
I got home tonight and there in the vestibule was the author’s copy of The Wonder of It All sent to me by editors at the Yosemite Conservancy. There is nothing quite like seeing your name in print. The official release date is March 15, 2016, but the Conservancy has it exclusively until then. I did not know that Shelton Johnson had written something for the collection. Longtime readers may recall that I interviewed Ranger Johnson two years ago. It’s kinda cool to now be associated with him on a project such as this one for the 100th anniversary of the Park Service. I’m looking forward to reading his and the others’ contributions.
Late last week I went to the CUNY Graduate Center to hear Martha Hodes discuss her new book Mourning Lincoln. Dr. Hodes, a professor at New York University, explained that while writing her book she used the events of 9/11 as a springboard to analyze the Lincoln assassination and especially its aftermath. What she meant was that today, fourteen years after the World Trade Center attacks, the tendency is to think that there was a universal quality to Americans’–and even New Yorkers’–responses to that event. Old photographs she dug up of people congregating at Washington Square reminded her that the immediate response was more complicated than her fading memory. Such is the nature of these types of events.
The ultimate example of this phenomenon is the murder of Lincoln. Today the tendency is to believe that all Americans responded with universal grief and solemnity when nothing could have been further from the truth. Many–and not just below the Mason-Dixon line–were euphoric. This was especially true here in New York City, where Copperhead sympathies predominated throughout the war. No photographs exist of Lincoln’s assassination or the scene at his deathbed. The closest thing we have is artist Carl Bersch’s painting Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands. As far as is known this is the only rendering to have been done by an eyewitness. The provenance is unclear, but Bersch seems to have painted the work sometime later in 1865. It’s what we have.
A friend sent me an article about the ongoing restoration of the painting, which is in the care of the National Park Service. The painting has not been seen by too many people over the past century and a half, though it did go to Russian four years ago as part of an exhibit to mark the parallel lives of Lincoln and Czar Alexander II. The czar had freed the serfs in 1861 and would himself later be assassinated. I would not put too fine a point on it, but in a way Lincoln’s killing can be seen as part of the wave of political assassinations that were so common between his killing in 1865 and Archduke Ferdinand’s in 1914. Bomb-throwing revolutionaries killed Alexander II in 1881, and it was Leon Czolgosz’s shooting of President McKinley twenty years after that that brought Theodore Roosevelt to power. And those are just a few of the most prominent examples. Anyways, here is that piece from the Washington Post about the painting’s restoration. The restoration work began in August and should conclude in early 2016 with the painting going on display at Ford’s Theater.
I received the good news today from the editor at the Yosemite Conservancy that the book for which I wrote a chapter has gone to the printer and will hit the warehouse in mid-October. As they said they might, the editorial people indeed changed the title; there is no official release date yet, but The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from the National Park Service will be hitting book stores toward the end of the year. This will be the first book chapter I have gotten into print. I am very excited about it not just for that reason, but because if I do say so myself it reflects many years of dedicated volunteer work. Of course it is not only my story but that of other volunteers and the rangers at Ellis Island, the Theodor Roosevelt Birthplace, and Governors Island National Monument who work so hard to make one’s National Park Service experience rewarding. It has been my good fortune to work and volunteer with many people who have taught me so much.
I remember writing the piece last November. It was actually easy to do, as I just opened up about how and why I began volunteering the winter after I married and my father died. The draft was written, proofread and sent off less than thirty-six hours after I received the announcement seeking solicitations. Alas I have no image of the dust jacket to share now. They said they would send that as we get closer to the publication date. Remember that the focus of the collection is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Find Your Park in 2016.