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When is a National Memorial a National Park?

There are three national memorials in this photograph from 2010 - but what makes a national memorial a national park?
There are three national memorials in this photograph from 2010 – but what makes a national memorial a national park?

Writing about the World War II Memorial has gotten me to thinking about what makes a national memorialnational park.   According to the National Park Service, there are 30 national memorials in the U.S. National Park System.  However, as with so many things in counting national parks it isn’t quite as simple as that.  Under Federal Law, only Congress has the exclusive right to designate a national memorial.  This means that there is no provision like an Antiquities Act for designating national memorials the way that there is for the President to designate national monuments.  Moreoversimilar to national monuments, not all national memorials have been assiged to the National Park Service for inclusion in the U.S. National Park System – in fact with there being 64 national memorials that I have been able to identify, the National Park Service is only directly responsible for around half of them.

NPS National Memorials in Washington, DC

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial during peak bloom of the cherry blossoms. Photo from 2011.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial during peak bloom of the cherry blossoms. Photo from 2011.

Let’s take a closer look at national memorials by starting with the 12 national memorials listed by the National Park Service that are in or around the nation’s capital in  Washington, D.C.:

  1. Arlington House, the Robert E. Memorial (the issue of a national memorial dedicated to Lee is a topic for another post on another day)
  2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  3. (*)Korean War Veterans Memorial
  4. Lincoln Memorial
  5. (*)Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
  6. (*)Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  7. (*)Theodore Roosevelt Island
  8. Thomas Jefferson Memorial (I’ve never been able to determine why Jefferson gets his first name in the name of the memorial, but Lincoln and Washington do not!)
  9. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  10. Washington Monument
  11. (*)World War I Memorial (new! – to be located in Pershing Park near the White House)
  12. World War II Memorial

There are also two more memorials in the above category that are planned for future construction.  The Eisenhower Memorial(*) has recently received final design approval, and is hoping to complete construction in the next few years.  The Adams Memorial(*), a tribute to the remarkable family that produced the second and sixth Presidents of the United States, is still in the design and fundraising stages.

So overall, this first set of memorials are dedicated either to “great Americans” – primarily former Presidents of the United States, or else to those who served, and in many cases, gave their lives, in one of the major wars of the 20th Century.

However, there is still the small matter of those asterisks above.  What becomes a little tricky here is that five of these twelve memorials (as well as the two under development) have actually not been specifically designated as national memorials by Congress  – as national memorial is a rather specific legal honor and title that can only be conferred by Congress.  However, each of those memorials is of a sufficent size and distinction that the National Park Service has determined that each of them should count separately as individual national parks in the National Park System.  As such, in listing all of the different units in the National Park System, the National Park Service goes ahead and lists all of the above as national memorials.

Given that recognition, its hard to be pedantic about the the specific legal distinctions.  Take for example, the case of the World War II Memorial.  The fundraising drivde  by the American Battle Monuments Commission to build this memorial was explicitly called the National World War II Memorial Cammpaign.  The non-profit partners of the memorial calls themselves “Friends of the National World War II Memorial.”  Regardless of the technical legal status, almost all Americans, including, I would imagine, almost all Members of Congress, consider it to be the National World War II Memorial.  So in the interests of simplicity and clarity, I’m going to conside each of the above memorials to also be a national memorial, if for no other reason than by popular acclamation and by the de facto designation as such by the National Park Service.

So those twelve constitue the first entries on the list of national memorials.   Let’s look at a few more:

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The Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence in Constitution Gardens features the signatures of each of the signers. This photo, from 2011, is of the signatures from the famed Massachusetts delegation.

In addition to these twelve, seven other national memorials in the greater Washington, DC area are included as part of other, larger units of the U.S. National Park System:

  1.  the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence can be found on an island in the lagoon of Constitution Gardens in downtown Washington, DC;
  2. the Lincoln Museum in Ford’s Theatre is considered to be a national memorial, and is part of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington, DC;
  3. the House Where Lincoln Died, also known as Petersen House, is also considered to be a national memorial, and is also a part of Ford’s Theatre NHS in downtown Washington, DC;
  4. the United States Marine Corps War Memorial is more popularly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, and is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Arlington, Virginia;
  5. the United States Navy Memorial is part of Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in downtown Washington, DC;
  6. the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial is also part of Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in downtown Washington, DC – but it is one of only two of these sseven sites without its own Passport stamp;
  7. the Seabees of the United States Navy Memorial is located along the George Washington Memorial Parkway at the entrance to Arlington Cemetery, and also does not have its own Passport stamp.

This second group is a bit more of a mixed bag than the first group.   The Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence is straight-forward enough, and in keeping with the theme from the first group of honoring the “Founding Fathers” of the Nation.  The Nation’s desire to honor the Preisdent who saved the Union is evident by there being two designations relating to Abraham Lincoln, in addition, of course, to the Lincoln Memorial itself in the first group.  Four others are dedicated to specific groups of people who served, or more accurately, to specific types of service.  The mixed-nature of this list is perhaps most-highlighted by the absence of the Air Force Memorial from this list, which has apparently not been formally designated a national memorial, and resides on Department of Defense land at the Pentagon, and so is outside the National Park System as well.   With neither official recognition by Congress as a national memorial, nor listing by the National Park Service as a national memorial, there just was no way to include it on the list.  Even though, with all due respect to the service of the many U.S. Navy Seabees over the years, it seems inconsistent to have the Seabees Memorial on this list, but not the Air Force Memorial.

Indeed, there are many other memorials in the National Park System which are also not on that list, and in some cases, it almost seems to be simply a paperwork oversight that they have not been designated as national memorials, while many similar memorials have been.   For more on them, check out Sidebar#1.

NPS National Memorials Outside Washington

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is better known as the St. Louis Arch, and is one of several national memorials that are also stand-alone national parks. Photo from 2004.
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is better known as the St. Louis Arch, and is one of several national memorials that are also stand-alone national parks. Photo from 2004.

Outside of Washington, DC, however, the National Park System includes 18 other national memorials that are also individual national parks.  All of these were designated by Congress as a national memorial in their very name, however, so their inclusion on the list is straightforward.  The 18 are:

  1. Arkansas Post National Memorial – marks the first permanent European settlement in the Mississippi River Valley;
  2. Chamizal National Memorial – marks the peaceful resolution of a border dispute with Mexico in El Paso, Texas;
  3. Coronado National Memorial – marks the explorations of Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado, at the approximate site where he entered the present-day United States on Arizona’s border with Mexico;
  4. DeSoto National Memorial – marks the explorations of Hernando de Soto, at the approximate site where he entered the present-day United States, just south of Tampa, Florida;
  5. Federal Hall National Memorial – marks the Nation’s first capitol building in New York City;
  6. Flight 93 National Memorial – a site that needs no introduction, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania;
  7. Fort Caroline National Memorial – marks the short-lived attempt by the French to colonize north Florida;
  8. General Grant National Memorial – the most famous tomb in America is the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant and his wife;
  9. Hamilton Grange National Memorial – marks the home of the Founding Father (for now) on the ten-dollar bill in New York City;
  10. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial – you know this site as the St. Louis Arch, commemorating everyone and everything involved in America’s westward expansion;
  11. Johnstown Flood National Memorial – marks the site of the tragic disaster that killed more than 2,000 people in central Pennsylvania in 1889;
  12. Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial – marks the place where Abraham Lincoln spent a few of his childhood years in southern Indiana;
  13. Mount Rushmore National Memorial – the famous faces in one of America’s most-famous places;
  14. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial – commemorates Commodore Oliver Perry’s famous victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, marked in the resort town of Put-in-Bay, Ohio;
  15. Port Chicago National Memorial – marks the site of a tragic explosion on the American Home Front in the East Bay of San Francisco during the Second World War, in which the victims were largely African-Americans;
  16. Roger Williams National Memorial – commemorates the pioneer for religious liberty who founded the colony of Rhode Island in 1636;
  17. Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial – preserves the boarding house where this Polish patriot and hero of the American Revolution briefly stayed while in Philadelphia during the winter of 1797-1798;
  18. Wright Brothers National Memorial – marks the site of humanity’s first powered flight on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Once again, this set of national memorials also appears to be quite the mixed bag, although some themes definitely emerge.  Many of the sites are associated with the earliest days of America’s exploration and settlement – although San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument is notably absent from this list as it is a national monument rather than a national memorial.  Several of the others, such as Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Lincoln Boyhood are on the list because they primarily rely upon reconstructions, rather than actually-preserved historic resources – or in the case of Hamilton Grange, have been moved from their original location.  Three others are the site of major tragedies, with significant loss of life.   Others, like Mount Rushmore, are truly memorials in the traditional sense.

For some more related facts to national memorials that count as national parks, you can again check out Sidebar #2.

USS Oklahoma - Bruce-001
The USS Oklahoma Memorial is a national memorial and part of World War II / Valor in the Pacific National Monument around Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Photo Credit: B. Johnson

There are also three other memorials that are part of larger national parks outside of the Washington, DC area:

  1. White Cross World War I Memorial is a white cross that was erected in 1934 in California’s Mojave Desert, and is now located on private land within Mojave National Preserve in order to settle an “establishment of religion” claim against the memorial;
  2. (*) U.S.S. Arizona Memorial is the most-famous memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii – it is now part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument;
  3. U.S.S. Oklahoma Memorial is also in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and is also part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  (Note: the U.S.S. Utah Memorial is also located in Pearl Harbor, but it does not appear to have been designated a national memorial by Congress. ) The U.S.S. Missouri Memorial, which is the ship that hosted the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, is also located in Pearl Harbor.  Although it is not part of the National Monument, it too has its own Passport stamp.

At the risk of getting too far into the weeds, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was previously a stand-alone unit of the National Park System.  As such, the National Park Service listed it as a national memorial, for the reasons I described above for the WorldWar II Memorial and others.   In 2008, however, President George W. Bush designated it as part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, and so the National Park Service now lists it as a national monument, rather than a national memorial.  However, since there was clearly no intention to de-designate the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial as a national memorial, I’m going to continue to include it on this list.   You can read about four other national parks that arguably could be included on this list, despite not having the word “memorial” in their name in Sidebar #3.

The Rest of the National Memorials

The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in Philadelphia is an Affiliated Area of the National Park System. Photo from 2012.
The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in Philadelphia is an Affiliated Area of the National Park System. Photo from 2012.

In addition to all of the above, four other national memorials are officially considered to be Affiliated Areas of the National Park System, along with two others that have unofficially had that status.  Status as an Affiliated Area makes the site eligible for additional technical assistance on preservation from National Park Service staff, as well as for inclusion in the Passport to Your National Parks program:

  1. Benjamin Franklin National Memorial – in the rotunda of the Franklin Institute Science Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
  2. Red Hill, the Patrick Henry Memorial – the home of “give me liberty or give me death” in rural southern Virginia;
  3. Father Marquette Memorial – marking the explorations of the famed French Jesuit priest  located just past the Mackinac Bridge between  the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan;
  4. Oklahoma City National Memorial – marking the tragic terrorist event of April 19, 1995.

In addition, the (5) AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco California and the (6) David Berger Memorial (an American-Israeli dual-citizen who was killed as a member of the Israeli Olympic Team at the 1972 Munich Olympics) in suburban Cleveland, Ohio both have been incorrectly listed as Affiliated Areas by some sources in the past.  As such, both have previously been part of the Passport Program, but no longer receive official Passport stamps from Eastern National.  In any event, both appear to continue to benefit from National Park Service technical assistance from Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, respectively.

The Albert Einstein National Memorial is not part of the National Park System, as it is on the grounds of the National Academies of Sciences in Washington, DC. Photo from 2007.
The Albert Einstein National Memorial is not part of the National Park System, as it is on the grounds of the National Academies of Sciences in Washington, DC. Photo from 2007.

Finally, the following 18 national memorials have no connection with the U.S. National Park System, but round out the complete list of national memorials:

  1. Albert Einstein Memorial – on the grounds of the National Acadamies of Sciences in Washington, DC;
  2. Astronauts Memorial–  at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida;
  3. Battle of Midway National Memorial – which is now part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, in far northwestern Hawaii, and which unfortunately has been closed to visitation in recent years – although you can take a virtual tour;
  4. Bosque Redondo National Memorial – marking the forcible removal of the Navajo (Dine) and Apache people, in Fort Sumner, NM;
  5. Buffalo Soldiers Memorial – which was authorized in 2005 to be constructed in New Orleans, Louisiana;
  6. Disabled Vietnam Veterans Memorial – in Angel Fire, New Mexico near Taos ski country;
  7. Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial – designated in July 2014 at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California;
  8. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – in Washington, DC, which was formerly part of the National Park System, but is now independently managed;
  9. Military Divers Memorial – which was authorized in 2013 and is planned for the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC;
  10. Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial – a large cross located in San Diego, California, in a situation similar to the Mojave Cross mentioned earlier;
  11. National D-Day Memorial – in the southwest Virginia town of Bedford;
  12. National Fallen Firefighters Memorial – in Emmitsburg, Maryland near Catoctin Mountain Park;
  13. four separate memorials, collectively known as the National Medal of Honor Sites –  in Pueblo, Colorado; Riverside, California; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
  14. Prisoner of War / Missing in Action Memorial, which is also located in Riverside National Cemetery, alongside one of the Medal of Honor Memorial Sites;
  15. Robert L. Kohnstamm Memorial Area – the only memorial on this list dedicated to a conservationist, located on Mt. Hood in Oregon;
  16. National Civil Defense Monument – also located in Emmitsburg, Maryland;
  17. U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial – located in its namesake city and commemorates the last ship in the U.S. Navy to sink during the Second World War;
  18. World War Memorial in Guam – marks the site where Japanese sodliers raped and massacared Guamanian civilians at the Fana Caves during the closing days of World War II.

There is a distinctly military theme, not surprisingly, to many of the memorials on this list.  It is amazing, however, to think that Riverside, California, of all places, is tied with New York City for the most national memorials of any place in the country outside of Washington, DC.  It is also interesting to note the three memorials on the above list that are dedicated to American civilians outside of public service.  Albert Einstein is such a towering figure in the history of science, that a national memorial to him is completely unsurprising.  The Bosque Redondo Memorial is in keeping with the list of National Park System national memorials that commemorate tragedies in our Nation’s history – although it is worth noting that this event gets a national memorial, whereas the removal of the Cherokee from the eastern United States gets the Trail of Tears of National Historic Trail commemorating the full route.   Finally, the most unusual entry on this list is Robert L. Kohnstamm, whom I’m not sure many readers of this past will have previously been familiar with.  For example, he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry!   He apparently played a role in preserving the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and in opening Mt. Hood to recreational skiing.  A full article about him can be read here.

Conclusion

The Lincoln Memorial. Photo from 2011.
The Lincoln Memorial, which is a personal favorite of Parkasaurus.. Photo from 2011.

So, after this exhaustive summary of national memorials here is a summary of the results:

  • 12 national memorials recognized by the National Park Service as stand-alone national parks in Washington, DC;
  • 7 other national memorials in Washington, DC that are managed by the National Park Service;
  • 18 other national memorials that are also stand-alone national parks, outside of Washington, DC;
  • 3 other national memorials located inside the boundaries of national parks outside of Washington, DC;
  • 6 national memorials that are either formally or informally affiliated with the National Park System;
  • 18 national memorials that are located outside the National Park System entirely.

That makes a total of 64 national memorials!

Out of these 64, 26 of them are dedicated to wars, military victories, military service, or public service (I’m including the Astronauts Memorial and Civil Defense Memorial here.)

19 more national memorials are dedicated to U.S. Presidents (incluing four to Abraham Lincoln alone), other U.S. Founding Fathers (I’m including Federal Hall in this group ), or to Robert E. Lee.

Eight more national memorials are dedicated to the exploration and settlement of the United States.

Seven of the national memorials are dedicated to the memory of national tragedies.

Finally, four of the national memorials are dedicated to civilians primarily for civilian accomplishments in the areas of science, conservation, or civil rights.

By no means do any of the above seem to be complete lists.  The closest might be the memorials to the Founding Fathers, although if Kosciuszko is on the list of national memorials, then the names of Lafayette, Rochambeau, and von Steuben are conspicuous by their absences.   The list of explorers with national memorials, however, seems far too short, and almost random in its selection.   While hardly anyone could object to a national memorial to the scientific achievements of Albert Einstein or the Wright Brothers, that area of achievement can only be described as under-recognized.  As with many things in the National Park System – there will no doubt be more to come in the future.  In the meantime, the list of 64 national memorials provides an interesting starting point for those looking to remember our Nation’s past and history, going even beyond just those sites managed by the National Park Service.

Sources: National Park Service Site Designations List, last updated 13 July 2015; Title 16 US Code Section 431, including Notes, retrieved August 15, 2015

Bonus Fact: Congress has actually passed a resolution calling for the final resting of place of the RMS Titanic to be designated as an international maritime memorial to the men, women, and children who perished aboard her.  Of course, the Titanic sank in international waters, so its not at all clear who would have the jurisdiction to carry this out, but it is fun to think about.

 

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Petersburg: The Penultimate Act of the Civil War

 

Petersburg National Battlefield was the penultimate act for Robert E. Lee's Army of Norther Virginia before surrendiering at Appomattox Court House.
Petersburg National Battlefield was the ultimate siege campaign of the Civil War and the penultimate act for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia before surrendering at Appomattox Court House.

I recent had occasion to visit Petersburg National Battlefield, the national park that commemorates the penultimate engagement of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and therefore, of the Civil War itself.  The siege here lasted for more than nine long months.   When Lee was finally defeated on April 2, 1865, he would retreat west towards the small village of Appomattox Court House, the place where he would surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.

The City of Petersburg, located 26 miles to the south of the Confederate capitol of Richmond, was a strategic transportation hub, crucial for sustaining the Confederate defenses around their capitol.   In many ways, Richmond was the great white whale of the Union war efforts.  Early in the war, in 1862, Union General George McClellan had sailed his army down the Chesapeake Bay to the Virginia Tidewater area.  From there, he marched inland to make a direct assault on Richmond, and hopefully bring an early end to the war in what has become known as the Peninsula Campaign.  As it so happened, he was defeated in the Seven Day’s Battles on the outskirts of Richmond.  This forced him to retreat back north to Washington, setting up  the Second Battle of Manassas later that summer, which I covered in a previous Parkasaurus post.   In December of 1862 and again in May of 1863, the Union Amry of the Potomac towards Richmond under the commands of General Ambrose Burnside and General Joseph Hooker, respectively.  They would in turn both be defeated 60 miles of the north of Richmond, trying to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Finally, in 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant would again approach Richmond from the north, having succeeded in crossing the Rappahannock River by defeating Robert E. Lee in the Battle of the Wilderness (near Chancellorsville) and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, to the south of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, in May 1865.  (Today, all four battlefields, Fredericskburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House are preservered as part of the cumbersomely named Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park – the longest park name in the U.S. National Park System!)  Even the great General Grant, however, would at first be defeated in his attempt to directly take Richmond.   As he continued what is now known as the Overland Campaign south from Fredericksburg, he would commit the blunder of making a direct frontal assault on Robert E. Lee’s troops at Cold Harbor, just 12 miles outside of Richmond, which is now part of Richmond National Battlefield Park, along with several sites from McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign two years earlier..

Having failed to take Richmond by direct assault, Grant circled his troops around Richmond to the city of Petersburg to the south.  Petersburg was a key transportation hub with five railroad lines meeting there, crucial for resupplying the Confederate forces in Richmond.   If Grant could capture Petersburg, the Confederates would be unable to resupply Richmond, and thus would be forced to abandon their capitol.   Grant’s forces arrived in the vicinity of Petersburg in June 1864, and began to settle in for a long siege.

Appomattox Plantation served as the Quartermaster's Offices at Grant's Headquarters. Grant himself stayed in the same temporary cabins as his soldiers.
Appomattox Plantation was already 100 years old by the tim of the Civil War and it served as the Quartermaster’s Offices at Grant’s Headquarters.

Although the main visitor center for Petersburg is closer to town, the first stop on our visit was, appropriately enough, Grant’s Headqauraters at City Point.   City Point was a small village located where the Appomattox River meets the James River, and is roughly where the James River becomes significantly wider as it flows towards the Atlantic Ocean.  Richmond is located approximately 17 miles upstream on the James River to the northwest, and Petersburg is located approximately 8 miles upsteam on the Appomattox River to the southwest.  This strategic location would be the base from which Grant would conduct the siege of Petersburg for the next nine months.

The most-imposing remaining historic structure here is an old plantation house, the ironically named Appomattox Plantation.  Grant, however, opted not to use the large house for himself.  Instead, he actually stayed in the same tents as his soldiers, at least until a primitive cabin was built for him several months later as winter was approaching.   This left the Plantation House to be used by the quartermasters, who were responsible for coordinating the continual massive daily influx of all sorts of food and supplies to sustain the Union siege forces.

Grant's Cabin was built in November 1864 as preparations were made for the siege to continue through the winter.
Grant’s Cabin was built in November 1864 as preparations were made for the siege to continue through the winter.

Today the Plantation House serves as a mini Visitor Center for the Park.  There is a short movie about the Park and a few exhibits inside the building.  There are also a handful of wayside exhibits scattered around the property, which attempt to give some perspective to the absolutely massive logistical operations that occurred here during the siege.   In addition to serving as the Union’s logistics hub and the headquarters for its senior leadership, the City Point area also supported the primary hospital caring for the sick and wounded soldiers being brought in almost daily from the front lines of the siege.

From City Point, the next stop was the Eastern Front Visitor Center, which is really the main visitor center for the Park, and is located seven miles to the southwest on the outskirts of town.   This Visitor Center has the main Park movie, as well as some more extensive exhibits.  From here, a short loop trail of less than a mile takes you  to a replica of the cannon known as “The Dictator.”   The Dictator was a 13-inch mortar that was used by the Union in the siege of Petersburg, and was one of the largest of its kind.   Its not known what happened to the original, but it may not have survived.  Contemporary accounts indicate that The Dictator was a truly terrifying and powerful weapon.  The unusual profile of this cannon has since become one of the iconic images of Petersburg, and appears frequently in Petersburg National Battlefield’s promotional materials and merchandise.

 

The Dictator has become an iconic image of Petersburg National Battlefield. This replica has been placed at roughly the spot where the original was stationed to fire upon Petersburg during the siege.
The Dictator has become an iconic image of Petersburg National Battlefield. This replica has been placed at roughly the spot where the original was stationed to fire upon Petersburg during the siege.

From the Eastern Front Visitor Center a short driving tour takes you through seven additional stops in the main section of the Park.  The stops variously take you to the locations of additional preserved earthworks from the siege lines, and the sites of various engagements that occurred as part of the siege.   This area contains several miles of hiking trails, which connect to each of the stops, but these trails seem to primarily cater to locals from the city of Petersburg and from the nearby Fort Lee U.S. Army Base, rather than to national tourists.

In any event, the moral of the story from this driving tour is that from his headquarters and supply depot at City Point to the northwest, Grant was seeking to use his army to extend his siege lines and surround Petersburg to the south, and ultimately to the west.   By surrounding Petersburg to the south and west, Grant hoped to sever the railroads that were supplying Petersburg, and ultimately Richmond. This would be a long, methodical effort, which would consume the more than nine months that the siege lasted.

Proceeding through Eastern Front Driving Tour, its worth making particular note of Stop #5, Fort Stedman.   While much of the action on the Eastern Front takes place in June and July of 1864 while the siege is just beginning, Fort Stedman would rise to prominence in late March of  1865 as the siege was nearing its conclusion.  Here is the place where Lee would make one last attempt to break the Union’s siege lines, and in so doing, set into motion the closing act of the Civil War – but more on that at the end of this post.

The last stop of the Eastern Front driving tour takes you to the place for which the siege of Petersburg is the most famous – the site of the Battle of the Crater.  On July 30, 1864 the Union hatched a creative plan for breaking through the Confederate siegeworks, and hopefully bringing an early end to the siege.   In the early morning hours before dawn on July 30, 1864 a massive mine was detonated below the Confederate earthworks, instantly killing nearly 300 Confederates.   Left behind was a massive crater measuring nearly 170 feet long by 80 feet wide, and at least 30 feet deep.  Two Confederate cannons, each weighing more than 1,700 pounds, had been hurled completely into the air and out of the earthworks.

Despite that early success, and the sheer ingenuity of the plan, almost everything after that moment was a disaster for the Union Army.  The force of the explosion was so massive,  and so unprecedented, that forces on both sides were slow to react.  Contemporary accounts indicate that it took nearly 15 minutes both for the Confederates to return fire and for the Union forces to press their advantage.  At that point, whether due to poor planning by the immediate commanding Generals, or poor training, or both, thousands of Union forces rushed into the resulting crater.   However, instead of the crater being a defensive position from which to press their advantage against the Confederate forces on the surrounding remaining earthworks, the crater instead became a death trap.  Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone would call it a “turkey shoot,” and Grant would later write that “it was the saddest affair that I have witnessed in this war.”   At the end of the day, nearly 4,000 Union soldiers had been killed, wounded or captured against fewer than 1,500 Confederates.

150 years later, the remains of The Crater are still visible at Petersburg.
150 years later, the remains of The Crater are still visible at Petersburg.

After the war, the site of The Crater was naturally one of the first tourist attractions at the Petersburg Battlefield.   After 150 years of erosion, weathering, visitation, and growth in vegetation, it is admittedly no longer the site that left soldiers on both sides gawking in amazement.   Visiting the site today, however, one can still capture the sense of what truly close quarters these Civil War engagements were fought in.  In an era before aircraft, and before mechanized warfare, battles were truly intimate affairs, with soldiers in close quarters seeing those who would kill and be killed.  80 feet wide was surely a significant crater for those soldiers fighting on foot, but with thousands of Union soldiers pouring into that space, only to meet whithering Confederate fire from above the rim, it must have felt like very tight quarters indeed.

The Crater marks the end of the Eastern Front driving tour.   From there, a tour of the park takes you to the four-stop Western Front Driving Tour.  Unlike the Eastern Front, where the National Park Service manages a large contiguous parcel of land, the National Park Service only manages a few, small, disconnected parcels on the Western Front.  Nevertheless, the story here remains largely the same.  Grant is continuing to extend his siege lines around Petersburg to the south and to the west to encricle Petersburg and cut the supply routes into the city.  The Western Front driving tour takes you to several areas of preserved historic earthworks from the siege, and the sites of engagements that occurred during the siege.   These range from engagements fought in August 1864 in the aftermath of the Crater to the final push that occurred on April 2, 1865 which finally broke the siege – but again, more on that in a moment.

Poplar Grove National Cemetery is the centerpiece of the Western Front Driving Tour at Petersburg National Battlefield.Poplar Grove National Cemetery is the centerpiece of the Western Front Driving Tour at Petersburg National Battlefield.

The Western Front Driving Tour also includes Poplar Grove National Cemetery.  Poplar Grove was established in 1866 to provide a final resting place for around 5,000 of the Union soldiers that had been buried around Petersburg during the siege.  The National Park Service operates a small Visitor Contact Station here during the summer.  The grave stones here are all flat to the ground, but are clearly marked.

The National Park Service also encourages travelers to visit historic downtown Petersburg.  Although none of the historic properties in downtown Petersburg are actually managed as part of the national battlefield, there is apparently a whopping 64-stop auto tour available.  We were only making a day trip to the park so did not have time for this particular side-trip, but it is good to know that it is available.

Our visit to the National Park Service areas at Petersburg National Battlefield, however, concluded with a visit to the FIve Forks Unit, which is located approximately 15 miles to the west of Petersburg.   After Lee’s failed assault on Fort Stedman (back in the main portion of the Park) on March 25, 1865, Grant knew that he now had an opportunity to press his advantage.   He dispatched a mobile force under Major General Philip Sheriden out to the west to try and cut the last remaining railway line into Petersburg.   Lee dispatched General George Pickett (he of the famous Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg) to try and hold the lines.   The two forces met on March 31st in the vicinity of Five Forks, an area where five roads come together just two miles south of the railroad line.  By the evening of April 1st, the Union forces had won the battlefield.   The next day, Sunday April 2nd, Grant ordered a number of assaults on the entrenched Confederate lines around Petersburg, and the nine month siege was over.  Lee’s forces were retreteating to the north and to the west towards Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War would effectively end one week later on April 9th.

As it so happens, April 9th was Palm Sunday that year, the day on which Christians all over the world simultaneously mark both the triumphant entrance of Jesus of Nazareth into Jersualem and his subsequent crucifxtion at the hands of the Romans, an act that Christians believe was in atonement for the sins of the world.   Just five days after that, Abraham Lincoln would be shot in Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday.   Thus, the two climactic events of a war that Lincoln was already growing to understand in increasingly religious terms, as he had articulated just one month earlier, would occur on two massively symbolic religious anniversaries.

On a personal note, this visit to Petersburg National Battlefield also had symbolic importance to me.  This visit marked the 300th Unit of the U.S. National Park System that I have visited at least once.  It was also the last of the National Park Service Units primarily dedicated to the Civil War that I had not yet visited, and also the last National Park Service Unit in the Mid-Atlantic Region that I had not yet visited.  So this visit carried a sense of accomplishment in my personal travels as well.

Our visit also included all five of the Passport Cancellations currently available at Petersburg National Battlefield:

  • Grant’s Headquarters at City Point (in the Appomattox Plantation House)
  • Petersburg, VA (at the Easter Front (Main) Visitor Center)
  • Siege of Petersburg | 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (also at the Eastern Front (Main) Visitor Center)
  • Poplar Grove National Cemetery (at the Eastern Front Visitor Center in the winter when the Poplar Grove Contact Station is closed)
  • Five Forks, VA (at the Five Forks Contact Station)
The cannons are now silent at Petersburg National Battlefield.
The cannons are now silent at Petersburg National Battlefield.
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Lincoln Memorial and Great Speeches

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Photo by Parkasaurus from May 2010

Today’s post is about the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC after being reminded that earlier this week was the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address.

The Lincoln Memorial anchors the West end of the National Mall in West Potomac Park of downtown Washington, DC.  Inside the Greek-style Temple with Doric columns is, of course, the famous sculpture of Abraham Lincoln carved by famed American sculptor Daniel Chester French.  Inside the temple are two of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, on the north and south walls, respectively.   As I like to describe them, one of the speeches is the greatest speech in American History, the other is the Gettysburg Address.

That “greatest speech in American History,” is, of course, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address.   Indeed, it is a remarkable testament to Lincoln’s brilliance that he would have not just delivered not one, but two of the speeches in the canon of all-time greats in American History, but that both of them would also be short enough that they could be carved in their entirety into the walls of a Memorial.

Perhaps even more amazing is that the only other real contender, in my mind, with these two speeches for the title of “all-time greatest speech in American History” was delivered on the steps of this very Memorial.  This is, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, a speech which begins by directly referencing Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and echoing the famous opening of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

All that is definiately fitting because as far as I’m concerned, the list of  greatest-speeches in American History would have to have these three speeches, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, King’s “I Have a Dream,” and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as 1, 2, and 3 in some order – and you really can’t go wrong with whatever order you choose.   Yes, there are some other notable speeches in American History, such as John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address – “ask not what your country can do for you,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1st Inaugural Address – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Lou Gehrig’s Farewell – “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth,” and Ronald Reagan’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”; but in my view these four are all in a second tier below the first three.

"I-have-a-dream-site" by ProhibitOnions - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg#mediaviewer/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg
The National Park Service has marked the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood while delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech with this inscription in the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.   “I-have-a-dream-site” by ProhibitOnions – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg#mediaviewer/File:I-have-a-dream-site.jpg

Top honors, for me, however, go to Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address – the 150th Anniversary of which is being marked this week.   Back in the 19th Century, Presidential Inaugurations were held on March 4th each year (unless it was Sunday), before being moved to the present date of January 20th (unless its a Sunday) in the 1930’s.

Back in 1865, when Lincoln was delivering this speech, the Civil War had raged for nearly four years since the first shots had been fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.   What everyone thought would be a short war at the 1st Battle of Manassas had proven to be anything but.   By this point, some 700,00 soldiers on both sides lay dead, with many more civilian casualties on top of that.  All of this in a Nation that had numbered just 31.5 million in the 1860 Census, including nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans.

Over the years of warfare, as technology advanced and war-fighting tactics improved, a new kind of total warfare had developed.   By the time that Lincoln was delivering his Second Inaugural Address it was clear that the end was imminently near.  Indeed, Lee would surrender at Appomattox Courhouse just one month later, on April 9th.   At this time, though,  General Ulysses S. Grant was entering the 10th month of his siege campaign to surround the Conferederate capital of Richmond, and its adjacent railroad hub of Petersburg.   This was an intense trench warfare campaign of the sort that would prefigure the terrible trench warfare of the First World War that would come some 50 years later.

With the Nation having suffered so much, Lincoln chose this occasion to try and make some sense of the sensless carnage which had ravaged the country and to try and give some meaning to all the suffering the Nation had endured.   One year into the war, in April 1862, Lincoln famously wrote in a letter to New York City newpaperman Horace Greeley “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.”   Now, nearly three years later, Lincoln uses this occasion to articulate that a war which had been begun to save the Union, was now definitively also about the higher purpose of ending the institution of slavery.   And although there is not really any evidence that Lincoln was himself a religious man, he finds in allusions to Biblical texts that would have been well known by his audience, some semblance ofan answer as to why this war had lasted so long and caused so much suffering.

Lincoln then ends the speech with his famous closing lines, “with malice towards none, and charity towards all,” articulating a vision for how the Nation should be reunited, and directly rebuking those in the North who wanted to inflict punitive retribution on the South.  In a way, this is Lincoln articulating his own dream, a dream that would ultimately not be realized.  His Vice President that day was Andrew Johnson, unusually, a Democrat (Lincoln was,  of course, a Republican), and a Southerner, from Tennessee.  With the election of 1864 being conducted during wartime, and with half the country in open rebellion, Lincoln had sought to run on a “national unity” ticket.  As such, he had dropped his Vice President from his first term, the Republican Hannibal Hamlin from Maine, and replaced him with Andrew Johnson, who had been a Senator from Tennessee, and whom Lincoln had apointed as military governor of Tennessee when the Union Army had largely recaptured the State.

The task of carrying out Lincoln's vision for Reconstruction would largely fall to Andrew Johnson. Photo from Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN, 2013.
The task of carrying out Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction would largely fall to Andrew Johnson. Photo from Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN, 2013.

Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln’s dream would largely die with him after being shot at Ford’s Theatre.  Less than two months after Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, Andrew Johnson would find himself President of the United States.  As the ultimate outsider, however, a Southern Democrat who had largely been elected by Northern Republicans, he would quickly find himself largely unable to execute Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction.  In that sense, Lincoln’s unfulfilled dream prefigures the more profound unfilfilled dream of a country where “all men are created equal,” and a country where his “four little children… will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” that would be echoed some 98 years later on August 28, 1963.

Indeed, those connections still echo today.  As I write this post on March 7th, earlier today the National Park Service  held a commemorative program marking the 150th Anniversary (plus two days) of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, on the same day that so many people gathered in Selma, Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights March to Montgomery back in 1965.

So with all that being said, here are the words of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, some 150 years later:

Fellow Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it — all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”

If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

 

 

 

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Liven Up Your Passport with Commemorative Stickers

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An example of how special commemorative stamps can liven up the pages of your Parks Pasport.

The Passport to Your National Parks program offers at least one passport stamp at each of the national parks in the U.S. National Park System.  One of the beauties of the program is its consistency.   At the same time, however, its hard to deny that there isn’t something a little boring about the Passport stamps themselves – each of them are the same round circle with text around the upper border, text around the lower border, and a date across the middle.

Thus, to liven up the pages of your Parks Passport Book, the creators of the Passpor Program, Eastern National, annually offer for sale a set of ten commemorative stamps to live up the pages of your Parks Passport.  In the early days of the Passport Program, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, these comemorative stamps were sold in the same style and format as postage stamps – with special envelope mounts for mounting them in your Passport.   Nowadays, the commemorative stamps are sold in an easy-to-use sticker format.

Each commemorative stamp features a photo of a national park, as well as a short explanatory blurb about the park.   The photos are selected each year from submissions made by National Park Service employees and volunteers.   Each year there is one commemorative stamp for each of the nine geographical regions in the Passport Program, as well a tenth, large-format, national stamp each year – typically for a national park celebrating a special anniversary that year.

Anyhow, the news this week is that Eastern National has announced the nine new commemorative stamps for 2015:

The selection of Appomattox Courthouse as the 2015 National Commemorative Stamp is no surprise.   On April 9, 1865 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the CIvil War 150 years ago in 2015.

Likwise, the selection of Ford’s Theatre NHS also makes perfect sense, as it was the site, 150 years ago on April 14, 1865 of President Lincoln’s Assasination.   Somewhat interestingly, this makes Ford’s Theatre a relatively rare park to now have two commemorative annual regional stickers, as Ford’s Theatre was previously the featured sticker for the National Capital Region in 1993.   A duplication was somewhat inevitable, however, as 2015 is the 30the year that commemorative stamps/stickers have been issued, there are only 24 national parks in the National Capital Region, and the last national park in the National Capital Region to get its own sticker, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac, finally got its own sticker last year.

The LBJ Memoria Grove on the Potomac features a large stone obelisk, and in 2014 it became the last  national park in the National Capital Region to get its own commemorative stamp.
The LBJ Memoria Grove on the Potomac features a large stone obelisk, and in 2014 it became the last national park in the National Capital Region to get its own commemorative stamp.

 

The only other park to have been featured twice on regional stickers under the same name is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was the National Capital Region sticker on the first commemorative stamp/sticker set way back in 1986, and then was featured again in 1994 – marking the addition of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial statue the previous year in 1983.  Four other national parks in Washington, DC have had different individual memorials within those parks featured on the annual commemorative stamps in different years.   Meanwhile, its worth noting that Fort Clatsop National Memorial, which marks the place where the explorers Lewis & Clark finally reached the Pacific Ocean, was featured on the 1992 sticker for the Pacific Northwest & Alaska Region.   After the name of this national park was changed by Congress to Lewis & Clark National Historical Park, it was featured again on a commemorative regional sticker in 2010.

Interestingly, the Southwest, North Atlantic, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain Region all have between 39 and 43 national parks in them.  Thus, all four of those regions will likely reach the point of having each national park within those regions on at least one commemorative regional sticker within the next 10 years or so.

In the meantime, enjoy filling in your Passport Books with the latest set of commemorative stickers.

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