Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Civil War Tour of Washington DC

Sometimes timing is everything.  About a week before, Congress decided to shutdown the government, I toured many of the nation's capital's Civil War sites. Surprisingly, there are no organized tours of the historic places of the war.  Hopefully, our elected officials will stop behaving like spoiled brats and learn to play together. 

With the help of my own research and suggestions by Ms. Carol Bessette, I assembled three days of adventures.  The following list and comments should help you prepare your own self-guided tour.  Many of the sites are best visited by car while others should be accessed via the DC Metro system.

Historic Houses and Residences

Abraham Lincoln's Summer Cottage
  • Clara Barton Home - Drive to the home of the founder of the American Red Cross and battlefield nurse.  The guided tour of her residence is great for adults and children.
  • Frederick Douglas Home - Another site to drive to.  Douglas lived here after the war.  Short film highlights his life.  The beautiful hill-top residence in Arlington overlooks the capital.
  • Robert E. Lee Home - You can reach the home at Arlington National Cemetery by car or the Metro.  Interesting site overlooking Washington.  See the room where Lee wrote his resignation from the Union Army.
  • Abraham Lincoln's Summer Cottage - Take the time to drive to this site at the Soldiers' Home.  Starkly furnished home is viewed during excellent narrated tour of house.  See how you "measure up" to full size statue of Lincoln and his horse and climb the staircase Lincoln used to the room where he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • The Willard Hotel - This historic hotel was home to many dignitaries during the Civil War including Lincoln and Grant.  The hotel was a den of newspaper reporters, Union officers, Congressmen, and Southern spies.  There is a small hallway-museum. Visit using the Metro.
Downtown Washington (Only visit using the Metro.  Driving in downtown DC is a nightmare - gridlock and no place to park)

U. S. Grant
  • Ford's Theater - Site of Lincoln's assassination.  Also home across the street where Lincoln died.  You can take a John Booth tour of sites along his escape path.
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History - Museum features Civil War Sesquicentennial exhibit and Martin Luther King's National Mall speech 50th Anniversary exhibit.  There are Civil Rights tours of Washington.
  • Frieze Around National Building Museum - Building was used after the war to pay military pensions.  Outside walls are decorated with military reliefs.
  • Statues -  The city is a not-too-subtle tribute to the Union generals of the Civil War.  General Sherman stands near the White House and General Grant guards the Capital. There are many others as well.  We managed to snap pictures of Generals Hancock and Meade.
  • African American Civil War Museum and Statue - We were not able to see these because of parking problems.  Take the Metro to visit them.
  • Lincoln Park - Emancipation Statue - not visited
  • Naval Museum - Navy Yard - Traffic and tightened security prohibited visit.  I understand that they have a good exhibit on the brown-water navy. Visit using the Metro.
Defenses of Washington (See these sites by car)

Fort Stevens
  • Fort Stevens - Reconstruction of part of fort.
  • Fort C. F. Smith - Parts of fort named after Maj. Gen. Smith are maintained.
  • Fort Ward - Museum and reconstructed fortifications.
  • Fort Washington - Only defense protecting DC at start of war.  I was not able to visit this fort.

  • Lincoln Memorial - See via Metro.
  • Arlington National Cemetery - See via Metro.
  • Alexandria, VA - Occupied city during the war and site of Col. Ellsworth shooting. See by car.
Over the next several month's, I will be preparing blogs on these locations.  Hopefully, our over-paid legislators will be able to put the government back to work and allow visitors at these historic sites. 

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