Washington DC: the perfect place to spend out final field trip with the Gettysburg Semester. We boarded the bus one more time and headed to the nation's capital on a crisp, clear, yet ultimately packed, day. Unfortunately, our fearless leader, Dr. Guelzo, was not able to come on our last trip (we may have been in Washington, but he could not take us all along on his dinner with Mr. President later that evening), but Dr. Norman and Cathy stepped up to the plate. Though Washington is rich with all kinds of history, our tight schedule was limited to just hitting the Lincoln sights around town, and I was surprised with some of our stops.
After arriving in the city, our first stop was Lafayette Square and the White House. While in Gettysburg, we had heard a lot about Lafayette Square, but not for the typical reasons. A while back, I mentioned a certain eccentric Union general who lost his leg on the second day of battle at Gettysburg and decided to keep it after it was amputated. Well, Dan Sickles was crazy before his leg was amputated; when he found out that his wife was having an affair before the war began, he killed his wife's lover in broad daylight in Lafayette Square (Lincoln must have had some slim pickings for Union generals!). Directly across Pennsylvania Avenue was the White House, and Dr. Norman delighted us with stories of when the Lincolns lived there (did you know that sons Tad and Willie had pet goats who lived in
the house?). Fort Stevens, one of the last few forts still remaining from McClellan's original defensive system, was next on the agenda.
After spending some time at Fort Stevens we moved on to our next stop, a place I had never been before. The Soldiers' Home was an asylum for United States disabled and retired veterans, and in the 1860s, it also was the place where the Lincolns had a summer cottage (which is more like a mansion). Just 3 miles from the White House, former Gettysburg Semester alum Allison Herrmann, Gettysburg College grad John, and Education Curator Jill Sanderson led us through the site which is currently under construction and to be opened to the public in February 2008. Our knowledgeable interpreters brought us through the unfinished Visitor Center and Cottage, and once again stories of the president and his family gave us another glimpse of the human side of history. Tad Lincoln was a subject of interest again, and the story of him becoming the "unofficial 3rd
lieutenant" of the regiment assigned as Lincoln's guard proves he must have been a pretty popular kid! After lunch, we headed back to the Soldiers' Home (which is still used today as a retirement home for veterans) and said goodbye to our guides.
We ran into construction again at our next stop; Ford's Theater, where Lincoln was shot in 1865, just days after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. The Theater is being restored and is closed, so we had to settle for a tour of just the Peterson House, where Lincoln actually died. Our last stop in the city was the majestic Lincoln Memorial; the sheer size of Lincoln is impressive, but paired with the powerful words of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Speech on the walls, and it was altogether a strong message of what Lincoln did for our country. Our tour finally complete, we headed out of the Capital, but what's a trip to the city without horrendous traffic? Though our battlefield adventures are now complete, the semester is not over, and I know that more excitement is on its way (you know, excitement other
than writing endless Civil War papers!).
2007 Battlefield Blog Home | Orientation | Harpers Ferry | Valley Campaign | Manassas | Antietam
Gettysburg Day One | Gettysburg Day Two | Gettysburg Day Three | Cold Harbor, Petersburg & Five Forks
Wilderness & Spotsylvania | Appomattox | Washington