General Jefferson C. Davis, staff and the Fourteenth Corps passing on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Treasury. This Corps was the last unit to pass by the viewing stand. W. D. Hall, my husband’s great grandfather, is somewhere in this photo.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Mathew B. Brady, photographer. LC-B811-3395
George Santayana, a philosopher and poet, is credited with the saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (p. 284 of Reason in Common Sense.)
One hundred fifty years ago in Washington, D. C., after the ending of The War Between the States, or The War of the Rebellion as it was called by some, the victorious Northern forces held a “Review of Troops.” The event was so large it was held on two days, on Tuesday, May 23, 1865 and on Wednesday, May 24, 1865. Lincoln had been assassinated just five weeks before on April 14 so the event must have been filled with emotion–relief that the conflict was finally over, sorrow over an important life cut short, concern about the future.
My husband’s great grandfather, W.D. Hall fought in the Civil War on the Union side, and kept a journal of where he went and what happened once he arrived. He survived the war and marched through Washington in this Review of Troops on Wednesday, May 24, 1865.
W. D.’s description of this historic day was brief and succinct as were all his journal entries.
“May 24th. Prepare to move early on review. Cross the Potomac on Long Bridge, one mile long. Pass up Maryland Avenue around the Capitol area, down Pennsylvania Avenue. Then down Bridge Street. Cross the Potomac opposite Georgetown. Return to our old camp right side up.”
William Tecumseh Sherman’s description of the event in his MEMOIRS gives a richer image of this historic event. Hall was with Sherman’s forces through much of the conflict.
“The morning of the 24th was extremely beautiful and the ground was in splendid order for our review. The streets were filled with people to see the pageant, armed with bouquets of flowers for their favorite regiments or heroes. . . Punctually at 9 A. M. the signal gun was fired . . . When I reached the Treasury building and looked back, the sight was simply magnificent. The column was compact and the glittering muskets looked like a solid mass of steel, moving with the regularity of a pendulum . . . I then took my post on the left of the President and for six hours and a half stood while the army passed in the order of the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Twentieth, and Fourteenth Corps.”
Dale’s great grandfather was in the Fourteenth Corps.
Sherman continued. “It was in my judgment, the most magnificent army in existence—sixty-five thousand men, in splendid physique, who had just completed a march of nearly two thousand miles in a hostile country . . .” (Memoirs, p865-866.)
I’m sure the people of that long ago time were amazed, shocked, horrified to find their security crumbling around them when South Carolina seceded from the Union and the dominoes tumbled toward war. Although Lincoln had his enemies, no one wanted his death. Those men and women of that time were right to be fearful. More of our own people died or were injured than in any other conflict except for World War II and this was here at home, on our own soil. What were those hot headed people thinking?
Today we again have unrest in our country and disappointment in our government. Hopefully we have not forgotten that dreadful and painful lesson from one hundred fifty years ago. Surely we are wise enough to find a way to negotiate and compromise through the many disagreements. Surely we can get to a win/win position for both sides without force. Violence solves nothing and leaves a stain of hatred behind that lives on long after the event is over.
Let us hope we are not condemned as other nations have been to repeat the past.
For more on W. D. Hall’s up close and personal account of his slice of the Civil War, GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT, A CIVIL WAR MEMOIR is available as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other ebook vendors.