America Then, America Now

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Yesterday morning in Washington, D.C., I walked past Ford’s Theater.  A small, quaint red brick building among the modern concrete structures of downtown Washington, the theater looks as it did 150 years ago, on that terrible night when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

It’sdownload wonderful that Ford’s Theate still exists; so much of American history has been erased in our never-ending quest for bigger and better that it’s gratifying to see a place that played such an important part in our history has been preserved.  So, too, has the house across the street where our greatest President died, and Edwin Stanton aptly said “Now he belongs to the ages.”

America being what it is, however, you won’t be surprised to learn that, among these sober living memorials to a dark chapter is a cheesy souvenir shop called Honest Abe Souvenir, which was having it’s grand opening as we walked by.  Because, after witnessing the place where American history took a grim turn and a great man breathed his last, who wouldn’t want to buy an Honest Abe mug or T-shirt?

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (III)

For many Ohioans — me included — our favorite statue at the Ohio Statehouse is “These Are My Jewels.”  That statement is carved on the large circular monument underneath a female figure representing Ohio, and refers to the Buckeye State’s pride in the enormous contribution that the seven Ohioans depicted on the monument made to the Union cause during the Civil War.

Who were these Ohioans?  Foremost is Ulysses Grant, the hard-headed, unflappable, relentless commander who initially achieved great successes in the War’s western theater.  Grant was the “hero of Fort Donelson” who advised the Confederate forces defending the fort that “no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender” would be acceptable, and who later led Union troops to victories at Shiloh and Vicksburg.  Grant then was brought East by President Lincoln to lead the Army of the Potomac — a position at which many before him had miserably failed.  Grant, however, led the Army of the Potomac to bloody but ultimate victory, graciously accepted the surrender of the Confederate forces led by Robert E. Lee, and crafted the generous surrender terms that some historians believe accelerated the nation’s eventual recovery from the deep wounds of the War.

To Grant’s right — appropriately — is William Tecumseh Sherman, Grant’s trusted lieutenant and resolute supporter.  High-strung, mercurial, and gifted, Sherman often is credited with being the father of modern warfare.  He engineered the fall of Atlanta, cut loose from his supply lines, and then led his army on a cruel swath through the south, from Atlanta to the sea and then up the Carolina coast.  His drive through the South crippled the Confederacy and helped to crush popular support for the war and demonstrate the inevitability of the Union’s victory.  Like Grant, Sherman also had a knack for coining a memorable phrase.  When he was mentioned as a potential presidential candidate after the War he famously responded “If nominated, I will not accept; if drafted, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.”

To Grant’s left is Philip Sheridan.  Sheridan proved to be a formidable commander in battles in the western theater, where his record included participating in the charge up Missionary Ridge in the battle of Chattanooga.  Grant then tapped him to command the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, and Sheridan filled that role with enormous distinction.  He led the cavalry on an extended campaign through the Confederate stronghold of the Shenandoah Valley that destroyed the ability of the Valley and its residents to feed and support Lee’s Confederate army.  Later, Sheridan’s cavalry relentlessly chased and harried Lee’s retreating forces, helping to bring about Lee’s surrender at Appomatox Court House.

The other “jewels” on the monument were not quite as important to the Union effort.  They include Salmon Chase, who served as Treasury Secretary and was one of Lincoln’s “Cabinet of Rivals,” Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s second Secretary of War, James Garfield, one of Ohio’s Presidents, and Rutherford Hayes, another of Ohio’s Presidents.

Of these remaining four “jewels,” my favorite is Stanton.  A brilliant lawyer, Stanton was a prickly personality who also was indefatigable and incorruptible as Secretary of War.  He also was present at Lincoln’s deathbed and stated, at Lincoln’s death, “Now he belongs to the ages.” (I also freely admit to liking Stanton’s statue because he is shown wearing glasses.)

Interestingly, Hayes was an afterthought, added to the “These Are My Jewels” monument only after it was first displayed at the World Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.  When the monument was then erected on the Statehouse grounds, near the northwest corner of the Statehouse, then-Governor William McKinley pushed for adding Hayes, McKinley’s former commanding officer, as the seventh “jewel.”

“These Are My Jewels” should make any Ohioan proud about the Buckeye State.  It shows, in well-rendered granite and bronze, why Ohio does not take a back seat to any other northern state in its central contribution to the Union’s victory in the most important war in  American history.

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (II)

Public Art At The Ohio Statehouse (I)