Reflections, observations, random thoughts and bon mots, relating to the literary and geographic landscapes of American history. And book reviews too.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
"worry-ye-not, fans of ponchos, big hats and spitting, 2009 just might be your year"
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Did President Grant really visit Palo Alto in 1877?
or is it similar to claims that "Washington slept here"?
I went for a walk in the neighborhood the other night, specifically to get a picture of a historical marker about 1/4 mile from my apartment. In 12 years here, oddly enough, I never got around to visiting this marker until this week—odd, because I am a little bit obsessive about seeing every marker I pass by, or am in proximity to. In fact, I thought it was on another block of La Selva, probably hidden from easy view, and never took the time to investigate further.
California Registered Historical Landmark marker number 969 reads:
Sarah Armstrong Wallis (1825–1905) was a pioneer in the campaign for women’s voting rights. In 1870 she was elected president of California’s first statewide suffrage organization which in 1873 incorporated as the California State Woman Suffrage Education Association. The home she built on this site, Mayfield Farm, was a center of suffrage activities attracting state and national leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ulysses S. Grant
Some articles, like this one in "California Historian," state that Wallis "entertained President U.S. Grant there in 1877." Grant would have left office in March of 1877 (inauguration in those days did not occur until around March 20), so I assumed a visit would have occurred in the early months of the year. It did not dawn on me right away that, of course, even after he left office people would still refer to him as "President" Grant. There is also the fact that Grant left for a European tour soon after leaving office, which narrows the window for a West Coast visit still more.
I spent a good deal of time last night searching digital archives of early California papers, in particular the Daily Alta California, and the Daily Call, which, it seems, almost certainly would have recorded a visit by Grant to the Bay Area in 1877 (given the amount of reporting on Grant in general). I also searched my limited personal library of Grant-related material for any mention of a Mayfield visit. My cursory searches yielded nothing.
By chance, yesterday I commented on Kevin Levin's blog entry about his reading of a new work on Grant, Joan Waugh's, U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth. Specifically, I asked Kevin if Waugh's work spends "any time on women’s support for Grant in 1872 (Susan B. Anthony was arrested after voting for him him that year)? I’m looking for references to President Grant’s visit to the West Coast at the tail end of his 2nd term, when he apparently met with California suffragette Sarah Wallis."
Intriguingly, this prompted a response from one Bob Pollock, a ranger at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site: "David, Your question has sparked interest among the park rangers here at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. We are not aware of a trip by Grant to California in 1877 and it seems unlikely. He left office in March, and boarded a steamship at Philadelphia in May to go on his around the world trip. It seems more likely that if he met Sarah Wallis it would have been in 1879 when he and Julia conclude their travels by arriving in San Francisco. We are going to look into this some more."
I'll address that here in the hopes that Bob will weigh in and help shed more light on the matter. My neighborhood historical marker just got a lot more interesting on this steamy June Saturday.
Bob, my source for it is simply the marker itself (and one article), though I will now email the long-time historian for the neighborhood association in the hopes of uncovering something substantive. One encounters passing reference to Grant's visit in any number of articles, but I suspect they're all relying on the same source—probably the marker, or a database of marker text. One contributor from the Palo Alto Historical Association avoided reference to Grant in his essay on Sarah Wallis. The aforementioned "California Historian" article specified the 1877 visit. Maybe that was just a typo.
I hope we can establish Grant's visit to Sarah Wallis, a spectacular historic figure in her own right (more on her in a subsequent blog entry). The mansion Wallis built burned to the ground in 1936, and the area is now the quiet residential area of Barron Park. Few old growth redwoods remain, but a few of those magnificent trees in the neighborhood appear to be old enough to have witnessed a visit by the old general.
(image at top is entitled "Res of Mrs. Sarah Wallis, Mayfield, Santa Clara, Co., Cal., from the David Rumsey Map Collection. Mayfield is part of what makes up Palo Alto).
Just for fun, visit this 2006 blog entry on a California tree named for General Grant (along with the Lincoln and Sherman trees).
Dead on June 25th
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
"Seven Civil War Stories You Didn't Learn in High School"
Seeing the headline of this Wall Street Journal article piqued my interest. I was hoping to find some new tidbit, some edgy new interpretation, or at least some really intriguing twists on commonly-known stories. Instead, the Seven Civil War Stories presented in the Journal are rather pedestrian. Go to the article itself to see a couple paragraphs of detail on each of these entries, but here's the actual list:
2. Hungry Ladies Effectively Mugged Jefferson Davis
5. Paul Revere Was at
6. Mark Twain Fired One Shot And Left
7. The Armies Weren't All-Male
I went to high school in
High school history covers a lot of ground in short order, but trivia has it's place. If my teachers had employed a few more attention-grabbers, I might actually have some memory of those classes. These days, anyone who reads a good single-volume history like McPherson’s, Battle Cry of Freedom, will come across pretty much everything on the list above: ill-fated colonization efforts, the bread riots, Lowe’s balloons and early submarines, the roots of Dixie, or that some females passed themselves off as males and melded into the ranks. These aren’t secrets, just things that require more reading.
1. The fledgling Confederacy engaged in a number of overtly hostile acts of war against the
2. The extent of the damage and depredations wrought by
5. When in 1866, momentum was gathering in
7. The deadliest maritime disaster in American history remains largely unknown and obscure. Something over 1,700 recently-released Union prisoners of war, en route to their homes on the steamship Sultana, died in the fiery explosion of that ship’s stressed boilers, or drowned in the
Monday, June 15, 2009
Putting one's money where one's mouth is. . .
|Ed Bearss, left, and Brian Pohanka (photo by Rudy Perini)|
I was fortunate to get to know Brian first through his writing for Civil War Regiments quarterly, when we published one of his pieces on the 5th New York, and later through his participation in the Civil War Forum, when he attended some of our annual get-togethers. The photo at top was the 4th CWF gathering, 2000, with Ed and Brian on the Mississippi River at Vicksburg (photo by Rudy Perini). Brian was also a mover and a shaker in the area of battlefield preservation. A 2006 press release from the Civil War Preservation Trust—the preeminent preservation organization for Civil War sites (see the previous blog entry discussing CWPT's new website)—details Pohanka's all-but-anonymous, and stunning generosity:
From the very beginnings of the Civil War battlefield preservation movement, Brian Pohanka led the charge. He not only gave of his time and talents, but frequently and generously reached into his wallet as well. We at Civil War Preservation Trust are proud to carry on the work he began nearly two decades ago.’
Pohanka’s generosity to battlefield preservation was unequalled. In addition to the $1 million bequest, he and his wife Cricket quietly donated an equal amount to CWPT in 2004. Over the years, Pohanka gave generously to both CWPT and countless other local battlefield preservation groups—in his will, he also set aside money for the Central Virginia Battlegrounds Trust ($500,000), the Richmond Battlefields Association ($500,000), and the Save Historic Antietam Foundation ($200,000).
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Map Lovers Rejoice
The newly revamped website for The Civil War Preservation Trust has a beautiful, all-in-one map page, featuring their outstanding topo maps, numerous historic maps, and some really spectacular animated maps that allow you to toggle between modern aerial and topo maps (the animated Chantilly map offers a 1937 aerial view as well). Additionally, there are links to some of the best sites to find Civil War maps online, like the Virginia Historical Society.
Be sure to have a look at the animated Cedar Creek and Belle Grove map. If you thought the damage done by the Middletown Quarry had been mitigated by earlier agreements, think again. The proposed expansion of operations there (given the green light by local government) will increase the loss of prime battlefield land exponentially.