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Volume 31, No. 2 – February 2018


President’s Message:

The February speaker will be David Meisky.  The topic will be William “Extra Billy” Smith, who was a major general and governor. However, he had complete contempt for the educated and trained soldier which aided in making him an interesting figure in the War. If you have any Civil War currency or coins, Mr. Meisky will be pleased to comment on it for you.

A big “thank you” to Round Table members, George and Morag Nimberg, for their help at the Toy Soldier show. We had books and art for sale on behalf of the Round Table.

In March, the speaker is going to be very well known author, Jack Davis. Thank you to Bob Franke for arranging Mr. Davis’ visit. Mr. Davis has written over forty books on the Civil War and Southern History and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is a three time winner of the Jefferson Davis Prize for Confederate History as well as being awarded the Jules and Frances Landry History award. He is also a consultant for numerous television productions including the  history channel and C-Span.

Gerridine LaRovere

February 14, 2018 Program:

Dave Meisky is a living historian from Virginia who has studier the life and times of William "Extra Billy" Smith, one of the best known Virginians during the War Between the States, although his reputation has faded over the years since the war.  Meisky grew up in Northern Virginia and majored in history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. He worked for the Federal Government, for the state, and for private concerns. His military service was in the District of Columbia National. Since retiring from the Fairfax County Public Library in 2011 he has lived in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, site of many events during the war, For a number of years he was a re-enactor with the Fairfax Rifles, Co. D, 17th Va. Infantry but switched to living history and speaking after joining AAA (age, asthma, and arthritis). He will be talking to us about Extra Billy Smith but sometimes (not this time) he appears as Extra Billy Smith.

Looking forward to seeing y’all.

January 10, 2018 Program:

GerridineOur own Gerridine gave the January presentation.  It was a slide show called Washington DC before 1865.  The nation’s capitol, leading up to the Civil War and during the war years was a poor city even by 19th century standards.  Although it had been planned by Revolutionary War officer Pierre L’Enfant as a grand seat of government with dramatic architecture and broad boulevards, it was clearly still a work-in-progress on the eve of the Civil War.






DickensCharles Dickens paid a visit in 1842 and proclaimed: "Washington may be called the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva..."  He further claimed:  "The thing itself is an exaggeration of nastiness, which cannot be outdone."  Clearly, he did not see Washington as a lovely southern city on the banks of a grand river.



CapitolThere were a number of construction projects under way like the dome of the Capitol shown here.  In fact, the Lincoln administration did not stop with the building as a show of bravado.  It was to show how little the war made a difference to the Union.  But that was mostly for show and very few people were fooled.



CanalTypical of the mess was the Chesapeake and Ohio canal.  This was a massive canal project designed to connect Pittsburgh with Chesapeake Bay.  Chartered in 1825, sections of the canal were built and operated from 1831 until 1924.  By 1833, the canal's Georgetown end was extended 1.5 miles as a connection of the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers.  But, that extension went bankrupt leaving an open sewer where the Mall is today.  Cattle grazed on its banks.  The canal added to the animal waste making Washington a very smelly place even before the troop buildup during the early months of the war.



SmithsonianAndrew Jackson Downing was a man of many talents including botany, agriculture, and architecture.  He suggested a radical change to L’Enfant’s layout for the city.  Downing suggested four massive parks rather than the grid, hub, and spokes of the original roads.  The only part of Downing’s concept that actually came to fruition was the Mall.  One of the first building on the site was the Smithsonian.



HenryThe Smithsonian Institution, established on August 10, 1846 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," is a group of museums and research centers administered by the Government of the United States.  The institution is named after its founding donor, British scientist James Smithson.  Originally organized as the "United States National Museum," that name ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967.  The Smithsonian Institution Building ("the Castle") was designed by architect James Renwick Jr.  Construction began in 1849. 

Joseph Henry (1797 – 1878) was an American scientist who served as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian.  While building electromagnets, Henry discovered the electromagnetic phenomenon of self-inductance.  Henry's work on the electromagnetic relay was the basis of the practical electrical telegraph, invented by Samuel F. B. Morse and Sir Charles Wheatstone, separately.  The henry is the unit of electrical inductance.

LoweThaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe (1832    1913), also known as Professor T. S. C. Lowe, was an American Civil War aeronaut, scientist and inventor, mostly self-educated in the fields of chemistry, meteorology, and aeronautics, and the father of military aerial reconnaissance in the United States.  By the late 1850s he was well known for his advanced theories in the meteorological sciences as well as his balloon building. Among his aspirations were plans for a transatlantic flight. 

Lowe's scientific endeavors were cut short by the onset of the American Civil War.  He recognized his patriotic duty in offering his services as an aeronaut for the purposes of performing aerial reconnaissance of the Confederate troops on behalf of the Union Army.  In July 1861 Lowe was appointed Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps by President Abraham Lincoln.  Though his work was generally successful, it was not fully appreciated by all members of the military, and disputes over his operations and pay scale forced him to resign in 1863.  Lowe returned to the private sector and continued his scientific exploration of hydrogen gas manufacturing.  He invented the water gas process by which large amounts of hydrogen gas could be produced from steam and charcoal. His inventions and patents on this process and ice making machines made him a millionaire. 

In 1887 he moved to Los Angeles, California, and eventually built a 24,000 sq. ft. home in Pasadena.  He opened several ice making plants and founded Citizen's Bank of Los Angeles.  Lowe was introduced to David J. Macpherson, a civil engineer, who had drawn up plans for a scenic mountain railroad.  In 1891 they incorporated the Pasadena & Mount Wilson Railroad Co. and began the construction of what would become the Mount Lowe Railway into the hills above Altadena.  The railway opened on July 4, 1893 and was met with quick interest and success.  Lowe continued construction toward Oak Mountain, renamed Mount Lowe, at an exhausting rate, both physically and financially.  By 1899 Lowe had gone into receivership and eventually lost the railway to Jared S. Torrance. Lowe's fortunes had been all but lost, and he lived out his remaining days at his daughter's home in Pasadena where he died at age 80.

GeorgetownGeorgetown is a historic neighborhood and a commercial and entertainment district located in northwest Washington, DC, situated along the Potomac River.  Founded in 1751 in the Province of Maryland, the port of Georgetown predated the establishment of the federal district and the City of Washington by 40 years.  Georgetown remained a separate municipality until 1871, when the United States Congress created a new consolidated government for the whole District of Columbia.  A separate act passed in 1895 specifically repealed Georgetown's remaining local ordinances and renamed Georgetown's streets to conform with those in the City of Washington.  Construction of the aforementioned Chesapeake & Ohio Canal began in July 1828, to link Georgetown to the west.  But the canal was soon in a race with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.  It got to Cumberland eight years after the railroad, a faster mode of transport, and at a very high cost.

The Canal nonetheless provided an economic boost for Georgetown.  In the 1820s and 1830s, Georgetown was an important shipping center.  Tobacco and other goods were transferred between the canal and shipping on the Potomac River.  As well, salt was imported from Europe, and sugar and molasses were imported from the West Indies.  These shipping industries were later superseded by coal and flour industries, which flourished with the C & O Canal providing cheap power for mills and other industry.  In 1862, the Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company began a horsecar line running along M Street in Georgetown and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, easing travel between the two cities.

GUFounded in 1789 as Georgetown College, Georgetown University has since grown to comprise nine undergraduate and graduate schools, among which are the School of Foreign Service, School of Business, Medical Center, and Law School.

In the 19th century, the Foggy Bottom neighborhood became a community of white and black laborers.  They were employed at the nearby breweries, glass plants, and city gas works.  These industrial facilities are also cited as a possible reason for the neighborhood's name, the "fog" being the smoke given off by the industries.  It became the site of vandalization  by soldiers of the New York 79th during encampment in the area.

LafayetteLafayette Park is right next to the White House.  It had become an upscale neighborhood by the time of the Civil War.  The park is often referred to as Lafayette Square.  It has been used as a racetrack, a graveyard, a zoo, a slave market, an encampment for soldiers during the War of 1812, and many political protests and celebrations.  In 1851, Andrew Jackson Downing landscaped Lafayette Square in the picturesque style.  On February 27, 1859 Representative Daniel Sickles killed Philip Barton Key II in Lafayette Square.  Key had come to the park for an assignation with Sickles' wife, only to be discovered and killed by the congressman.

Madison HouseThe Cutts–Madison House (also known as the Dolly Madison House) is an American colonial-style historic home located at 1520 H Street NW in Washington, DC.  The house is best known for being the residence of former First Lady Dolly Madison, who lived there from November 1837 until her death in July 1849.  General George B. McClellan used the house as his Washington-based headquarters after the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. 


AndersonPresident Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home National Monument, sometimes shortened to President Lincoln's Cottage, is a national monument on the grounds of the Soldiers' Home, known today as the Armed Forces Retirement Home.  It is located near the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods of Washington, DC.  President Lincoln's Cottage was formerly known as Anderson Cottage.  President Lincoln and family resided seasonally on the grounds of the Soldiers' Home to escape the heat and political pressure of downtown Washington.  During the war Lincoln held open house meetings.

Oak HillOak Hill Cemetery is a historic 22-acre cemetery located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC.  It was founded in 1848 and completed in 1853, and is a prime example of a garden cemetery.  A large number of famous politicians, business people, military people, diplomats, and philanthropists are buried at Oak Hill, and the cemetery has a number of Victorian-style memorials and monuments.  Oak Hill has two structures which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Oak Hill Cemetery Chapel and the Van Ness Mausoleum.   The cemetery's interment of "Willie" Lincoln, deceased son of president Abraham Lincoln, was the inspiration for the Man Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.  After the assignation, Willie’s casket was moved to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, IL.

PrisonThe Old Brick Capitol in Washington, D.C. served as temporary Capitol of the United States from 1815 to 1819.  The building was a private school, a boarding house, and, during the American Civil War, a prison known as the "Old Capitol Prison."  Razed in 1929, its site is now occupied by the U.S. Supreme Court building.

With the start of the Civil War in 1861, the Union repurchased the building to use as a prison for captured Confederates, as well as political prisoners, spies, Union officers convicted of insubordination, and local prostitutes.  Many people arrested following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln were also held here. These included Dr. Samuel Mudd, Mary Surratt, Louis Weichmann, and John T. Ford, owner of Ford's Theater, where Lincoln was shot.  The adjoining row of houses, Duff Green's Row, was also used as part of the prison.  Famous inmates of the prison included Rose Greenhow, Belle Boyd, John Mosby, and Henry Wirz, who was hanged in the yard of the prison.

Navy YardThe Navy Yard was a bustling nautical center during the 19th century and played an integral role in the development of the area.  The lively wharf was a hub for jobs, serving ships with lumber and raw materials for the growing city.  It also played a key role in defending the city from the British during the War of 1812.  Surrounding the wharfs was an extensive commercial district, light industrial businesses, and one of the city’s most significant neighborhood communities. 

The Civil War again saw the yard become an integral part of the defense of Washington.  Commandant Franklin Buchanan resigned his commission and went to Virginia to serve in the Confederate States Navy, leaving the yard to Commander John Dahlgren.  President Abraham Lincoln, who held Dahlgren in the highest esteem, was a frequent visitor.  The famous ironclad Monitor was repaired at the yard after her historic battle with CSS Virginia.  The Lincoln assassination conspirators were brought to the yard following their capture.  The body of John Wilkes Booth was examined and identified on the monitor Saugus, moored at the yard.


Last changed: 01/31/18

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