|(Mathew Brady | Library of Congress)|
|A cropped version of a lithograph showing presidential viewing stand in front of White House.|
(Library of Congress collection)
A deep dive into digitized versions of glass-plate Civil War photographs on the Library of Congress site often reveals fascinating details. Check out the reclining man reading a paper, snoozing Yankees and soldiers' names etched onto wooden markers in graveyards in South Carolina, Florida and Virginia. In this poignant photo of the burial of Union soldiers in war-torn Fredericksburg, Va., I discovered a name scrawled into a wooden headboard. Detective work led to soldier's identity: 6th Michigan Cavalry Sgt. Harvey Tucker, who was mortally wounded in the Wilderness.
Although the photograph above of the presidential reviewing stand at the Grand Review of the Union army has been dissected many times, it remains tantalizing. On May 23, 1865, an estimated 80,000 soldiers in General George Meade's Army of the Potomac marched through the streets of Washington before thousands of spectators. The next day, nearly 65,000 soldiers in General William Sherman's Army of Georgia and Army of Tennessee repeated the feat -- a fitting exclamation point after four years of a brutal civil war. Each day, the armies marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and past the White House, where reviewing stands were set up nearby for dignitaries and others to watch the historic event. Not surprisingly, the presidential reviewing stand in front of the mansion was a popular photographic subject.
Of the images of the presidential stand on the excellent LOC site, the photograph attributed to Mathew Brady at the top of this post includes the greatest detail. In the uncropped original, the blurred forms of soldiers and horses appear at right on the dirt road while a huge U.S. flag hangs limp above a packed reviewing stand. Behind the blurred figures, a detachment of soldiers stands guard in front of a massive U.S. banner. Enlargements of the image, taken May 23, 1865, reveal the leadership of the U.S. government and military and much more:
NEW YORK TIMES (May 24, 1865): "The President arrives in his carriage. Directly after, however, almost at the same moment, Gen. Grant and Staff walk briskly from their headquarters and assume their designated positions. Gen. Meade and Staff having passed, they now return dismounted, and soon the sharply-defined head of the Commander of the Army of the Potomac adds another to the group of distinguished persons, on whom the eyes, the opera-glasses, and even the photographers' lenses are resting."
PITTSBURGH DAILY POST (May 24, 1865): "Pennsylvania Avenue presents a scene which probably has never been paralleled in the country. Certainly not south of New York. Its whole vast extent and breadth is compactly lined with people from pavement to housetops. Innumerable flags and banners are displayed all along the Avenue, and the whole scene is one of the most brilliant and imposing ever witnessed, making the heart fill with emotion and the eyes fill with tears of joy. The whole affair positively beggars description."
General Sherman, wearing a white glove, visits with William Dennison, the U.S. Postmaster General. Is the young woman in the background listening in to the conversation? Perhaps they all had just witnessed flamboyant General George Custer's feat, described in one of the local newspapers later that day:
WASHINGTON EVENING STAR (May 23, 1865): "Suddenly a thrill ran through the vast assemblage as a magnificent stallion dashed madly past the President and his associates, the rider, General Custar [sic], with a large wreath hanging upon his arm, his scabbard empty, and his long hair waving in the wind, vainly striving to check him. On swept the horse, the throng rising from their seats in breathless suspense that changed to murmur or applause at the horsemanship of the rider, and finally giving place to a long loud cheer as the General checked his frightened steed, and gracefully rode back to the head of his column, the third cavalry division."
SYRACUSE DAILY COURIER AND UNION (MAY 24, 1865): "In front of the President's house an immense stand has been erected on the south side of the street, for the President and Cabinet, and for the gallant soldiers, Grant and Sherman, who are to review the troops. Another stand on the north side is for the accommodation of Congress, the foreign ministers, and others. A stand is also erected on the square for wounded soldiers. The houses in the vicinity of the President's house are tastefully adorned with flags and evergreens. The route of the march is packed with people, all eager to give the gallant heroes of the war a hearty welcome on their march home."
PITTSBURGH DAILY POST (May 24, 1865) "Never has Washington witnessed a more august occasion or presented a more beautiful or animated spectacle. The whole population of the city is in the streets, swollen by many thousands of strangers which have been pouring in here for days past from all points of the compass, and by every imaginable mode of conveyance. Those from abroad are estimated at fully fifty or sixty thousand, a large proportion of whom are ladies. Where they all found shelter and accommodations is a mystery."
NEW YORK TIMES (May 24, 1865): "Though the city is so crowded, it is yet gay and jovial with the good feeling that prevails, for the occasion is one of such grand import and true rejoicing, that small vexations sink out of sight. With many it is the greatest epoch of their lives; with the soldier it is the last act in the drama; with the nation it is the triumphant exhibition of the resources and valor which have saved it from disruption and placed it first upon earth.
"So the scene of to-day (and that of to-morrow) will never be forgotten, and he who is privileged to be a witness will mark it as a white day in the calendar, from which to gather hope and courage for the future."