“Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain” became a rallying cry for war in the spring of 1898. As a simmering independence movement in Cuba was becoming increasingly violent that January, President William McKinley sent the USS Maine to Havana to watch after American lives as well as political and business interests. Tensions between the United States and Spain had been growing over independence movements in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines; McKinley was hoping for a peaceful resolution.
The USS Maine circa 1895-1898
-US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph
However, it was not to be. The Maine arrived in Havana on January 25th with approximately 26 officers, 290 sailors and 39 Marines on board. Just after the bugle call Taps on February 15th, an explosion detonated the five tons of gunpowder charges for the Maine’s large guns. The forward section of the ship, containing the enlisted men’s quarters, blew apart. An estimated 266 men died either during the explosion or in the days afterward.
The USS Maine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
How the explosion occurred was not immediately apparent. Several different investigations and reviews could not concur on a definitive cause. Though the combustion of coal dust was one possibility, several prominent newspapers of the time blamed a Spanish naval mine. A vocal element of the population was ready to use force against Spain and Congress declared war on April 25th. The war would end quickly and favorably for the United States as Spain ceded Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
Even with the war’s prompt conclusion, America did not forget about the Maine. In 1899, the remains of 165 sailors who died in the explosion were exhumed from a Cuban graveyard and reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1912, the Army Corps of Engineers recovered the twisted remains of the Maine’s hull from Havana Harbor and towed her further away from the Cuban coast. After recovering an additional 66 bodies, the Maine was then scuttled in deeper waters while Taps played and escort ships offered a 21-gun salute. The ship’s masts were salvaged and the main mast sent to Arlington National Cemetery.
The mast of the USS Maine passes through the stone structure and is embedded into the floor. A surviving piece of the ship’s bell is hung on the front door.
Efforts to build a memorial to the Maine began shortly after the explosion and about twenty monuments or special exhibits of the ship’s artifacts exist around the United States. President Woodrow Wilson dedicated the current memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in 1915, adjoining the burial site of the USS Maine sailors. The centerpiece of the memorial is a circular stone structure, 90 feet in diameter, built around the ship’s main mast. The shape of the structure suggests the warship’s gun turret, but it also has served as a temporary mausoleum. Rigging extends from the top of the structure up to a crow’s next atop the mast. On the circumference of the building are names and ratings of the sailors who died in the explosion. The front door of the structure holds a piece of the ship’s bell, which was broken in half during the explosion.
A paved lane encircles the memorial. To the east is an anchor made specifically for the memorial but resembling the anchor onboard the Maine. Positioned along the back of the memorial are two bronze Spanish mortars, cast in the 1700s and captured by Admiral George Dewey in the Philippines during the Spanish–American War.
The replica anchor was the centerpiece of an earlier memorial to the USS Maine. It weighs about two tons.
Most auspiciously, in the twelve decades since that fateful February night, the USS Maine is still not forgotten. There have been periodic reinvestigations and new studies into the cause of her sinking, reexamining the available evidence and using modern technologies and computer simulations. In 2000, a marine exploration firm unexpectedly came upon her wreck at a depth of 4,000 feet. Yet a definitive cause of the explosion remains elusive.
Next to the USS Maine Memorial, Section 24 at Arlington National Cemetery contains the graves of 229 sailors lost on the USS Maine.
Fortunately, any visitor to Arlington National Cemetery can also “Remember the Maine”. A short walk from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will lead to the USS Maine memorial. Observe the neatly organized graves and note the names along the memorial’s wall.
Their sacrifice endures.
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Arlington National Cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Arlington National Cemetery is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. at the end of Memorial Avenue, which extends from Memorial Bridge. Arlington is accessible from the major roadways in the D.C. area: Interstate 95, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Parking: A parking garage is located near the cemetery’s entrance on Memorial Avenue.
It was August 1961 in the hot California desert. Jacqueline Cochran was strapped into her Northrop T-38A Talon, flying a nine mile closed loop aeronautical course. She was followed by Chuck Yeager, flying an F-100. Cochran kept the aircraft in perfect alignment around the course and topped out at 844 miles per hour, setting a new speed record for that distance. That was only one of the eight speed records the fifty-five year old Cochran would set that summer.
Cochran was no stranger to flying records. She set her first speed record in 1937 and won a number of airplane races prior to World War II. In 1943, General of the Air Force Harold “Hap” Arnold appointed Cochran the first director of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). In 1953, she was the first woman to break the sound barrier. The T-38A she flew now hangs in the Smithsonian Institute’s “new” National Air and Space Museum (NASM).
The Northrop T-38A Talon flown by Jacqueline Cochran.
Since its opening on the National Mall in 1976, the NASM has been a stop for many visitors to Washington, DC. It is easy to understand why. Even for those only marginally interested in space or aviation, the museum is full of interesting artifacts and displays. The original Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, and Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit are but a few of the items that provide not only a sense of pride in American innovation, but also in humanity’s ongoing exploration of the heavens.
In 2018, the NASM began an historic seven-year, $250 million renovation focusing on creating a more immersive and enjoyable experience. The Smithsonian holds the world’s largest collection of artifacts related to aviation and space exploration, and the renovation includes over 1,400 new items for public display. Through this process, all the museum’s galleries are due for renovation, redesign or complete replacement.
The NASM reopened to the public on October 14, 2022 with eight new or redesigned galleries on the west end of the museum’s building. While there are certainly some interesting exhibits and displays, the museum is still a work in progress.
What Galleries Are Now Open?
The Wright Brothers – The centerpiece of the gallery devoted to Orville and Wilbur Wright remains the Wright Flyer, the brothers’ heavier than air machine which first took flight on December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The redesigned gallery adds further details to their lives before and after they achieved fame as inventors of the airplane. There are leaflets from their printing business, tools from their bicycle shop, early models, experimental aircraft parts and furnishings from their cabin in North Carolina.
Early Flight – Following their successful flight, the Wright Brothers led many others in continued experimentation on early aircraft. A budding aviation community took hold around the world as the human passion for flying grew. The gallery highlights this earliest period of aviation innovation.
America by Air – In 1918, the U.S. Government formally initiated airmail service, a decision that led to the commercial passenger aviation industry. The America by Air gallery tracks air travel in the United States from the early days of open cockpits to the deregulated, post-9/11 era we know today.
A smokejumper’s protective suit and other gear on display in the Why We Fly gallery.
Why We Fly – About 80% of aircraft in the United States are considered General Aviation, meaning they are not connected to scheduled passenger service, the military or the Federal government. Why We Fly exhibits reflect the great diversity of this sector. Medical flights, crop dusting, aerial firefighting and humanitarian response are all included.
Nation of Speed – A collaborative effort with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Nation of Speed presents the American experience of the desire to move faster in the air, on the water and over land with the technology and machines that made it possible.
Destination Moon – Some of the Smithsonian Institute’s most iconic artifacts are found in Destination Moon, which traces the history of the US lunar programs and missions.
Exploring the Planets – Beyond the moonshots of the 1960s and 1970s, this gallery explores current space exploration programs and future plans for exploring our solar system.
The Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia. The command module was the living quarters and return vehicle for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
One World Connected – Explores how the advancements of aircraft, satellites and technology have revolutionized communications, navigation, weather forecasting and other aspects of life on earth.
It is quite evident tremendous effort went into the design (or redesign) of these galleries, but the results seem mixed. On the positive side, the new features in the Wright Brothers gallery fill in more details on the lives of the two brothers, making them seem more human, while still maintaining their iconic stature. America by Air provides ample details and activities telling the story of commercial passenger aviation in America. The shiny and brightly painted early airliners suspended above the displays add a sense of majesty to the storytelling below.
Within Destination Moon, the artifacts and displays are now neatly and chronologically arranged allowing visitors to walk through the decades of manned lunar exploration. Along the way, they get a sense of the dedication of the people involved, the power of the rocket engines, and at the same time, reckoning how all this was accomplished with less technology than the cellphones in our pockets today.
However, the Nation of Speed gallery is much more suited to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. For some reason, profiles of early pilots and aviation record holders are notably absent with most of the artifacts related to auto or motorcycle racing.
Exploring the Planets is understandably lighter on artifacts (many are still in use or irretrievable) and there are indeed some interesting examples of the Mars rovers. However, other displays simply describe the current scientific understanding of the other planets seeming more akin to a science fair rather than the immersive experience NASM’s renovation was to bring about.
The One World Connected gallery celebrates the interconnected life on planet Earth in this 21st Century. Yet the exhibits do not mention much about the the limits nor downsides of the technology that brought us this interconnectivity, such as cyber crime, disinformation or political polarization, and how we can overcome them.
An early Global Positioning System (GPS) unit circa 1993 from the Magellan Corporation on display in the One World Connected gallery.
Notably absent from the eight renovated galleries are newly restored and presented aircraft, which is rather confounding as the Smithsonian prides itself on its collection of historically significant aircraft. My 11-year-old son summed it up best when he said: “There aren’t any cool planes to look at.”
Most of the aircraft on display were previously viewable before NASM started the renovations. Military aircraft are especially lacking. Aside from Jacqueline Cochran’s T-38A, the only other prominent military aircraft is the Wright Military Flyer, a two-seat observation aircraft built by the Wright Brothers and purchased by the US Army in 1909.
Closed are galleries that previously included aircraft from both world wars, Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air and WWII: Sea-Air Operations (featuring a reproduction of a carrier hanger deck from WWII). In their absence, a lone Rebel Alliance X-wing Starfighter from the movie Star Wars hangs suspended from the ceiling over one of the walkways, with little accompanying information.
Jacqueline Cochran (circa 1943) in her Women Airforce Service Pilots uniform. When she died in 1980, Cochran held more speed, distance and altitude flying records than any other pilot.
What is also missing, with the exception of the Wright Brothers, Jacqueline Cochran and the astronauts, are the profiles of humans who took to the skies and to space, pushing themselves and their equipment to the limits to accomplish something for us all. Indeed, the redesign seems to remove the human element in aviation and space exploration, replacing it with technology and process. One leaves NASM better informed, but not inspired.
These are hopefully just temporary drawbacks. NASM’s renovation is set for completion in 2025. Approximately fifteen more galleries are still under renovation. Publicly available information on the new galleries seems scarce, but one new gallery entitled Pioneers of Aviation will feature the iconic Spirt of St. Louis. Another will depict aerial combat and tactics during World War II with the North American P-51, Grumman Wildcat and Messerschmitt 109 on display. Perhaps the X-wing Starfighter suggests a Star Wars or space fantasy gallery is in the works?
In the meantime, those with a serious interest in military aircraft should visit the Smithsonian Institute’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA near Washington Dulles International Airport instead. At this 17-acre facility, military and civilian aircraft from World War I until today, as well as space equipment, are on display.
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The Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum is located on the National Mall bordered by Independence Avenue, Jefferson Drive, and 4th and 7th Streets, SW. The entrance is on the south side of the building along Independence Avenue. You cannot access the museum from the north side along the National Mall.
Parking – Very limited metered street parking is available around the museum. Parking is available in several commercial parking lots in the neighborhood.
Metrorail – The closest Metro station is L’Enfant Plaza, along the blue, orange, silver, and green lines. From the L’Enfant Plaza Station, take the exit for Maryland Avenue and 7th Street.
Circulator Bus – The National Mall Circulator Loop bus provides easy access around the National Mall and convenient connections to other Circulator buses for visits to uptown sites. The NASM is a short walk from the Jefferson Drive and 7th Street SW stop on the National Mall route, or the D Street SW and 7th Street SW stop on the Eastern Market – L’Enfant Plaza route.
Bicycle Sharing –Capital Bikeshare is metro DC’s bicycle sharing service. There are Bikeshare stations around the National Mall. There is Bikeshare station on 4th Street, just south of the intersection with Independence Avenue.
Free timed tickets are required for entry into NASM. Tickets can be acquired through the NASM website. Ticket holders will line up near the Independence Avenue entrance prior to their entrance time. The line can become quite long, but it moves quickly once ticket holders are allowed to enter the building.
NASM is not currently offering guided tours for individual parties. Tours are available for school groups of 10 or more and adult groups of 20 or more. Tours should be requested 3 weeks in advance. Reservation and group visit information is available at NASMs Group Tours webpage.
The Mars Café is located on the “Launch Pad” (lower level) It is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The café has a coffee bar and sells sandwiches, salads, and pastries. There are only twenty five tables currently available so seating is challenging at mid-day.
Dwight Eisenhower’s life reflected the classic American success story. Born of humble origins, he chose an Army career in order to serve his country. Through his own talent, hard work and quiet ambition, he rose through the ranks to command one of the mightiest military forces ever assembled. The victories achieved by that force would bring him worldwide acclaim. With the campaign slogan of I Like Ike, Eisenhower would go on to be overwhelmingly elected to two terms as President of the United States.
In 2020, a new memorial to Eisenhower was unveiled in Washington, DC. The monument’s designer, Frank Gehry, carefully researched his subject. He was so taken with Eisenhower the man, he wanted the memorial to emphasize not only Eisenhower’s accomplishments, but also his humanity and his interaction with others. Unlike other presidential memorials, there is no large, neoclassical edifice. Rather, Eisenhower’s memorial is more akin to that of Franklin Roosevelt’s with statuary and scenes telling the story of the man and his times.
Located just off the National Mall, the memorial’s broad, open expanse forms a four-acre plaza between two Smithsonian Museums and several Federal office buildings. The memorial is composed of four central elements. Three elements portray Eisenhower, the person: as a young man, as Commander of the D-Day forces, and as President. The final element is a grand tapestry of stainless steel representing the Pointe du Hoc cliffs over the Normandy coast and covering the front of the Department of Education building. The space also includes trees, lawns, benches and two stone columns detailing Ike’s accomplishments.
As is often the case, work on the memorial took decades. Congress first authorized the Memorial in 2003 and Gehry’s designs were revised several times due to impassioned input from the Eisenhower family, historians and bureaucrats. While Gehry’s final work has not won universal acclaim, its central features invite the visitor to learn more about Eisenhower and the traits that not only made America “like Ike” but also made him such a pivotal figure of the 20th century.
Born in Texas, Ike grew up in Abilene, Kansas where he and his five brothers were raised by hard working parents to value a strong work ethic, responsibility and education.
Eisenhower was proud of his origins and Geary thought it very important to include Ike’s image as a young man. The memorial shows a young Eisenhower, sitting in overalls and boots, looking off into the distance and imagining his future.
The statue of Eisenhower as a young man, imagining his future.
Perhaps to the dismay of his pacifist Mennonite parents, Eisenhower sought an appointment to West Point. Initially attracted by the free education, he proved a competent student, but a sometimes rebellious cadet who earned more than his share of demerits. He graduated in 1915 and chose to stay in the Army as a way of serving his country.
During World War I, Ike remained in the United States assigned to training commands. He studied the use of a new combat weapon, the tank. He gained valuable experience not only in armor tactics, but also military logistics, administration and training.
Army service during the two decades after World War I was challenging. The Army contracted quickly and defense budgets were small. Promotion was slow. Ike spent twelve years as a major, but stayed focused. He continued his professional development and was skillfully mentored by Major General Fox Conner.
Conner tutored Eisenhower on military history and operational matters. He also instructed his protégé on his principles for how democratic governments should wage war – Never fight unless you have to. Never fight alone. Never fight for long. Conner also emphasized his belief that a second “great war” was coming, and this time, the US Army would need to know how to fight as part of an international coalition.
Dwight Eisenhower as a cadet at West Point.
Ike continued working hard, making himself indispensable to his bosses. He wanted them to miss him when he moved on to his next assignment. One of those bosses would be General George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff who approved several promotions for Eisenhower and first sent him to London in June of 1942. Eisenhower would receive several more promotions as his responsibilities grew, overseeing Allied military operations in North Africa and Italy. As a commander of troops from other nations, not just the United States, Eisenhower mastered the balance and patience necessary to work with political leaders and diplomats as well as senior officers from other militaries. President Roosevelt selected Eisenhower to be the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in December 1943 with responsibility for the planning and execution of the invasion of France.
The memorial sculpture depicting Dwight Eisenhower as the commander of the D-Day invasion.
Through this all, Ike never lost his common touch with his soldiers. The memorial depicts Eisenhower as the D-Day commander speaking with paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division, based on a real encounter the day before the invasion. Ike always took time to talk to soldiers. In addition to offering encouragement, he wanted to hear from them. He wanted to ensure they had been briefed on their mission, were properly fed and had all the equipment they needed.
This famous photograph of General Eisenhower speaking with paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division inspired the World War II sculpture at the Eisenhower Memorial.
After the war ended, Ike held a series of high profile positions: Army Chief of Staff, President of Columbia University, and the first military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In 1952, a “Draft Eisenhower for President” movement began to sweep the country. Americans were attracted to Eisenhower’s proven leadership. Over 25,000 people intent on drafting Eisenhower and proclaiming “I like Ike” attended a rally at Madison Square Garden. He even won the New Hampshire primary before he declared his candidacy.
As a career soldier, Ike had initially eschewed politics. But he had concerns about a growing sense of isolationism in America. As the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Ike clearly understood the need to contain Soviet aggression with a strong military presence in Europe and through close cooperation with the European allies. He resigned from the Army and announced his candidacy for the Republican Party’s nomination for president. In November, he won a landslide election.
The memorial portrays Eisenhower as president, with three advisors, before a large map of the world.
The map emphasizes the central role global affairs played during Eisenhower’s tenure, which saw many global calamities, the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, and the Hungarian Revolution to name a few. Through it all, Ike aggressively pursued peace. Already well known to international leaders, Ike was a reassuring figure on the world stage. He drew heavily on the skills he honed as a wartime commander: patience, careful planning, collaboration and the ability to balance the interests of many. Today the 1950’s are remembered as a period of relative calm, resulting from Ike’s success in navigating so many potential pitfalls.
Domestically, Ike governed as a moderate. He maintained FDR’s New Deal programs, maintained balanced Federal budgets, founded the Interstate Highway System and helped establish several different Federal agencies. (These agencies, or their successors, are present in the buildings surrounding the memorial, Health and Human Services, Education, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration within the National Air and Space Museum.)
Dwight Eisenhower’s official portrait as President of the United States in 1959.
As a political leader, Ike believed in moving gradually and keeping to the middle ground. One of the advisors depicted behind Eisenhower in the memorial is an African-American, which represents Eisenhower’s early success on civil rights. Some historians believe Ike’s approach limited progress on civil rights. Eisenhower did not write or speak very often on the subject. Nevertheless, he knew his responsibilities as president. The steps he took on civil rights, completing the racial integration of the Armed Forces, signing the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, and enforcing the desegregation at Little Rock High School more than matched his predecessors and set the stage for continued progress during the 1960’s.
Ike’s memorial is testimony to his biggest accomplishments on the beaches of Normandy and in the corridors of power in Washington, DC. Ike shaped much of the world we live in today, but how he did it is impressive as well. The values Ike demonstrated are timeless. It was decades of selfless public service, hard work, humility, integrity, and a belief in others that enabled his successes and endeared him so much to others. No wonder than that everyone “liked Ike”.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is located across Independence Avenue from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. There is limited street parking in the area. This National Park Service website has a map with metered parking locations around the National Mall. Public transportation is the best option for reaching the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, as well as the other monuments and museums that line the National Mall. The Washington, DC Metro system is conveniently located near the memorial. From the L’Enfant Plaza station, exit via Maryland Avenue & 7th Street; from the top of the escalator, the memorial is one block straight ahead.
The National Mall Circulator Loop bus provides access around the National Mall. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is a short walk from the Jefferson Drive and 7th Street SW stop on the National Mall route, or the D Street SW and 7th Street SW stop on the Eastern Market – L’Enfant Plaza route.
Capital Bikeshare is metro DC’s Bikeshare service, with 4,500 bikes and 500+ stations across the region, a number of which are located close to sites on the National Mall. There is Bikeshare station on 4th Street, just south of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial visitor contact station.
Command Reading List
Many books have been written on Dwight Eisenhower’s life and career. Here are just a few:
Eisenhower: Soldier and President (The Renowned One-Volume Life) by Stephen E. Ambrose
Ambrose’s one volume edition focuses on Eisenhower’s most notable roles as president and D-Day commander.
Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith
Smith reviews Eisenhower’s life in great detail from Kansas through the presidency, while examining how Ike’s different personality traits of hard work, dedication, intelligence, and the ability to get people working together propelled his success.
Crusade in Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Prior to his presidency, Ike wrote this book to tell his own story of the strategies he followed, battles he fought and decisions he made to secure victory in World War II.
You can access the audio guide to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial here.
The Eisenhower Foundation has a series of informative videos about Dwight D. Eisenhower, his times and the memorial on their website.
Levi Gassett enlisted in the Northborough Minutemen at age 28 in April 1775. He answered the alarm on April 19 for Lexington and Concord, and would serve through the summer and fall in the American colonists’ siege of Boston. While on Dorchester Heights, an area of Boston on high ground with views of the harbor, Gassett took time to personalize his powder horn. He inscribed the date, the name Dorchester, made reference to the war and engraved pictures of trees and soldiers, leaving a short and very personal record of his service. His powder horn is now one of hundreds of artifacts on display at the National Museum of the United States Army that reveal intriguing stories of what it means to be an American soldier.
The powder horn of Levi Gassett
Every soldier has a story is more than just a slogan here. Telling the stories of American soldiers, such as Sergeant Gassett, is the purpose, the reason, the rationale for this museum. It is a hallmark of how the museum goes about its mission, spread through eleven galleries over three floors.
The Army currently operates many museums in various locations on Army facilities around the world. Indeed, preserving its history has been an Army mission since 1814 when Congress passed a law directing both the Army and the Navy to “provide for the collection and preservation of flags, standards and colours…”.
A casting of a Buffalo Soldier, a sergeant from the 9th United States Cavalry Regiment. The faces and the hands for the castings were made from the likenesses of modern day US Army soldiers.
But this museum, sitting south of Washington, DC on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is unique. While other Army museums preserve and convey the history of particular units, branches, posts or portions of the Army, this is the first museum to take a whole-of-Army approach and comprehensively tell some of the stories of the 30 million men and women who have donned the uniform of the U.S. Army, while also recognizing their service and sacrifices.
Upon entering the museum, the black granite Campaign Wall dominates the gleaming white two-story entrance hall. Along the wall are listed the 191 separate campaigns that the U.S. Army has participated in since 1775. Across the ceiling are rows of colored glass panels depicting campaign ribbons represented on the Campaign Wall. Across the floor is a 21-foot wide inlaid seal of the U.S. Army.
A Civil War-era snare drum used to keep cadence as soldiers marched and relay commands.
From the Entrance Hall a corridor leads to the first floor galleries, where seven-foot tall steel pylons begin telling soldier stories. The pylons are all inscribed with a soldier’s name, portrait, and a brief account of their service in their own words. They represent all types of soldiers from all walks of life throughout the Army’s history. They greet the visitor, almost like an honor guard in formation, presenting themselves for inspection.
The corridor opens up to the Army Concourse which provides access to the seven first-floor galleries. Six of the seven are referred to as the Fighting for the Nation* galleries. These galleries describe how the Army has evolved through the experiences of individual soldiers, expanding to fight major conflicts, adapting new technologies and responding to or sometimes leading changes found across America. The seventh gallery is entitled The Army and Society, which illustrates the interactions between the Army and the broader American civilian population and its culture.
To complete the galleries, museum planners, curators, and designers scoured through the 580,000 available artifacts from the Army’s 247+ year history and selected approximately 1,400, which were then integrated with authentically detailed reproductions, maps, dioramas, life-like cast figures and other vestiges of Army life to produce some very eye-catching multi-media displays.
The artifacts are not just weapons and uniforms, although there are many of those, but other objects such as musical instruments, mess kits, radios, surgical tools, books and other routine articles that were part of soldier experiences. A display found in most galleries is entitled A Soldier’s Load, which exhibits the gear, weapons and personal items a typical soldier would have used or carried through each conflict. Museum staff will periodically set up displays with reproductions, describing the equipment and allowing visitors to handle the items for themselves.
Cobra King, an M4 Sherman Tank, led the armored column which broke through German lines and relieved the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne, Belgium on December 26, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.
Large artifacts, such as restored cannons, tanks, helicopters and jeeps are present as well. Taken in total, the artifacts provide a picture of what life was like for soldiers of all ranks and provide compelling context for the soldiers’ stories.
On the second and third floors are galleries devoted to rotating exhibits. One of these galleries is currently dedicated to the experiences of the Nisei Soldiers, the first generation of Japanese-American soldiers who fought valiantly during World War II. Initially prevented from serving because of their Japanese origins, young Japanese-American men and women responded overwhelmingly once authorized to join the military. In 2010, Congress recognized the contributions of the Nisei, awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal for their outstanding achievements and service to the United States.
The travel bag owned by Sergeant Gary Uchida, a Nisea soldier of the 100th Infantry Battalion. He recorded his travels around Europe and North Africa on the bag.
A unique mixed-use space on the third floor is devoted to a permanent exhibit about the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award. The display examines the Army version of the medal (the Navy and Air Force have their own versions), the history of the decoration and the circumstances under which it is awarded. Adjoining the exhibit space is a large, outdoor garden with a granite wall bearing the names of all the soldiers who have been awarded the Medal. Overlooking the museum’s grounds, the garden is a serene place to consider not only the selflessness and sacrifices of the Medal of Honor awardees, but on all of the many stories told throughout the Museum.
The Experiential Learning Center (ELC) allows visitors of all ages to experience some of the current technical skills required for today’s solders. Visitors in organized groups can then test these skills in a simulated response to a humanitarian crisis. A portion of the ELC especially designed for the younger visitors called Fort Discover explains about Army life by following the adventures of two Army mules, Spartacus and Buckshot.
A diorama of modern day U.S. Army Brigade’s Tactical Operations Center
Sitting on a quiet corner of Fort Belvoir, the Museum’s highly reflective steel exterior is meant to represent the Army’s strength and how the Army reflects American society. American society certainly has its controversies, and the Army does too. Descriptions of Mai Lai and Wounded Knee massacres, and what happened there, are depicted at the Museum. Some critics may argue they are not addressed comprehensively enough. However, they are included and invite further discussion among museum visitors as well as through the Museum’s educational program.
Officer’s gauntlets belonging to Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who commanded the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
Museums serve many purposes. They inform, entertain, and educate their visitors. The National Museum of the US Army does all these things. It would be hard for even the most casual visitor to leave the museum without even a slightly better understanding of what it means to be an American soldier. But by telling soldiers’ stories and artfully displaying their artifacts, the Museum is also a place for reflection about service and sacrifice. It is a place for connection, to friends or to relatives from the present or past generations. It can also be a place to resolve, to reconcile and to heal.
If you have an interest in military history or have a personal connection to the Army–but especially if you do not–the National Museum of the US Army is well worth a visit.
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Visit the National Museum of the U.S. Army website for more information about the museum and its educational programs.
Are you a current US Army soldier or veteran who would like to share stories about your experiences? The Army Historical Foundation established the Registry of the American Soldier to gather the stories and experiences of the entire Army community. More information is available at armyhistory.org/the-registries.
The National Museum of the United States Army is located on a publicly accessible portion of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The address is 1775 Liberty Drive, Fort Belvoir, VA 22060. (Please note that not all GPS systems may recognize the address. The Museum’s GPS coordinates are 38.7242806/-77.177874)
If driving from Washington (traveling south)
Follow Interstate 395 South toward Richmond, VA. Merge onto Interstate 95 South. Take exit 166A toward VA-286 South/Fairfax County Parkway. Continue for 2.5 miles and turn left onto Liberty Drive.
If driving from Baltimore, Maryland (traveling south)
Follow MD-295 South, Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Exit onto Interstate 495 South/Interstate 95 South toward Richmond Va./Andrews Air Force Base. Follow signs for Interstate 95 South toward Richmond, VA. Take exit 166A toward VA-286 South/Fairfax County Parkway. Continue for 2.5 miles and turn left onto Liberty Drive.
If driving from Richmond, Virginia (traveling north)
Follow Interstate 95 North toward Washington. Take exit 166A toward VA-286 South/Fairfax County Parkway. Continue for 2.5 miles and turn left onto Liberty Drive.
On weekdays – The Franconia-Springfield Metro Station, on the blue line, is the closest station to the Museum. From Franconia-Springfield Metro Station, take Fairfax County Connector Bus Route 334, which includes a stop at the Museum. Please note: Bus Route 334 is available Monday-Friday only and does not currently operate on the weekends.
On weekends – The Huntington Metro Station, on the yellow line, is the next closest station to the Museum. From Huntington Metro Station, take Fairfax County Connector Bus Route 171, which includes a stop at the Museum. Please note: Bus Route 171 only stops at the Museum on the weekends.
By Bus: The Fairfax Connector bus service travels to the Museum via two different routes: Route 171 : Weekends ONLY Route 334: Monday – Friday ONLY Please check the Fairfax County Website for the most current bus schedules.
The Army Historical Society manages the Museum Café, which offers a selection of grab-and-go items, boxed lunches and grilled entrees along with beverages and other snacks. Museum visitors can order through a quick access app or via the web. Café hours are 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
* Fighting for the Nation Galleries
Founding the Nation – Traces the Army’s origins from the earliest Colonial militias, through the formation of the Continental Army and into the War of 1812.
Preserving the Nation – Considers the divided loyalties of Army soldiers and officers in the earliest days of the conflict to how the Army would expand, fight and win the Civil War.
Nation Overseas – Introduces the early clashes of the 20th Century where the Army first deployed beyond the United States and the how the Army prepared for and fought in World War I.
Global War – Examines how the Army would quickly mobilize and fight to win a two front war against fascism.
Cold War – Discusses the wars in Korea, Viet Nam and the defense of Western Europe from the threat of invasion by the Soviet Union.
Changing World – Recounts the end of the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf War, the attacks of September 11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sculpted face of Ulysses S. Grant looks across the National Mall with dispassionate determination. Around him a battle rages. A cavalry unit charges forward, an artillery detail hurries to emplace a cannon, infantry continue their forward march. Yet Grant, in his simple uniform and campaign hat, sits atop his war horse Cincinnati, looking forward, studying the situation and planning several steps ahead.
Such is the image portrayed in Washington, DC’s memorial dedicated to the Civil War General-In-Chief and 18th President of the United States. The memorial is located in Union Square, a plaza located just west of the U.S. Capitol grounds.
The move to commemorate Grant in Washington, DC began in the decade after his death in 1885, spearheaded by surviving veterans of the Union Army of the Tennessee. In 1902, Congress ultimately selected the ambitious designs of sculptor Henry Merwin Shrady and architect Edward Pierce Casey who envisioned a large multifaceted memorial in bronze and stone.
A native of New York City and a graduate of Columbia University, Shrady took up art while recuperating from typhoid fever. Although Shrady had no formal training as an artist or sculptor, some of his early works earned him much acclaim. He focused on sculpture and studied anatomy very carefully in order to portray realistic figures in his statues. In 1901, he completed a famous equestrian statue of George Washington located in Brooklyn.
Men and horses advance in the statue entitled Calvary Charge, part of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial.
After winning the Grant award, he engaged himself even more thoroughly in researching his subjects. He studied New York City Police Department horses. He examined Grant’s death mask. He observed military drills and exercises. He analyzed Civil War uniforms, weaponry and equipment to enhance the detail in his work. He drew upon his father’s recollections as a physician who attended to Grant in his final year. His architect partner, Edward Casey, was a veteran of the New York National Guard and lent some of his military experience to the project.
Shrady and Casey’s memorial dominates the Union Square area. The centerpiece statue of Grant, reaching 44 feet high, is one of the largest equestrian statues in the world. Two bronze bas-relief sculptures depicting advancing infantry adorn opposite sides of the statue’s pedestal. Four bronze lions on their own pedestals guard Grant’s statue adding a sense of majesty. The statues and pedestals sit upon a terraced marble platform about 240 feet from end to end. At both sides along that platform are additional bronze sculptures depicting the randomness and chaos of combat.
An artillery detachment races to place a cannon in Henry Shrady’s statue Artillery at the Ulysses S. Grant memorial.
The sculpture known as Artillery presents a team of soldiers and horses racing to position a cannon. The guidon bearer has signaled a turn to the right, yet a bridle on the lead horse has broken and the horse continues to lunge forward.
At the opposite end of the memorial, the statue entitled CavalryCharge depicts cavalry troopers on the move. An officer raises his sword ordering the advance, the buglar sounds the charge, a soldier bears the colors. Yet tragedy is about to strike as a trooper has fallen from his mount and will be trampled. Shrady is said to have portrayed himself as the ill-fated soldier.
Shrady had worked relentlessly for twenty years on the memorial, undertaking some of the most ambitious and complex sculpting work of the time. He obsessed over every detail of the massive statues, each of which took years to produce and were some of the largest bronze castings of their time. Sadly, Shrady died about two weeks before the final dedication of the statue in April of 1922 commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Grant’s birth.
The face of the fallen trooper in the CavalryCharge statue, said to be that of the sculptor Henry Shrady. The Grant Memorial project consumed twenty years of Shrady’s life.
Given the interest both Shrady and Grant had in horses, it is not surprising how prominent they are in this memorial. This seems fitting as Grant was an accomplished rider and horseman.
Grant learned to care for and work with horses as a young man growing up in Ohio. His father was a well-connected businessman who secured his eldest son an appointment to West Point. Grant was not especially enthused about attending the military academy, but knew it was likely his best opportunity for a university education.
Ironically, it was an accident of paperwork at West Point that he got his name Ulysses Simpson Grant. He was born Hiram Ulysses, but his Congressman wrote Ulysses Simpson (his mother’s maiden name) on his appointment documents. When he reported to West Point in 1839, he was told the appointment was for Ulysses Simpson Grant, so he assumed the name, rather than reapplying.
He was a capable, but unambitious student who graduated in the middle of his class in 1843.
Originally thinking he might go on to teach college math, Grant decided on a military career following his service in the Mexican-American War. During the war, Grant was recognized several times for his bravery in combat. He learned some important skills during his service in Mexico, developing a proficiency in military logistics, and witnessing the leadership styles of several commanders, including Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott.
Detail of the two artillerymen riding the wagon in the Artillery statue.
After the war, Grant found aspects of the peacetime Army difficult, especially the separation from his family. Unfortunately, he looked for solace in alcohol and developed a reputation as a problem drinker. That reputation followed him his entire life. He resigned his commission in 1854 and unsuccessfully pursued a string of civilian jobs, ultimately going back to work for his father in Galena, Illinois.
Following the attack at Fort Sumter in April 1861, Grant was determined to return to military service. He sought and received a commission and the command of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He restored discipline and effectively trained the unit to make it combat ready. A promotion to brigadier general followed in August 1861.
A bronze bas-relief plaque of marching infantry soldiers on the pedestal of the Grant equestrian statue.
In February 1862, Grant led his troops to successful engagements at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in western Tennessee. His successes gave the Union some badly needed victories. They also gained him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, because he demanded his enemies surrender without terms. His actions led to his promotion as a Major General of volunteers and he was appointed commander of the Army of the Tennessee.
In April 1863, Grant’s army was attacked by Confederate forces; the resulting fight at the Battle of Shiloh made plain the painful truth that a long war awaited both sides. The losses were staggering, a combined 23,000 causalities. But Grant’s deft leadership in sustaining the rebel assault and successfully counterattacking led to a Union victory. Grant received criticism for being unprepared for the Confederate attack; some even calling for his removal. Lincoln famously responded “I can’t spare this man, he fights.”
After Shiloh, Grant and his Army pushed further south from Tennessee, aiming to take the Mississippi River port city of Vicksburg, a vital logistics hub for the Confederacy. Grant would demonstrate strategic prowess in this campaign, coordinating his troop’s movements with the Navy, splitting his forces to fend off a rebel reinforcement, and ultimately accepting the surrender of Vicksburg and its 30,000 Confederate defenders on July 4, 1863 after a 48-day siege.
In October 1863, Grant was given command of all Union armies in the West. He moved quickly to break a Confederate siege of a Union Army in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His success led Lincoln to appoint Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General (the first officer to hold this rank since George Washington) and as General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States in March 1864.
As General-in-Chief, Grant provided Lincoln with a campaign plan for a multiple front operation wherein Federal Armies would pursue the remaining major Confederate formations and degrade the South’s ability to wage war.
Through the spring of 1864 and into 1865, Grant would accompany General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac, engaging in a brutal campaign which ultimately lead to the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Ulysses S. Grant at his Cold Harbor, Virginia Headquarters in June 1864.
-Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
After the war, Grant would serve as Secretary of War under President Andrew Johnson. In 1868, he was elected president and served two terms. Unfortunately for President Grant, although he was personally honest and upright, those around him were not and his administrations were tainted by corruption. Still, there were several notable accomplishments during his administration such as the ratification of the 14th Amendment, passage of early civil rights legislation, establishment of the Department of Justice, and the creation of Yellowstone National Park.
Despite the scandals, Grant remained very popular. Like Washington, he chose not to run for a third term. He left office, and embarked on a grand tour of America and the world. His later years proved quite difficult. An unscrupulous investor took advantage of Grant and he lost much of his money in bad investments. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1884. Wanting to leave his wife with sufficient means to support herself, he worked tirelessly up to his death to complete his memoirs. When the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant was finally published, it was a major success, heralded by critics, historians and the public alike.
Grant died on July 23, 1885 in upstate New York. Over a quarter of a million people viewed his funeral train as it traveled down the Hudson River valley to New York City. Tens of thousands of Union Army veterans accompanied Grant’s casket in a procession sometimes seven miles long. Confederate generals Joseph Johnston and Simon Buckner were among his pall bearers.
For a time, Grant’s legacy suffered from debatable stories related to his drinking, supposed indifference to losing soldiers in combat and scandalous presidency. Over the past several decades though, historians and scholars have more closely examined Grant’s characteristics as a strategic leader, effective manager, and skilled tactician.
Like Grant’s reputation, his memorial in Washington, DC has also undergone refurbishment over the past few years. In 2011, the Architect of the Capitol accepted responsibility for the memorial from the National Park Service and began to restore the statuary and stonework. Signs of corrosion and weathering were removed, the marble and bronze polished, missing or broken features from the statues, such as swords and chains, were replaced. Eight ornate bronze lamps were also installed around the memorial.
Portrait Photograph of President Ulysses S. Grant, circa 1870
-Matthew Brady; Library of Congress Prints and Photograph’s Division
At the top of that memorial, as the face of General Grant gazes west, he can see the memorial to his wartime president, Abraham Lincoln. Through the Civil War years, Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln developed a close working relationship. The two were westerners with a common touch and similarly humble origins. Lincoln appreciated Grant’s leadership, his willingness to maintain the offense and his sense of responsibility. Grant wrote: “No general could want better backing for the president was a man of great wisdom and moderation.” Now their memorials bookend our National Mall, a fitting testimonial to the president and his general who fought so hard to preserve the Union.
The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is located along First Street, NW, just to the west of the U.S. Capitol building. The best way to get to the memorial (and the Capitol) is by taking Metro.
Three Metro stops are within walking distance of the memorial and the Capitol:
Union Station – Located at First Street, NW, and Massachusetts Avenue.
Capitol South – Located at First Street between C and D Streets, SE.
Federal Center, SW – Located at the southwest corner of Third and D Streets, SW.
The DC Circulator, a public bus system with routes through Washington’s downtown area includes stops near the Memorial. Find more information about Circulator busses at www.dccirculator.com.
There is very little public parking available near the Capitol. The nearest public parking facility is at Union Station, to the north of the Capitol. Very limited metered street parking is found along the Mall to the west of the Capitol.
Command Reading List
Many books have been written on Ulysses S. Grant. The below works offer new insights into Grant’s character and leadership.
Grant by Ron Chenow
Noted biographer covers Grant’s entire life and career, from his Ohio childhood through his presidency and beyond.
The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant by Charles Calhoun
This book by historian Charles Calhoun produced a very comprehensive analysis of the Grant presidency, with detailed research that challenges some of the early criticisms of Grant which are often repeated by historians and biographers.
The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, edited by John F. Marszalek with David S. Nolan and Louie P. Gallow
Grant’s memoirs were immensely popular when published in 1885. This annotated version provides extensive background and context to Grant’s original writing.
Six Civil War reproduction cannons stand as silent sentinels over the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, an open and inviting space in Alexandria, Virginia, Washington, DC’s neighbor to the south. The site, located in Alexandria’s Seminary Hill neighborhood, was originally conceived as a Civil War era preservation project. Today, Fort Ward is embracing over 150 years of history, from the Civil War through the Civil Rights era, for this prominent and storied Virginia city.
Fort Ward’s origins are found in the days following the rebel victory at Manassas in July of 1861. U.S. Government leaders quickly realized the Federal capital was in a precarious situation. Bordered on one side by Virginia, now enemy territory, and the other by Maryland, a slave holding state, Washington, D.C had almost no physical defenses to rely on.
The Army appointed one of its leading engineers and an expert on coast artillery, John Barnard, to design a robust defensive system along the high grounds surrounding Washington to guard strategic waterways, roads, railways and bridges. By the end of the war, Barnard’s extensive efforts lead to the construction of 68 forts and 93 gun batteries bristling with over 800 cannons and connected by various roads and trenches. Fort Ward is one of the best preserved examples of Washington’s Civil War defenses.
Construction of Fort Ward began in July 1861 and was completed about two months later to protect the main approaches into Alexandria. The fort was named for U.S. Navy Commander James H. Ward, the first U.S. Navy officer killed in action during the Civil War.
Fort Ward was built as a bastion fort, meaning the walls were designed at angles to provide interlocking fields of fire from inside the fort. Like most of the other fortifications, Fort Ward was constructed primarily of readily available dirt which was much better at withstanding artillery and rifle fire than brick, stone or wooden logs. The earthen walls were approximately 20 feet high and 12 feet thick. The fort was expanded several times during the war. Ultimately, Fort Ward had five bastions with emplacements for 36 guns and a final perimeter almost half a mile long.
A trench ran along that perimeter, a final obstacle for any attackers who might make it through the cannon fire. Units from Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio garrisoned the fort, usually numbering between three to four hundred men at a time.
The trench or dry moat surrounding the earthen bastion walls presented one more obstacle for any attacking forces.
Just after Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, the Union Army moved quickly to occupy Alexandria. The city soon became a hotbed of Federal activity. Given its port and railroad connections, Alexandria became a logistical center. Troops and supplies would flow through the city. Wounded were transported to Alexandria for treatment and recovery. The city was filled with Army camps, warehouses, supply depots, hospitals and other official activities. This substantial U.S. Government presence attracted African Americans from around Virginia and beyond. Referred to at the time as “contraband,” these men and women came seeking freedom from slavery. They found paid employment at these Federal facilities, including Fort Ward. Many men enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops regiments and went to fight.
At war’s end, when the Army left Fort Ward, several African American families remained. They purchased property and began building homes, churches and a school. Over four generations, the African American community continued to grow in its own neighborhood known as “The Fort”. The nearby Virginia Theological Seminary (which gives the current neighborhood its name) and Episcopal High School employed many of The Fort’s residents.
In the 1950s, the City of Alexandria began planning for the restoration of the original Fort Ward and the creation of today’s park space. Unfortunately, this work would lead to the resettlement of The Fort neighborhood. The city bought or appropriated the land compelling the families living there to move on. Archeological excavations of the original Fort Ward began in 1961. Renovations of several portions of the fort followed as part of the Civil War centennial. The park was formally opened to the public in May of 1964.
For a chronological view of Fort Ward, a visit today is best begun in the museum, housed in a reproduction two-story building modeled after a period Army headquarters building. Museum curators have assembled an impressive collection of weapons, uniforms, documents, photographs, medical instruments, folk art, and other implements of military life to tell the stories behind the Civil War defenses of Washington, the history of Fort Ward, conditions in Alexandria at the time and the lives and duties of Union Army officers and soldiers. A scale model of the original Fort Ward orients the visitor to its Civil War era layout and appearance.
The museum’s upper floor houses a research library containing a trove of historic materials as well as more contemporary documents and publications on the Union forts defending Washington, DC and other Civil War topics. The museum periodically organizes living history events, hosting Civil War reenactors at Fort Ward to enhance visitors’ understanding of the way soldiers and civilians lived their wartime lives.
Adjacent to the museum is a reproduction officer’s hut. Huts such as these were built to provide housing for Fort Ward’s commissioned officers. Peer through the windows and see the furnishings and accoutrements illustrative of how these officers lived at the time.
The museum and officers’ hut buildings are located on grounds outside of the original fortifications in what was a support area where troop barracks and living quarters were located, and administrative and logistical functions performed.
Pass through the reproduction entrance gate to the fort’s original grounds and follow the trail to see what the reconstructed northwest bastion would have looked like in 1864. One of the more heavily armed strongholds of the original Fort Ward as it overlooked the busy Leesburg Pike (today’s State Route 7), the restored northwest bastion includes six gun emplacements along with the magazine and a filling room for ammunition.
After visiting the reconstructed fort area, a path circles through the larger park with open green space, picnic areas, and an amphitheater. Along the way, descriptive signage explains aspects of The Fort neighborhood and the people who lived there. Existing features of the old neighborhood are emphasized, including several surviving grave sites.
Clara Adams, a longtime leader in The Fort neighborhood, is buried on the grounds of the historic site. Among her many contributions, she donated land for the community’s African American School.
The City of Alexandria continues to expand the interpretation of Fort Ward’s history for today’s Alexandria residents and visitors alike. A series of interviews with former Fort residents provide compelling first-person accounts of life in and around The Fort. These interviews started in the early 1990’s and continue today. An archeological dig concluding around 2014 used ground radars to clarify the boundaries of known grave sites, identify previously unknown grave sites and unearth additional artifacts. The city also has plans and designs for new interpretive signage and markers, a Fort neighborhood exhibit to the museum, historic home floor plan displays from The Fort neighborhood, and other interpretive tools and techniques to more completely convey the multi-layered story of Fort Ward.
Fort Ward is unique among Washington, DC area historic landmarks and a worthy addition to any DC itinerary. It preserves an essential element of Civil War history, namely the defenses of Washington, while also examining the complex social and cultural impacts of that period on life in Alexandria over the century that followed. As important, its 45 acres of leafy parkland are a pleasant place for locals and visitors alike to spend a sunny afternoon.
The Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site is located at:
4301 West Braddock Road Alexandria, Virginia 22304
Fort Ward is approximately six miles south of Washington, D.C. Free parking is available for cars and buses.
From Washington, DC: Follow signs to Interstate 395 (I-395) south to Richmond. Take the Seminary Road East exit. At the fifth traffic light (at Alexandria Hospital) turn left onto North Howard Street. Follow North Howard to its intersection with West Braddock Road and turn right. The Museum entrance is on the left.
From Old Town Alexandria: Follow King Street west to Alexandria City High School, turn right on Kenwood Avenue. Turn left on West Braddock Road, and proceed about a mile. The Museum entrance is on the right.
From I-95/I-495 (Capital Beltway): Follow road signs to I-395 North. Take the Seminary Road East exit. At the fifth traffic light (at Alexandria Hospital) turn left onto North Howard Street. Follow North Howard to its intersection with West Braddock Road and turn right. The Museum entrance is on the left.
From Dulles Airport: Take Dulles Access Road East to I-495 North (Capital Beltway). Follow road signs to I-395 North. Take the Seminary Road East exit. At the fifth traffic light (at Alexandria Hospital) turn left onto North Howard Street. Follow North Howard to its intersection with West Braddock Road and turn right. The Museum entrance is on the left.
By Metro Rail, then Bus: Take the Yellow or Blue Line to King Street Station. The AT5 DASH Bus www.dashbus.com to Landmark stops in front of Fort Ward. Call (703) 370-DASH for bus schedules and information.
By Amtrak or Virginia Railway Express: Walk across the street from the Alexandria Union Station to the King Street Metro Station to take the AT5 DASH Bus.
On a hot, humid Sunday in July 1861, soldiers from two newly organized armies, one Union, and the other Confederate met on the rolling hills and lush green fields north of Manassas Junction, Virginia, along the Bull Run creek. Those two landmarks would lend their names to this first seminal battle of the American Civil War. Each side expected quick success over the other, boosted by the belief that attributes such as pride, honor, loyalty or the righteousness of their cause would bring triumph.
Today, the ground where they fought is preserved at the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Located just 25 miles west of Washington, DC., the park carefully conserves eight square miles of the battlefield amidst the development of Northern Virginia.
The Bull Run runs from north to south along the eastern portion of the park. Confederate forces set up defenses on the western side of the creek to defend Manassas Junction.
While key landmarks around the battlefield are, of course, accessible by car, a more interesting option is to explore the battlefield on foot. Walking the ground soldiers once trod and experiencing the terrain adds a certain depth to the facts gleaned through books and articles. Insights into leaders’ decisions become evident and battlefield stories come to life.
The National Park Service maintains several loop trails through the preserved areas of the battlefield. The trails are of various lengths and signage provides historical context to the many sites encountered along the way. The NPS provides an excellent trifold map, available at the visitor center or on the park’s website, which can help you select the right trail for you based on your interest and level of comfort walking the sometimes hilly terrain. At 5.3 miles, the First Manassas Trail provides the broadest perspective to the battlefield and the events of that momentous July day.
The trail begins at the park’s Henry Hill Visitor Center, which should certainly be the first stop for any new visitor. The well-appointed center houses a small theater, museum and a map with twinkling lights depicting the troop movements around the battlefield. National Park Rangers also offer very informative interpretive lectures daily explaining how these two quickly assembled armies would come to meet on this hallowed ground.
Exiting the visitor center, the trail cuts across adjoining Henry Hill, past a statue of the Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. It was during this battle that Jackson received his famous moniker. As Jackson was preparing for the defense of Henry Hill, another Confederal general, Bernard Bee, likened Jackson to a stonewall and instructed his troops to join with Jackson’s Virginia brigade. A monument to General Bee, who was killed at the battle, stands nearby. The trail continues along Henry Hill and crosses the “Reinforcement Road” a feint trail used by some Southern reinforcing units to reach Henry Hill during the battle.
The statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on Henry Hill dates from 1940.
To boost his forces, the Confederate commander, Pierre Gustave Toutant (PGT) Beauregard worked closely with his counterpart, General Joseph Johnston, who commanded a sizable Confederate force west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley. To support Beauregard at Manassas, Johnston skillfully moved his forces from Winchester, Virginia to Manassas, using the railroad to quickly cover ground. Johnston set up his headquarters at a plantation to the southeast of the battlefield and allocated his troops for Beauregard to deploy and maneuver during the battle. Their collaboration was instrumental to the rebel victory.
PGT Beauregard commanded Confederate forces at the First Battle of Manassas. General Beauregard was a native of Louisiana, and the Confederate hero of the assault on Fort Sumter.
After traversing Henry Hill, the trail then moves through a hardwood forested area and then into an open meadow before crossing a busy road known as the Warrenton Turnpike during the Civil War, but known today as U.S. Route 29. After crossing the highway, follow the trail uphill, pass the ruins of a farm and then turn west, descending along a ridge overlooking the famous Stone Bridge.
The bridge figured prominently into the events on the day of the battle. With rebel forces taking up positions on the western side of the Bull Run to defend the transportation links at Manassas, the Union plan was to outflank Beauregard on the left edge of his line, which was situated on the ridge overlooking the the bridge.
The Union army commander, General Irvin McDowell ordered a diversionary attack commencing at 5:30 that morning on the rebel forces holding the end of the line. Meanwhile his main force would cross the Bull Run further to the northwest.
A Confederate signal station observed these troop movements and warned Confederate Colonel Nathan Evans, who commanded two regiments on the Confederate left. After receiving the warning of the flanking maneuver, Evans ordered most of this troops away from the ridge to Mathews Hill, further west of his position, leaving four companies of South Carolina militia. Evans redeployment of those troops proved essential and would shape the later battle.
After passing the Stone Bridge, the trail runs along a segment of the Bull Run. Although not particularly deep nor wide, the creek’s banks are quite steep, which made access to shallow fords with level banks of importance to both armies.
Leaving the Bull Run, the trail turns west and continues through fields and wooded areas. During the time of the battle, farms and plantations predominated in the area and the land was largely cleared of trees and brush opening up fields of fire and making it easier to observe troop movements. Interpretive signs and weathered stone markers dot this portion of the trail, providing the hiker additional background on troop movements and conditions on the day of the battle.
General Irvin McDowell commanded the Union Forces. More experienced in military administration than command, McDowell understood his troops were green, but there was significant political pressure on him to act.
Photo from the Brady National Photographic Art Gallery (Washington, D.C.)
The trail emerges from the woods onto the open terrain of Mathews Hill. From its high ground, scenic vistas looking south and west give an excellent view of major portions of the battlefield. Across the open terrain are clear views of Henry Hill and the visitor center. U.S. Route 29 cuts across and seemingly bisects the landscape.
Mathews Hill was the site of significant fighting in the next phase of the battle. Evans’ dispatched troops from the Stone Bridge took up a defensive position on this hill and by 10:30 that morning were encountering the first wave of Federal troops who had crossed the Bull Run further to the north of the Stone Bridge. The rebels fought stubbornly against a strengthening Federal force. Several Confederate regiments arrived to reinforce Evans’ troops. But after several unsuccessful counterattacks and becoming badly outnumbered, the Southerners withdrew from Matthew’s Hill.
Making a critical error that would later cost him the battle, General McDowell did not immediately pursue the rebels as they retreat toward Henry Hill. A delay of over an hour allowed Southerners to organize defensive positions, as their reinforcements continued to arrive from Manassas.
Leaving Matthews Hill, the final mile of the trail begins a slow decent, past the landmark Stone House, across U.S. Route 29 and then up Henry Hill, site of the battle’s fateful culmination. More of a broad plateau than a hill, Henry Hill was named for the Henry Family farm which occupied the area during and for many years after the battle.
Prominent on Henry Hill is the Henry House. The original house was damaged during the battle and its inhabitant, Mrs. Judith Carter Henry, was killed. The current house was rebuilt after the Civil War by the Henry Family.
The ensuing artillery fight turned into an infantry battle as Union and Confederate regiments arrived, attacking and counterattacking in the vicinity of the cannons. Buoyed by fresh troops which continued to stream in from Manassas and with numbers now on their side, the Southerners would take the upper hand forcing McDowell’s army to retreat around 4:00 pm and begin a long and sometimes chaotic march back towards Washington.
After the battle, the casualty counts conveyed the bloodiest day in American history, up to that time. The Federal Army suffered the loss of 460 soldiers and over 1,000 wounded and another 1,300 captured or missing. Southern losses were less, but still alarming with 387 killed and about 1600 wounded.
Both sides began to understand victory in this war would be neither easy nor quick. Many more battles would follow. Indeed, in a little more than a year, the armies would once again return to these fields to fight an even bloodier battle.
Manassas National Battlefield Park is located about 25 miles west of Washington, DC.
If you are using a GPS device, the mailing address of the Henry Hill Visitor Center is:
6511 Sudley Road, Manassas Virginia 20109
From Washington D.C. and Points East: Travel west on Interstate 66 to Exit 47B, Route 234 North, Sudley Road. Proceed through the first traffic light. The entrance to the Henry Hill Visitors Center is on the right, just past the Northern Virginia Community College.
From Points North: Travel south on I-95 to the Capital Beltway, Interstate 495. Travel west towards Silver Springs, Maryland. Continue on the Beltway for approximately 10 miles, crossing the Potomac river into Virginia. Take the exit for Interstate 66 west to Manassas. Take Exit 47B, Route 234 North, Sudley Road. Proceed through the first traffic light. The entrance to the Henry Hill Visitors Center is on the right, just past the Northern Virginia Community College.
From Points South: Travel north on Interstate 95 to Exit 152, Route 234. Turn left at the traffic light on to Route 234 North, Sudley Road. Stay on Business Route 234 (do not take the by-pass) and travel for approximately 20 miles just beyond the city of Manassas. The entrance to the Henry Hill Visitors Center is located on the right, just past the entrance to the Northern Virginia Community College.
From Points West: Travel east on Interstate 66 to Exit 47, Route 234 North (Sudley Road). Turn left on Route 234 and proceed through the first traffic light. The entrance to the Henry Hill Visitors Center is on the right, just past the Northern Virginia Community College.
Unfortunately, there is no public transportation to the park.
Be aware of the following before you start your hike:
The trail can be moderately strenuous and muddy in a few portions, so proper footwear is important.
Many trails, both official and unofficial, intersect the main hiking trails, so it is important to use either an electronic or paper map and be mindful of your location. Follow trail blazes appropriate for your trail, blue blazes indicate a hiking trail and yellow blazes indicate horse trails.
Bring plenty of water.
Beware of ticks! Stick to the trail. Insect repellent is recommended.
In the event of an emergency on the trail, call 911 from your mobile phone.
Should you see an object of potential historic significance, please leave it in place and notify the park staff at 703-361-1339 x0.
Pets are permitted on all park trails but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
Nineteen figures, dressed in combat uniforms and moving in formation, cut a silent, ghostly silhouette against the seasonal colors of the National Mall. Tall in stature and gray in color, these figures represent an American infantry unit from the Korean War.
The statues are the most prominent feature of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Sitting just to the southeast of the Lincoln Memorial, it is one of the National Mall’s most intriguing sites.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces of the Korean People’s Army, with the backing of Soviet and Chinese leaders, poured over the 38th parallel, attacking south with the goal of reuniting a divided Korea under the leadership of Kim Il Sung. Within 48 hours, the United States committed air and sea forces to the defense of South Korea. On June 27, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 83, calling on “Members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack…”.
Fighting would last 38 months, during the years from 1950-1953. United Nations forces were able to repel the initial North Korean invasion. The last two years was largely a stalemate, even though there was fierce fighting and direct engagement between US and Chinese ground troops. An armistice halting the fighting was signed on July 27, 1953 in Panmunjom, Korea.
By the end of hostilities, over 5.8 million Americans served in the US armed forces and 36,574 Americans died as a result of hostile actions in the Korean War theater. In addition, 103,284 were wounded during the conflict. Losses were especially high among the Korean combatants. Over 162,000 South Korean soldiers and 526,000 North Korean soldiers were killed. Civilian deaths during the Korean War on both sides are estimated at between 2-3 million.
The details of the Korean War may not be known to many of the visitors, but the memorial vividly weaves together symbolism and imagery to portray the conflict’s sacrifices and significance.
An image of a US Navy nurse from the Mural Wall
For full effect, the statues should be viewed in conjunction with the Mural Wall, which adds a unique, two dimensional feature to the memorial. The 164-foot long wall is constructed of a highly polished black granite and stands to the statues’ right side. It bears the images of over 2,400 troops and different specialties from each branch of the Armed Forces that supported the infantry during the Korean War. Both the faces of the statues and the visages on the wall are based on actual Korean War veterans, taken from photographs supplied by the National Archives and Records Administration and other renderings. Viewed from a distance, the service member images on the wall resemble the mountains of Korea. The wall vividly reflects the statues, suggesting 38 servicemen moving in formation and symbolizing the 38th parallel and the 38 months of the war.
On the left side of the statues is the United Nations curb, a stone edge to a paved walkway with the name of the 22 Countries that, like the United States, fought or provided material support in Korea under the auspices of the United Nations.
An engraving of the the United Nations seal as depicted on the United Nations Curb.
The statues appear to be moving toward an American flag flying from a flag pole next to a reflecting pool shaded by a grove of linden trees. At the base of the flag pole is a small stone with the inscription “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
The pool is inscribed with the numbers of casualties sustained during the war by both the United States and the United Nations. The area is known formally as the Pool of Remembrance; the pool and the adjoining benches shaded by linden trees invites quiet contemplation of the war and its costs.
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For the United States, the Korean War was unlike any other before it.
Congress made no declaration of war. Rather, the US fought under the auspices of the new United Nations and provided most of the UN combat forces. The Korean War would be more limited, without the general mobilization of American society as was seen in the First and Second World Wars. A new branch of the armed forces, the US Air Force, would organize and conduct air campaigns. And for the first time since the American Revolution, the war was fought with a racially integrated military. (Notice the 19 statues represent multiple racial and ethnic groups and all four branches of the armed forces).
Statue depicting a US Air Force Air-Ground Controller
It was also fought in a very far away land, not well known to many Americans, to contain the spread of communism, the growth of which in Eastern Europe and China immediately following World War II was seen as a threat to the American democracy and capitalism.
The Korean War remains with us today. The armistice of 1953 only ended the fighting, but not formally the war. A demilitarized zone marks the current border between the two Koreas. Tensions remain high. Korea is never very far from the headlines or newsfeeds and remains a major focus of US diplomacy and foreign policy. The US is still committed to the defense of South Korea and maintains a force of approximately 24,000 troops in the country.
Over 7,600 US service members are still listed by the Pentagon as missing in action. The North Korean government periodically returns remains of US service members. In 2018, 55 boxes of remains were presented to US officials and taken to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii for identification. Potentially, 80 US service members may be identified from these sets of remains. Some already have. One was US Army Corporal Charles S. Lawler, 19, of Traverse City, Michigan. Corporal Lawler was a member of the 1st Cavalry Division. He was reported missing in action on Nov. 2, 1950, after his unit was attacked near Unsan, North Korea. He was buried in his hometown on July 27, 2019.
A group photo from the 8225th M*A*S*H*. The concept of forward deployed military hospitals was successfully implemented during the Korean War.
Popular narratives sometime label the Korean War as “the Forgotten War”, which seems misleading. It certainly was never forgotten by the Korean people, nor by the veterans who fought there and certainly not by the families of those who died there. The US military community has not forgotten as there has been a large military presence in Korea for decades. And the 1968 novel M*A*S*H*, about an Army field hospital which became a successful motion picture, then later a very popular television show, continued to remind the American public of the Korean War.
And now for over a quarter century, an exceptional and dignified memorial stands on the National Mall to help us remember.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located at the western end of the National Mall. It is two miles walking distance from the U.S. Capitol. A paved footpath connects the Korean War Veterans Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial area. The nearest metro stations are Foggy Bottom (23rd St. &I St. NW) and Smithsonian (12th St. & Independence Ave. SW).
Visitor parking is available along Ohio Drive, SW between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is accessible 24 hours a day. Some visitors especially like to visit at night or in foggy or rainy weather, when the statues take on a surreal nature.
One Last Note: The Department of Defense (DoD) currently lists the number of US service members killed during the Korean War as 36,574. For many years, the Department of Defense had listed the number as 54,260, which is the number included on the memorial. Later research conducted by DoD determined the higher number included deaths of US service members who died on active duty during the 38 months of the war, although not necessarily as a result of combat operations in Korea. The higher number is included on the memorial as it honors all US service members who served during the Korean War.