About Us

John A. O’Brien                                                                                                    Independent Researcher                                                                                                     Abraham Lincoln and Civil War Washington, D.C.

As a new resident to the National Capital Region, I wanted to trace Lincoln stories from the many biographies I had read to their actual locations in Washington.  It was only after trying to walk these sites that I began to realize how little agreement there was between authors on where to place the president for the more common episodes described about his life.  There have been a few publications by some writers who were interested in identifying the sites, but there seemed to be nothing comprehensive available.  But in general, it seems that most Lincoln authors have relied on several early 20th century authors who asserted local lore as evidence for establishing the key sites.

Now comes your humble writer.  I was born in Pittsburgh, PA.  Studied journalism at Penn State University.  Decided I wanted to be a hospital administrator, so took my new wife off to the wilds of Minnesota to get the suitable masters degree.  After graduation, we moved back to Pennsylvania, managing to live and work in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Erie (and having three daughters), before settling in Detroit, MI for 11 years.  It was a challenge to get to visit Civil War sites from Michigan, but the interest stayed alive (and a big call-out to Monroe, MI, home of George A. Custer).

The opportunity to move to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, really opened the door for me to be able to explore Civil War Washington.  I was so curious to learn more that I committed the little free time I could spare, to conducting reviews of primary sources and newspaper accounts to understand the local context.  I then began to weigh the conflicting evidence and to weed out those assertions that didn’t make sense “in the local context.”  The result was a map I produced called Lincoln in Washington that shows more than 70 Lincoln sites in the downtown area.  It’s on sale at Ford’s Theatre, the Mary Surratt Museum in Clinton, MD, on Amazon.com and through this website (see the Products page).

So, I am a self-confessed Lincolnophile who has a keen interest in better understanding the full scope of the president’s relationship with the National Capital.  Part of the mystique that characterizes my fascination with Lincoln was his simple humanity.  His unaffected courtesy led him to leave the Executive Mansion to seek out those people who had information he needed, and to develop the relationships that were so important to his political success and emotional well-being.

While it doesn’t seem that the president had any trouble finding people where he expected, it has been very difficult for his biographers to accurately determine those sites.  We can’t be harsh with them, however, Washington during the war was a very tumultuous and confusing place.  The change from the Buchanan administration was the most thorough turnover of political appointees in the history of the Republic.  The growth of government for the war effort gave Lincoln more opportunities to make appointments than ever before.  And the military growth and transitions completed the absolute picture of confusion for anyone trying to pinpoint offices and residences.

Lincoln historian Michael Burlingame has said that he believes that most of what we will know about Abraham Lincoln has yet to be discovered.  There are primary sources that have yet to be examined and mined for new information.  I hope that interested folks like you will join me in making this website a forum to develop more useful facts and data about Lincoln’s movements through the capital.  The goal is to improve our understanding of the significant impact that the president’s outreach in the City of Washington had in defining his leadership during the Civil War.

Please consider me your “on-location” representative in the National Capital and feel free to put me to work on your question regarding President Lincoln in Civil War Washington, D.C.

John O’Brien

 

 

 

7 Responses to About Us

  1. Jim Conroy says:

    Many thanks for your terrific map, John. As the author of two books on Lincoln, I have seen nothing else like it. You have made a unique contribution to the Lincoln literature.

  2. Molly says:

    And can I find the paper you presented in the 39th Annual Conference of the D.C. Historical Society in the journal “Washington History”?

    • Profile photo of John O'Brien John O'Brien says:

      Hello Molly,

      I did that paper about Lincoln and Sprigg several computers ago, so have had difficulty tracking things down. Please send me your email address and I’ll send along the article and some notes that I’ve recovered.

      John O’Brien

  3. Donet D. Graves says:

    Good morning,

    Last Wednesday I believe Mr. O’Brien handed me a copy of your map of Lincoln’s Washington. I had to write to say how much I appreciate your product and your scholarship. The details provided greatly enhanced my ability to visualize life in the city at that time. I am particularly taken with your ability to relate the pre-1870 address system with current locations. In my effort to tell the Wormley story I have struggled with determining the exact locations of the various properties. While I have a relatively good approximation, I have not been able to place addresses with maps such as the one you provide. For example I know that during the war the properties on I St.were numbered 310, 312, 314 and 320. I am just not certain which buildings reflected on your map would have coincided with these numbers.

    Also your map helped me better envision the proximity of these prominent addresses and citizens to Wormley. I am more convinced than ever that James and his family were at least acquainted with the President and that the newspaper accounts of the care provided to Willie and the President are accurate. My logic tells me that the care provided by James was not well documented since James did not attend to them as a physician but more in the line of providing comfort and sustenance.

    Perhaps at some time we can discuss this more fully.

    Thank you again for providing me with this wonderful resource in my effort to tell this small untold story.

    Best,

    Don

    Donet D. Graves

    • Profile photo of John O'Brien John O'Brien says:

      Don Graves,
      I appreciate your great comments on the Lincoln map. It is the best feedback to hear that it was useful for your Wormley family research. I’ve done some further investigation based on your questions and will send you that report in a separate email. This is what I love about my Lincoln in Washington project; ideas from folks like you to make me dig a little deeper into Civil War Washington, DC.
      I really enjoyed your presentation last week at Decatur House on Lafayette Square about the history of the Wormley family. As you made clear, there is a lot more to this famous name than just the Wormley Hotel at 15th and H streets. I look forward to speaking with you.

      Thanks,
      John O’Brien

  4. Jim Garrett says:

    Hi Mr. O’Brien:
    I am a volunteer at Ford’s. Several weeks ago Reggie in the bookstore showed me your map. It had been approved by Rae Emmerson (a ggod friend) and he was anxiously awaiting delivery. I have to say, it’s the best guide I’ver ever seen. You really hit it out of the park.

    I usually work 1 or 2 Saturdays a month, often providing the ranger presentation or walk-through discussions. I will absoluteley be recommending your map to visitors as the be-all end-all walking guide.

    Best Regards

    Jim Garrett

    • Profile photo of John O'Brien John O'Brien says:

      Hi, Jim.
      This website is going to continue to develop the summary information I had published in the “Lincoln in Washington” map. While many who have reviewed the map are satisfied with the diary and newspaper dates, there is still concern that footnotes weren’t included. There just wasn’t enough space to add all that and still have a readable and useful guide. When I do the book, it will all be there. In the meanwhile, this website will attempt to fill in the research citations and other details. I started this project shortly after coming to DC several years ago. I couldn’t find a guide, so I did one myself. Of course, there are others who have made a good start. Ralph Gary wrote “In the Footsteps of Lincoln,” which did a chapter for every state that Lincoln had visited. Very ambitious. But the chapter on Washington I found to be more focused on the White House, the Wilkes-Madison House, and the Soldiers’ Home without satifying my curiosity as to his many other reported visit sites. So the map is my answer. Thank you for your review. I would also appreciate your observations and questions after you have had time to go over it in detail. I really appreciate hearing from you, and I appreciate your work with Ford’s Theatre. I will try to look you up one weekend.
      John

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