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.