Designing a Nation: Civic Art in the Nation’s Capital

April 17, 2014

The U.S. Capitol and National Mall are a beautiful representation of the dignity and public spirit of the United States of America. This area is steeped in history, and you can learn more about the past and continued efforts to design, build, and preserve the U.S. Capitol and National Mall through many government publications.

Brumidi-To-Make-Beautiful-the-CapitolWith its famous dome celebrating its 150th anniversary in December 2013, the United States Capitol is a treasure-trove of civic art. Just released, To Make Beautiful the Capitol: Rediscovering the Art of Constantino Brumidi gives a detailed history of renowned Italian-born artist Constantino Brumidi’s masterful work in “making beautiful” the walls and ceilings of the United States Capitol in a span of 25 years starting in 1854. Every page delights with gorgeous, full-color photographs and images of Brumidi’s art, from photographs of the frescoes and decoration, to sketches, paintings and images of the artist, particularly the Brumidi Corridors and his “monumental fresco” in the Capitol Rotunda, called The Apotheosis of Washington. Fascinating anecdotes are included throughout of the artist and the inspirations he received for various elements, his relationship with engineer Montgomery C. Meigs, and the conservation efforts to preserve his work accurately for posterity. Read more about this publication and others about art in the Capitol in our prior blog post, National Treasure: The art and architecture of the US Capitol.

The primary oversight board for projects in the National Mall area is the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which was established by an act of Congress on May 17, 1910 in Public Law 61-181. This commission was created as an independent review agency for the work of designing the national capitol and to guide the architectural development of Washington. The commission’s role was expanded with later passage of the Shipstead-Luce Act of 1930 (Public Law 71-231 and Public Law 76-248), and the Old Georgetown Act of 1950 (Public Law 81-808). The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has a long history of guiding the development of the nation’s capital. Several resources are available in print and online to learn more about the commission’s history.

The National Park Service maintains a detailed guide linking to documents and reports that detail the area history. The Mall Cultural Landscape Inventory, part 2 contains several pages describing the history of the Senate Park Commission and its formation into the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

Designing-the-nations-capitalThe U.S. Commission of Fine Arts published a monograph in 2006; Designing the nation’s capital: the 1901 plan for Washington D.C. This 359 page monograph contains illustrations in color and black and white, as well as maps. The National Park Service provides full text access to this title online.

In addition to this title, several editions of this history of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1910 to date were published in 1964, 1977, 1981, 1985, 1991, and 1996.

Civic Art : a centennial history of the U.S. Commission of Fine ArtsThe most recent addition to the volumes available about the history of the commission is celebrates 100 years of the work of the commission. Civic Art : a centennial history of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts is a beautiful, 626 page monograph with illustrations, maps and plans. It is a comprehensive history of the agency and includes original essays by prominent architects and landscape architects including Arleyn Levee, Carroll William Westfall, and Richard Guy Wilson.

A Botanic Garden for the Nation: The United States Botanic GardenAnother beautiful book that features some of the history of the national mall area is A Botanic Garden for the Nation: The United States Botanic Garden. You can read more about this publication in a previous post on Government Book Talk.

For more information about the U.S. Capital building, you can also check out the publications highlighted in the previous Government Book Talk post on the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Capital Dome.

America’s Castle: the evolution of the Smithsonian Building and its institution, 1840-1878To read more about the history of the Smithsonian, you could visit a depository library and check out the publication, America’s Castle: the evolution of the Smithsonian Building and its institution, 1840-1878.

If you are interested in the official records of the commission, you can locate them at the National Archives. The record collection includes administrative history, annual reports, and a selection of still photographs. The records are divided between College Park, MD and Washington DC. Many of the records pertaining to the building and continued development of the National Mall are available at the National Archives, such as the National Park Service Records for the National Capital Region, and the Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital.

How Can I get this book and other publications about history of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts?

About the author: Our guest blogger is Cathy Wagner, a GPO Outreach Librarian for the U.S. Government Printing Office’s Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) Division. Additional content, images and editing provided by Trudy Hawkins, a writer and marketing specialist in GPO’s Publication & Information Sales Division supporting the U.S. Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov).


First Blood: Year One of the War Between the States

November 22, 2012

On another Thanksgiving Day 150 years ago, America was embroiled in a bitter Civil War. A year later, expressing gratitude for the key Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln would proclaim that the nation will celebrate an official annual Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. But in 1862, 25 states and three territories were already celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thus it is fitting that we have this wonderful guest post about the newest book from the Army’s Center of Military History series about the U.S. Army Campaigns of the Civil War. Those who had survived these clashes had much to give thanks for that Thanksgiving Day- as do we all, particularly members of our military and diplomatic services and their families who have served in harm’s way. Enjoy the post and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,  Michele Bartram


Guest blogger Sonya Kunkle was a writer and editor for more than 15 years before she joined GPO’s Proof & Copy Markup section. Here she reviews a U.S. Government Bookstore booklet on a topic that caught her interest fairly recently—the American Civil War.

As a child growing up in the Washington, DC, suburbs, I once walked through the grassy fields of Antietam Battlefield (near Sharpsburg, MD) oblivious to the historical struggle waged under my feet. American history wasn’t my favorite subject in school, but as an adult my interest in the Civil War was sparked when I read “The Killer Angels,” a novel by Michael Shaara. “The Killer Angels,” a work of historical fiction, details the Battle of Gettysburg.

This is a good time to be a Civil War history enthusiast, with 2012 being part of the sesquicentennial (150-year anniversary) of America’s bloodiest war. To mark the occasion, the U.S. Government Bookstore has for sale a 64-page booklet, The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 published by the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History.

Image: (Cover of the booklet,. Detail from Capture of Ricketts’ Battery by Sidney E. King, courtesy of William V. Fleitz, Manassas Battlefield Park.

 In this booklet you can read about the reasons for going to war and why key players made many of the decisions they did during the first year of the conflict. The author, Dr. Jennifer M. Murray, also provides a lot of information in text and graphics on the troop movements of both the Federals and the Confederates during each of the key battles of 1861.

Strategic Setting

In his inaugural address, on March 4, President Lincoln declared that he didn’t intend to abolish slavery in states where it existed. Stating that he would not initiate a war, Lincoln informed Southerners, “In your hands … is the momentous issue of civil war …You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.

If you look at the numbers, perhaps the Confederates were doomed from the start. The 1860 Census shows that the Union could call on 4 million military-age white males to build their army, whereas the Confederacy could assemble 1 million at most.

The Union also had 10 times the industrial capacity, not to mention better transportation capabilities. In spite of these disadvantages, the South started the Civil War with its first big move—firing on Federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

Operations—Fort Sumter

Charleston, South Carolina, was well fortified with Fort Sumter and other defenses. Sumter was built to guard against an enemy fleet, and the walls facing the city were much weaker than those facing the water, leaving the fort vulnerable to attack on land.

On April 11, the Southern Brigadier General Pierre G. T. Beauregard demanded that the Union forces evacuate Fort Sumter. The North’s ranking officer at Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, declined.

At 3 a.m. (or 0300; the author uses military time) on April 12, the Confederates notified Major Anderson that General Beauregard and company would open fire on Fort Sumter in one hour. Twenty minutes after the deadline, a single shell from nearby Fort Johnson, which the North had abandoned, exploded over Sumter. War had begun.

Into Virginia—Bull Run

Image: First Battle of Bull Run. 1889 chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison. Source: Library of Congress. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In May the Confederates moved their capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia. Richmond became a strategic target for the North, both for its industrial capability and its political importance. The two capitals, separated by only 100 miles, now figured prominently in both sides’ strategies.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 explains why the Union was determined to control Manassas Junction and why in May 10,600 Confederates defended the northern entrance to the Shenandoah Valley.

The author notes an interesting moment caused by the differing (and lack of) uniforms:

Viewing the Virginians, who were wearing civilian clothes, the Federal troops were unsure of their allegiance. To complicate matters further … Federal units were not uniformly dressed in blue; soldiers in the 11th New York, for instance, were dressed in colorful Zouave uniforms, which were also worn by some Confederate units. The Virginians clarified the matter by opening a deadly volley on the New Yorkers.”

Image: Brandy Station, VA, Band of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry (Zouaves). Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-B8171-7611 DLC. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

The Confederates won the fight, protecting their capital. The first battle of the Civil War resulted in the death of nearly 5,000 men.

The Fight for Missouri

While emotions roiled to the east, the majority of delegates attending a special Missouri secession convention voted to remain in the Union. This decision ran counter to Governor Claiborne F. Jackson’s personal preferences, and he mustered forces in favor of the Confederates.

This part of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 provides details about how the Civil War reached into Missouri, with one of the key players being Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon.

While directing his men on the front line, Lyon got hit in the calf by a bullet, so he left the field for medical treatment. When Lyon got back on the field, a bullet grazed his head.

Determined to continue the fight, and apparently not taking the hint, Lyon returned to the field. Moments later, a bullet hit him in the chest. He was the first Union general officer to die in the Civil War.

From Belmont to Port Royal

In The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 you can read about the Union Navy’s entry into the Civil War.

It’s an interesting read, with a little information about Southern pirates (pirates!) lurking inside the Outer Banks of North Carolina, pouncing on merchant vessels before Union warships could react. To thwart these outlaws, the Federal Navy designated the Outer Banks as its first target. Union forces prepared for the war’s first joint Army-Navy operation.

You learn something about the battle for Fort Hatteras and the naval tactic (and the Confederates’ faulty ammunition) that helped the Union win the day.

The North’s capture of Fort Hatteras and nearby Fort Clark improved the Union’s outlook soon after their defeat at Bull Run. Offering a “Congratulatory Order,” one Federal officer commented, “This gallant affair will not fail to stimulate the regulars and volunteers to greater exertions to prepare themselves for future and greater achievements.

The Union’s euphoria didn’t last long.

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 describes what happened between the North and South about 35 miles north of Washington at Ball’s Bluff. Perhaps the statistics are most noteworthy—there were an evenly matched number of men fighting on both sides, but the outcome was lopsided in terms of soldiers wounded and captured. The battle’s uneven results favored the South.

This section also addresses the Union’s win at Port Royal, South Carolina. Here you also can read about what Brigadier General (and future U.S. President) Ulysses S. Grant did in the area of Belmont, MO, that earned him President Lincoln’s favor.

The chronological coverage of the war ends with Union Major General George B. McClellan’s training the Army of the Potomac outside of Manassas. McClellan said he believed that he controlled the “destinies of this great country.”  There was no further action along the Potomac as the curtain closed on 1861.

Analysis

Dr. Murray offers incisive analysis at the end of The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861. She describes the early missteps of the secessionists, as well as what the South got right. She also notes the Union army’s mixed results.

Dr. Murray concludes, “As Federal forces grew more experienced and competent, they would gain key victories in 1862 that helped to shape the outcome of the Civil War.”

The last page of the booklet provides a short list of texts for further reading about the first year of the war.

Conclusion

The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861 helps me to appreciate the history in my own backyard. Although I find all of the information about the armies’ positions and movements a bit overwhelming, the booklet tempts me to take the 70-mile trip from Baltimore, where I live now, to explore the fields of Bull Run at Manassas. Taking the booklet with me, I’ll have a better understanding of the history I’m walking through.

HOW DO I OBTAIN The Civil War Begins: Opening Clashes, 1861?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a federal depository library.

Other Federal Titles about the Civil War

You may also be interested in these titles about the Civil War available from the U.S. Government Bookstore:


Losing our Shared National Experience?

October 31, 2011

Our blog post last week talked about GPO’s 150-year history of keeping America informed. But what does this mean in today’s media-saturated world?

Has the proliferation of media eroded our shared national experience?

[Figure 1. U.S. History Collage. Image courtesy of Mrs. Rice’s American History II class, Lexington High School, Lexington, Ohio.

Two weeks ago in a social media seminar for Federal Government, David Kirkpatrick (technology writer for the Daily Beast and Fortune magazine and author of a new insider book on Facebook) gave some startling statistics: 50% of Facebook’s 800 million users worldwide visit Facebook daily and up to 500 million have accessed Facebook on a single day, with the average Facebook user having over 130 “friends.”

But even more surprising, he said that 50% of Americans today now get their news and analysis about important events— sometimes edited or changed as it is passed along— from friends and family, often via social networks, text or email rather than from traditional media sources.

Prior to the 21st century, when Americans had only a few national media choices and limited local media, we would all receive the same original message at the same time, thus creating a shared American experience.

Today, in the U.S. alone Americans can choose to receive information from any of an estimated 1,476 daily newspapers; 1,500 television stations; 10,322 radio stations; 71 million cable television subscribers with hundreds of TV channels each; and more than 12 billion web pages and social media.

Kirkpatrick and others say the combination of the “Facebook effect”, media proliferation, and message selectivity have contributed to the erosion of our common, shared national experience.

GPO’s role in preserving our common American experience

As we mentioned in our blog last week, GPO’s mission for over 150 years has been “Keeping America Informed” about the three branches of the Federal Government.  This mission drives us to ensure the original information produced by Federal Agencies on behalf of the American people can be found by all Americans now and in the future.

What’s involved in capturing and disseminating our common Governmental information? It starts with gathering the content from Federal Agencies and publishing it in a professional format, whether print or digital. It then continues with authenticating the information to ensure Americans are getting the “genuine” unaltered information; creating permanent records with our catalog teams for our own FDSys digital database and Catalog of Government Publications; distributing these records to libraries in our Federal Depository Library Program and to worldwide library databases like WorldCat; and sending physical copies and/or ebooks to libraries, bookstores and book etailers.

View this video for an inside look at how GPO assembles and prints the Congressional Record—the official record of the proceedings, debates, and activities of Congress.

To keep America informed digitally, we allow users to subscribe to email newsletters by topic and are also now on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare and Yelp.

GPO Publications about shared American experiences

Here are some of my favorite Federal publications GPO has published that document significant shared American experiences over the past century. Do you remember when and how you learned of these events?

What are some of the significant national experiences that you will never forget and how did you learn about them and share them with others?

We would love to hear from you!

 

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for marketing the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


This Day in History: Lincoln visits the GPO

October 24, 2011

Guest blogger Emma Wojtowicz talks about an important day in GPO history.

On October 24, 1863 – 148 years ago today – President Abraham Lincoln visited the Government Printing Office, the only sitting president to visit the agency. To celebrate the anniversary of his visit, Government Book Talk is taking another look at GPO’s own publication, Keeping America Informed: The U.S. Government Printing Office, 150 Years of Service to our Nation (the book was previously featured on this blog on June 15).

GPO opened for business on the same day that Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States – March 4, 1861. The following year in September 1862, GPO printed the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln as a general order. Then in 1863, Lincoln visited GPO by invitation from Public Printer John Defrees.

President Abraham Lincoln reads a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet

Figure 1. First reading of the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln to his Cabinet on July 22, 1862.

[Painted by F.B. Carpenter ; engraved by A.H. Ritchie. Image courtesy of: The Library of Congress]

These unknown facts about Lincoln are part of GPO’s history and foundation. For 150 years, GPO has worked quietly and diligently behind-the-scenes for Congress, the White House, Federal agencies, and the public. Keeping America Informed tells the story of the United States from the different and unknown perspective of GPO employees and their consistent contribution to the workings of the Government. The book is full of “did you know?” facts and tidbits of information, often accompanied by an illustration or picture. For example, did you know that GPO has produced the United States passport since the 1920s?

Well, even if you did, you can learn a brief history of the passport – an idea originally conceptualized and produced by Benjamin Franklin, which identified the bearer as a trusted individual who was able to enter the U.S. The State Department took over control of the passport in 1856 and the single engraved page was produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. When in the 1920s the League of Nations created an international standard for a booklet-style passport, the State Department sought GPO’s services to print it, and has remained a loyal customer ever since.

Earliest booklet-style US passports printed by the Government Printing Office (GPO)

Figure 2. First generation of booklet-style US passports. Printed by GPO. Source: “Keeping America Informed”

These types of facts and added background are what make Keeping America Informed a worthwhile read. Similar information can be found on the United Nations Charter, the Warren Commission, President George H. W. Bush’s 1991 inauguration, and the list goes on. In between, you can see historical photographs from GPO’s vast collection.

The book was written, edited, designed, and printed by GPO employees, which is entirely fitting because the message of the book is centered on GPO employees and how they have played a major role in the history of the United States. Abraham Lincoln visited GPO when the agency was still in its infancy, yet working around the clock in support of the war effort.

As the book details, GPO is a much different place today than when Lincoln visited; however, the mission of GPO remains the same. Keeping America Informed: The U.S. Government Printing Office, 150 Years of Service to our Nation is available through GPO’s online bookstore, retail bookstore, on our FDSys federal document database or in a library.

You can see the original printer’s proof of the Emancipation Proclamation in person at GPO’s 150th anniversary history exhibit now through December 2011!

To view an original copy of the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation that was issued by President Lincoln and printed by GPO, visit our 150th anniversary history exhibit located at 732 North Capitol Street NW in Washington, DC. The Emancipation Proclamation is on loan from the Library of Congress only through December…

Click here to watch a video of our 150th anniversary exhibit on GPO’s YouTube channel.

The GPO 150th anniversary exhibit is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, except on Federal holidays.

Read more about Abraham Lincoln and his rise to the Presidency in the National Park Service’s recent work commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s inauguration: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness.


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