I had some time on Saturday to take in the Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail, a new addition to Cultural Tourism DC’s many walking tours of the District of Columbia. I thought this would be a good diversion from the Civil War subjects. The trail includes stops describing working-class neighborhoods, the Beatles first American performance, civil rights struggles, the 1968 riots, and the transportation and commerce hub springing out from Union Station. But the Civil War sneaked in there along the way.
Normally, I’d look at this busy intersection as just one of many traffic snafus that L’Enfant designed for the American people.
This is where Maryland Avenue (right), H Street (left), Florida Avenue, Bladensburg Road, and Benning Road all converge on the northeast side of the District. One of those new trail markers tells the story of this intersection.
The marker calls this spot “the Hub.” In very close proximity to the marker’s location stood a toll both. The booth collected tolls on the road to Bladensburg. With several streets and roads converging at this point, the intersection was the site of much activity.
On August 24, 1814, Major General Robert Ross marched his British troops, fresh from victory at Bladensburg, through this intersection into the U.S. capital. The force would return through this route after burning Washington.
Eventually as the city expanded and evolved, the toll road went away and a streetcar system came. And that disappeared when the automobile entered. The marker references circus parades and mall openings through the 20th century.
But getting back to the subject of this blog, the back of the marker features a color version of this Civil War-era illustration:
Finley General Hospital was probably named for Surgeon General Clement Alexander Finley (but I’ve not found it stated for fact). Reports indicate the hospital operated from 1862 to the end of the war. Walt Whitman mentioned the hospital writing: “That little town, as you might suppose it, off there on the brow of a hill, is indeed a town, but of wounds, sickness, and death. It is Finley Hospital, northeast of the city, on Kendall Green, as it used to be call’d.”
At the close of the war in May 1865, the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps, after their weary march through the Carolinas, camped nearby. You Easterners are more familiar with the veterans of the Twentieth Corps when they were parts of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps.
But there is a discrepancy regarding the site of Finley Hospital. Whitman references Kendall Green, which was a school for the deaf and blind. Kendall Green evolved into Kendall School, and is today incorporated into the campus of Gallaudet University. That location is reflected on the excellent maps at Civil War Washington. There is a wartime photo that, according to caption, shows a hospital at that location.
However, the “Hub” location is not a complete wash in terms of Civil War links. Camp Barry, the artillery depot, was out past that intersection. In fact, the Civil War Washington maps depict the Camp Barry hospital as just across the street from the marker location (far side of the intersection seen in the first picture of this post). That in mind, take a close look at the skyline from this wartime photo.
That’s the US Capitol rotunda behind them. But with out any other modern day landmarks to work from, it’s hard to pin an exact location. But there’s a chance the location was somewhere close to the east end of H Street. Other photos of the same battery, perhaps taken the same day, have the guns lined up in different orientations (and happen to be one of the more often reproduced photos of a battery in formation). If indeed taken on the same day, the images may narrow down the location better.
Be it the site of Finley Hospital or an artillery drill field, the east terminus of H Street has a Civil War connection – adding to the colorful history of a storied neighborhood.