Monday, June 05, 2006

The Sledge of 14th Street

Time for another history lesson...

General George Henry Thomas was born early in the 19th century near sleepy Newsom’s Depot in Virginia’s tidewater region. A proud West Point graduate, he began his successful and distinguished lifelong Army career in 1840. He served with marks in two of our nation’s Western wars before briefly returning to his alma mater as an instructor. Divided by his allegiance between his native Virginia and the nation that provided him his career, Thomas disregarded the example of his superior Robert E. Lee and eventually pledged allegiance to the Union in months leading to the Civil War. This decision cost him dearly as his Southern family permanently severed all contact, even going so far as to remove his picture from their homes or flipping his portrait so they faced the walls.

Thomas served under U.S. Grant during the war (although the two had a cool personal relationship that continued into the Reconstruction) where he achieved some national recognition resulting from his bravery in the face of blistering Southern advances. Drawing on his experience prior to the war he spent most of his command in the Western Theatre, concentrating his forces in Ohio and Kentucky. Eventually he was elevated to the rank of Major General and like many officers of the era he collected several nicknames. (Most famously the Rock of Chickamauga, although I prefer the Sledge of Nashville).

Following the sacking of Atlanta, he was ordered to defend the communication and supply lines trailing Sherman’s march to the Atlantic which were under pestering attacks by the Confederate General John Hood. While he was eventually successful, Thomas infuriated his superiors, including Lincoln himself, by waiting weeks before attacking Hood. Grant went so far as to send a replacement general to relieve Thomas of his command but the substitute arrived after the battle started. Despite the hesitation, Thomas’s army outmaneuvered Hood’s and the Southern forces were forced to retreat. The battle essentially crippled the Confederates’ efforts on the Western front and war ended a few months later. All of Thomas’s dithering was quickly forgotten and he was soon promoted. He remained in the Army until his death in 1870.

Although I was a history minor in college, I have to admit I didn’t know a thing about General George Henry Thomas until last week. But in every biography I found it directly mentions that he almost lost his job because he was forever taking his time. Similarly, every time I pass through the Circle that bears his name, I curse the construction that like the General himself, is forever taking its time.

Starting in January last year, whenever we’d pass through the construction I’d complain about how dangerous it was or how the traffic patterns made no sense or how there seemed to be very little progress. Then I’d curse under my breath and take note of the sign that said “For information about the Thomas Circle construction project visit:” I’ll visit that first thing tomorrow, I’d say to myself, but then I’d never do anything except complain the next time we drove to the Black Cat.

But last week after another bumpy, dangerous and irritating ride I noted that the sign directing residents to information had been removed. What gives? So I finally visited the site and came across this. It’s a press release-type release detailing all the greatness that the new Circle will provide. According to the future, when Thomas Circle is done there’ll be puffy Altocumulus clouds, actual living trees and some sort of plague that will empty the streets to all but Eloi traffic. Why would the city remove a sign directing us to such a paradise?

Maybe perhaps possibly because it also draws attention to the fact that the Thomas Circle construction was scheduled for completion on January 2nd. Of 2006.

So I raised my arms and stomped around in outrage and disgust at cost and time delays associated with this project. And then I remembered that I don’t live in the District or pay a commuter tax or take the snow chains of my tires when I drive through the City or that there is ample parking in front of every church in my neighborhood. So I got no real beef. But these people do. And they want to know why it’s taken so damn long to fix the Circle. And blaming the weather is nonsense.

PS. According to several websites I clicked on the find research about General Thomas the area around DC’s traffic circles are either haunted or drawn by the devil L’Enfant hisself to curse the tourists and John Jay with their convenience and simplicity. And according to Google Earth this pentagram route would travel exactly 9km.

And according to me, I say next year we run the Devil May Care DC 9K and you have to be dressed as a zombie or you won’t get your commemorative bloody t-shirt.


Philip said...

Hi! My friend Lizzie just sent me a link here -- apparently she is an avid reader. We just managed to pass through the circle the other day by making a harrowing hairpin turn followed immediately by a U-turn across four lanes of traffic.

I think your idea of a race is wonderful -- I'm seriously in if you want to organize. I don't know if I could finish 9 kilometers, though...

Also -- General Scott was the Rock of Chickamauga. Somewhat cooler than Chatanooga, not quite as cool as Nashville Sledge.


windthorst (at

philip said...

Haha, I mean General Thomas. Getting my circles mixed up.

the Nabob said...

Thanks for the catch, Phil.