Lincoln's grand review to be reenacted at Fort McNair
November 10, 2011
A little-known Civil War-era military exercise that was contained in part of America's most dire hours will be reenacted at Fort McNair on Saturday, Nov. 12.
The National Capital Region and Military District of Washington, Civil War buffs and War Between the States re-enactors will celebrate the sesquicentennial of The Army of the Potomac's Grand Review the day after Veterans Day at the base's parade field.
The first-ever Lincoln Grand Review reenactment, which will include Jim Getty, one of the most acclaimed Abraham Lincoln impersonators in the country, will begin at 10:45 a.m. and conclude at 11:30 a.m.
Since the original site of the review has long been commercially developed at Bailey's Crossroads in Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia will host the event.
The story of the grand review is a little-known part of the Civil War. The circumstances leading to the exercise were bleak for the Union. Recently defeated at Manassas during the initial year of the war, the North needed what is today called a pep rally.
To boost morale and to introduce the newly-formed Army of the Potomac to President Lincoln, politicians, the public, the press and to friend and foe alike, a swatch of land in Northern Virginia's Fairfax County was strategically selected for a military parade.
"It was visually overwhelming," said Civil War and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Historian Kim Holien of the original review. "They had 70,000 troops out there and 30,000 spectators...people today cannot begin to comprehend 70,000 Soldiers marching in uniform formation with all the bands and officers and cavalry and artillery and flags flying.
"Just a few months earlier in July, a 30,000-man Union Army was routed at Bull Run, and they came streaming back to Washington like a bunch of ragamuffins and hobos. Just a few months later, you have double that amount at Bailey's Crossroads, and they are uniformed, they're equipped, they're drilled and they're trained. They look, feel and act like an Army instead of a ragged militia," Holien continued about the evolution of the review.
Two to 300 participants will be in the review reenactment, including Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington Commander Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington and JBM-HH commander Carl R. Coffman.
Additionally Lincoln scholar and retired Maj. Gen. Frank Williams, a joint service color guard, The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the Virginia National Guard Color Guard, the Virginia National Guard Band and rifle platoon and the Sheriff's Reserve attachment of Fairfax County, dating to the 1700s will be on hand.
The grand marshal will be Ed Bearss, retired chief historian for the National Park Service and World War II veteran.
"I refer to Ed as our last living Civil War veteran," Holien said. "He is an encyclopedia of knowledge of the [Civil] War and American military history. He was a Marine raider, and he was seriously wounded in the South Pacific."
The event is open to the public. There is no rain date, and if there is rain the day before or rain the day of the event, the reenactment will be cancelled so as not to damage the Fort McNair parade grounds.