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The Department of Homeland Security has chosen to put its headquarters on a parcel of land with a checkered past for securing the homeland. Hopefully, its tarnished history won’t rub off on the new occupants. The property, on Nebraska Avenue, near Tenleytown, behind a sign reading “Naval District Washington,” was once part of a 250-acre estate, Grassland. At the outbreak of the Civil War, it was owned by Hamilton Loughborough (pronounced “Luffboro”), a Washington lawyer whose loyalties could best be termed divided. Hamilton inherited the land from his father, Nathan, a man with a shrewd eye for real estate. Nathan owned twin townhouses and a sheep pasture on M Street in Georgetown that are now headquarters for the Junior League and a hotel, respectively. He also owned Milton, a large tobacco plantation in Maryland about two miles west of Grassland. His other properties included Rokeby, famous in the 20th century as the Virginia horse-country estate of philanthropist Paul Mellon. Nathan was a large stockholder in the C&O Canal and president of the Rockville Turnpike (Wisconsin Avenue). It was Nathan Loughborough who coined the phrase “Taxation Without Representation” to protest paying property taxes in the District of Columbia. There is still a Loughboro Road in northwest Washington, although the stretch that passes the old homestead is now called Nebraska Avenue. Hamilton did not inherit all of Nathan’s wealth, but he got Grassland and bought Milton from Nathan’s other heirs. To some appearances, Hamilton was a Southerner. He employed slaves at Grassland. His sisters Sarah and Jane were arrested for trying to smuggle women’s dresses to the South and were put in Old Capitol Prison, where spies were sent. His son, Henry, went to Richmond to join the Confederate army, serving initially under Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and later under Gen. Jubal Early. Henry married Margaret Cabell Brown, who worked for the Confederate treasury department in Richmond. Their wedding was attended by the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In a recollection of those days, Margaret wrote about how Father Brixio, a priest from Georgetown College and a chaplain in the Confederate army, smuggled “ribbons, gloves, handkerchiefs, and a little tea” to Margaret from her in-laws at Grassland. To other appearances, Hamilton was a Union man. Grassland sat on a ridge on the outskirts of the city. The military thought it was a good place to put Fort Gaines, one of more than 60 defensive forts planned around the capital. The fort occupied a corner of the property only a few hundred yards from the family mansion. The site is now owned by American University and is just across Nebraska Avenue from the Homeland Security site. Hamilton rented rooms in the mansion to the fort’s officers and befriended the fort’s commandant, Union Gen. Regis DeTrobriand. Another Union general, Erasmus Darwin Keyes, married Hamilton’s daughter Mary, widow of a navy commodore. To complicate loyalties further, before the war, Keyes, a widower at the time, was acquainted with Rose Greenhow, later notorious as a Confederate spy. Fort Gaines was garrisoned by the 55th New York Regiment. The unit was recruited from French Algerians in New York City. They wore colorful Zouave uniforms and called themselves the Gardes Lafayette. In 1862, President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln dined at the fort. Lincoln liked the French cooking. At the end of the meal, he declared that the Gardes Lafayette had the best mess in the city. The Great Emancipator and his wife probably didn’t know that they ate from a table borrowed from the slave-owning Loughboroughs. In the spring of 1864, Union Gen. Ulysses Grant ordered most troops out of the forts around Washington in order to beef up his army in its drive toward and siege of Richmond. This left the city, and Fort Gaines, lightly defended. Thus, Washingtonians were in panic in July 1864 when they learned Confederate Early was marching toward the capital from the northwest, through Maryland, with 15,000 men. Early was attacking with more troops than the city had defenders. Lincoln’s understated concern shows in his telegram to Grant on July 10: “Now, what I think is that you should provide to retain your hold where you are [in siege around Richmond], certainly, and bring the rest with you personally, and make a vigorous effort to destroy the enemy’s force in this vicinity. . . . This is what I think, upon your suggestion, and is not an order.” Grant did not come, but he had already dispatched 8,000 troops by steamship. They began disembarking at the docks in Washington on the afternoon of July 11, 1864. At the same time, the Confederates were streaming into the District from Rockville through Silver Spring. Lincoln went to the waterfront to hasten the passing columns by saying: “You can’t be Late if you want to get Early.” The next morning, upon seeing the faded blue uniforms of veteran soldiers at Fort Stevens, near Military Road and Georgia Avenue, N.W., Early decided he had come far enough. His army stopped less than five miles from the White House and withdrew after a short, deadly fight. But, Fort Gaines, a few miles to the southwest of the main Confederate attack and less than four miles from the White House, was apparently left undefended. Confederate Gen. John McCausland later boasted that he occupied an undefended fort, probably Gaines and probably on the night of July 11. Late in his life, McCausland related a conversation with Grant after the war in which McCausland told Grant: “I rode with my staff into the defenses of Georgetown. Your entire defending garrison had deserted! Your capital was practically undefended! I sat there on a big gun and looked at the lights and wished I had men enough to go ahead and capture the place and end the damned war!” McCausland reportedly left the fort when he saw the troops, arrived from Grant’s army, marching toward him. Why McCausland chose that particular location for his incursion is unknown. Perhaps he was just probing Union defenses. On the other hand, McCausland made his headquarters on the Bethesda farm of Jacob Lewis Bohrer (where the Naval Hospital is today). Perhaps, McCausland learned Fort Gaines was undefended from Mr. Bohrer, a nephew by marriage of Elizabeth Loughborough Bohrer, Hamilton’s sister. Yet, McCausland wasn’t the only Confederate at Grassland that night. Hamilton’s son, Henry, was there, too. He was in Jubal Early’s army and somehow passed through Union lines to have dinner at Grassland with his parents. The next morning, Union troops at Fort Reno, a half-mile to the north of Grassland, awoke early to the sounds of “Dixie” being played by a nearby Confederate band. A Union army report prepared in the wake of the Confederate attack worried that there had been a gap in the defenses in the area. It recommended that in the event of future threat, artillery should take a “position at first on the ridge between Tennallytown and Fort Gaines” on the Grassland property. But the taint to Grassland’s reputation in homeland security didn’t end when the Confederate troops withdrew. On April 9, 1865, Palm Sunday, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Grant at Appomatox, Va. Celebrations erupted in the North as the news arrived via telegraph. In Washington, guns at the forts boomed. Grassland, which sat between the big guns at Forts Gaines and Reno, would have rattled. Five days later on Good Friday, April 14, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. Lewis Payne attacked Secretary of State William Seward with a knife and nearly killed him. And, George Atzerodt was supposed to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson. Fortunately for Johnson, Atzerodt lost his nerve. Within hours, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered troops to seal off the city to prevent the assassins from escaping. Booth had already fled. The simple-minded Payne couldn’t find his way out and was later captured, having never left the city. Atzerodt, however, slept that night at the Pennsylvania Hotel, a few blocks from Ford’s Theatre. The next morning, he walked to Georgetown, sold his pistol, had breakfast, and caught a northbound stage on the Rockville Turnpike. When he neared Tenleytown, Atzerodt saw that troops were stopping the vehicles. He got out in the vicinity of Grassland and proceeded north on foot unmolested through Tenleytown. Once past the picket lines of troops, Atzerodt hitched a ride to Germantown in Montgomery County. The next morning, he was invited to Easter brunch. When conversation turned to the assassination, Atzerodt became upset and blurted out: “If the fellow that had promised to follow General Grant had done his duty, we would have gotten General Grant, too.” When this was reported to authorities a few days later, Atzerodt was tracked down and arrested. Meanwhile at Grassland, according to local accounts, such as Roger Brooke Farquhar’s book Historic Montgomery County,the authorities summoned Hamilton Loughborough “on suspicion that John Wilkes Booth was hiding in the cellar of the big mansion.” (He was not. When he left Ford’s Theatre, Booth rode east crossing over the Anacostia River at a bridge near today’s Navy Yard.). In the excitement, according to Farquhar, Hamilton suffered a stroke on Easter morning, April 16, 1865. Margaret Loughborough told it differently. She had left Richmond a month earlier and was living with her in-laws at Grassland. She wrote that Union troops had been camped on the Rockville Turnpike lawn of Grassland since early April. She made no mention of her father-in-law being summoned or questioned. She instead described him as “a Union man” who was very depressed upon hearing of Lincoln’s death from a neighbor. She said Hamilton had a horror of the new president, Andrew Johnson. According to Margaret, Hamilton, a Roman Catholic, got up Easter morning to go to early Mass. Then, “[w]e heard a fall and when we reached him found the shock of the preceding day had paralyzed him.” Hamilton died a few months later. Adding further confusion to the differing accounts is the fact that Margaret did describe someone hiding in the Grassland cellar. Yet that incident took place in 1814 not 1865; the fugitive was a British sailor who defected from the British forces burning Washington, not John Wilkes Booth; and, the owner of Grassland then was Nathan Loughborough, not his son Hamilton. A handwritten obituary for Hamilton, written by one of his children or perhaps by Margaret, gave this account of his death: “He was, nevertheless, of late years surely tired. T’would seem as though the furies were directed against his beautiful homestead of Grassland, for it was again & again devastated while his more extensive farm at Milton fared even worse. He bore all this with Christian resignation, however, until the news of Mr. Lincoln’s assassination reached him on Easter Sunday Morning, when he was struck with paralysis from which though he retained the full possession of his faculties to the last, he never recovered — until at longlast this gentle bird took its flight to a region where sorrow and suffering will be felt by him no more forever.” Having backed the wrong side in the Civil War, Henry and Margaret could not afford both Grassland and Milton. They sold the former and moved into Milton. Margaret wrote that the military thought about buying Grassland for a veterans’ home and Grant looked at it as a residence, but neither bought it. However, whatever taint of disloyalty tarnished Grassland did not extend to the Loughboroughs of later generations who fought, and died, for their country. Grassland returned to its former glory between 1885 and 1889 when wealthy William Whitney, secretary of the navy under President Grover Cleveland, rented it as a country home. Whitney invited his friends, including Cleveland, to Grassland on weekends. His efforts to spruce up the place included having the graves in the Loughborough family cemetery, where Homeland Security is now, moved to Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. Grassland was eventually divided up. The mansion became one parcel. Georgetown Day School rented it between 1945 and 1955. In 1955, NBC bought the land, razed the house, and built an office building. NBC’s studio sits on the exact spot where Henry Loughborough dined with his parents on the night of July 11, 1864. Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls was built on a separate parcel in 1917. During World War II, the Navy purchased the campus. About 14,000 men and women worked there to crack German military codes. Homeland Security is there now. Surely, it won’t repeat the Civil War mistakes, which McCausland exploited, and leave the capital undefended. D.C. lawyer James H. Johnston is a frequent contributor toLegal Times. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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