Long Branch, New Jersey: The Resort Town that Hosted President Garfield

       Many people who know something about President Garfield’s assassination assume that he died in the White House. He did not. He died at Elberon, New Jersey (September 19, 1881).  How did that happen? Why did he die in New Jersey, and how did he get there? Why was he taken to Elberon? 

       Elberon, New Jersey is located on the Atlantic coast and is an “unincorporated” part of Long Branch, a once-famous resort town which was the place to go for cool ocean breezes and no “malaria-causing mosquitos.” First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln visited the town in August 1861, at the suggestion of Dr. William A. Newell, the Lincoln family physician. Mary Lincoln’s visit was followed in all of the national papers and spearheaded Long Branch’s rise as travel destination for the rich and famous.

“An Ocean Drive through Elberon,” from Glimpses of New Jersey Coast Resorts, 1902.

       Long Branch had long been a “summer colony” for nineteenth century actors and actresses, many of whom owned homes there. Among the famous performers of the day who spent time at Long Branch were Edwin and Joseph Booth, (brothers of John Wilkes Booth) and Edwin Forrest.  Lillian Russell, Lily Langtry, and Diamond Jim Brady all vacationed in the town. Buffalo Bill’s associate, Nate Salsbury, the brains behind his Wild West Shows, owned a home in Long Branch. America’s first clown star, Dan Rice, was born in Long Branch and returned there to live with his family after he retired from his circus days. 

Edwin Booth (LOC); Lillian Russell (LOC); Diamond Jim Brady (image from Parker Morell’s 1834 biography); Lily Langtry (photo courtesy of Langtry Manor Hotel)

       General Winfield Scott regularly summered at Long Branch for many years. Civil War General Thomas Eckert lived and died there, and George Pullman (of the Pullman Car Company) enjoyed staying at this beach resort. Several wealthy local residents pooled their money and bought President Grant a summer home in 1869, and thus started Long Branch’s days as the nation’s “Summer Capital.”

President’s Grant’s summer home at Elberon, drawing from “The President’s Cottage at Long Branch,” Harper’s Weekly, August 13, 1870. Library of Congress.

       The seashore resort at Long Branch was familiar to President Garfield, a man who had always found the ocean comforting. When his wife Lucretia needed to recuperate after contracting malaria in the White House, it was to the Elberon Hotel that they retreated in mid-June 1881. Garfield’s belief in the wholesomeness of the seashore is seen in his diary entry for Sunday, June 19: “Passed a restful day with manifest betterment in her [Lucretia’s] strength…The work and worry of Washington seem very far away and I rest in the large silence of the sea air. I have always felt the ocean was my friend and the sight of it brings rest and peace.”

The Elberon Hotel, erected by Lewis E. Brown in 1876. Published in Entertaining a Nation, 1940.

       At that time, Grant and his wife had been displaced from their cottage in nearby Long Branch and were using their son Fred’s cottage across the way from Elberon Hotel.  “Grant was mortified,” according to Ken Ackerman, author of Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of James A. Garfield.  Garfield and Grant had never been close politically or personally, and Grant resented the fact that Garfield, and not he, had been nominated for president in 1880. 

       Grant went to the President’s hotel one evening when the Garfields were dining.  He did not speak to the President, and people noticed.  Later, when Grant did speak briefly to Garfield at a reception held for the President, Garfield saw Grant’s action as a “tardy recognition of the respect due to the office he once held.” 

       Mrs. Garfield continued to recuperate at Elberon as July followed June.  It was there that she received word of the shooting of her husband on July 2nd.  She returned to the White House to care for her wounded husband.  Over the next two months the President’s condition deteriorated.  At the beginning of September, Garfield demanded to be removed from the White house.  It was decided that his home in Mentor, Ohio was too distant.  His love for the ocean became the deciding factor in his journey to the New Jersey shore. 

“The removal of President Garfield, with his physicians and attendants, from the White House to the Francklyn Cottage, at Elberon by the sea, September 6th,” published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, September 24, 1881, Library of Congress.

       He was taken by a special train cushioned with mattresses to lessen the rocking motion as it sped along the rails.  A special track was laid from the depot at Long Branch to the Francklyn Cottage – a twenty room mansion, in fact – and Garfield’s car was pushed by twenty or more men to its door.  President Garfield is reported to have said, “Thank God, it is good to be here,” when he finally arrived and could enjoy the salt air and sounds of the ocean waves.

       Long Branch hosted presidents before and after Garfield, including Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson.  There is a “Church of the Presidents” in Long Branch, where all seven worshipped, and “Seven Presidents Beach” is named in honor of their visits. 

A special thanks to Beth Woolley of Long Branch, New Jersey for supplying some of the content for this post. 

– Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

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How Might the 1880 Election Have Gone Differently?

       Each week, the New York Times publishes an “Invitation to a Dialogue.”  On June 19, 2012, Professor Steven J. Brams of New York University proposed the idea of a national popular vote plan as a way around the Electoral College system that avoids the need for a constitutional amendment.  He points out that “as happened in 2000, and three times in the 19th century (1888, 1876, and possibly 1824), the electoral-vote winner might well be different from the popular-vote winner.”

       With the national popular vote plan suggested by Professor Brams, individual states could change their election laws to require that their electoral votes be cast for the national popular vote winner, regardless of the way the state voted.  The popular vote winner would thus be guaranteed an Electoral College victory and the drama of challenges, recounts, and outcomes decided outside the Constitutional framework would be avoided. 

       Perhaps…but consider the presidential election of 1880.  That year, Republican James A. Garfield of Ohio won 4,446,158 votes, 48.3% of all votes cast.  Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock of Pennsylvania won 4,444,260, or 48.2% of the total vote.     (Note: Various sources give different numbers, but all agree that the difference between Garfield’s vote total and Hancock’s was less than 10,000 nationwide.  The numbers provided here are from the National Archives.)  Garfield won 19 states; Hancock won 19.  It was a class red-blue election – the Republicans won every state north of the Mason-Dixon Line except New Jersey.  The Democrats won all the states of the old Confederacy, the border states, and Nevada.  California’s electoral vote was split 5 to 1 in favor of the Democrats.  James Garfield won 214 electoral votes; Hancock won 155.

Garfield-Arthur “The Union and The Constitution Forever” Portrait Handkerchief and Hancock-English Campaign Ribbon, 1880. Photos courtesy of Cornell University Library.

       In 1880, the Republicans’ victory was accepted without challenge because of the size of the Electoral College majority.  If Democrats, in response to the contested election of 1876, had induced the states that they won that year – which included New York and Indiana (fifty electoral votes between them) – to change to the national popular vote plan, the aftermath of the voting might have been very different.  An outcome that was generally recognized as conclusive could easily become a prolonged political battle like that of 1876.

Voters from Mentor, Ohio (home of James A. Garfield’s farm) gathering at Town Hall on election day, November 2, 1880 . Photo courtesy of Lake County Historical Society.

       With a popular vote majority so slim, wouldn’t the Democrats have demanded a recount?  If Democrats could find a few thousand more votes in places where they were strong, they could claim victory.  New York and Indiana, the swing states of the 1880 election, would then fall to the Democrats under the national popular vote rule, even though both were won by the Garfield ticket.  With 185 electoral votes needed for victory, Hancock would then have 205 votes, and Garfield 164.  At some point, elections must be decided; presidents must be chosen.  In a country with tens of thousands of voting precincts, voting and counting errors are inevitable, even with the best systems in place.  No two counts will ever be the same, and in close elections claims of fraud are probably inevitable.  The national popular vote system seems to invite challenges and nationwide recounts in very close elections.  The Electoral College system was designed to translate narrow or sectional election victories into convincing governing mandates, and most of the time it has worked.

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

James A. Garfield and the Civil War (Part II)

        Garfield was summoned to Washington when his health was restored.  After several months of inactivity, he received an offer from General William Rosecrans, the commander of the Army of the Cumberland, to join his staff.  Garfield arrived in February 1863, reporting to Rosecrans’s headquarters in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Rosecrans had just won a victory over Confederate General Braxton Bragg at Stones River and was planning to advance towards Chattanooga, a rebel stronghold.

General William Rosecrans, Library of Congress.

        While Rosecrans waited for more supplies, Garfield accepted the position of Chief of Staff to the Army of the Cumberland.  He urged Rosecrans to move quickly while the weather was clear, but Rosecrans hesitated.  Garfield grew impatient and urged his boss to send out some cavalry raids.  Garfield got permission and planned two raids himself, but both met with failure.  Heavy criticism came from the regular army generals on Rosecrans’s staff.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg

        Washington became impatient as well.  President Lincoln wired Rosecrans to move quickly against General Bragg and his forces.  The commander called a meeting of his generals to get their opinion on an attack.  Almost the entire staff cautioned Rosecrans about making any kind of an advance.  Garfield, however, disagreed and wrote Rosecrans a detailed report explaining why an immediate attack would be successful.  The report cited the weakness of the Confederate army due to Grant’s siege of Vicksburg.  No additional Rebel troops could be spared.  Rosecrans agreed with Garfield, calling for an assault June 24th.  The plan had Garfield characteristics all over it, including simultaneous attacks from the flanks, then a major assault in the center.  The plan caused confusion in the Confederate ranks and Bragg retreated 18 miles south the Tullahoma. 

        The Union army pressed forward.  Chattanooga was in sight, but again Rosecrans hesitated another two months.  Garfield believed another quick attack would destroy Bragg’s army.  He wrote Secretary Chase citing his displeasure with his commanding officer.  Finally, Rosecrans decided to advance towards Chattanooga.  Using some tactics that were similar to Garfield’s successful Middle Creek campaign, Rosecrans’s men lit campfires for non-existent camps, floated wood downstream to give the appearance of building bridges, and sent cavalry behind Bragg’s line.

      Bragg decided his position was hopeless and abandoned Chattanooga before Rosecrans got there.  Encouraged by his success, Rosecrans ordered his divisions forward in pursuit of Bragg’s army.  They crossed into Georgia, believing Bragg to be in full retreat.  However, all the Union delays had given the Confederates time to reinforce Bragg.  A sizeable army waited near the Chickamauga River, which included a division commanded by General James Longstreet.  Realizing his mistake, Rosecrans called back his advancing army.  He regrouped near Chickamauga, waiting for the Rebels to attack.  On September 19, Bragg’s army advanced forward, much of the assault going against General George Thomas’s left flank.  The fighting went on until nightfall with neither side gaining any significant ground. 

“The War in Georgia — Battle of Chickamauga, Sept. 19 and 20, between Generals Rosecrans and Bragg” published in Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, Oct. 17, 1863. Library of Congress.

        Rosecrans met with his generals until the early morning plotting strategy.  When a daylight arrived a messenger rode to headquarters and informed the staff that there was a large gap in the Union line.  Without checking the situation, Rosecrans ordered General Wood to move his division out of line and to the left.  Apparently Wood knew this was a mistake but decided to obey orders and not raise any questions.  His movement created a true gap in the center of the Union line.  Moments later Confederates led by General Longstreet poured through the center and got into the rear of Union defenses.  This situation caused major panic in the center and right of the Federal positions.  General Rosecrans mounted his horse and ordered a full retreat back to Chattanooga.  While Garfield spoke with his commander, he heard orderly firing from the Union left and realized General Thomas was likely holding his ground. 

General George H. Thomas, Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

        Garfield urged Rosecrans to reorganize the remaining army and return to the fight to aid Thomas.  There was little response from the commander, who appeared to have lost all hope.  A few moments later Garfield mounted his horse, Billy, and rode toward General Thomas.  He was one of the few Union generals to return to the battlefield.  For the remainder of the day Garfield watched Thomas put on a brilliant defense in keeping the larger Confederate force from breaching his lines.  Filled with optimism, Garfield telegraphed Rosecrans, urging him to send troops to Thomas for a counterattack.  The reinforcements never arrived, only orders to abandon the position by nightfall.

Though Garfield had little to do with the battle, one of his officers would later say that he performed like a true General, giving encouragement to the troops throughout the fight.  For his action a promotion to Major General would follow. 

        In the fall of 1863, Garfield left the army and returned to Washington, D.C., where he soon took his place in Congress.  He would remain in the House of Representatives for seventeen years, until his 1880 election as the twentieth President of the United States.  Despite re-entering civilian life, he never lost touch with the military.  Garfield attended reunions of the 42nd Ohio until his death in 1881.  He became close friends with General William Tecumseh Sherman.  As President, he appointed Major Don Pardee of the 42nd to a federal judge position.  Colonel Lionel Sheldon, who assumed command of Garfield’s old regiment, was given the job of territorial governor of New Mexico.  Though long since gone from the army, Garfield remained a military man at heart. 

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

James A. Garfield and the Civil War (Part I)

      The Civil War began in April 1861 while James A. Garfield was principal of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) and a state senator living part-time in Columbus.  The November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln led several southern states to secede from the Union.  Many southerners feared the election of Lincoln would bring an end to slavery, even though Lincoln was not an abolitionist in 1861.  He had stated many times that he would leave slavery alone in the southern states, but would not permit any expansion of it to the new western territories.  Lincoln and many other northern politicians supported the policy of admitting new states to the union as free states only.  Southerners believed they were entitled to bring slaves with them if they chose to settle in any of the western territories.  Despite attempts at compromise, the differences could not be overcome, leading to the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War.

       Like many political figures of the day, James Garfield sought a commission as an army officer.  These politicians viewed themselves as leaders of men and thus were convinced they were officer material.  Garfield hoped for command of a regiment.  He told his roommate, future Brigadier General Jacob Cox,

“I am big and strong, and if my relations to the church and the college can be broken, I shall have no excuse for not enlisting.”

After an unsuccessful attempt to be voted in as Colonel of the 7th Ohio, Garfield waited several months until he received an offer from the Governor to be Lieutenant Colonel of the 42nd Ohio Volunteers.  He accepted the commission and then went about recruiting soldiers to fill out the regiment.  Company A was filled almost entirely with Eclectic Institute students loyal to their ex-principal Garfield.  Many of the students knew they would eventually enlist and decided to throw in with a man they admired and respected.

42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Photo courtesy of Hiram College Archives.

     With help from staff officers Lionel Sheldon and Don Pardee, the 42nd’s ranks were filled, allowing the men to report to Camp Chase for training.  Garfield received a promotion to full Colonel for his recruiting efforts.  Studying every book he could find on drill techniques and battle formations, Colonel Garfield was able to train his men quickly and soon received orders to leave for Kentucky to face a small force of Confederates gathering for a possible assault on Louisville and then Cincinnati. 

Interior of Camp Chase, a military training and prison camp established in May 1861 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo courtesy of National Archives (111SC108919)

General Don Carlos Buell

    General Don Carlos Buell commanded the Department of Ohio.  In December 1861, Garfield travelled to Louisville to meet with Buell and get his orders.  He was instructed to draw up a plan of battle and submit it to Buell the next morning.  He stayed up all night studying maps of Kentucky and drew up plans for an attack.  Buell liked what he saw, awarding Garfield the command of three additional regiments, one from Ohio and two from Kentucky.  A small unit of cavalry accompanied the newly formed brigade.  The 42nd and the new additional regiments left for Catlettsburg, Kentucky on December 19, via the Ohio River.  Upon arrival a supply base was assembled there that would remain throughout the campaign.  The regiments then marched 20 miles south to the town Louisa to set up camp. 

     The Confederates opposing Garfield’s command were led by General Humphrey Marshall, an 1832 graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Mexican War.  His headquarters were in Paintsville, 30 miles south of Garfield’s position.  Marshall had three infantry regiments with him, plus artillery. 

     Garfield’s strategy was to send the 40th Ohio west to get behind Marshall, while the remaining regiments would attack from the front, catching the Confederates in a vise.  Garfield attacked in early January 1862, sending three small companies to attack the left, front, and center of Marshall’s lines.  This maneuver confused Marshall, who wrongly assumed he was under attack by 4,000 Union troops.  He ordered a retreat south, evacuating Paintsville without a fight. 

Confederate General Humphrey Marshall, photo courtesy of University of Kentucky.

     Several days later, Garfield attacked Prestonsburg.  His regiments had to ford across ice-cold creeks to get into position.  Marshall’s men were entrenched in a mountain range south of Middle Creek.  Unable to determine the Confederates’ location, Garfield sent cavalry dashing across the valley.  The startled southerners opened fire and revealed their position.  The attack lasted until nightfall, with the 42nd leading a last-minute assault up the crest of the mountain.

     Darkness ended the battle, but before Garfield could resume the attack at daybreak, Marshall burned his supplies and retreated all the way to Virginia.  Though the battle had ended in a draw, Garfield had accomplished his plan, clearing the Confederate regiments out of Kentucky.  All that was left was a rearguard at the Virginia border.  In March, Garfield moved south and attacked the rearguard, sending them retreating to Virginia and ending the campaign. 

Brigadier General Garfield, part of Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

For his efforts, Garfield received a promotion to Brigadier General and a new command of the 20th Brigade, operating in Tennessee.  The 20th saw action on the second day of fighting at Shiloh.  By then, the Confederates were in full retreat.  The 20th gave chase, exchanging fire with the rearguard.  Though there were no casualties, Garfield’s men managed to pick up 40 prisoners.

From Shiloh the 20th marched south to Corinth.  It was a slow march, led by the overly cautious General Henry Halleck.  By the time Union troops reached Corinth on May 30, the Confederates had evacuated.  Garfield fumed at the results of the campaign.  He blamed the West Point generals (including Halleck), who he believed were not really interested in winning the war and ending slavery. 

     In August 1862, camp fever and dysentery forced General Garfield to take leave from the army.  He returned home to Hiram for a long period of recuperation.  While home, friends of Garfield persuaded him to let his name be brought forward as a candidate for the United States House of Representatives.  Garfield himself stayed behind the scenes, but won a victory as a Republican congressman.  He did not have to report to Washington for a full year, which allowed him to remain in the army temporarily. 

To be continued…

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

Welcome to The Garfield Observer!

       Welcome to the brand new blog of James A. Garfield National Historic Site!  In our first post, we thought it appropriate to provide some background on how the site became a part of President Garfield’s family and later a part of the National Park Service.  

       Throughout Garfield’s seventeen-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives, he spent the year divided between a number of homes in Washington D.C. while Congress was in session and in his native northern Ohio during the summer break.  After years of summers spent at his wife Lucretia’s family home in Hiram and the recreational resort on Little Mountain near Painseville, Garfield desired a permanent family residence and a home to which he could retreat when his duties in the capital were finished. 

       In 1876, the Democratic state legislature redrew the lines of Ohio’s congressional districts and Garfield’s listed residence in Portage County fell outside the newly redrawn 19th district lines.  With the help of his friend and Cleveland businessman Dr. John P. Robison, Garfield discovered the Dickey farm in the safely Republican township of Mentor.  The farm was traversed by the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad as well as the city’s main highway that connected Cleveland with Buffalo, New York, serving as the chief line of communication between the east and the west.  On September 26, 1876 Garfield made the widow Dickey an offer of $115 per acre for her 116-acre farm, and on Halloween the acquisition of the property was complete. 

So, at last, I am to be a farmer again.  As a financial investment, I do not think it very wise; but as a means of securing a summer home, and teaching my boys to do farm work, I feel well about it.”  (JAG Diary, October 31, 1876)

Dr. John P. Robison from History of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 1879.

       The family did not move to the Mentor farm until the spring of 1877, so Garfield had his good friend Dr. Robison act as agent for his new land – managing construction projects, overseeing animal husbandry, and hiring the farm’s workers.  By the end of the year, Garfield owned roughly a 160-acre farm for which he paid a total of $17,500 – a hefty sum in the late 1870s – by taking out a mortgage on the property and borrowing money from Dr. Robison. 

       When congressional duties demanded his presence in Washington, Garfield often wrote to Lucretia about his yearning to be with the family in Ohio.  In May 1877 he penned in a letter how “sweet and inviting the dear, new home beckons to me away among the green fields of Mentor.”  When he was able to return to the farm, Garfield spent much of his time in the fields with his sons and farm hands tilling the soil and conducting a variety of agricultural experiments.  Ever the enthusiastic farmer, Garfield wrote, “I long for a time to study agricultural chemistry, and make experiments with soils and forces.” (JAG Diary, Sept. 24, 1879)  He equipped the farm with the latest machinery and supplies, including a Champion Drill to sow wheat and a Peerless Mower and Reaper.  He also improved the quantity and quality of the livestock, purchasing pure Durham cows and heifers, horses, pigs, and chickens.

       By the spring of 1880, Garfield and Lucretia decided to make some much needed changes to the house.  The original Dickey farmhouse was a small, 1 ½-story structure, clearly too small a home for the nine people who would reside there by 1879 –James and Lucretia Garfield, their five children, Lucretia’s father Zeb, and the future president’s mother Eliza.  That year, the Garfields enlarged the home to 2 ½-stories, added eleven rooms, constructed a front porch, and refurnished the interior.

“The Garfield Farm” floor plan, from the New York Herald, September 26, 1881.

       The year 1880 proved to be a busy one at the Mentor farm for that summer Garfield held his ‘front-porch’ presidential campaign from the property, nicknamed “Lawnfield” by the newspaper reporters who camped out on the grounds.  During the campaign summer, the Garfields welcomed numerous visitors to their home, such as former President Grant (and his right-hand man Roscoe Conkling, Garfield’s greatest political opponent), and the all-black Fisk University Jubilee Singers. 

1880 view of Lawnfield. (Wash drawing by delineator L.C. Corwine, Library of Congress)

The windmill added to the property by Lucretia Garfield was responsible for the home’s water supply. NPS.

       Sadly, once inaugurated as president, Garfield never returned to his Mentor home.  After his death on September 19, 1881, Lucretia and the five children returned to Mentor.  In 1885-6, Lucretia added a back wing to the home that included several extra bedrooms and the first presidential memorial library, where she preserved her husband’s papers.  She also oversaw the construction of a windmill to pump water up to the third floor of the home and a new carriage house. The Mentor farm remained in the Garfield family until 1936 when the Garfield children, by then grown with families of their own, donated the house to the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) in Cleveland, Ohio.  In 1980, Congress designated James A. Garfield’s home as a National Historic Site within the National Park Service.  While the artifact collection is still owned by WRHS, the National Park Service has maintained full operations of the site since 2008.

       Lucretia once wrote to her youngest son Abram, “I somehow feel that the house here is a much more interesting monument to your father’s memory than anything that can be built merely as a monument, and I want it to be worthy of him.” (November 13, 1892).  We hope that the James A. Garfield National Historic Site today fulfills Lucretia’s wish. 

James A. Garfield National Historic Site, NPS.

P.S. We are launching this blog on July 2, 2012, the 131st anniversary of President Garfield’s shooting.  While some may call this morbid, we view it as a commemoration of his lasting legacy! 

-Stephanie Gray, Park Guide