- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008


One of the favorite picnicking spots in the Washington area is Hains Point, overlooking the Tidal Basin, now home to a baseball field, tennis courts, swimming pool and other sports amenities.

The extremely large golf course dwarfs every other sports activity there at all hours of the day. Those of a certain age will recall it as an excellent viewpoint for the nightly submarine races in the area. Its view of the river through the towering weeping willows makes for a peaceful oasis in a busy city.

Few who go to Hains Point know the man for whom it was named. Peter Conover Hains was an officer in both the Civil War and World War I, and his engineering talent gave us the Tidal Basin and surrounding land.

It is a little-known fact that Hains fired the first shot at the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, 1861. He had been commissioned a second lieutenant in the artillery, and it was his responsibility to fire three rounds from the largest Union weapon on the field - a 3-ton Parrott gun firing 4-inch, 33-pound projectiles. This served as a signal that the attack had begun.

His target was said to be a white house beyond Bull Run, it not being known if this was the Robinson farm, the Henry House or perhaps another one. The battle would rage for some time until Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops sent the Union men packing.

Siege of Vicksburg

Peter Hains was born on July 6, 1840, in Philadelphia, the son of ashoemaker. He secured an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated along with George Armstrong Custer in 1861, just as the Civil War was beginning, and in the first four-year class the academy had. Previously, the education at the academy comprised five years.

He would be one of nine men in that class who would attain the rank of general, a class from whom would come 26 Confederate officers and 31 Union officers. Enlisting in the Union Army as a second lieutenant after graduation and serving with the 2nd United States Artillery, he was promoted to first lieutenant on June 24, 1861.

Hains would participate in 30 engagements during the war, receiving awards for gallantry and meritorious service in the Battle of Hanover Church, Va., where he was breveted a captain on May 27, 1862. It was the Siege of Vicksburg, however, where his other skills came into play.

When the chief engineer fell ill, the young lieutenant was left to design the siege for the Union Army’s 13th Corps under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. It was a decided feather in his cap, and the result of his innovations and service saw him breveted a major on July 4, 1863. Even today, a monument stands at Vicksburg in recognition of his accomplishments. Unfortunately, no such marker exists at the Point that bears his name in the District of Columbia.

Lighthouse designer

As the war was winding down, Hains married Virginia Jenkins, daughter of the chief of staff to Union Adm. David Farragut. He had transferred to theTopographical Engineers in 1862, and to the Corps of Engineers in 1863, prior to being breveted a lieutenant colonel on March 13, 1865. (He did not become a full colonel until August 1895.)

After the war, he served as district engineer for the Corps of Engineers, overseeing the Fifth District of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Many lighthouses were designed and constructed under his guidance, including Morris Lighthouse in South Carolina and the lighthouse at St. Augustine, Fla.

Hains designed the 3,200-ton, 158-foot-tall lighthouse in South Carolina, which still stands, even though what once was on a beach 1,300 feet from the shore now stands in the water over 1,600 feet from the shore.

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