Owing Columbia

John McCaslin
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Posted: Jul 21, 2004 12:00 AM

There is an obligation on the part of the federal government, dating back to one of the darkest hours of the Civil War, that remains "unpaid and largely forgotten."

"Over a century ago, on a hot summer day, an event occurred of national significance that by some eyewitness accounts altered history as we know it today," says Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican. "The event I am referring to is known as the burning of the Columbia Wrightsville Bridge."

The date was June 28, 1863 - 72 hours before the Battle of Gettysburg - and "this catastrophic event did not just destroy an ordinary bridge - it destroyed an extraordinary bridge," the congressman says.

Completed in 1834 at a cost of $129,000, it happened to be the longest covered wooden bridge in the world: 40 feet wide and spanning 5,620 feet across the Susquehanna River, its eastern end emptying into the bustling town of Columbia, Pa.

Historians to this day debate if destroying the bridge, accomplished upon orders from Union Col. Jacob G. Frick, had an impact on the Battle of Gettysburg. But its impact on Columbia is unquestioned.

 "How many of you are aware that the first place to be considered as the nation's capital was Columbia, Pennsylvania?" asks Pitts, who says the town was an important railway artery for westward expansion and shipping destination for iron furnaces, rolling mills, sawmills, flour mills and machine shops.

But Frick, or so he wrote later, was fully convinced "this bridge was General [Robert E.] Lee's objective point, and that it was to become the highway of the Confederate army."

To make a long story short, because the bridge, owned by the Columbia Bank, was destroyed by order of the U.S. military, it made the U.S. government responsible for all loss. In fact, in a letter dated June 29, 1863, the bank's cashier, Samuel Schock, tried to make Uncle Sam cough up restitution, but to no avail:

"Dear Sir - The bridge at this place, owned by the Columbia Bank, was burned by the United States Military authorities to prevent the Rebels from crossing the Susquehanna River."

Columbia Bank no longer exists, and the town of Columbia never quite rebounded and grew like neighboring cities of York and Lancaster. Will Columbia ever get its due? Highly unlikely, although it wouldn't hurt President Bush this election year to finally settle the debt (and no doubt win several thousand votes in the process).

"Let's see, $129,000 at 6 percent interest - wow, that's $424 million today," Derek Karchner, the congressman's spokesman, tells The Beltway Beat.

SPECIAL DELIVERY

What does one senator present as a retirement gift to another senator?

His very own post office.

"Mr. President, I send to the desk legislation designating the U.S. post office located in Durango, Colorado, as the 'Ben Nighthorse Campbell Post Office Building,'" said Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican.

And why not such an honor?

The 71-year-old retiring senator, a Northern Cheyenne Indian and former member of the U.S. Olympic Judo team in 1964 (in college, he became the youngest person in the United States to hold the fourth-degree black belt) has "left his mark on American history," Allard observes.

"It is only fitting that we can honor his legacy by naming this post office after him."

We've written extensively about Campbell throughout his many years of service on Capitol Hill. We'll never forget the day when U.S. Capitol Police Officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson were killed in the line of duty in 1998 and the senator, a policeman before politician, took it especially hard.

"I collect shoulder patches," the senator said, referring to police insignia of states and townships. "John [Gibson] had a collection and we used to trade shoulder patches. If he had two of a patch I didn't have, or if I had two of one he didn't have, we would trade back and forth."

More than once, Campbell personally intervened to assist the Capitol cops. Like the time a man leaped at elderly Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in the basement of the U.S. Capitol. The assailant turned violent, and Campbell, while rushing to subdue the man, grabbed a police radio lying nearby and radioed for help.

When help arrived, the senator already had helped tackle and handcuff the assailant. If we recall correctly, he was actually sitting on the man.

Another time, while out for a leisurely stroll on Capitol Hill, Campbell was accosted by a man who warned he had a gun. Instead of flinching, the senator demanded to see the weapon. When none was produced, Campbell displayed a few of his deadly judo moves.

The man was last spotted running for his life.

BANK ON BUSH

"Don't take these statistics lightly. They may be too young to vote, but not too young to have strong opinions about the leaders of their country," says Beth Carpenter of the Washington-based Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

She says FCCLA's teens have an impressive streak going, voting for the winning president for the past three decades, beginning with Jimmy Carter.

So who wins in 2004, President Bush or Sen. John Kerry?

When thousands of the FCCLA teens met in Chicago last week for their national leadership meeting, they were asked which candidate they would vote for if the 2004 presidential campaign were held today.

Bush captured 74 percent of the votes.

If the FCCLA doesn't ring bells, it was formerly known as Future Homemakers of America, but it has greatly evolved from its original mission.

CONFIDENT CHAIRMAN

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe predicts the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Boston will be "the greatest national convention" in the history of his party.

He also predicts that when Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards become the party's official nominees for president and vice president, "you are going to see the most united Democratic Party in the history of our country."

f his predictions come true, given the large number of undecided Democrats today, McAuliffe's party not only will capture the White House, it should retake control of both houses of Congress, too. Stay tuned.

NOW READ THIS

A leading firm for identifying the media patterns of Americans has analyzed the news-gathering habits of self-proclaimed Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Here are a few of the more intriguing findings by Scarborough Research (a joint venture between Arbitron Inc. and VNU Media Measurement & Information):

- Republicans, more than their counterparts, are avid newspaper readers.

- Independents enjoy going online for news and are 30 percent more likely than others to use the Internet to visit a newspaper's Web site.

- Independents, surprisingly in higher percentages than Republicans, tune into news/talk radio formats. Only 17 percent of Democrats tune in to such shows.

- Considerable percentages of all three watch cable "all-news" networks, although each has personal preferences. Democrats, for instance, don't watch the Fox News Channel in large numbers, whereas most Republicans prefer the network.

- Democrats are more likely to tune into ABC and CBS evening newscasts, whereas Republicans tend to tune into NBC.

TRAINING TOUR

Employees of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response have received the following memo under the subject "Diversity Training Activity."

"United States Holocaust Museum

"WHEN: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

"WHERE: 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place SW

"TIME: 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m."

YUM

"Members of Congress and key congressional staff will have the opportunity to sample the finest frozen cuisine at the frozen Food Filibuster Reception, sponsored by the American Frozen Food Institute."

- Invitation to the third annual frozen-food gala to be held in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building, presenting an opportunity for frozen-food manufacturers to showcase their products before an influential audience.

MOORE FALLOUT

Outrage from across the country after The Beltway Beat wrote about the family of U.S. Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone being shocked to learn video footage of the major's Arlington National Cemetery burial was included by Michael Moore in his movie "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The mother of the major labeled Moore a "maggot that eats off the dead."

"I think the Stone family . . . should sue," says retired Army veteran G.M. Frisoli.

 "If the family wishes to seek a suit against Michael Moore . . . I will donate $100 toward legal fees and will solicit my friends to do the same," promises Manny Gagliardi of Arlington, Texas.

 "Mountain States Legal Foundation was founded in 1977 by the late Joe Coors," writes William Perry Pendley, foundation president and chief legal officer, of Lakewood, Colo. "It has litigated many cases, including many against President Clinton's abuses. Could you forward MSLF's information to the family of the Air Force officer whose burial was used without permission by Michael Moore?"

ROWDY CROWD

The official White House pool report of President Bush's motorcade Wednesday evening in Wisconsin reveals Sen. John Kerry's supporters aren't such a peaceful bunch.

"Several blocks from the evening rally at the Resch Center, [Mr. Bush's bus] passed several hundred, very vocal Kerry supporters and others protesting the president's visit," the report states. "Someone in the roadside crowd threw an empty plastic bottle at the president's bus, bouncing it off the right [passenger's] side.

"The president had been down front, waving from the window . . . but had retreated to the back of the bus before the bottle headed his way."

ERASING EDWARDS

Whatever her reason, it's a smart thing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton removed from her taxpayer-paid Senate Web site her glowing statement surrounding the selection of Sen. John Edwards as Sen. John Kerry's running mate.

 "I am excited by John Kerry's selection of Senator John Edwards as his running mate," Clinton stated. "Democrats and independent-minded Americans have reason to be electrified about the Kerry-Edwards team."

Now no one can find Clinton's remarks, perhaps because she was subsequently shunned by the Kerry-Edwards ticket from having a major role at next week's Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Whatever the reason, the law prohibits posting political statements on official government Web sites.

AND INTRODUCING. . .

Sen. John Kerry has asked Hillary Rodham Clinton to introduce her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention, giving her a speaking role that Democrats had sought for the New York senator, the Associated Press reports.

The Kerry campaign released the names of its first set of speakers for the convention early this week, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and others, but the absence of the former first lady drew criticism from Democrats, particularly women.

The senator herself said she was not disappointed, but a lobbying effort quickly got under way on her behalf.

Mr. Kerry, who was campaigning in Pennsylvania, called Clinton and asked her to introduce her husband. She agreed to the request.

A SORRY DAY

Leave it to the former head of the Soviet KGB "to inject a little common sense into the American presidential race - and leave it to the partisan American media to ignore it," says a Republican congressman.

"During the recent [Group of Eight] summit in Georgia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said to a gathering of the news media, and I quote, 'I am deeply convinced that President Bush's political adversaries have no moral right to attack him over Iraq,'" states Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina.

"I did not find this quote in the New York Times or The Washington Post because they refused to report it. I didn't find it broadcast on CBS or NBC or ABC news either. I found this quote in China Daily, straight from Beijing."

Wilson says it's "a sorry day for American journalism when they find themselves out-balanced by their counterparts in communist China."

ALIEN TERROR

The White House cracked down on a popular pair of Los Angeles radio hosts who grew irritated with Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchison for not cracking down on illegal aliens who've flooded southern California.

"John and Ken," heard over radio station KFI, initially applauded U.S. Border Patrol sweeps in and around Los Angeles that rounded up more than 400 of the estimated 2 million illegal immigrants who cost California taxpayers billions of dollars.

But after Hutchison recently scaled down the sweep - posting the agents closer to the Mexican border - the radio pair broadcasted and posted his telephone number in Washington, causing the White House phone system to be jammed by thousands of calls.

The White House has now contacted the duo and demanded they cease and desist such antics.