With all the memorials in the capital, you would think the man who came up with the idea for Memorial Day would have one of his own.
He does — on Logan Circle at 13th and P streets Northwest. What makes the monument to Maj. Gen. John A. Logan special, vaulting it into the upper tier of Washington statuary, has less to do with his post-Civil War vision for what would become Memorial Day and more with the protocol of memorial sculpture: The man is on a warhorse.
“The biggest compliment you can give a man is not just to have him standing on a pedestal but sitting on top of a horse. There’s a certain stature in the fact that you’ve got an equestrian,” says George Gurney, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The museum has been cataloging the nation’s outdoor sculptures for the past 20 years and helps run a program to preserve them.
Equestrian monuments are the creme de la creme of memorial sculpture, and Washington, with 28 at last count, has more of them than any other American city.
The range of their subject matter is relatively narrow. One pays tribute to a woman. One or two celebrate ideas or cultural icons. A few honor non-Americans. The vast majority memorialize Americans in battle and the qualities that make good soldiers — honor, sacrifice, valor, grit, victory.
Even men who made their ultimate mark in politics or other fields are shown as they were — or as the culture hoped they were — in war.
None in the District salutes the heroes of the Confederacy, perhaps understandably: Most monuments to Union officers were unveiled when the wounds of the Civil War were fresh. For a mirror image, head for Richmond.
Washington’s horse-and-rider monuments are familiar fixtures of parks, circles and squares, but too often they blend into the background as drivers and pedestrians speed by. Let’s slow down for a closer look, touring a dozen neighborhoods, most lying within a triangle bounded by Adams Morgan, Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill.
The all-important steed
Our tour begins with the earliest equestrian statue in America, the centrally located portrayal of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. His horse rearing on two legs, Jackson doffs his hat in a pose depicting the general as he reviewed the troops in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans, which ended the War of 1812.
Dedicated Jan. 8, 1853, on the 38th anniversary of that battle, the sculpture represents a crowning achievement for its creator, Clark Mills. It required him to solve a problem that baffled even Leonardo da Vinci, namely how to balance a horse on its hind legs when making a monumental sculpture. Pieces that heavy — the statue contains 15 tons of bronze — tended to fall over.
Mills, a self-taught artist, solved the problem by buying a horse and training it to stand on its hind legs while he studied how it balanced itself. He saw that if he centered the animal over its rear hooves, it would stay upright. His observations also resulted in a high degree of realism. Faithful, too, is the likeness of the rider, based on contemporary portraits of Jackson.
Another problem Mills overcame was the absence of bronze foundries in the United States at that time. He set one up beside the White House, on 15th Street, and made six castings before getting the horse right. The cannons at each corner of the statue’s granite base were cast in Spain during the 18th century and captured by Jackson when he seized Pensacola, Fla., from the British in 1814.
Mills met such resounding praise for his piece that he was called upon to duplicate it twice. Replicas stand in New Orleans, appropriately, and in Nashville, Tenn., near Jackson’s plantation, the Hermitage.
A theory debunked
One block north of Lafayette Square on Vermont Avenue is McPherson Square, named for the Civil War general on horseback at its center. Maj. Gen. James Birdseye McPherson took part in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to Atlanta, where he helped capture the cannons melted down to make the sculpture.
McPherson’s horse stands with his right foot raised facing the White House, his rider holding binoculars at the ready while assessing conditions on the battlefield. The direction of the horse reflects a convention whereby nearly all equestrian statues of generals in Washington point toward the White House, with the notable exception of Jackson, facing west.
Another convention — actually more of a theory — often cited by monument buffs concerns the number of hooves lifted off the ground: Two hooves up supposedly means the rider died in battle, one hoof up means he sustained a nonfatal wound, and all hooves down means he came through unscathed.
When applied to equestrian sculpture here, the theory holds up in less than 20 percent of the cases, making it next to worthless. Clearly Jackson, who lived into old age at the Hermitage, and McPherson, shot dead from his saddle outside Atlanta, prove the urban legend wrong.
Two blocks up Vermont Avenue sits Thomas Circle and another Civil War general’s monument. Three streets converge here, including Massachusetts Avenue, so traffic whizzing around the circle can make the statue of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas difficult to approach, though broad steps around the base welcome visitors.
The horse the general rides is apparently androgynous. The sculptor, John Quincy Adams Ward, made the animal a mare, but after the unveiling in 1879, it was pointed out to him that Thomas always rode stallions, true of most generals. The appropriate additions soon were made — but the head and neck still retain the more slender proportions of a mare.
Traveling up Vermont Avenue two more blocks lands you in peaceful Logan Circle, with its statue of Major Gen. John A. Logan, the man who created Memorial Day, called Decoration Day until the turn of the 20th century.
Proclaimed in 1868 by Logan, then a member of the U.S. House from Illinois and national commander of the veterans group the Grand Army of the Republic, it was designated “for the purpose of strewing with flowers” the graves of Union dead.
The grassy, tree-shrouded park, with plenty of benches, sits in a quiet neighborhood of brick Victorian row houses and modern dwellings made to resemble them.
The monument features not only the Civil War general astride his stallion, but two elaborate friezes on the sides of its base. One shows him conferring with his fellow officers; the other depicts his swearing-in ceremony as a U.S. senator in 1871. At each end stand allegorical female figures representing war and peace.
On the avenue
Pennsylvania Avenue boasts more equestrian statues — five of them — than any other Washington street. The most impressive of these stands between the Capitol and the reflecting pool at the east end of the Mall.
It features Civil War victor Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the center of a sculptural complex that sprawls across a marble platform nearly the size of a football field. The massive monument took 20 years to complete.
Indeed, the effort to create it overwhelmed the sculptor, Henry Merwin Shrady, who died from overwork two weeks before its dedication on April 27, 1922, the centennial of Grant’s birth.
James M. Goode, author of the acclaimed “The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C.,” published in 1974 and scheduled for a new edition next year, calls the Grant memorial “the most exciting outdoor equestrian sculpture.”
“It has so much movement in it,” he says.
Grant sits calmly on his thoroughbred, Cincinnatus, surrounded by four recumbent lions. Two dynamic sculptural groups at each end of the platform provide most of the movement.
The north group portrays seven cavalrymen charging into the fray. This scene “possesses more dramatic interest and suspense than any other sculpture in the city and, indeed, the nation,” Mr. Goode writes in his book.
The lead cavalryman has just fallen with his horse, and the others pile up behind, an unfolding tragedy frozen in time.
At the south end, a group of artillerymen struggles with a caisson carrying a cannon. Three horses strain to pull its wheels from the mud, though one lunges out of control with a broken bit, putting all on the brink of disaster.
These two sculptural groups “are powerful antiwar statements, showing what it was really like in the artillery and cavalry,” says John Parsons, associate regional director for lands, resources and planning at the National Park Service.
The park service administers most of the equestrian statues in the city and began a program last year to clean and coat them with microcrystalline wax.
Revolution and Civil War
Seven blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue, the Hancock memorial nestles in trees near the Archives Metro stop. Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock was shot off his horse at Gettysburg but still managed to lead his troops to victory.
Six blocks farther, Count Casimir Pulaski, in fur cap and cape, oversees Freedom Plaza from his horse. The Polish aristocrat joined the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, serving as a brigadier general commanding the cavalry. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he reviewed skateboarders hot-dogging across the plaza.
At the northeastern edge of the Ellipse rises an elaborate monument to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War scourge of Georgia and the Carolinas, mounted on his stallion atop a dauntingly tall pillar.
Ledges about halfway up the pillar hold allegorical figures representing peace and war. Four life-size bronze soldiers guard the base, around which runs a mosaic naming all the battles Sherman fought. The site was chosen because he reviewed troops there in 1865 as they returned from the war.
Father of his country
Around the corner is Mills’ triumph, the Jackson statue, rearing in front of the White House. The other sculpture Mills did for the city, not nearly so well received, occupies Washington Circle, where Pennsylvania Avenue meets 23rd Street Northwest.
It depicts Gen. George Washington leading his Revolutionary forces into battle. His stallion balks, with flaring nostrils and bulging eyes, frightened by cannon blasts and gunfire all around. The general, on the other hand, remains unperturbed, his face modeled on the famous bust made from life by Jean-Antoine Houdon.
At the sculpture’s unveiling in 1860, critics immediately pounced on the incongruity of a serene rider astride a frightened horse. Mills’ plans for an elaborate pedestal with relief panels and smaller statues of Washington’s generals were never carried out.
Another sculpture of Washington was placed on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral in 1959. Its simplified modernist design offers a striking contrast to Mills’ and shows how much styles changed during the 100 years between them.
A change of pace
Two equestrian monuments are found on Capitol Hill. One, the Court of Neptune Fountain, offers a neoclassical spectacle in front of the Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building. It varies the male-centric equestrian pattern by placing two nymphs upon wildly thrashing half-horse, half-fish creatures.
The other is the city’s easternmost equestrian, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene in Stanton Square. Wind blew the bronze of the Revolutionary War general off its pedestal in 1930. Apparently, wind can be tricky in this park, where a recent visitor watched a boy untangle his kite from a tree.
Elsewhere in the city, an armored Joan of Arc rides her horse in Meridian Hill Park, though someone stole her sword. Just north of her, on 16th Street near Columbia Road, the Revolutionary War-era Methodist bishop Francis Asbury travels by horse to deliver a sermon.
At Sheridan Circle is the only equestrian monument in Washington by the illustrious Gutzon Borglum, best known for carving the four presidential faces into Mount Rushmore. His energy-infused sculpture here shows Gen. Philip H. Sheridan rallying his forces in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War.
A short stretch of Virginia Avenue between 18th and 23rd streets Northwest includes four equestrians. South American liberator Simon Bolivar is portrayed twice, with a full-size monument behind the Interior Department building and a miniature one in the Organization of American States’ courtyard.
Another South American liberator, Jose de San Martin, waves from a rearing steed east of the State Department building, while in front of it stands the statue of Bernardo de Galvez, a Spanish count who aided the American Revolution.
Memorial Day is a good time to visit Arlington National Cemetery, and two statues there offer generals on horseback, Civil War casualty Maj. Gen. Philip Kearney and Sir John Dill, a British field marshal during World War II.
First check out the Arts of War monuments at the entrance to Arlington Memorial Bridge before heading across the Potomac. Gifts of the Italian government, the gilded allegorical sculptures gleam in the sun.
Washington abounds in equestrian monuments, with 28 that honor not just people but ideas.
For a comprehensive review, see James M. Goode’s “The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C.,” published in 1974 and set for a new edition next year. Online resources include dcmemorials.com.
The map shows equestrian monuments downtown and at Arlington National Cemetery. Two monuments in upper Northwest are shown in the insert.
1. Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson: Lafayette Square, Pennsylvania Avenue and 16th street NW. “Old Hickory.” Commander of the American forces at the Battle of New Orleans (1815) during the War of 1812. Seventh president (1829-1837). He died at home in Tennessee in 1845. Bronze. By Clark Mills, 1853.
2. Maj. Gen. James Birdseye McPherson: McPherson Square, 15th and I streets NW. Union commander during the Civil War, killed in action at Atlanta in 1864. Bronze. By Louis T. Rebisso, 1876.
3. Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas: Thomas Circle, Massachusetts Avenue and 14th street NW. “The rock of Chickamauga” in the Civil War; died in San Francisco in 1870. Bronze. By John Quincy Adams Ward, 1879.
4. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan: Logan Circle, 13th and P streets NW. Civil War commander and Medal of Honor recipient, later member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1867-1871) and U.S. senator from Illinois (1871-1877, 1879-1886). Died in Washington in 1886 and is buried at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest. Bronze. By Franklin Simmons, 1901.
5. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott: Scott Circle, Massachusetts Avenue and 16th street NW. “Old Fuss and Feathers,” hero of the Mexican War, Whig candidate for president in 1852. Died at West Point in 1866 and is buried there. Bronze. By Henry Kirke Brown, 1874.
6. Gen. George Washington: Washington Circle, Pennsylvania Avenue and 23rd street NW. Commander of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War and first president (1789-1797). The Father of His Country. Died at Mount Vernon in 1799 at 67. Bronze. By Clark Mills, 1860.
7. Gen. George Washington: Washington National Cathedral, Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues NW. This simple design, at the base of the cathedral’s Pilgrim Steps, is in striking contrast to the Washington Circle statue. Bronze. By Herbert Haseltine, 1959.
8. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman: Sherman Square, Pennsylvania Avenue at E and 15th streets NW. Union commander during the Civil War, practitioner of “total war” and scourge of Georgia and the Carolinas. Refused nomination for the presidency in 1884. Died in New York City in 1891. Bronze. By Carl Rohl-Smith and others, 1903.
9. Brig. Gen. Count Casimir Pulaski: Freedom Plaza, Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th and 14th streets NW. Polish nobleman who helped the Continentals during the Revolution; “Father of the American Cavalry.” He died at the siege of Savannah, Ga., in 1779. Bronze. By Kazimierz Chodzinski, 1910.
10. Vaquero: Eighth and F streets NW, outside the Smithsonian Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. Nameless but colorful cowboy atop a bucking bronco. Acrylic urethane, fiberglass and steel. By Luis Jimenez, modeled 1980, cast 1990.
11. Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock: Near National Archives, Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh street NW. Union commander in the Civil War, most famed for leadership at Gettysburg in July 1863. Defeated for the presidency in 1880. Died in New York City in 1886. Bronze. By Henry Jackson Ellicott, 1896.
12. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant: U.S. Capitol, west side, Pennsylvania Avenue and First street NW. Commander of all Union armies during the Civil War and 18th president (1869?1877). Died in 1885 in Saratoga County, N.Y., and is buried in Grant’s Tomb in Riverside Park, New York City. Bronze; portions in marble. By Henry Merwin Shrady, 1922.
13. Court of Neptune Fountain: Library of Congress Jefferson Building, Independence Avenue and First street NW. The most artistically attractive and visually exciting of all the capital’s equestrian statues, it unusually features classically inspired sculptures of nude women astride wildly thrashing steeds. Bronze and granite. By Roland Hinton Perry, 1898.
14. Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene: Stanton Square, Massachusetts and Maryland avenues NE. Brilliant strategist of the Revolutionary War, commander of all Continental troops from Delaware to Georgia. Died on his Georgia estate in 1786. Bronze. By Henry Kirke Brown, 1877.
15. Joan of Arc: Meridian Hill Park, 16th and W streets NW. “The Maid of Orleans,” the 15th-century French heroine who set out to reclaim France from English domination. She was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431 at the age of 19. Bronze. By Paul Dubois, 1922; a replica of the statue in front of Rheims Cathedral.
16. Francis Asbury: 16th and Mount Pleasant streets NW. First superintendent of the Methodist Church in America, later a bishop. Died in 1816 in Spotsylvania County, Va., and is buried in Baltimore. Bronze. By Augustus Lukeman, 1924.
17. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan: Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road Northwest. Commander of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War who fought Gen. Robert E. Lee to a tactical draw at Antietam. Died in New Jersey in 1885 and is buried in Trenton. Bronze sculpture exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1906. By Frederick William MacMonnies, 1907.
18. Simon Bolivar: Virginia Avenue at 18th and C streets NW. “The Liberator,” leader of South American struggles for independence from Spain; serially president of Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru. Died in Colombia in 1830 and is buried in Caracas, Venezuela. Bronze. By Felix W. de Weldon, 1959.
19. Simon Bolivar: Art Museum of the Americas, Constitution Avenue and 18th street NW. Bronze. By Emile Antoine Bourdelle; original 1914, cast 1984.
20. Jose de San Martin: Virginia Avenue and 20th street NW. Liberator of Chile and Argentina, first president of Peru. Died in France in 1850 and is buried in Buenos Aires. Bronze. By Augustine-Alexandre Dumont.
21. Bernardo de Galvez: Virginia Avenue and 22nd street NW. Spanish governor of Louisiana who aided the American Revolutionary cause in the South. Died in 1786 while viceroy of New Spain; buried in Mexico City. Bronze. By Juan de Avalos, 1976.
22. Don Quixote: New Hampshire Avenue and G street NW, outside the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Hero of Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century novel. Bronze, stone and steel. By Aurelio Teno, 1976.
23. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan: Sheridan Circle, Massachusetts Avenue and 23rd street NW. Union commander best known for his scorched-earth campaign through the Shenandoah Valley. Died in Massachusetts in 1888 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Bronze. By Gutzon Borglum, 1908.
24. Maj. Gen. Philip Kearney: Arlington National Cemetery. Lifelong soldier, veteran of the Mexican War, Civil War commander killed at the Battle of Chantilly in 1862. Bronze. By Edward Clark Potter, 1914.
25. Field Marshal Sir John Dill: Arlington National Cemetery. British commander in World Wars I and II; instrumental in cementing the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain while posted to Washington during World War II. Died in Washington in 1944. Bronze. By Herbert Haseltine, 1950.
26. The Arts of War: West Potomac Park at entrance to Memorial Bridge. These monuments to Valor (on the left) and Sacrifice (on the right) are among the most instantly recognizable equestrian statues in the city. Gilded bronze. By Leo Friedlander, 1950.
27. John Wesley: 4500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, on the grounds of Wesley Theological Seminary. British founder of the Methodist Church. Died in 1791 in London, where he is buried. Bronze cast of 1932 original in Bristol, England. By Arthur George Walker, 1961. Not shown on map.
28. Col. Michael Kovats de Fabricy: 3910 Shoemaker St. NW, on the grounds of the Hungarian Embassy. Hungarian nobleman and colonel in the American Revolutionary War, killed in 1779 while leading the Continental Army cavalry against the British in Charleston, S.C., where he is buried. Bronze. By Paul Takacs, 2003. Not shown on map.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.