Grant Memorial

  • Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 4:22 am
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Ulysses S. Grant Memorial
The group of statues at the edge of the Capitol Reflecting Pool is the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. Plans suggesting this placement of memorials to the wartime President and his commanding general were included in the Senate Park Commission's 1901 proposal to transform central Washington. Led by architect D.H. Burnham, the commission redesigned the picturesque parkland that then stretched from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument to create the National Mall, an expansive ceremonial space that would extend beyond the Obelisk onto land claimed from the Potomac's tidal basin. The commission proposed that the Mall be bordered by new government buildings and that formal public spaces with monuments to Grant and Lincoln terminate its east and west ends. In 1903, a committee of government leaders and Civil War veterans chose little-known New York sculptor Henry Merwin Shrady to create a national memorial to Ulysses S. Grant in Washington, D.C. At a cost of $250,000, it was the most expensive federally funded art project in the nation's history. The memorial took nearly 20 years to complete, but the result was worth the wait. It was dedicated at the same time as the Lincoln memorial in 1922. At the center of a raised plaza more than 250 feet wide stands a colossal bronze equestrian portrait of Grant flanked by four recumbent lions. Full-scale sculptural groups of cavalry and artillery soldiers in combat are placed at the two ends of the plaza. Situated at the foot of Capitol Hill, the monument stands on axis with the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and is the most prominently placed outdoor sculpture in the city.
In his monument to Grant, Shrady portrayed the general sitting solemnly astride his horse, while his cavalry and artillery charge into battle. In contrast to the calm commanding general, these massive sculptural groups provide a portrait of active warfare seen through the men, the horses, their equipment, the rugged terrain and the specter of hardship, pain and sudden death. Collectively, it is a memorial to Grant's generalship and also a memorial to the troops he commanded. This kind of visceral portrayal of warfare was not typical of earlier Civil War memorials. If we consider monument design trends emerging by 1900 as expressions of prevailing cultural aspirations and fears, however, we see that this memorial was no aberration. The Grant Memorial shares a context with a growing genre of war memorials that embodied the nation's changing ideas of the Civil War and its significance.

Ulysses S. Grant, born Hiram Ulysses Grant (April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885), was an American general and the eighteenth President of the United States (1869–1877). He achieved international fame as the leading Union general in the American Civil War. Grant first reached national prominence by taking Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862 in the first Union victories of the war. The following year, his celebrated campaign ending in the surrender of Vicksburg secured Union control of the Mississippi and—with the simultaneous Union victory at Gettysburg—turned the tide of the war in the North's favor. Named commanding general of the Federal armies in 1864, he implemented a coordinated strategy of simultaneous attacks aimed at destroying the South's ability to carry on the war. In 1865, after conducting a costly war of attrition in the East, he accepted the surrender of his Confederate opponent Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House. Grant has been described by J.F.C. Fuller as "the greatest general of his age and one of the greatest strategists of any age." His Vicksburg Campaign in particular has been scrutinized by military specialists around the world.

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