The setting at the foot of Capitol Hill is magnificent. Up close, the triptych in memory of U. S. Grant (the mounted sculpture of him alone is the second largest equestrian statue in the world) is massive, but set in Union Square between the Capitol and the reflecting pool it shrinks and is strangely isolated – not the impression intended by the Senate Park Commission’s 1902 plan. Sculpted by Henry Merwin Shrady and dedicated in 1922 (the same year as the Lincoln Memorial on the opposite end of the Mall), the bronze work consists of Grant and two tableaux depicting artillery and cavalry, 13 horses in all. It is recognized as the world’s preeminent equestrian sculpture.
You can spend days photographing it.
The content is stark. Not so much symbolism, as in the Meade Memorial, so not much interpretation is needed. War is men and equipment and movement. Movement, terror, and tension abound in the faces and bodies of the animals, troopers and artillerists as they move quickly, desperately, to some unnamed point. And amidst – in fact, above – all the action sits the steady, determined figure of Grant. While the movement is toward the general, his gaze is inexorably fixed on a far off, larger objective. There’s a whole lot to see, but to see all one need do is look. You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows.
For more on the story of the memorial, I once again refer you to Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, DC, by K. A. Jacob. Below are some shots I took, unfortunately in low resolution, back in June 2011. Here are a few of the longer shots – click on the thumbs for larger images:
Next, the central figure:
Now let’s take a look at the “left” group (when facing the front of the monument), the Cavalry. I can only suspect that cavalry made a more interesting artistic subject than infantry, given the minimal contribution of the former arm to the outcome of the war – there, the bait is set:
And last, the King of Battle:
A must see for anyone visiting the capital. Well worth minor pedestrian/car traffic inconvenience.