The eyes of Washington saw the glory on May 23, 1865. The Grand Army of the Republic -- "the terrible swift sword" -- marched up Pennsylvania Avenue in victory at the end of the Civil War. Generals basked in adulation; bands filled the air with music. The 200,000 marching men needed two days to pass in review.
A grateful nation hoped to memorialize the effort the men had made in the great, bloody struggle by erecting monuments to the Union's prominent military leaders. For the next 57 years, Washingtonians witnessed the dedication of statue after statue and came in droves to revel in the glory. There was no overall plan that determined which figures were honored. In fact, some were failures in the war. But politics sometimes can be as important as success in battle.
Now both the heroes and the failures stand prominently in many of Washington's circles, squares and parks. But who remembers their deeds?
Victors returning to ancient Rome were feted to triumphal parades through the city with music and displays of booty, strange animals and humiliated captives from the vanquished lands. But the conquering heroes also were accompanied by servants who admonished: "All glory is fleeting."
And so it often seems to be -- unless the stories are remembered. To learn about the Civil War generals whose monuments abound in the capital city, see Pages H4 and H5.
Winfield Scott was the most respected military figure in the North at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was a big Virginian, 6 feet 5 inches tall and 300 pounds. He was a hero of the War of 1812, had led the military expedition into Mexico during the Mexican War that ended in 1848, and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1852. By 1861, he had served under every U.S. president since Jefferson. As General-in-Chief of the Union forces, Scott developed the Anaconda Plan to defeat the Confederacy: isolating the rebel states and squeezing them like a snake. But he did not implement the plan. At age 75, Scott was cantankerous and possibly senile. He retired in November 1861 and died five years later -- a year after the Civil War ended.
Scott's statue was erected in 1874. The general's bulk, in bronze as in life, is impressive. In his later years, he was so robust that two men and a winch were needed to lift him onto a horse for parades. The statue -- cast from cannons captured in the Mexican War -- rests on a 150-ton hunk of granite, giving Scott a commanding view of the White House to the south on 16th Street.
The general's favorite steed was a mare, and the sculptor, wanting to imitate life, planned to put him on such a horse. But Scott's family was appalled. No general had ever been represented riding anything but a stallion. The artist agreed to give the horse a stallion's head and other necessary body parts before casting, but he did not change the physique. General Scott still rides his mare.
GEORGE B. Mcclellan, who succeeded Scott as General-in-Chief, was the prime mover in orchestrating his predecessor's retirement. On the surface, McClellan appeared to be the man who could implement the Anaconda Plan. At 34, he was already wealthy, well organized, sophisticated and popular with his men. He had graduated second in his class at West Point and then served as a division president of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad. McClellan looked like a general -- so much so, in fact, that his appearance tended to obscure his shortcomings.
Abraham Lincoln, however, was well acquainted with McClellan's faults. The general could be petty, arrogant and rude. McClellan called Scott "a perfect incubus," and said, "I do not know whether he is a dotard or a traitor." He described Lincoln as "an idiot" and "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon."
McClellan's worst fault may have been his failure to understand that his job was to win the war. He had 100,000 men in southeast Virginia with which to take Richmond in the spring of 1862, but he hesitated. Lincoln advised: "I think you had better break the enemy's line . . . at once." He did not. Losing the opportunity, McClellan watched dumbstruck as Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army raced northward. Lincoln ordered McClellan to give chase but Lee made it to Antietam, Md., in September 1862, before McClellan could stop him.
The president had enough of the timidity he called "McClellanitis." A year after his appointment, Lincoln relieved the general. "I began to fear he was playing false -- that he did not want to hurt the enemy," the president said. The two clashed again in the presidential election of 1864, when McClellan unsuccessfully ran against Lincoln. Yet despite his apparent failings during the war, McClellan won a statue in one of the most prominent spots in the city, near the Washington Hilton at Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road. Sitting at the rise of Connecticut Avenue, the statue looked impressive from the seat of a buggy, as it was intended to be seen when it was dedicated in 1907.
Samuel Francis du Pont was the nephew of the founder of the Delaware explosives company whose munitions were vital to the Union's military efforts. He was in charge of Philadelphia Navy Yard, not far from the family's Delaware factories, when the war started.
As one of the few experienced Navy men, du Pont was the logical commander for early Union naval ventures. He did well. However, after the new Union ironclad Monitor proved its worth against the Confederate Merrimack, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles in 1862 ordered du Pont to do the impossible: Capture the port city of Charleston, S.C., with a whole fleet of ironclads. Du Pont failed. To make matters worse, he had warned Welles in advance that the scheme would not work and Welles blamed him for being too timid. Lincoln, fearing du Pont had McClellanitis, listened to Welles and cashiered du Pont. After seeing his entire naval career discredited by a few hours of battle, du Pont returned to Delaware, where he died in 1865.
His wife (and cousin), Sophie du Pont du Pont, vowed to clear his name, but she failed. Still, she persuaded Congress to erect a statue of her husband in 1884 near their house in Washington. Later, the du Pont family decided the admiral's statue should be closer to home. They moved it to Wilmington, Del., in 1922 and replaced it with a fountain. When referring to the site, the admiral's last name is written as one word, hence Dupont Circle.
David G. Farragut was praised by then-Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton as "more ready to hazard high risk for high stakes than any other ranking military or naval officer." Fleets under his command implemented the naval part of the Anaconda Plan, seizing or blockading southern ports and eventually cutting the South off from commerce by sea.
Farragut added to his fame by personally leading a fleet into Mobile Bay, Ala., despite fire from shore guns and the presence of naval mines, or torpedoes as they were called. The admiral was aboard his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, when a ship in front hit a mine. According to legend, Farragut climbed the mast to see over the smoke and shouted down through the din, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Sailors reported hearing several thuds as the Hartford sailed through the minefield, but none of the damned torpedoes exploded.
Farragut's statue, cast from the propeller of the Hartford, was dedicated in 1881 on the once muddy Civil War campground that became Farragut Square. It was the first statue in the city to be sculpted by a woman, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, at a time when sculpting the human body was considered scandalous work for a woman. Farragut's was Hoxie's last work before she redirected her energies to becoming a prominent Washington hostess and patron of the arts.
George H. Thomas's opportunity for glory came in the campaigns of the west.
In July 1863, generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman captured Vicksburg, Miss., effectively squeezing Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas out of the Confederacy. At about the same time, a few hundred miles to the east, Thomas was part of Gen. William Rosecrans's army that was moving to encircle Chattanooga. But on Sept. 19 and 20, they ran into a Confederate trap south of the city at West Chickamauga Creek. At the height of the battle, all appeared lost and a rattled Rosecrans fled the battlefield and high-tailed it 17 miles back to Chattanooga.
Thomas's men held while the rest of the Union Army made a more orderly retreat. Although the Union suffered a humiliating defeat, Thomas's actions prevented a complete rout and his steadiness earned him the name "the Rock of Chickamauga."
After Rosecrans was relieved, Thomas served under his replacements, first Grant then Sherman. These two aggressive generals were often less than impressed with Thomas's methodical style. Sherman sometimes referred to Thomas as "Slow Trot" -- a moniker given to him by cadets at West Point, where Thomas once taught. Grant's first act after replacing Rosecrans was to order a breakout from Chattanooga.
In the fall of 1864, Thomas was given a command of his own at Nashville to protect the territory won in the west while Sherman and 60,000 men marched across Georgia, from Atlanta to the sea. Thomas's superiors, however, feared the cautious Slow Trot was holing up in Nashville. Secretary of War Stanton wrote "this looks like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country." A worried Grant started for Nashville to relieve Thomas. But the plodding Thomas finally acted on Dec. 15. On the outskirts of Nashville, he threw 50,000 Union troops at 25,000 Confederates and won overwhelmingly.
No one used the words Slow Trot at the dedication of Thomas's statue in 1879.
James B. McPherson's career was as distinguished as it was short. He held equal command to the older Sherman when Grant was in charge of the western armies. When Grant moved east, Sherman took over in the west with McPherson as his right arm. Grant and Sherman thought McPherson was the best officer in the army and believed he would win the war if they were killed. But it was the dashing McPherson, 35 and engaged to be married, who died in battle on July 22, 1864, as Sherman's forces closed in on Atlanta.
That morning, the Confederates made a surprise breakthrough in the Union lines pressing in on the city. McPherson went to Sherman's headquarters to confer, after which he and an aide rode off toward their own camp -- unaware that rebels had penetrated Union lines. McPherson came upon a company of Confederate soldiers emerging from some woods. They yelled at McPherson to halt. He wheeled his horse and bolted away, but was shot before he could escape.
Confederate cannons that were captured in the Atlanta campaign were melted down for McPherson's statue, which was dedicated in 1876. Plans called for his body to be interred in the base, but as it was being exhumed in Clyde County, Ohio, the Clyde Monumental Society got an injunction to block the move. As a result, McPherson's statue with its empty vault is in the public square that bears his name. His body still rests in Ohio.
William Tecumseh Sherman was, next to Grant, the most respected Union general -- at least in the North. Waging war on the economy of the South in his march across Georgia in November and December of 1864 won him no friends there. It did, however, wreck the South's ability to make war and it squeezed Mississippi, Alabama and most of Georgia out of the Confederacy. So bellicose was his reputation, and so popular was the man, that one of Sherman's political enemies, Secretary of War Stanton, feared a coup when Sherman brought his 60,000-man army into Washington for the big victory parade in May 1865. Grant rejected Stanton's nervous suggestion that Sherman be kept out of the city, and his army took an entire day to parade up Pennsylvania Avenue.
Sherman went on to become chief of the peacetime army, and his popularity remained so high that he was always considered presidential material. Sherman was remarkably articulate and his military memoirs are considered by many to be the best since Julius Caesar's. In 1884, in order to leave no doubt as to his presidential ambitions, Sherman delivered the classic unequivocal political statement: "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected."
His statue was erected in 1907 where he once gazed back at his parading army along Pennsylvania Avenue. Today, it is surrounded by ugly concrete barricades protecting the White House. The theme of the monument is war and peace. Sherman meant it when he said "War is hell," and once said about battle: "Its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentation of distant families." On the west side of Sherman's memorial is the figure of a woman with her hands bound standing on the body of a dead soldier on which two vultures prey.
John A. Logan was not a military man by training, but was one of several prominent Democrats that Lincoln commissioned as generals. He served dutifully under Sherman and assumed that the general would promote him to replace the slain McPherson for the final drive on Atlanta. Sherman instead picked West Pointer Oliver 0. Howard, the "Christian General," after whom Howard University was named. Logan never forgot.
After the War, Logan was elected to first the House and later the Senate, and assignments included oversight of appropriations for Army chief Sherman. A spiteful Logan consistently tried to pare his old superior's budget, irking Sherman to no end.
His statue stands on what was once known as Iowa Circle. A relief on the base of the monument shows Chester Arthur, as the U.S. vice president, swearing in Logan as a senator in 1879. The trouble is that although a vice president did swear in Logan, it was not Chester Arthur. The vice president then was William A. Wheeler. But Logan's wife was more concerned with appearances than truth. She wanted prominent men of the day to be depicted on the statue so she picked the more famous Arthur, a former president.
Philip H. Sheridan was an unlikely-looking general. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall and had a bullet-shaped head. Lincoln colorfully described him as "a brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping." He was made a general at age 31.
Sheridan was at Chickamauga under Thomas and at the breakout from Chattanooga under Grant. When Grant was put in command in the east, he brought Sheridan with him as cavalry chief. Later, Grant gave Sheridan the different assignment of driving the Confederates from the Shenandoah Valley. This was no small task, but it brought Sheridan glory.
On Oct. 20, 1864, while Sheridan was away from his army, meeting with Secretary of War Stanton, 10,000 Confederates under Gen. Jubal Early surprised Sheridan's 20,000-man army with a dawn attack. Hearing the sounds of distant battle, "little Phil," as he was sometimes called, rode his horse Rienze 20 miles from Winchester to the battlefield at Cedar Creek, Va. He personally appealed to the routed troops that streamed past him in defeat, and in one of the Civil War's most heroic episodes, ordered a late-afternoon counterattack that snatched a stunning victory from the jaws of defeat. The deed was memorialized in the maudlin poem "Sheridan's Ride" and helped Lincoln win reelection.
Sheridan became army chief upon Sherman's retirement in 1883, but the then-corpulent general died after a series of heart attacks in 1888 at the comparatively young age of 57. His statue was dedicated in 1907. There is Sheridan on Rienze, hellbent for Cedar Creek, with his hat in hand to rally his men. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the dedication, declaring the monument "first-class."
Ulysses S. Grant was the antithesis of George McClellan in almost every respect. He was a poor Ohio boy who graduated in the lower half of his West Point class, and who was later forced to resign from the army in 1854 for drunkenness. He had trouble earning his way as a civilian. When the war broke out, Grant asked to rejoin the army, laconically describing himself as "competent."
Grant, however, had the quality that McClellan lacked. He would fight without hesitation. In 1862, Grant lay siege to Fort Donselson, Tenn. The defenders asked for the terms of surrender. Newspapers said at the time that Grant's initials, U.S., meant "unconditional surrender" and quoted the first sentence of his reply: "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." Lincoln, who was looking for a general who did not suffer from McClellanitis, probably read on to Grant's next sentence: "I propose to move immediately on your works."
In 1863, Grant commanded a brilliant campaign that resulted in the capture of Vicksburg, then led the breakout at Chattanooga. In March 1864, Lincoln called Grant east and made him General-in-Chief.
Before Grant, fighting along the Atlantic seaboard had seesawed from Richmond in the south to Gettysburg in the north. Casualties were horrendous, and the North was not winning. Union generals would stop to lick their wounds after major clashes, even after clear victories such as Gettysburg.
After his appointment, Grant marched south in early May 1864. He intended to bite into Lee and hold on. At Cold Harbor, Va., he lost 7,000 men in 20 minutes by foolishly ordering a frontal attack on fortified positions. Despite the carnage, Grant pinned Lee down in Richmond within a month.
The siege lasted into winter. Sherman completed his march across Georgia on Christmas Day of 1864 and turned north. The Anaconda was putting on its death squeeze. Lee's army broke out, but got only to Appomattox Creek, where Lee surrendered. The war was over several weeks later.
The memorial to Grant at Union Square on the Mall at the base of the west front of the Capitol is the second largest equestrian statue in the world (after Victor Emanuel's in Italy.) The general sits on his horse, protected from the elements in slouch hat and great coat, just as he was during four years of war.
James H. Johnston is a lawyer and writer in Washington.