NYC - Grand Army Plaza: Sherman Monument
This majestic, gilded-bronze equestrian group statue depicts one of the United States’ best-known generals, William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891). Dedicated in 1903, it was master sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s (1848–1907) last major work, and serves as the centerpiece of Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza.
Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio in 1820. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840 and served in California as well as in the Mexican War. Appointed brigadier general of volunteers for the Union Army in 1861, Sherman fought at Bull Run and Shiloh. Promoted to major general in 1862, he distinguished himself in the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns of 1863. Sherman blazed a trail of destruction as his troops seized Atlanta, marched to the sea, and headed north through the Carolinas. He received the surrender of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865, 17 days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The saying “War is hell” is attributed to Sherman. His younger brother, Senator John Sherman (1823–1900) of Ohio, was the author of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. General Sherman died in New York in 1891.
Following Sherman’s death, members of the City’s Chamber of Commerce, many of whom were personal friends of Sherman, appointed a committee to raise funds for a monument to the general. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was commissioned by the committee to create the monument. The sculptor had a head start on the project, having created a bust of Sherman in 1888. The elderly Sherman posed at his New York residence for the artist for 18 two-hour sittings. Saint-Gaudens’s admiration for the general only grew stronger after listening to his many stories; his appreciation for Sherman is evident in the monument’s elegant and dignified portrayal of the war hero.
Saint-Gaudens labored over every detail of the piece, splitting his time between his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire and Paris, France. The sculptor also became severely ill during the process, which stretched the length of time it took to complete the project. In 1902 Saint-Gaudens and the pedestal’s architect, Charles McKim, were ready to install the monument. Wanting to place it in Riverside Park near General Grant’s Tomb, they settled on Grand Army Plaza after the Sherman family objected to the Riverside site.
As with many of the sculptor’s works, the allegorical figure of peace leading Sherman is modeled after Saint-Gaudens’s mistress, Davida Johnson. The pine branch at the horse’s feet represents Sherman’s march through Georgia. Disliking statues looking like “smoke stacks,” Saint-Gaudens had the piece gilded with two layers of gold leaf. A frail Saint-Gaudens attended the unveiling on Memorial Day, 1903, eleven years after the monument was first proposed. “Saint-Gaudens is one of those artists for whom it is worthwhile to wait,” the Saturday Evening Post explained, however, as the successful piece was widely praised.
Saint-Gaudens’s other local works include the Admiral Farragut statue in Madison Square Park, and the Peter Cooper Monument in Cooper Square. Over the years the statue’s original gold-leafing peeled away and the statue became discolored. In 1989 the monument was conserved by the Central Park Conservancy’s Grand Army Plaza/Pulitzer Fountain Partnership with funding assistance from the David Schwartz Foundation and the Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society. A small controversy erupted after the community saw the restored piece in its gilded glory, as Saint-Gaudens originally intended. Since the conservation, the toning of the gold leaf has become more subdued, and today the monument stands as one of the country’s finest outdoor pieces.
Grand Army Plaza was named a scenic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1974.