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Gen. Philip H. Sheridan | by dbking
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Gen. Philip H. Sheridan

General Philip H. Sheridan

Sheridan Circle, Massachusetts Ave and 23rd Sts NW

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum

Date: 1908

Medium: Bronze

 

---family legend says that shortly before his death, Sheridan paused while out walking with his wife one night to look at the equestrian statue of one of his Civil War comrades (Gen Winfield Scott at Scott Circle). And he said to her, “whatever you do after I am gone, don’t put me on a horse like that”.

 

---Sheridan had captured the imagination of the public as one of the North’s most famous cavalry hero’s, his statue would most certainly be an equestrian one.

 

---When the time came for a monument, Mrs. Sheridan made sure that the horse was as proud and courageous as its rider.

 

---most equestrian statues in Washington are atop pedestals forcing viewers to gaze at the underbelly, Sheridan and his horse, Rienzi, look as if they have come galloping down Massachusetts Ave sending dirt flying as they skid to a halt. Set low to the ground, Sheridan looks the viewer right in the eye.

 

---Sculpted by Guzton Borglum, who when his work was criticized as unconventional, snapped that Washingtonians had gotten used to “ridiculous clothespin men on wooden horses”.

 

---the son of Irish immigrants, Sheridan graduated from West Point in 1853 where he had been suspended for a year after chasing with fixed bayonet a superior he believed had mistreated him.

 

--his only distinctions in the pre-war army were a pugnacity and a handlebar moustache

 

---during the first year of the war, Sheridan languished as a quartermaster captain in Missouri. Spring of 1862 he obtained a field command of a cavalry regiment, by a fluke and within weeks proved himself so bold and so able that the he was promoted to brigade command, then division command, and soon after Stone River, to major general of volunteers. At the Battle of Chattanooga, Sheridan caught the eye of Ulysses S. Grant who gave him command of the Cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. In 1864 when Sheridan was appointed Chief of Cavalry, he carried out with a vengeance Grant’s orders to lay waste to the Shenandoah Valley.

 

---October 19, 1864, Sheridan and his horse “Rienzi” rode into history. Sheridan was away in Winchester, Virginia when his men were surprised and all but routed by Jubal Early’s Rebels at Cedar Creek. Hearing of the attack twenty miles away, Sheridan threw himself into the saddle and raced to the front lines. Finding his men in full retreat, Sheridan rode among them swinging his hat, shouting: “there’s a lot of fight in you men yet, Come up, God damn you, come up!” They did, by the dozens and then the hundred they returned to Cedar Creek and snatched victory from defeat. This has been immortalized in a poem by Thomas B. Read, called “Sheridan’s Ride”.

 

---this is the scene that Guzton Borglum wanted to capture, the moment Sheridan rallied his men on the Winchester Road. Borglum grew up in the American West, in Idaho Territory and despite his growing up in France and Spain his early themes were almost always cowboys and Indians and almost always involved spirited horses like Rienzi.

 

---After he completed the Sheridan equestrian statue a group of southerners invited him to carve a huge head of General Robert E. Lee onto the side of Stone Mountain, east of Atlanta. Borglum convinced them to fund instead a colossal procession of Confederate soldiers led by Lee, Jefferson, Davis and Stonewall Jackson all on

horseback. Though he was eventually fired by the Stone Mountain Monument Association and had to flee the state

 

---Despite his growing reputation as a difficult artist, a group of South Dakotans invited him to carve a massive “shrine of democracy” on the side of Mount Rushmore. Again he clashed with the authorities but not before Borglum had roughed in all four presidents at the time of his death in 1941.

 

---Borglum’s other works include:…

... the start of the Confederate triumvirate on Stone Mountain, GA

…Marble head of Lincoln in the US Capital Rotunda

…statue of Lincoln sitting alone on a bench for Newark, NJ

…and equestrian statue of Sheridan for Chicago

…the North Carolina Memorial for the Gettysburg Battlefield

 

The statue in Washington stands out as one of his best and one of his personal favorites.

 

---in August 1888 when Sheridan died, the Society of the Army of the Cumberland asked prominent sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward to prepare an equestrian model of “Little Phil” as Sheridan was nicknamed. As a leading member of the Society, Sheridan had worked with Ward on his previous work for the Society, the Thomas and Garfield statues. In 1892, the Society and Ward signed a contract calling for completion of a Sheridan equestrian statue by 1898.

 

---1898 came and went, Ward had nothing to show for the 6 years work. By 1903, he had produced only a life size study of Sheridan’s head. The Society and Mrs. Sheridan had appropriated $50,000 for the statue and were exasperated. Ward wanted to depict Sheridan as the senior officer in the final years of his life, Mrs. Sheridan wanted her husband portrayed as a dashing young officer astride Reinzi on their famous ride. She refused to let Ward borrow the stirrups, saber, belt, and spurs he had requested to work with. Trying to salvage the project, Ward invited Mrs. Sheridan and her son, Lt. Philip Sheridan Jr. to his NY studio. Both mother and son hated Ward’s model: Sheridan was too portly, too old, his horse too wooden.

 

---1905, the Society cancelled the contract with Ward, who sued and lost. Thirteen years later, the Society was right back where it had started. After Ward’s death, his Sheridan model was cast And erected in Albany, NY. This saga was play out and followed closely by the art world. Borglum had tangled with Ward before when Ward had criticized the rough energy of his works.

 

Borglum wanted this commission, not just because he needed the money, but that he was confident he could produce the exciting horse the Sheridan family wanted. Having lost the competition for the Grant Memorial, Borglum laid his groundwork this time. He read Sheridan’s memoirs and biographies. He got himself invited to a Washington dinner, seating next to Mrs’ Sheridan whom he invited to his NY studio. This visit went well, Mrs. Sheridan was charmed to know how much he about her husband and by the models of the horses he had casually set out.

 

---1907: At the urging of Mrs. Sheridan, the Society and Borglum entered into a contract for this work. As he worked, Borglum talked to Sheridan’s friends and comrades, often visiting Mrs. Sheridan to sketch her husbands artifacts. As the statue neared completion Lt. Sheridan who closely resembled his father was given leave to visit Borglum’s studio to pose for the finishing touches. The attention to detail paid off, Mrs. Sheridan, her family and the Society loved the finished product.

 

---Dedicated on November 25, 1908 the statue quickly became a favorite of the press and the crowds. Mrs. Sheridan and their daughters lived two blocks from the placement of the statue in Sheridan Circle which helped draw big crowds to the ceremony, even bigger than those at the dedication of of the statue of George McClellan the previous spring. not to mention the pre-dedication publicity that Borglum had helped generate by inviting reporters into his NY Studio. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke fondly at the dedication about his mad dash down the Shenandoah Valley, no doubt recalling his own charge up San Juan Hill. Mrs. Sheridan’s son pulled the cord that parted

the flags covering his father’s statue. The audience recited the poem “Sheridan’s Ride” as they looked with excitement at this statue that excites the imagination and exudes action and bravery from every angle

 

Famous mis-quote:

The only good Indian is a dead Indian." — Philip Sheridan [M]

Actual quote is said to be "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead," though Sheridan denied ever saying it.

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Taken on August 26, 2006