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.
Harriette (“Hettie”) Eugenia Anderson posed for the allegorical figure of peace leading Sherman. An African-American from Georgia, Anderson was described by the artist as “certainly the handsomest model I have ever seen of either sex.” Saint-Gaudens may also have fused the subject’s facial features with those of long-time model, muse and 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 (1881) in Madison Square Park, and the Henry Maxwell medallion portrait (1903, 1996 replica) in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. Over the years the statue’s original gold-leaf peeled away and the statue became corroded and 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. The return of its gilded glory elicited considerable public debate, and the bright surface was later “toned” through an application of pigmented wax.
Since then there has been again significant loss of gold leaf, and in October 2011 a freakish early snow storm denuded the surrounding landscape of all its trees. As of 2012 the Central Park Conservancy had embarked on a restoration campaign for the sculpture and plaza to ensure the continuing vitality of one of America’s finest outdoor monuments.
William Tecumseh Sherman Details
- Sculptor: Augustus Saint-Gaudens; Alexander Phimister Proctor
- Architect: Charles Follen McKim
- Description: Group (heroic scale) consisting of equestrian figure and female figure on pedestal decorated with six applied wreaths (three on each side), plaque set in pavement
- Materials: Group and wreaths--bronze (gilded); pedestal--Stony Creek granite (polished); plaque--bronze; pavement: bluestone
- Dimensions: Horse figure h 14'6"; equestrian figure total h 15'6"; "genius of victory" figure h 10'6"; pedestal l 42'6" x w 30'8"; total h 24'4"; plaque l 2'1" x w 10"
- Cast: 1902
- Dedicated: December 5, 1989
- Foundry: Group and wreaths--Thiebaut Freres, Paris
- Fabricator: Plaque--International Bronze, Garden City, Long Island
- Donor: Citizens of New York, under auspices of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York; David Schwartz Foundation
- Inscription: TO GENERAL / WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN / BORN FEB. 8, 1820 / DIED FEB. 14, 1891 / ERECTED BY CITIZENS OF NEW YORK / UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE / CHAMBER OF COMMERCE / OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK /
GENERAL WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN / AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS, SCULPTOR / CHARLES FOLLEN MCKIM, ARCHITECT / 1903 /