The Peace Monument

The Peace Monument

The Peace Monument, also known as the Naval Monument or Civil War Sailors Monument, stands on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building in Peace Circle, located at First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.  Part of a three-part sculptural group which includes the James A. Garfield Monument and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, the Peace Monument was erected in 1877-1878 to honor naval deaths during the Civil War.  It is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.,” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 44-foot white Carrara marble neoclassical monument was designed by Admiral David D. Porter, one of the top naval commanders of the Civil War, who originally conceived it to be built in Annapolis, Maryland, the home of the United States Naval Academy.  The monument prominently features sculptures by American artist Franklin Simmons, who also sculpted the equestrian figure of General John A. Logan at the center of Logan Circle in D.C.  The monument is surrounded by a basin built on a raised platform, which was designed by Edward Clark, the Architect of the Capitol at that time.

The monument is topped with a statue which features two figures, one representing Grief crying on the shoulder of a female personification of History.  The History figure holds tablet in her left hand that reads “They died that their country might live.”  A statue featuring a female figure of Victory stands below Grief and History, holding a laurel wreath and an oak branch to signify strength.  At her feet are infant representations of the Roman gods Neptune, representing the Navy, and Mars, representing the Marines.  Another statue, depicting a female figure of Peace holding an olive branch, stands facing the Capitol Building.  An inscription at the base of the monument reads, “In memory of the officers, seamen and marines of the United States Navy who fell in defense of the Union and liberty of their country, 1861-1865.”

However, upon close examination it is apparent that the memorial was never completed.  Based on the proposed design, it was supposed to also include a decorative fountain with bronze dolphins spouting water into the base, and four ornate street lamps at its corners. But when construction was completed these decorative elements were absent.

Instead, the base includes four bare holes that simply dump water out into the surrounding basin.  And the four granite piers at the corners of the memorial have screws sticking out of them where the street lamps were intended to be installed.  It would seem evident from the unfinished construction that they were expected to be added at some point.  The fact that when construction of the monument was halted but no formal dedication ceremony was held, as was the custom when a memorial was completed, would further indicate The Peace Monument’s unfinished status.  Presumably, the ceremony was put off pending final completion of the memorial, and to date there is no record of a dedication ceremony ever having taken place.

In a city replete with countless memorials to wars, the military, and individual soldiers, it is disappointing that after 137 years, the Federal government has chosen not to complete one of the few memorials dedicated to peace.


  1. Excellent post, as usual. I first heard the story of its unfinished condition a few years back from John DeFerrari’s blog “Streets of Washington.” I may have to get down there myself and do some photography.


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