Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses S. Grant’

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

On this bike ride, I stopped by the Major General George B. McClellan Memorial, which is located on a median at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue, Columbia Road, and California Street (MAP), directly in front of The Washington Hilton in northwest D.C.  The statue 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. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

After being named General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan drew praise for his military initiatives. However, he also quickly developed a reputation for his arrogance and contempt toward the political leaders in D.C., including toward the President who had named him to the top army post. The general began openly associating with Democratic leaders in Congress and showing his disregard for the Republican administration. In a letter to his wife, McClellan wrote that Lincoln was “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.”

During McClellan’s brief tenure as General-in-Chief, Lincoln made frequent evening visits to the general’s house to discuss strategy.  The most famous example of McClellan’s cavalier disregard for the President’s authority occurred on a day in 1861 when Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and presidential secretary John Hay stopped by to see the general. McClellan was out, so the trio waited for his return. After an hour, McClellan came in and was told by a porter that the guests were waiting. McClellan headed for his room without a word, and only after Lincoln waited another half-hour was the group informed that McClellan had retired for the evening and had already gone to bed. Hay felt that the president should have been greatly offended, but Lincoln replied that it was “better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.”

Lincoln made no more visits to the general’s home. However, approximately four months later, the President removed McClellan as General-in-Chief of the army. How much the general’s abrasiveness played a part in his removal is open to debate. Many regarded McClellan as a poor battlefield general. Others maintain that he was a highly capable commander, whose reputation suffered unfairly at the hands of pro-Lincoln partisans who needed a scapegoat for the Union’s setbacks. His legacy therefore defies easy categorization. After the war, Ulysses S. Grant was asked to evaluate McClellan as a general. He replied, “McClellan is to me one of the mysteries of the war.” But Robert E. Lee, on being asked who was the ablest general on the Union side during the late war, replied emphatically: “McClellan, by all odds!”

Interestingly, McClellan later ran as the Democrat party’s nominee for the 1864 presidential election against Lincoln. He was soundly trounced in the election, obtaining only 21 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 212 electoral votes. McClellan subsequently held several positions, including governor of New Jersey, before retiring to spend his final years traveling and writing his memoirs.

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General Philip Sheridan Memorial

General Philip Sheridan Memorial

The General Philip Sheridan Memorial is located in the center of Sheridan Circle, which is a traffic circle at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 23rd Street (MAP), in the Embassy Row neighborhood of northwest D.C.  A bronze sculpture dedicated in November of1908, it depicts General Sheridan during battle on his horse.  It was sculpted by John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, commonly referred to as Gutzon Borglum, who also produced an enormous carving of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee’s head at Stone Mountain in Georgia, and went on to create his crowning achievement, the Presidential Memorial at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.  The General Philip Sheridan Memorial 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.

Philip Henry Sheridan was a career U.S. Army officer and a Union general during the Civil War.  His military career was noted for his rapid rise, but it did not start off as successfully.  He obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy from Congressman Thomas Ritchey, but only after the congressman’s first candidate was disqualified.  While at West Point, Sheridan was suspended for a year for fighting with a classmate and threatening to run him through with a bayonet in reaction to a perceived insult.  He was allowed to return, and graduated in 1853, but was ranked 34th in his class of only 52 cadets.

His physical stature and appearance most likely did not enhance his career either.  Fully grown, he reached only 5 feet 5 inches tall, a diminutive stature that led to the nickname, “Little Phil.”  And he was even described by Abraham Lincoln 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.”

But despite his physical appearance and his career’s less than stellar beginnings, Sheridan went on to achieve great success in his military career.  He demonstrated his capacity for command during assignments on the U.S. frontier and in early Civil War operations.  Sheridan’s successful Shenandoah Valley Campaign in 1864 crushed Confederate General Jubal Early’s cavalry while destroying much of the South’s food supply.  Sheridan was also instrumental in General Robert E. Lee’s withdrawal from Petersburg, Virginia, after which Lee would soon surrender to Grant in April of 1865 to end the war.  Many contend that his career was also the result of help from influential friends, including his close association with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.  Sheridan eventually became the Commanding General of the U.S. Army in November of 1883, and just before his death in June of 1888, he was promoted to General of the Army of the United States – the same rank achieved by Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Sheridan also enjoyed a number of other somewhat unusual successes during and after his military career.  In 1871, Sheridan was present in Chicago during the Great Chicago Fire and coordinated military relief efforts.  The mayor, Roswell B. Mason, to calm the panic, placed the city under martial law, and issued a proclamation putting Sheridan in charge.  Sheridan also played an important role in the establishment and protection of Yellowstone National Park, which was officially created in 1872.  Mount Sheridan, which rises more than 10,000 feet and is located within the national park, was named after him.  Sheridan served as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association as well.

On a personal note, in 1875 Sheridan married Irene Rucker, a daughter of Army Quartermaster General Daniel H. Rucker. She was 22 at the time, and he was 44. They had four children.  After the wedding, Sheridan and his wife moved to D.C., where they lived in a house given to them by Chicago citizens in appreciation for Sheridan’s protection of the city during the Great Chicago Fire.  In 1888, at the age of 57, Sheridan suffered a series of debilitating heart attacks.  Knowing that his end was near, Congress promoted him to General of the Army on June 1, 1888.  Sheridan died on August 5, 1888.  He was survived by his wife Irene, who never remarried, saying, “I would rather be the widow of Phil Sheridan than the wife of any man living.”

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