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2021-05-06

A Monument to the Union Victory

A good friend of mine asks on Facebook:

Why aren’t there Union victory monuments or monuments to abolitionists?

This question reminded me of the monuments at Gettysburg, where I was struck by the contrast between the monuments erected by the Union and Confederate states. In general the Confederate monuments were larger and more warlike, the sort of thing you’d expect from the victors. The victors, on the other hand, generally erected more sober monuments naming the soldiers who had died and expressing sadness at the war’s terrible toll.

Then I remembered a monument at the US Capitol. It might not even be a monument, it is so understated, on a par with the Vietnam memorial. Only its placement tells you how important it is:

Placement of the Memorial
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I remember wandering near the statue of the horseman years ago and being moved by its majesty and sense of tragedy. US Grant, perhaps our greatest general, is sitting on top of his horse, but the horse is not rearing up for battle and the man atop is not saluting his triumph.

Closeup of the Memorial
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Now, years later, having listened to American Ulysses, Ron White’s biography of Grant, I think of him as a truly great leader and human being. His life was so rich and complex that I won’t try to explain what makes him great. It’s clear from this simple monument that our country felt the same as I do.


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