by Samuel D. Gruber
I love looking at Civil War monuments, in part for the story they tell about the war and those who served, fought and died, but also because more than any other group of American public artworks they are also often integral elements in the cityscape, or sometimes in a cemetery landscape. This is especially the case in Troy, New York where the 90-foot tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Monument Square, with its bronze statue "Call to Arms" perched atop its summit, sits at an intersection of River Street, 2nd Street and Broadway at the heart of a revived and increasingly vibrant downtown. The Saturday Farmers' Market spreads out on all ides of the triangular "square" and north on River Street.
The Square is now part of the Central Troy Historic District, the largest urban National Register Historic district in the United States.
The hey-day of Civil War monuments also corresponds to the greatest period of American, figural and monumental sculpture, that era we now refer to as the American Renaissance, dominated by sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937) and John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910), but also graced with many other fine (though now largely forgotten) artists.
The use of a tall column for a military monument is ancient in origin, and Trajan's column in Rome is the best known example. But tall columns as monuments were popular in the United States in the 19th century, the best known being Robert Mills' Washington Monument in Baltimore (1815-29). The Troy monument was erected in 1890-91 and dedicated in September 1891. The design is by Albany architects (Albert W.) Fuller & (William Arthur) Wheeler. The construction contract was awarded Frederick & Field, of Quincy, Mass.
The cornerstone was laid on Decoration Day, Friday, May 30th, 1890. In addition to the usual laudatory speeches, there was "a large procession of veteran soldiers and the military organizations the city, under the direction of Major-General Joseph B. Carr, chief marshal, and the singing of dedicatory and patriotic hymns by five hundred school children." Even more lavish celebrations, as described in the New York Times, marked the completion and dedication of the monument the following year.
The robust tri-partite base of the monument is one of the last full-blown examples of a medieval style made more muscular and angular, pioneered by Philadelphia architect (and Civil War veteran) Frank Furness. The style that was popular in American after the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exposition (and Furness's Provident Life and Trust Building of the same year), but was replaced in most public buildings and monuments by Roman-inspired classicism after the success of the "White City"of the 1893 Chicago Colombian Exposition.
The base supports four bronze relief plaques representating the cavalry, infantry and artillery branches of the Union military service and a fourth plaque representing the naval battle between the Monitor and Merrimac. Atop the tall granite shaft is the bronze statue titled " Call to Arms" by New York sculptor James E. Kelly (1855-1933). Kelly was a leading illustrator and sculptor of Civil War scenes and the creator of many monuments throughout the country.
Kelly's bronze reliefs revive the lively style of Civil War illustration popularized in magazines such as Harper's during the war, but they also draw from classical Greek and Roman sources; casts and engravings of which were plentifully available in late-19th century America. But it is also likely the Kelly was aware of the Edward Muybridge's studies of animal locomotion widely presented since 1878. The composition of Kelly's cavalry charge brings to mind the famous Parthenon frieze, but the lively movement of the horses suggests Muybridge's motion studies.