20. Major General George B. McClellan
The McClellan monument was the first monument erected in Washington by the Society of the Army of the Potomac. The location that was eventually chosen had been the site of a Union Camp in the summer of 1861 when McClellan arrived in Washington, and therefore, was a fitting selection. The selection served to appease those in the Society of the Army of the Potomac, who had grumbled that the best spots in the capital had been preempted by statues of lesser men.
Rejecting all four of the original models submitted to the McClellan Statue Commission, the Commission issued a terse statement, saying, “No model submitted upon the competition is satisfactory.” The following month, the Commission decided “to invite some sculptor to submit a model for the McClellan equestrian statue, and to have no further competition.” Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a member of the Advisory Committee, undoubtedly was instrumental in commissioning his former pupil, Frederick MacMonnies, who was at that time residing in Paris, to design the equestrian monument of General McClellan.
The statue of McClellan sits high above street-level and well above the line of sight of passersby. The pedestal includes bronze escutcheons bearing the names of McClellan’s battles: Yorktown, Gaines Mill, Williamsburg, Antietam, South Mountain, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill. Also included in the base are massed cannons, flags, munitions, and wreaths, and four large eagles supporting massive garlands of oak and laurel.
A late-May ceremony was set and preliminary announcements mailed when Mrs. McClellan decided to go to Europe and requested that the date be changed, preferably to November. This caused society president Horatio King to write to President Taft, who had rebuffed Mrs. McClellan’s request, “By the way, I am in disgrace too for not consenting to murder the old Vets by having open air exercises in November.” The Society reluctantly moved the dedication ceremonies to May 2.
By now, the veterans’ ranks were thinning quickly but many aging veterans made it to the ceremonies, some still able to march, others only able to sit in the reviewing stands. All, however, heard the tributes to McClellan and heard the speeches that heaped praise on each one of them by speakers who articulated the meaning of their youthful sacrifice.