The Soldiers and Sailors Monument

soldiers and sailors monument front

By Casey Normile

Sometimes you drive by something so often, you don't even really see it anymore. A historical monument that once drew thousands to the city becomes just as much a part of the landscape as a Dunkin' Donuts.

You've probably noticed that a large stone monument in Washington Park near Henry Johnson Boulevard.

What is that? And why is it there?

soldiers and sailors monument bronze figure

The monument was created to memorialize Civil War soldiers from the Albany area. That might seem a little odd at first -- Albany and the Civil War aren't necessarily two things you might put together. But, as Albany city historian Tony Opalka points out, New York State contributed the largest number of soldiers to the Union army.

To remember the efforts of those men, on October 5, 1912 the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was dedicated in a huge city-wide celebration that included two parades and brought thousands of people from all over the state.

Since it was only 50 years or so after the war, veterans were able to attend the celebration. The two parades met at the park. Buildings were decorated and there were speeches by the governor, the mayor, and the son of Civil War general George B. McClellan (who was the former mayor of New York City). There was music. Bells rang out over the city. It was a big deal.

"People didn't have television back then," says Opalka, "so instead they went to parades."

The monument was put in Washington Park not only because it was the city's premiere park, but also because it was once used for military training. By siting it at the end of a promenade, the monument could become a focal point for those walking the grounds. It was meant to be seen often and by many.

soldiers and sailors monument rear

Said then New York governor John Alden Dix* at the dedication, according to a New York Times article published at the time:

Let us learn from [the soldiers] to bear hardship and privation, to withstand disappointment, calumny, disaster, everything, for our causes and our principles. The glory of earlier days is of course a treasure, but to enjoy it without enhancement or transmission to future generations is wanton embezzlement.

Created by sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil, the monument cost $100,000, according to that NYT article -- that would be more than $2 million today.

soldiers and sailors monument relief closeup

MacNeil titled the sculpture "The Nation in Peace Won Through Victorious War." It stands at 22 feet high and 21 feet long and features over 60 life-size figures on its sides. The figure in the front is bronze -- she symbolizes the nation. She's holding the palms of victory but also the sword of war.

After creating the enormous memorial, MacNeil went on to design a US quarter and part of the pediment for the Supreme Court of the United States building.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument was re-dedicated in 1986 as the "Albany Veterans Memorial Monument" after a $200,000 restoration. Two of the girls who participated in the original 1912 unveiling returned as 85-year-olds for the event. [TU archive]

And on the the 100th anniversary of the monument's first dedication -- this past October 5 -- it was re-dedicated again. . The Washington Park Conservancy recently spent $12,000 on new restorations of the monument. That ceremony included local officials, an honor guard, and Civil War-era music -- but, unlike a century ago, no parades.
____

* An interesting bit about Governor Dix: earlier that same year he had been booked on the Titanic's return trip to England. He ended up going on his vacation anyway, on a different boat, and made it back safely, allowing him to speak at the memorial's dedication (among many other things).

Find It

Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Washington Park
Albany, NY 12203

Comments

One of the best public memorials in the city. I think the marble relief owes something to the famous Robert Gould Shaw memorial of 1897.

It's a shame that at least once a year someone feels the need to climb up and leave trash in her arms.

"...only 50 years or so after the war..." It was 51 years from the start of the war, and 47 years from its end.

i live in the neighborhood. that statue is very well built. returning home after the 4th of july fireworks in 2010 i saw a car coming south on henry johnson miss the turn and slam right into it. the statue was just fine and the probably drunk driver was able to drive off.

I walked by this monument as a child, a sculpture more than a soldier in uniform on a horse. Years later I learned the art of casting large sculptures and putting them together and patina and installation and it is all "Donkey Work" with a little glory at the end to take a few bows. UCSC Foundry.

Thanks for the history lesson about this beautiful monument in Washington Park.
Unlike the Confederate Monuments in dispute just now, this monument celebrates the sacrifices of ordinary soldiers who were fighting in defense of our country, and it in no way serves to intimidate a sector of the population.

I really want the Confederate monuments re-located with a visible narrative about what these men did, caused, and destroyed in the process of saving their economic values.

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