The Women of “The Art Park of the World”
Soon after the Vicksburg National Military Park was established in 1899, the nation’s leading architects and sculptors were commissioned to honor the soldiers that had fought in the campaign. The park’s earliest state memorial was dedicated in 1903, and over 95 percent of the monuments that followed were erected prior to 1917. An aging Civil War veteran who hastened to Vicksburg to see the resulting works was so impressed that he aptly described Vicksburg National Military Park as “the art park of the world.” The work of commemoration has continued sporadically since 1917, and today, over 1370 monuments, tablets and markers dot the park landscape. Unfortunately, some of these are on former park lands or are not situated along the tour road.
Six of the park’s state memorials feature the figures of women. The first along the tour road is the Minnesota Memorial at Stop 3. The monument was dedicated on May 24, 1907, at a cost of $24,000. The 90-foot white granite obelisk was constructed by the Van Ambringe Granite Company of Boston, Massachusetts. The granite stereobate (stereo-bait’) or foundation, of the monument has the word “Minnesota” symbolically sculpted into its north and south sides.
On the front of the memorial, mounted on a plinth (plenth), or raised pedestal, is a bronze figure entitled “Peace”, based on Pax, the Roman goddess of peace. The sculpture was cast using the lost-wax process at Gorham Manufacturing Company in Providence, Rhode Island. Pax is depicted here as a beautiful, radiant young woman holding a sword in her right hand and a shield in her left, symbolizing that both armies have placed their weapons in her keeping. “Peace” was sculpted by William Couper.
At Stop 4 you will find the second grand goddess of the park: “The Spirit of Michigan”. The lower third of the monument is carved from a 40-ton stone, and is graced by an eight foot “symbolic figure of Michigan bringing laurels to her brave sons.” The figure atop the plinth, or pedestal, was created by Herbert Adams. In 1916 Adams’ model of “Spirit” was awarded the medal of honor for sculpture at the Thirty-First Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York. “Spirit” was modeled after the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, female arts, crafts, justice and skill, and of heroic endeavor. She was a busy girl! In her left arm she cradles a gear wheel with 27 cogs. The gear wheel is symbolic of civilization and movement.
The Illinois Memorial at Stop 5 is perhaps the most impressive of the state monuments in the park. On December 15, 1903, the firm of Jenney and Mundie of Chicago won the architectural contract. Culver Construction Company of Springfield, Illinois, was soon awarded the construction contract. Frederick C. Hibbard of Chicago, who also sculpted the statue of General Ulysses S. Grant in the park, was paid $250 to design an eagle to surmount the pediment of the portico and to make a plaster cast ready for reproduction in bronze. The American Bronze Foundry Company was paid $1,000 to cast the eagle. Sixty bronze tablets were cast with the names of the 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign. Charles Mulligan of Chicago was paid $6,000 to design and sculpt the figures in the tympanum, as well as three medallion busts of President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant and Governor Richard Yates, the war governor of Illinois.
The tympanum (tim’-pen-um), or triangular area above the six Roman Doric columns, features three female figures. Many designs were considered but the final design changed the muses of Fame, Valor and History to those of North, South and History. North and South are shown leaning to the central figure of “History” as they recall the heroism of their soldiers while History records these deeds. North, the figure on the left, is based upon Pax, the Roman goddess of peace, who has an olive branch in her right hand and across her lap with the shield of the Union cradled in her left arm. The figure on the right represents the South, and is based upon Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and the season of spring. The agrarian Flora is pictured with her customary garland of flowers. The central figure is based upon Clio, the Greek and Roman goddess of history. As is customary, Clio is portrayed with a writing instrument as she records “the deeds of North and South reunited in Peace.” The tympanum was sculpted by Charles J. Mulligan.
On to Stop 12 and the Missouri Memorial. The Missouri Memorial was dedicated October 17, 1917, during the National Peace Jubilee. It is of Roman Composite order, where the architectural features are for decoration rather than to emulate the structural features of the early wooden temples. The red granite memorial cost $40,000 and was designed by architect Harry I. Helmuth. The bronze was sculpted by Victor S. Holms and cast by the American Bronze Company. Projecting outward from the stele on a sculpted plinth is the figure of a winged bronze woman representing the “Spirit of the Republic.” The “Spirit” figure, a beautiful young woman, is based on the Hellenistic Greek goddess of victory, Nike, who was closely associated with the Grecian goddess Athena. This version of Nike was inspired by the famous Nike of Samothrace, now on display in the Louvre in Paris.
Now on to Stop 14. The Mississippi Memorial is the crown jewel of the park’s impressive collection of art. The Mississippi Memorial is a Roman Composite order design and was dedicated on November 13, 1909. R.H. Hunt of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was selected as the architect and the bronze work was sculpted by Frederick C. Triebel of Peoria, Illinois and New York City. Much of Triebel’s work was done in Rome, Italy and the bronze was cast at the G. Vignali Foundry in Florence, Italy. The sculptures did not arrive in New Orleans until April 20, 1912 and were installed later that year. The 76-foot monument cost $32,000 and is constructed of Mount Airy, North Carolina granite from the North Carolina Granite Corporation.
The final lady of stone is found at Stop 19. This lady is a bit different from the other ladies of the park in that she is not based on ancient Greek or Roman figures. Instead the central figure of the memorial is A woman in period Civil War dress. She represents Alabama to convey the point that both men and women defended their state. Two of the soldiers are wounded and one man behind the flag lies dead. The wounded soldier at the woman’s feet is trying to quench his dehydration with a cup of water, while the wounded man on the left vainly attempts to hold his rifle-musket up. The other four soldiers (one is behind the flag) are firing their rifle-muskets to defend their colors. The sculpture is the work of Steffen Thomas and was dedicated July 19, 1951, at a cost of $150,000.
A drive through the serenity of “the field of honor” that we call the Vicksburg National Military Park is a true treasure. You are surrounded by the works of the country’s greatest sculptors and architects of the last century. Take your time and enjoy the history of America as presented by the country’s greatest artists.