Battle Monument at Trophy Point

The inscription is simple: “In memory of the Officers and Men of the Regular Army of the United States who fell in battle during the War of the Rebellion this monument is erected by their surviving comrades.”

It is built of granite with a monolithic shaft 46 feet tall and five feet six inches in diameter, designed by Stanford White, surmounted by a statue of Fame sculpted by Frederick MacMonnies, and the concept was initiated at West Point. It was felt that the sacrifices of the Regular Army officers, non-commissioned officers and men had received scant notice because the press of the time generally favored publicizing the accomplishments of local volunteer units. A monument to the regulars was sorely needed. COL (then LT) Hasbrouck [Class of May 1861], after dinner at the Officers Mess one night in September 1863, reportedly suggested the idea of including the names of all officers and men of the Regular Army killed in action or died of wounds. That idea (sound familiar?) seemed to galvanize the concept. Meetings were held and an association formed for the purpose. By 9 October 1863, it was resolved that the Superintendent be president of the association and that the standard of subscription vary from $27 for a major general to $7 for a lieutenant (approximately six percent of one month’s pay). Later, $1 was set as the standard for enlisted men. Of the original subscribers to the monument, it must be noted that the single largest donation ($100) was made by a private citizen, C. B. Barclay, and that the largest total donation ($130.25) came from 112 soldiers in the 12th Infantry Regiment, followed closely by $113 from 80 soldiers in the Cavalry detachment at West Point.

By 19 April 1864 it was determined that the site should be dedicated on 15 June 1864, and MG George B. McClellan was invited to deliver the inaugural address. He said, “We have assembled today to consecrate a cenotaph which shall remind our children’s children, in the distant future, of their fathers’ struggles in the days of the great rebellion.” He then praised the deeds of the many volunteers but noted that the states would raise monuments to their dead. “But we of the regular army have no States to look to for the honors due our dead. We belong to the whole country, and can neither expect nor desire the general government to make a perhaps invidious distinction in our favor.”

Unfortunately, little was done for a number of years, although by 29 October 1889 the funds raised were invested in bonds worth about $63,000. COL Wilson, the Superintendent, suggested that the funds be used to enlarge the Old Cadet Chapel or to build a Memorial Hall. Then, in a letter dated 21 February 1890, the Adjutant General authorized the erection of the monument. On 8 March 1890, famed sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens reportedly confirmed that, due to nature of the site, the large number of names to be commemorated, and the limited funds available, the monument should be primarily architectural in nature. It also was determined that the competition would be limited to four qualified firms. The firm of McKim, Mead & White won on the basis of their dignified, graceful design well suited to the site on Trophy Point. The other entries where more substantial, tending to resemble the present Brandenburg Gate. Ironically, the eventual site of the monument actually is adjacent to the one dedicated by MG McClellan. Also, the original figure of Fame was not acceptable and had to be changed; this was done at no additional cost.

The quarry that supplied the granite shaft was located at Stony Creek, CT, and was known for producing large stones. The working of the shaft provided no problems except those related to its immense size. The block was revolved in an elaborate truss system about six and a third revolutions a minute while grinding with chilled shot (38 hours) and emery (56 hours) and during final glossing (8 hours) for each portion. The shaft was then boxed in 14-inch-square timbers and elaborately trussed, shored and cross-timbered for shipment on a special flat car used for hauling locomotive bodies. The only problem was overheating of the journals of the axles, and it was solved by keeping the speed of the train well below ten miles per hour. It took 13 days, with actual running time of 38 hours, to cover the 191 miles from the quarry to the switch at West Point, including a trip across the Hudson by boat at Newburg. Then temporary track was laid to Trophy Point. The shaft was raised by means of a wooden hinge, a stage, and a sand jack, because a 103-foot breast derrick constructed earlier had been destroyed in a gale.

After additional delays and modifications, dedication ceremonies were set for 31 May 1897, almost 33 years after the concept was first adopted. The President of the United States was invited (but he delegated the duty to his Secretary of War), LTG (Retired) John M. Schofield presented the monument to the government, and the Honorable David J. Brewer, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, delivered the main oration. A special grandstand accommodating over a thousand spectators, resplendent in red and white striped canopies and adorned with numerous flags, was erected for the event. In proudly noting that the names of all ranks appeared on the monument, the Secretary of War said, “for the true soldier and officer never forgets what he owes to the men he commands.” There are 188 officer names and 2,042 enlisted names commemorated (yes, several generations of plebes memorized an erroneous number).

In the end, Battle Monument cost about $46,000 for stonework, $3,500 for the figure of Fame, another $7,000 for other bronze work, and $3,000 in architect fees. Other expenses, including the competition, dedication, and various publications brought the total to $66,820.87. All information herein courtesy of: “History of The Battle Monument at West Point: Together with a list of the names of those inscribed upon and commemorated by it and of the original subscribers thereto,” by Charles W. Larned [Class of 1870], Secretary of the Building Committee, published at West Point, NY, 1898.

c/o J. Phoenix, Esquire