Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, 1891
Louis T. Rebisso
Ridge Drive, overlooking Cannon Drive at 1900 North
This bronze equestrian portrait depicts Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) as the commander of Union forces during the Civil War. After Grant captured Vicksburg, Mississippi in May 1863, he effectively cut the Confederacy in half. In March 1864, President Lincoln appointed him General-in-Chief of the Union forces and he brought the war to an end with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
Shown with his typical expression of repose while astride a Kentucky thoroughbred, the type of horse he used in battle, this statue was described by his eldest son Frederick as the “most satisfactory” of any of the portraits of his father. The historically accurate details include the field glasses in his right hand, the hat, uniform, spurs, saddle and holster. His son’s commentary contrasts, however, with sculptor Lorado Taft’s estimation of the memorial, which he condemned as a “nondescript pile of masonry” surmounted by an equestrian portrait exhibiting a “complete lack of artistic distinction.” Francis M. Whitehouse, a Chicago architect working in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, designed the base and Italian-born and trained sculptor Louis T. Rebisso designed the statue. Although this sculpture accurately depicts the stocky General Grant on a long-legged horse, portraits of Grant in other cities often emphasize the contrast between calm rider and watchful animal.
The memorial was paid for by contributions from nearly 100,000 individuals and the bronze sculpture was, at that time, the largest ever cast in the United States, completed in Chicopee, Massachusetts. At the time of the undraping ceremony, during which U.S. flags were pulled away to reveal the portrait, the Army of the Tennessee was having a reunion in Chicago. Thus, approximately 200,000 people were in attendance as 20 bands played the “Star Spangled Banner.” On June 6, 1892, lightning struck the statue and, of the people standing beneath the statue at the time, three were killed and seven wounded. The bronze statue was not harmed, except for a bluish streak that marked the path of the thunderbolt.
In 1958, a Civil War study group asked the Park District to consider moving the memorial from Lincoln Park to Grant Park, which had not been constructed when the monument was unveiled. The cost was prohibitive, estimated at $230,000, so the Grant statue remains in Lincoln Park while Grant Park features the Seated Lincoln by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.