Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The War Horse Memorial: Richmond, Virginia

The War Horse (photograph from The Virginia Historical Society)
Recently a friend of mine handed me a thick, blue folder inside of which was articles, photographs, postcards, souvenir booklets, and magazines all relating to Civil War themed topics.  Because I have recently joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy, she wanted to share some things with me that she knew I would be interested in.  The folder is a treasure trove of interesting topics and now that my Cammie Henry manuscript is in the hands of the publisher for round two of scrutiny, I have a little time to delve into my blue folder.

One of the photographs that caught my eye was of The War Horse memorial which is located at The Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia.  The monument is a memorial to the horses and mules, both Union and Confederate, that were lost during the Civil War.  It is estimated that between 1,300,000 and 1,500,000 horses and mules were lost during the conflict either through injury or disease. At Gettysburg alone, it is estimated that 3,000 horses and mules were lost.

The monument in Virginia is a life-sized bronze horse who still wears his saddle and bridle.  His head hangs low, his ribs are exposed, and he is exhausted.  His back foot is slightly raised, which according to philanthropist and horse breeder Paul Mellon who commissioned the monument, is "what horses do when they are tired."

In doing a little research on the monument and the artist who created it, I learned that this monument is actually one of three War Horse monuments.  The other two are three-quarter sized and stand at The National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, VA, and at The United States Cavalry Museum at Ft. Riley Kansas.

By the time Paul Mellon commissioned the one for the Virginia Historical Society, he had decided that 3/4 size was not large enough and so the artist's mold had to be enlarged for a life-sized monument.

The artist is Tessa Pullan of Rutland, England. She is well-known for her work in portraying animals and Mellon knew her because she had created a monument for his Kentucky Derby winning horse, Sea Hero, in 1993.  According to "The Origin of the War Horse" by Lisa Campbell of the National Sporting Library and Museum, Mellon was acquainted with artist John Skeaping under whom Ms. Pullan had studied. Skeaping highly recommended Ms. Pullan and so she was hired to do the Sea Hero commission.

In creating the War Horse monument, Ms. Pullan was aided by vast numbers of photographs and input from Paul Mellon.  Mr. Mellon knew exactly what he wanted this horse to look like and had been inspired by this photograph he saw in a book: it is "The American Tommy Atkins in a Montana Blizzard" by Remington.  The horse in that painting is also exhausted, gaunt, and has his back foot slightly raised.

In Lisa Campbell's article, Tessa Pullan says Mellon "supplied the photographs which were of a horse used for battle reenactments. He also sent a couple of photocopies of prints or paintings to give me an idea of what he was after. One was a horse in a snow storm which is the one I based the sculpture on."  Pullan also studied photographs of abused and starved horses, a process she describes as "horrendous," but that helped her get the effect she and Mellon wanted.

The horse was intended to represent both Union and Confederate sides and a great deal of research went into the gear on the horse so that it could represent either side.  It is also interesting to note that the scabbard is empty, indicating that the rider did not survive the battle.

The monument at the Virginia Historical Society was unveiled in September 1997; at the base of the monument is the inscription:

In memory of the one and a half million horses and mules of the Confederate and Union armies who were killed, were wounded, or died from disease in the Civil War.

Some say that the best time to visit the monument is at night; the lighting on the horse causes a huge silhouette on the wall behind him which is a striking sight.


Tessa Pullan's website is here.

More about animal mascots of the Civil War.

The War Horse photographs.

If you like this post, please share it!  If you love this post, please hit the tip jar on the right sidebar!  Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

GruntOfMonteCristo said...

I've been there. (The Richmond monument) It's very moving. Good tribute.