Often referred to as Brooklyn’s Arc de Triomphe, this monument has stood at the main entrance of Prospect Park since 1892. The monument was built with the support of the Grand Army of the Republic, the leading fraternal organization for Union veterans. The monument demonstrates the Beaux-Arts style of architecture that was common for monuments of this type. Its grand arch is adorned with statues and reliefs.
The monument, like many other Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monuments throughout the country, honors the memory and bravery of Civil War soldiers and sailors, but it also reflects the civic pride and optimism of many Americans at the turn-of-the-century. The monument was dedicated in 1892, with many of the statues and reliefs finished over the next six years.
Most Union Civil War veterans were in their 50s and 60s in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when commemorative ceremonies and monuments were being built in New York, Brooklyn, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Connecticut, and Gettysburg, among other places. Furthermore, the construction of Civil War memorials across the nation was, in part, due to the power and advocacy of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and the children of Civil War veterans who wanted to recognize the achievements of the previous generation. Lastly, civic pride at this time formed as part of a social necessity, as patriotic feelings swelled due to American Imperialism and greater involvement in foreign policy.
Prospect Park and the Grand Army Plaza date back to 1867, though plans for both the park and the plaza were devised in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The Soldiers’s and Sailors’ Arch Monument was composed in the late 1880s, and the Soldiers’s and Sailors’ Monument Commission selected the designs of famous American architect John H. Duncan in 1889.
Duncan soon began collaboration with architects Stanford White, Samuel Parsons, and Calvert Vaux to prepare the site and build the arch. At the time, the Grand Army Plaza was undergoing significant renovations, and in 1889, renowned Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman spoke during the cornerstone ceremony. Three years later in 1892, President Grover Cleveland presented the unveiling of the arch. Although nowadays the arch features lavish statues, the 1892 unveiling included no such attributes, though it was recognized for its architectural beauty as a centerpiece for the Prospect Park entrance.
Following the initial construction, plans were made to outfit the arch with various statutes glorifying essential figures and American images central to the civic duty in which the monument would abide. Furthermore, the decision to add statues in 1894 came from the City Beautiful movement, spearheaded by the McKim, Mead and White architectural firm.
At the behest of Park Commissioner Frank Squire, famous American sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies was tasked with designing three sculptural groupings. In 1895, sculptors William O’Donovan and Thomas Eakins installed equestrian bas-reliefs of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant on the monument’s interior arch faces. MacMonnies then sculpted the Army and Navy sculptures as well as the crowning quadriga sculpture, which were installed in 1898.
To this day, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch Monument endures as a beautiful aesthetic commemorating both Brooklyn and national pride as well as a memory of the Civil War.1