Today, Civil War statues stir up a variety of emotions that often erupt. But, there is a Civil War monument, with little room for controversy. It represents the brave, the fallen, those with no choice, and–at the same time–honors their service and sacrifice. This is the Civil War Calvary Horse, by the English sculptor Tessa Pullan, and commissioned by the late Paul Mellon, renowned philanthropist, equestrian, and friend of the National Sporting Library & Museum. This particular memorial vividly expresses the suffering and heroism of the 1.5 million horse and mule causalities during the Civil War, and blurs the North-South conflict.
Three statues were cast: the first and second—at three-quarters life size—belong to the National Sporting Library & Museum, and the US Calvary Museum at Fort Riley, Kansas; Paul Mellon was stationed there during WWII. The third, a full-sized version, is at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, in Richmond, Virginia.
The thin and somber horse at the National Sporting Library & Museum greets visitors from all over the world. I often stop and admire this touching sculpture. Unlike some, I do not see this statue solely as a dejected casualty of war; I also imagine him as a brave survivor, who experienced the tragedies of battle, but remained loyal to his rider—even though he was unaware of the cause.
The Civil War Calvary Horse can be viewed, holistically, beyond the battles between the Union and the Confederacy. This impactful statue reminds me daily of the need to understand our sometimes-troubling history. We must never forget the importance of honest narratives, so we do not marginalize our past. How we learn and remember our heritage directly influences the possibilities of our future.
I love how this monument—that reaches across conflict—starts a conservation. I enjoy seeing our visitors stop, take pictures, and admire Civil War Calvary Horse. Though it’s sometimes heartbreaking, the “Horse” inspires children and adults to learn more about their history. Some people have suggested—strongly–that we remove it. In their eyes, a marker to the Civil War should not be the focal point of the entrance to the National Sporting Library & Museum. I encourage visitors to take a difference approach: embrace the meaning of the tired equine. Civil Calvary War Horse reminds us to realize and honor the important contributions and sacrifices that horses, mules, and other animals have made in war over the centuries.
Elizabeth von Hassell is the Executive Director of The National Sporting Museum and Library, Middleburg, VA