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Grant Square 1896

by William Ordway Partridge

The Civil War was not New York City’s finest hour.  It may have been its worst: at 6 am on July 13, 1863, the Draft Riots began. Five days of death and destruction followed.  Many New Yorkers opposed conscription and the Union Cause for many reasons. But it was mostly about money: civil wars are bad for business.

As a result, it fell to the Union League Club, an organization of prominent Republicans, to support the Union. Still going strong in 1889 they built a clubhouse at 19-29 Rogers Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. (Today it is the Grant Square Senior Center.) Its facade was adorned with busts of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, the Union General who defeated Robert E. Lee.  But they sought a more prominent way to celebrate their Union heritage and honor Grant. In 1896, they commissioned William Ordway Partridge to create one of the first large-scale bronzes cast in the United States. The naturalistic equestrian statue is noted for its rendering of the horse and its representation of Grant. In his signature wide-brimmed hat, he looks war-weary and ready to put the conflict behind him.

No such luck.

In 1941, using WPA funds, Robert Moses restored Grant’s Tomb in Manhattan. All that was lacking was a statue to put in front of it – oh, and the money to commission or buy one. So Brooklynite Herbert M. Satterlee, President of the Grant Monument Association working with Moses, suggested taking Brooklyn’s statue. Robert Moses agreed.  

Brooklyn pitched a fit.

Perhaps still rueing  “The Great Mistake of 1898” when Brooklyn went from being the nation’s third-largest city in the nation to a borough of the consolidated City of New York, the community was in no mood to give a Grant to Manhattan. Brooklyn’s veterans – including United Spanish War Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Kings County Allied War Veterans and Robert G Summers, the last living Civil War veteran in Brooklyn who lived a block away from Grant Square – complained. The Society of Old Brooklynites, descendants of some of Brooklyn’s oldest families complained. People who didn’t know where the statue was complained.   

Robert Moses withdrew his request, revealing that even if Brooklyn had donated the statue, the money to move it was lacking.

Two years later, fearing another hijacking, George Trumpler, one of Brooklyn’s most prominent citizens, attempted to move Grant eight blocks away to Grand Army Plaza, where his future might be more secure. Again Brooklyn howled. John Cashmore, Borough President of Brooklyn, finally ended the debate, reminding Brooklynites that – wait for it – the money to move it was lacking.

General Grant, the 18th president of the United States, has been left in peace ever since, perhaps the first Brooklynite whose fortune improved due to a lack of money.

— Carol Cofone

Reference Links

sight Grant's Tomb