By Brandon OConnorApril 30, 2019
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Eye to eye across The Plain the two members of the Long Gray Line to serve as President of the United States will now stand as permanent inspiration to current and future cadets.
Thirty-six years after a statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower, USMA Class of 1915, was added to the perimeter of The Plain, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, USMA Class of 1843, was dedicated during a ceremony Thursday.
Cast in bronze, the statue of Grant stands 7 feet 6 inches tall and stands on a 4 feet 6 inch granite podium. Grant is depicted in his four-star Union Army uniform with riding gauntlets representing his reputation as an expert horseman in one hand and a sword in the other.
The dedication of the statue concludes a nearly three-year process that began in May of 2016 at the recommendation of the House of Representatives and marks the 150th anniversary of Grant being inaugurated for his first term as president.
"This is one of two graduates who became president of the United States, served two terms and at the time was one of the most famous Americans," said Bob McDonald, USMA Class of 1975, who along with his wife Diane and family donated the statue. "I always wondered why Grant wasn't present (at West Point) and particularly why he wasn't present on The Plain. When I first heard about the project, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to be involved in it and to fund it."
More than 200 people attended the dedication ceremony Thursday which included a performance by the Cadet Glee Club, a salute by the cadet equestrian team and remarks by McDonald and Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy.
The statue was originally sculpted in clay by artist Paula Slater before being turned into molds and cast in bronze during a nearly yearlong process from start to finish. Each detail of the piece was meticulously planned by a committee including historians and academy representatives. From the type and number of buttons on his coat to the length of the gauntlets and the type of sword he carries, each detail was poured over to ensure it is accurate to the period in which Grant lived.
"There were a lot of discussions about specific details because once it is in statue form you can't fix it," Lt. Col. David Siry, West Point department of history, who served on the committee said. "We had discussions based on the photos. Then we had discussions based on the clay model. We had discussions based on the little artist print that was sent. Each time, you go back through and say does this look right, does that look right. It is good that you get that much input into it."
Two of the early decisions included depicting Grant standing and not on horseback, and to not include the cigar that is nearly omnipresent in photos of him. They then had to choose a pose and period to represent before deciding to depict him as a four-star general shortly before his presidency.
Along with the committee's role in deciding on the details, Slater said she also did extensive research about Grant to make sure the elements were correct and that she was able to truly capture who he was and how he should be conveyed.
"I always say, 'How would they want to be remembered? What emotions do they want conveyed about them?''' Slater said. "With Grant, I wanted him to appear a deeply thoughtful man who had many torturous decisions to make about life and death. I read so much about his heroism, his anguish and his humility and that is what I wanted to portray in his portrait."
That research came into play in the few extra pounds he carries showing that the war is over, the lines on his forehead gained from years of hard-fought battles and the simplicity of his coat consistent with his character and humility.
"I love to sculpt faces and I love to get that inspiration that you're going to feel something from it. He comes alive. You are going to be able to look into his eyes and feel his spirit. Feel his character," Slater said. "You will see in this monument all the detail in the face, the buttons, his eagle belt buckle and his four-star shoulder boards ... I don't want anything in my sculptures to be rigid. They need to look natural, like they could come alive and walk off that pedestal."
Grant is the seventh statue on The Plain joining Eisenhower, George Patton, George Washington, Douglas MacArthur, Sylvanus Thayer and John Sedgwick.