Equestrian Statues

QUESTION: I heard once that the number of hooves a horse had raised in a memorial statue meant something about the person. The question arose when I was in Boston Common, where there is a statue of George Washington riding a horse with one hoof raised. The only other statue of Washington on a horse I could find (in Virginia) also had one hoof raised.

ANSWER: There isn't any real backing to this, but here's some general information:

Civil War Heroes in particular:

  • One hoof in the air--rider was wounded in battle
  • Both front hooves in the air--rider died in battle
  • All four feet on the ground -- rider died of natural causes later.

However, I found this information on a archive website (http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usamhi/refBibs/animals/statues.htm)

"NOTE: Coded Messages in Equestrian Statues?

Any relationship between the number of raised hooves on a horse-and-rider statue and the rider's actual experience in battle is merely a coincidence, as reflected in equestrian statues at Gettysburg National Military Park, according to Ms. Kathy George, park historian. Searches there and here have found no substitution for any such coded messages. For example, several booklets concerning dedication ceremonies for equestrian statues, such as the Slocum and Sedgwick statues at Gettysburg, contain nothing about the significance of the hooves. For further example, note that the Gettysburg statue of Gen. John F. Reynolds, who was killed at Gettysburg, differs from his Philadelphia statue."

There was also a reference to an article...

Stauffer, Wm H., "Round Table Talk: There's No General Rule About Position of Feet on Equestrian Statues," CIVIL WAR TIMES, II (Jul 1960): p.6.

Another reference that might be useful was

The Public Monuments and Sculptures Association
72 Lissenden Gardens
Lissenden Mansions
London, NW5 1PR

This information came from Megan Williams via e-mail:

"Hi! I live in Richmond, VA, sometimes known as the City of Monuments (they really are all over the place), and our statues do not consistently follow any code as for raised hooves. Both Robert E. Lee (died of natural causes) and Stonewall Jackson (wounded in battle, later died of the wound) are mounted on horses with all 4 feet on the ground. JEB Stuart (killed in
battle) is mounted on a rearing horse (both front feet off the ground). George Washington is on a prancing horse (front foot distinctly up, rear foot probably
should be but was altered for balance). Interestingly, Lee's statue was originally designed with a rearing horse, but that was rejected as being too violent (trampling Yankees). Another interesting fact: Jackson's horse Little Sorrel (a small gelding) was "corrected" by the sculptor to a more imposing

There is, however, a different sort of code for the Civil War statues- if they face north, they were killed in battle, but if they face south, they survived the war. (Washington faces east.) Just thought you'd be interested!"








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