Rawlins Remembered

On my way to an event in downtown DC, I passed through a small park near the White House and found a statue of Civil War Union General John A. Rawlins, which was sculpted by “A Bailly” in 1873 and erected in 1874.    Other than the word “Rawlins” on one side, there is no other notation on the statue, nor any explanatory note nearby — presumably because, unlike today, everyone knew,  in 1874, who Rawlins was and what he had accomplished.

Rawlins, a Galena, Illinois lawyer who met Ulysses Grant there before the war, was Grant’s closest friend and advisor, and his military rank was due almost wholly to his being at Grant’s side from early in the war.   In his Grant biography, Chernow emphasizes, repeatedly, that Rawlins’s roles during the war included keeping Grant away from alcohol.   Although Rawlins was dying of tuberculosis, Grant  named him Secretary of War in 1869.  He served five months before dying.  Jacob Cox, then Secretary of the Interior, and W.T. Sherman were at his bedside.  According to Wikipedia, one of his few accomplishments was approval of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

For reasons unknown, Grant mentioned Rawlins only a few times in his memoir, and gave no emphasis to the key advisory role he had played for many years.

Today, Grant’s epic statue, one of the finest examples of that art, sits in front of the west side of the U.S. Capitol building.  When presidents are inaugurated, they look out over the assembled masses and Grant’s statue is there, front and center.   A mile or so away, Rawlins’s statue remains anonymous.

 

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