muriel statueSpending some time in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol is an experience everyone should take at least once. It’s a fascinating lesson in history and an invitation to look deeper into what or who determined who would be represented there.

     Granted, you can’t make the visit on your own. There are only escorted tours through the Capitol, and the tours that visit Statuary Hall don’t allow enough time to get to know something about each of the 35 men and women honored there.  If you plan in advance, a call to your legislator’s office could get you an intern on a specific day and time to give you a tour. 

   Or, if you’re lucky and show enough enthusiasm, you might find a Capitol guide on a break who will be generous enough to take you through.

muriel j smith 120Such was the case last week when I took Amtrak to our Nation’s Capitol specifically to see General Phillip Kearny, for whom the Hudson County city is named.  Gen. Kearny was the commanding officer at the Battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks during the Civil War, a battle in which Monmouth County’s own Pvt. Thomas Fallon, received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.

   Kearny is one of the two New Jerseyans honored with statues at the Capitol, the other being Richard Stockton, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Each state is invited to donate two statutes to the collection and whom they depict is up to each state’s legislature.

    While all the statues were planned to be in Statuary Hall, the former meeting room for the House of Representatives in the 19th century, it became necessary, as more states joined the union and more statues were added, to expand the area. Another six statues, each representing a President of the United States, are in the Rotunda. Directly below is the Crypt, the room so named since it was designed to be the burial place for our first president before it was decided he would be buried at Mount Vernon. That’s where there are statues representing the original 13 colonies and first states. That’s where New Jersey’s statue of its signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton, is located.

     Statuary Hall has the bulk of the statues with 35 men and women on display there. There are 24 more in the Capitol Visitor Center; there are more in the Senate and House connecting corridors, and a final 24 in the Hall of Columns. That’s where General Kearny is. 

   He’s in good company, our Civil War Army officer. The bronze statue completed in 1888 by sculptor Henry Kirke Brown stands proudly with the likes of Father Damien of Hawaii, Roger Williams of Rhode Island and Steven Austin of Texas, among others.

   He is depicted missing his left arm, which he lost during the Mexican-American War, a war in which General-in-Chief Winfield Scott called him a perfect soldier and described him as the bravest man he ever knew. During the Civil War, riding without one arm, General Kearny used tactics he had learned when studying cavalry methods  at Saumur in France….he was capable of riding into battle with a sword or pistol  in one hand and the reins in his teeth. The French got to know him as Kearny le Magnifique.

     And through it all, General Kearny, who had inherited a million dollars from his grandfather but opted instead for a military life over the splendor of the family mansion in what is now Kearny, showed the New Jersey spirit so many Garden State heroes have displayed, although with less finesse and publicity.  While leading the Third Division of the III Corps at Williamsburg, he led the charge himself, sword in hand, reins in teeth and assuring his men, “Don’t worry men, they’ll all be firing at me.”  Then he urged his soldiers forward with what has become a famous quote of his, “I’m the one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun, follow me!”

      General Kearny Made it through the Battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks,  but not the Battle of Chantilly a couple of months later. While investigating a gap in the Union line, he was shot and the bullet entered his hip and came out his shoulder, killing him instantly. Southern Major General A.P.Hill, upon recognizing the body of the fallen soldier said “he deserved a better fate than to die in the mud.” General Robert E. Lee, upon learning of his death, ordered a cease-fire to allow for the General’s body to be returned to his Northern troops.

    Now buried at Arlington National Cemetery, General Kearny’s monument there is only one of two equestrian statutes in the cemetery. It was constructed after the acclaimed officer’s remains were re-interred after having rest at Trinity Courtyard in New York, a honor spearheaded by another Medal of Honor recipient he had led, Charles F. Hopkins, of the First New Jersey Brigade.