Indianapolis boasts the most public space dedicated to the memory of veterans and military of any city in the country, second only to our nation’s capital. Perhaps the most recognizable structure is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, an impressive National Historic Landmark made of limestone and bronze, standing at nearly 285 feet in the center of Monument Circle.
“Structurally how it came to be and how the city has changed around it is pretty amazing,” Amber Scott, Navy veteran and employee for Indiana War Memorials, said. “It’s one of the biggest Civil War monuments in the country and when people come through and visit, they are amazed that something this big was built so long ago.”
In the hub of downtown Indianapolis, the monument has become a beloved public space for festivals, hosting rallies, or enjoying an outdoor lunch on its steps.
The monument was dedicated in 1902, and was originally created to honor veterans from Indiana who fought in the Civil War. It is the largest of over 200 Civil War memorials across the United States and is the only Civil War monument dedicated to all soldiers and sailors.
“Whether you’re here on a quiet evening or in the middle of the bustling city with businesses and restaurants and you just look up and think this has been here for over 100 years, it’s pretty awe-inspiring overall,” Scott said.
The monument has also come to honor Hoosiers who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Frontier Wars, and the Spanish-American War. Further still, it has become a symbol of the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana as a whole.
In addition to its grandeur, the intricate and symbolic details on the monument add to its significance and individuality. The structure features several limestone sculptures, two of the largest being clusters of people placed on opposite sides of the monument. The east side of the monument depicts war, and the west side, peace.
The “War” sculpture prominently features Columbia, the American goddess of democracy, charging with soldiers into battle. This side of the monument also is home to “The Dying Soldier,” a scene showcasing the harsh realities of battle. In contrast, “Peace” is depicted with Lady Liberty holding a flag, as a freed slave lifts his broken chains at her feet. Underneath this group of figures rests “The Return Home” sculpture, where reunited families are seen embracing as soldiers return from war.
The prominent bronze figure seen at the very top of the monument is Lady Victory. This statue was created by German artist Bruno Schmitz, who wanted to blend classical Greek mythology with American symbolism. Lady Victory stands triumphant with traditional Grecian drapery, while yielding a torch and sword, symbolizing the light of civilization and justice, respectively. On her brow, an eagle rests to represent freedom. Additionally, the Victory statue was positioned facing south to represent the welcoming home of Union soldiers, and the beginning of the reunification of the North and South.
“She was designed specifically for our monument,” Scott said. “There are obviously Greek goddess inspirations and obviously with the torch she ties in with the Statue of Liberty, but she is wholly unique.”
The statue was hoisted to the top by hand in pieces because she was way too heavy, she added.
Just under the feet of Lady Victory, 231 feet above the ground, is an observation deck enclosed in glass. From the deck, visitors can enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of Indianapolis, including the Indiana Statehouse, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Indiana War Memorial Museum. The museum is free for visitors and showcases exhibits and artifacts surrounding Indiana’s role in our nation’s conflicts.
Whether nearby or just passing through, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument is a can’t miss view in the heart of the nation.
With National Convention coming up and bringing an influx of visitors to town, Scott is looking forward to the event and what it means for the memorial.
“Definitely come in; we all are so excited and definitely want to share a bit of Indiana military history with you all,” she said. “We have some really interesting stuff. So we hope that people get out there, explore it, and come talk to us.”
Ready to Go?
What: Soldiers and Sailors Monument
When: Gift Shop and Observation Level are open 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday (between May and October) or Friday-Sunday (between November and April). Closed on all national and state holidays other than Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Fee: Free to walk 20 flights of stairs to the Observation Level, or take the elevator for $2 for adults and $1 for children. The elevator is free for veterans, military, and kids under the age of 6. (NOTE: Elevator does not go directly to the observation level; visitors must still climb 50 stairs after stepping off elevator.) There is no wheelchair access.
For more information, including accessibility details, see www.iwm.in.gov or call (317) 233-0529.