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George Armistead Monument and
Samuel Smith Monument

Federal Hill,
Baltimore

To take the lower-ranking of these Old Defenders first, let us consider Maj. George Armistead (1780-18 18), a career soldier from New Market, Virginia, married to a Baltimore girl, Louisa Hughes, and buried in Old Saint Paul’s cemetery.

There are two streets, two monuments, and a housing project commemorating the Major because of his redoubtable conduct as commander of the motley, thousand-man garrison of Fort McHenry during the naval bombardment of Tuesday-Wednesday, September 13-14 (1814). At the time, he was promptly brevetted Lieutenant Colonel; and Baltimoreans’ lost little occasion in honoring him with a salver, goblets, and a silver bowl in the shape of a bomb. His death shortly after his thirty-eighth birthday occasioned one of the most elaborate funeral ceremonies the City had witnessed. There was even an artillery detachment firing Minute guns from this hill.

The white marble monument you ate now looking at rising to a height of fourteen feet had a predecessor which — as the inscription on the rear face informs us — “stood in the Calvert Street Spring grounds, until it became defaced and destroyed by time during a period of thirty five years The Mayor and City Council had erected that monument in 1827 1828 at a site now occupied by Mercy Hospital, and the final disintegration occurred in the midst of the Civil War in 1863. Its successor was likewise erected by the City, September 12, 1882, but this time installed on Eutaw Place. There was an oration, several dozen dignitaries, a two-hundred man chorus, and two thousand five hundred other people. Residents of the area, however, soon complained that the shaft was disproportionately low in comparison with their roof tops; so it was transferred here the same year. On the front base is the name of the sculptor, G. Metzger. He was present at the Eutaw Place unveiling, but I have been unable to learn anything else about him.

Here the memorial has stood with relative immunity until about 1966. At that time horrid little boys wrought what the British fleet had failed to do: lay low Maj. Armistead. (But not his effigy; that monument stands at Fort McHenry.) Four successive newspaper photographs of this sculpture — the most striking by the late A. Aubrey Bodine in 1953 — reveal that the crown of the monument originally represented a flaming shell. The decorations vandalized from each corner were cannon barrels pointing heavenward.

Obtaining copies of these photos, your speaker strode forward in agitation and supplication to the chief of the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, Douglas Tawney, and handed them to him. In due course Mr. Tawney wheedled from the Board of Estimates and City Council (with the firm support of Mayor William D. Schaefer, a War of 1812 buff) the sizable sum — some nine thousand dollars — necessary to effect restoration. The third week in February, 1974, almost eight years after the vandalism, Maj. Armistead’s memorial rose again in unblemished dignity. It was officially welcomed — on a sopping, windy first day of spring (March 21)—by a group consisting of Mayor Schaefer and Parks Chief Tawney for the City and, for your Society, President-General Gordon M. F. Stick, Maryland Society President Wilson K. Barnes, Vice-President Walter Herman, and humble servant and his helpmeet.

Long may it resist any future assaults!

We turn now to one of the Monumental City’s best-known monuments, that of Maj. Armistead’s commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith. This bronze creation was paid for out of surplus funds remaining to the Star-Spangled Banner Centennial Commission; and the unveiling took place on Independence Day, 1918. The site was the southern extremity of Wyman Park overlooking North Charles Street at Twenty-Ninth. The architect was W. Gordon Breecher and the sculptor that prominent Baltimorean Hans Schuler.

Why such an uptown site was chosen is a mystery to me. In any event in 1953 wiser heads prevailed, and the General was removed, to a far more appropriate location down at the Inner Harbor — whence he could glare out balefully at the sterns of the retreating British fleet — and Samuel Smith Park came into being. In 1971 its eponym was temporarily removed here to Federal Hill, but will be returned to the park location when the Inner Harbor urban-renewal project is completed.

This soldier has been painted as well as sculpted. There are portraits of him by Rembrandt Peale at the Peale Museum, here, and by Gilbert Stuart at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Toward the close of his last term as Mayor of Baltimore — perhaps during the Cavalcade of 1967—I stood next to Theodore R. MeKeldin as he sonorously ticked off the accomplishments at the national level of General Smith. “And then,” His Honor wound up in ringing peroration, barely concealing a grin, “he climaxed his career by becoming Mayor of Baltimore!” Everybody tittered. Well, one of the subject’s earnest biographers, a young Midwestern historian who knew nothing of this episode, was reaching the same conclusion at the same time. F. A. Cassell writes:

Baltimore was the center of Samuel Smith’s life. Aside from his trip to Europe [1772-1774] as a young man, he never traveled farther from the city than to Philadelphia or Washington. Near the end of his life, after his career in national office, he was elected mayor of Baltimore. In a sense, this step might appear strange, an anti-climax; in fact, becoming mayor was the capstone of a public and private career intimately interdependent with Baltimore.

Samuel Smith in 1790 built Montebello. It was located east of the Alameda and south of 33rd street in Baltimore. The house was demolished in 1907.

Sources

Armistead

Smith

Federal Hill

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