Clio Logo
Des Moines History Tour - East Village and the Iowa State Capitol Complex
Item 5 of 8
Nestled on the green fields between the Iowa State Capitol and the Judicial Branch Building, several historical monuments provide the ideal backdrop for a sunny afternoon picnic or a lazy day of leisure. However, out of the many statues in this small space, the War of the Rebellion Monument towers over the rest with its sheer size and intricate design. More commonly known as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, this 135-foot monument dating back to 1894 pays tribute to the nearly 80,000 Iowan Men who fought in the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Iowa contributed to the largest number of soldiers per capita of any state participating during the war, and noted Iowa generals as well as significant battle scenes are featured around the base. Additionally, on the north side of the statue, visitors can discover the nude woman portraying Iowa as a mother offering nourishment for her children, and on the south side, the “History” figure gazes into the future. Topping the monument is the “Victory” statue, who holds palm fronds in each hand as a symbol of peace.

  • Full View of the Monument
  • Base of the Monument
  • Soldiers and Sailors Monument, photograph taken 1894

Construction and Dedication of the Monument

The War of the Rebellion Monument, or Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, stands as a memorial to Iowan men and women who fought in the Civil War. Due to refunded war taxes as well as donations and other funds, the State of Iowa decided to build this dedication, and the construction of the monument was approved back in 1888. 

Harriet A. Ketcham, notable sculptor who studied under the instruction of some of the most famous sculptors in Rome, Italy, submitted her designs for the monument, and out of the 47 applicants, her designs won the competition. Before construction could began, Ketcham died in 1890. Denmark-native Carl Rohl-Smith was retained to complete the monument and see Ketcham’s design’s to fruition. 

With approval, a design, and a location in place, the city then laid the first cornerstones of the monument in 1894. Only two years later, the entire monument was completed. However, the completion of the monument didn’t coincide with a dedication ceremony, as controversies erupted over the location and many of the artistic details of the monument. Because of the controversy, including the nude “Mother Iowa,” formal dedication of the monument didn’t occur until 1945, during the last months of WWII.

Features of the Monument

Several features and engravings of both real and symbolic elements makes this monument one of the most in-depth Civil War memorial statues in the area. Atop the monument, “Victory” stands tall with two palm froths in each hand as a symbol of peace. Four equestrians are depicted around the base of the tower, all of which showcase famed Iowan Generals. Below the generals on the upper-base of the monument, four soldiers represent the different branches of the military, including infantry soldier, a sailor, an artilleryman, and a calvary man.1

The inscription on the front of the monument reads, “Iowa's tribute to the courage, patriotism, and distinguished service of all her soldiers and sailors who fought in the war of the rebellion 1861- 1865.

The inscription on the back reads, “Designed By Harriet A. Ketcham MT. Pleasant, Iowa. Located and erected by act of The 24th General Assembly. Approved April 7th. 1892.”2

1.) 2.)