Today, the George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the parade and dedication ceremony of the equestrian statue in Philadelphia on May 15, 1897.
From the History of the First Regiment Infantry, National Guard of Pennsylvania (Grey Reserves) 1861-1911 by James W. Latta, published in 1912:
Another event commemorative of a civic undertaking of national importance followed on May 15, 1897.
The Society of the Cincinnati had nearly a century before set aside a modest sum of money, which it had wisely permitted to accumulate, that it might in the end in more pretentious significance erect the statue that was in the way of its small beginning to commemorate the services as patriot, soldier, statesman, of him of whom “history affords no other example of so indispensable a man,” General George Washington.
This equestrian statue, as is well known to every Philadelphian and all familiar with that goodly city, in all its massive grandeur and rich heroic proportions, now graces the Green Street entrance to Fairmount Park, where amid tributes of admiration, appreciation, and profound respect it was on the fifteenth of May, 1897, so worthily and impressively dedicated.
The presence of the First Regiment at these dedicatory ceremonies was first assured by direct invitation on March 17, 1897, from Col. J. Biddle Porter, chairman of the committee of the Society of the Cincinnati, who had the matter in charge.
His letter, as follows, was presented to the Board of Officers at a regular stated meeting:
“I have the honor,” said the letter, “on behalf of the State Society of Cincinnati of Pennsylvania, to invite you and your command to take part with the First Brigade of the National Guard of Pennsylvania in the unveiling of the Washington Monument in Fairmount Park on May 15; ” by and upon motion the invitation was unanimously accepted.
But the proposed dedication had a firmer hold upon the public than had evidently been anticipated, and soon assumed more expansive proportions.
Not the First Brigade alone, but the entire division, had been ordered to parade, and so much had the community at large felt its importance that by concurrent resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Pennsylvania, approved by the governor May 5, 1897, the adjutant general of the State was thereby requested “to direct that such commands of the National Guard as have dress uniforms shall be allowed to wear them on the occasion of the dedication of the Washington Monument in Philadelphia, May 15, 1897.”
And General Snowden, never of prodigal speech, recognizing the importance of the occasion, had out of his usual course included in his order announcing the movement of the division the following paragraph:
A reputation for efficiency and discipline gained by years of attention and application to duty may be lost in a single day. The division cannot live on the distinction of the past; it must acquit itself with credit on all occasions, especially upon this one, when it will be the object of great interest and of close and sharp criticism. Every officer and man of the division must feel the need of doing his duty so well that credit and honor will accrue to and be gained by all. Effective measures will be taken to require every officer and man present in uniform not excused by written permission of commanding officers of regiments and separate commands to join in the parade.
There was wisdom in the request of the legislature and good judgment in the ready compliance of the adjutant-general, as his annual report conclusively shows:
This request was complied with, and as a consequence the Guard itself by its splendid appearance made a most convincing argument in favor of a full-dress uniform. From all sides, from the press and the people, the National Guard received unstinted praise for its splendid appearance and discipline.
And that the caution of General Snowden bore fruit was also demonstrated from the same official source. This is a concluding sentence from a paragraph in the same annual report of the adjutant-general:
“The demonstration made by the National Guard of Pennsylvania on this occasion was without doubt the finest and most successful in all its history.”
Besides the entire division of the National Guard of Pennsylvania the following commands of the regular army participated: two foot batteries of artillery from Fort McHenry, Maryland; two foot batteries and one light battery of artillery and band from Washington Barracks, D. C., and also the band and four troops of cavalry Fort Meyer, Virginia.
Maj.-Gen. George R. Snowden was the marshal of the procession. Gen. Daniel H. Hastings, governor and commander-in-chief, was in command of the National Guard. Brig.-Gen. John P. S. Gobin, the ranking brigadier, was in command of the Pennsylvania division, National Guard.
The First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry was assigned to special duty as the escort of the President of the United States, William McKinley, who paraded with the column, unveiled and dedicated the monument, delivering an oration of telling effect.
The column, in light marching order, formed on South Broad Street, moved promptly at the hour fixed to Spring Garden Street and thence to the site of the monument, where after the ceremonies of the dedication had been completed it was reviewed by the President of the United States and officially it was said that as a military demonstration, this was “one of the most notable pageants ever witnessed in this city.”
The city of Philadelphia provided for the subsistence and entertainment of the troops and horses for the mounted officers, the various railroad companies of the State again extended the courtesy of free transportation, and the entire division, National Guard of Pennsylvania, was assembled in Philadelphia for the occasion without expense to the State.
The paragraph in General Snowden’s annual report which so succinctly tells the story of the military part of this especially distinctive event so peculiarly of Philadelphia, preserved securely, as it ever will be, among the archives of the State, seems of sufficient present interest for revival and repetition:
In the parade on the 15th of May, in Philadelphia, at the dedication of the monument to General Washington, erected by the Society of the Cincinnati, the division appeared to the greatest advantage and received with the plaudits of great crowds of people unbounded praise for discipline and soldierly appearance.
Having myself the honor of commanding the entire parade, composed of troops from the army and sailors and marines of the navy of the United States, a detachment from the cruiser Fulton, of the French Navy, a regiment from Delaware, a regiment, a Gatling gun battery, and a naval battalion from New Jersey, the entire division and the naval force from our own State, and corps of military cadets from the Pennsylvania Military Academy and Girard College, in all, nearly 12,000 men, the command of the division devolved upon Brigadier-General Gobin.
As the visiting troops and the First Brigade were in full uniform, the formation by brigades alternately in full-dress and service uniform—a fortunate incident of the ceremony—added to the attractiveness and variety of the display, and enabled spectators to contrast at intervals simplicity with ornament in dress.
The members of the legislature and the public were offered opportunity under favorable circumstances to pass upon the relative merits of the different styles.
Captain Alexis R. Paxton, of the Fifteenth United States Infantry, was the officer of the regular army on duty with the National Guard of Pennsylvania, so assigned by Order of the Secretary of War. Through the efforts of Colonel Bowman and the willing response of Captain Paxton the officers of the First Regiment had been given a very instructive lecture on some of the newer contribution to the military art.
This favor was acknowledged by resolution “That a vote of thanks be tendered to Colonel Bowman for securing the services of Captain Paxton and that a resolution be sent by the Board of Officers to Captain Paxton tendering the thanks of the Board for his kindness in giving us the benefit of his knowledge on “Wagner’s Service of Security and Information.”
The George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the equestrian statue in Fairmount Park, circa 1890s.