Historic Detroit

Alexander Macomb Monument

Stoically standing in the middle of Washington Boulevard is the statue of Gen. Alexander Macomb, a hero in the War of 1812 and longtime 19th century military leader in Detroit.

Macomb was born in Detroit - then British-held territory - into a wealthy family on April 3, 1782. His family owned wide swaths of real estate, including much of Macomb County, Belle Isle and Grosse Ile. His father, also named Alexander Macomb, was a wealthy merchant, land owner and business partner of John Jacob Astor.

Instead of a comfortable life, Macomb joined the U.S. Army in 1799 and would make a name for himself during the War of 1812 as a brigadier general at the Battle of Plattsburgh in New York in September 1814. His forces were vastly outnumbered by the British, nearly 10 to 1, and he tricked them into dead ends and narrow areas and wiped them out. As chief Army engineer, Macomb pushed the building of military roads in the Great Lakes region. In 1814, Macomb received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor given by the federal government to an individual, for his “gallantry and good conduct” in the battle. He was promoted to major general for his efforts, and was bumped up until being named the commanding general of the U.S. Army in May 1828.

Such a legacy endeared the general in the hearts of Detroiters and made him a Michigan hero. Macomb County was named after him when it was established Jan. 15, 1818. The general died in office June 25, 1841. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He is interred with his wife, Catherine, who also was his first cousin.

In 1906, the then-relatively unknown sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman was picked to cast him in bronze. It was said to have been made of melted down cannons from the war. Weinman, then 36, had worked with Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French, who is best-known for his work on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. French also did the Russell A. Alger Memorial Fountain in Detroit.

Weinman “portrayed Macomb as a dashing officer whose vitality is suggested by the slightly off-center stance of the figure and furl of the wind-blown cape,” Dennis Alan Nawrocki wrote in his book “Art in Detroit Public Places.” He proudly looks toward the Detroit River from under his hat. He stands atop a granite pedestal and is flanked by three bronze cannon. The pedestal stands in the middle of a round terrace and features a pair of interlinked wreaths above his name.

The Macomb Monument was dedicated Sept. 11, 1908.

Four years later, Weinman went on to do the sculpture for the memorial of former Detroit Mayor William C. Maybury in Grand Circus Park.

In June 2008, the tomb of Macomb and his wife were found to be damaged, and their remains were removed for repairs to the underground vault. Their remains were closely guarded at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History until being returned the following month to the Congressional Cemetery with a service, honor guard and all.