This bronze equestrian sculpture of military officer, educator, journalist, and public servant Franz Sigel (1824–1902) is by the distinguished sculptor Karl Bitter (1867–1915). Sigel is also honored with a park named for him, which is located at 158th Street and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.
Sigel was a patriot both in his native land of Germany and in his adopted home in the United States. He was born on November 18, 1824, in Sinsheim, Baden. He completed his studies at the Gymnasium of Bruchsal, graduated from the military academy of Karlsruhe in 1843, and then became a lieutenant in the grand ducal service. However, his liberal views were in conflict with the existing regime. After leading an unsuccessful revolutionary force in 1848, he was forced to flee to Switzerland. He traveled in exile to England in 1851, and then to the United States a year later.
After settling in New York City in 1852, he taught in public schools and German schools, co-founded the German-American Institute, joined the Fifth New York Militia, and wrote for the New Yorker, Staats-Zeitung, and the New York Times. He moved to St. Louis in 1857 to teach at the German-American Institute.
At the outset of the American Civil War, Sigel formed a regiment that helped to keep Missouri and its federal arsenal for the Union. Rising to the rank of major general in the Union Army, he fought in several decisive campaigns including Pea Ridge and the Second Battle of Bull Run. He is credited with encouraging many German-Americans to fight for the Union. Sigel returned to New York in 1867, first working in the transportation industry and then serving in various positions in local and federal government. He then resumed his career in journalism as the publisher of the New York Deutsches Volksblatt and editor of the New York Monthly. He died on August 21, 1902.
In 1904, a monument committee commissioned Karl Bitter to sculpt his portrait. Bitter was born in Austria and trained in Europe before immigrating to the United States in 1889. He created numerous sculptures for wealthy private clients such as the Vanderbilts and Astors, as well as many public works of art, including the statue of Carl Schurz (1913) in Morningside Park. Before his death in a car accident, he modeled the maquette for the figure of Pomona atop the Pulitzer Fountain (1913-1916) in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza. His masterful portrait of Sigel was one in a series of sculptures he made of foreign-born American military heroes, including the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron Von Steuben.
With the Franz Sigel commission, Bitter took great care in determining its location at the top of a staircase where West 106th Street meets Riverside Drive. The granite pedestal projects beyond the top step and rests on a secondary stone base. It was dedicated in 1907. In 1941 Sigel’s bronze sword was dislodged and reattached by Parks crews, and was later removed to storage for safekeeping. In the late 1980s, the Parks monuments crew cleaned and waxed the statue, and the monument is presently slated for conservation and restoration of the sword. Recent horticultural enhancements to the adjoining hillside have been supported by the Greenstreets program and the Riverside Park Fund.