I think of her standing there, right arm outstretched, pen in hand, the tip not quite daring to touch the granite obelisk. Her left hand hangs back behind her, her fingers poised daintily, helping her balance. She is “Fame,” twelve and a half feet tall and bronze, and she has inscribed the name of Iowa on the Shiloh battlefield.
She leans toward the monument, her right pinky daintily extended, her hand poised to write, but it looks as though her work is already done. The inscription above her pen, written in script, reads:
Brave of the brave, the twice five thousand men
Who all that day stood in the battle’s shock,
Fame holds them dear, and with immortal pen
Inscribes their names on the enduring rock.
I first saw Fame six years ago during a March visit to the battlefield. From the car window, I caught her from the corner of my eye, slipping up the side platforms of the granite monument. I stopped the car, looked closer. She was reaching out, ready to write, ready to inscribe immortal words on Iowa’s behalf. I got out for a closer look. I knew not who this Muse was, but part of me loved her already.
The Iowa monument, dedicated in the November of 1906 at a cost of twenty-five thousand dollars, stands near the battlefield visitor center. Fame ascends a stepped pedestal toward the four-sided body of the monument; a column rises from the monument’s body, topped by an eagle perched on a small globe. In all, the monument stands seventy-five feet tall.
Eleven Iowa units took part in the battle—more than 6,660 soldiers, 2,400 of whom ended up as casualties. Many of them held the center of the infamous Hornet’s Nest, facing withering fire and constant onslaught.
On this 150th anniversary weekend of the battle of Shiloh, I think of Fame, and I think of her Iowans.