AMERICA’S CIVIL WAR PRESIDENT STANDS IN APPRECIATION OF SCOTLAND IN EDINBURGH
By: Dr. James E. Bliss, JD
In the heart of Edinburgh’s old Calton Cemetery stands a life size statue of a man you would not expect to find in Scotland’s ancient capitol. Standing formally atop a massive marble base, the bronze, well dressed figure had been carefully placed among the most prominent of Edinburgh’s beloved citizens, including the massive obelisk honoring the political martyrs of 1794 and other ornate stones preserving the town’s past. Just to the left of the veiled monument stood the imposing Roman circular tower commemorating Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume. This concealed marvel of metal and stone would for all time, preserve and pay homage to six Scots whose names were inscribed upon the base below the word, “emancipation”. It was a reminder of the strong hearts of Scottish men who gallantly fought for freedom and for the American President who inspired their loyalty. That man was the sixteenth President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln.
To understand how the statue of Abraham Lincoln found its way into Edinburgh, it is first important to understand that many Scots were sympathetic to the Abolitionist cause associated with Lincoln and the issue of slavery in the United States. For many, their attitude toward slavery in America went well beyond sympathy and bordered on anger and disgust. In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe, an American author from Boston published her novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. It told the story of the horrific life of a young Christian slave who had been repeatedly sold, beaten, and abused beyond the imagination of most. Eventually, Tom is beaten to death for refusing to reveal the location of two slave women who had escaped their brutal masters. The realism of the story Ms. Stowe drew from the book, “The Life of Josiah 2
Henson, formally a slave, now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself”, which was published in 1849. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was an immediate best seller, outselling the Bible itself in the first year. That same year it made its way to England where it was reprinted though the publishers added the additional title, “Negro Life in the Slave States of America”. The popularity of the book swept Scotland and was likely the mainstay of discussion in every pub and tavern. Harriet Stowe was so popular and in demand in the UK that in 1853 and again in 1856, she traveled to Scotland and participated in a plethora of discussion groups. Within a year of the book’s distribution in Edinburgh, a stage production was formed and played at the
Theatre Royal. Ms. Stowe was not the first to inflame the people of Scotland with the plight of American slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the second publication on the treatment of Slaves that had found popularity in Scotland. Her book and her visits did, however, build on the foundational discussions previously made by another popular American anti-slavery advocate.
Abolition in Scotland in the 19th Century
Frederick Douglas, a black American who had escaped slavery in 1838 had an admiration for Scotland and once free, he chose to take his name from James Douglas, the hero of famed Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake”. A brilliant man, Douglas published his autobiography in Boston in May 1845. It quickly became a best seller, and an edition was published in Dublin later that year. The book made its way to Scotland where it found a sympathetic audience. In 1846, Douglas brought his campaign for freedom to Edinburgh where he later said he felt an equal and loved the beauty of the city. By this time, 13 years had passed since Britain passed the “Slavery Abolitionist Act” in 1833, something Fredrick Douglas had yet to obtain in America. 3
He was soon appointed “Scotland’s Anti-Slavery Agent” and worked tirelessly for 19 months touring both Scotland and Ireland delivering hundreds of public lectures. His speeches always contained a connection between himself and “Black Douglas”, a well-known ally of legendary 14th century Scottish King, Robert the Bruce. Author, Alasdair Pettinger, who wrote an account of Douglas’s tour and his quest in his book, “Frederick Douglas and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life”, pointed out that Douglas had also been influenced by Scottish poet Robert Burns whose book was the first he had bought once a free man. He often quoted Burns during his lectures which helped endear him further to the Scottish people. He returned in 1859 and continued with his well-received lectures.
Frederick Douglas returned to America to continue his writing and publish newsletters promoting Abolition. Soon after, in November of 1860, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who opposed slavery and argued that blacks were protected as free men under the U.S.
constitution, became the first Republican to gain the White House. Southern states were angered by the prospect of Lincoln freeing the slaves and threatened succession if he was to be elected. He was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States on March 4, 1861. One month later, the south made good on their threat and on April 12, 1861, the war between the states began. Douglas became a friend to Lincoln and worked to recruit blacks for the Union army and fought for their rights to serve along white soldiers. On January 1, 1863, in the second year of the war, Lincoln issued his famous “Emancipation Proclamation” which declared that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states, “are, and henceforward shall be free”. Not all agreed and on the evening of April 15, 1865, Lincoln was shot in the head at point blank range by a southern sympathizer while watching a play with his wife, Mary Todd. He would die of his wound the following morning in a boarding house across from the Ford Theatre. Abraham Lincoln did not die in vain.
Just six days before Lincoln’s death, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his southern army surrendered on April 9, 1865, in Appomattox, Virginia freeing the southern slaves and ending the horrendous civil war. Nor did the fight to free all slaves die with him. In January 1866, the states would ratify the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and free the slaves of the north. It was a great day for Frederick Douglas and freed black slaves in the 1860’s. 4
In 2018, Scotland recognized Douglas’s achievements and dedicated a commemorative plaque in his honor on an Edinburgh Street. An enjoyable hunt for the willing.
The influence of Douglas and other abolitionists who had worked through Europe to raise the plight of slavery led to much support in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland for Lincoln and his army. For that and reasons of their own, many Scots, Irish and other Europeans crossed the Atlantic to join in the fight. There was an element of Scotsmen who chose the side of the south. It was a costly and bloody battle for the still infant nation. More than 620,000 men died, with dead, wounded, or missing numbering 1.5 million. Many of the men of Scotland who survived the horrific conflict, returned home. Some chose to stay and seek new opportunities.
Scottish veterans of the civil war seeking benefits or assistance would visit the U.S. Consulate in Edinburgh. John Adams, America’s second President, had opened and appointed the first American Consul to Scotland in 1798. For the next few decades, the office would move around the country, spending a portion of its time in Leith before permanently moving to Edinburgh in 1883. A few years later in 1889, President Benjamin Harrison would make one of the most popular appointments of an American Consul in U.S. history. He selected Scottish enthusiast Wallace Bruce to be the U.S. Consulate to Scotland. It was an appointment that would be praised and deeply appreciated by the people of Scotland. Interestingly, President Harrison appointed Robert Todd Lincoln as Minister to the U.K at the same time and for the same term.
Wallace Bruce, United States Consul to Scotland (1889-1893)
For Bruce, the assignment must have seemed like a dream come true. He loved Scotland, its culture, history, its hero Poet, Robert Burns and the works of Sir Walter Scott. The Scottish veterans he would serve and the story of a poor widow, would lead Bruce to the idea for the Lincoln statue. Following his appointment, Consul Bruce wasted no time and traveled to Scotland that 5
same year with his wife, Anna Becker Bruce, and their three children, Clara (19), Kenneth (13) and Malcolm (6). The family set up home in the Edinburgh parish of St. Cuthberts and it took no time at all for the friendly and outgoing Bruce’s to endear themselves to the people of Edinburgh and for Bruce to gain the respect of Scottish officials and local leadership. How Bruce came to see the necessity of such a memorial and selected President Lincoln and six Scottish men for this honor is an even more interesting part of this story, as is the part unknowingly played by Robert Burns.
Wallace Bruce was 17 years old when the war between the states broke out in 1861. He was enrolled in school at the Hudson River Institute in Poughkeepsie, New York. His father, Alfred Bruce enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 49 and appears to have fought throughout the duration of the war with a New York Regiment.
Bruce remained in New York until he attended Yale in New Haven, Connecticut in 1863. Many years later, this connection to the President must have thrilled him to have the opportunity to honor his friend’s father. Bruce graduated in 1867 and then went on to study law under William A. Beach and was admitted to the bar in 1869. However, Bruce elected not to practice law and by this time had decided to adopt literature and lecture tours as his life’s work. He married Anna Becker in 1870.
Wallace Bruce had been fascinated with Scottish history since he was a young boy. He believed he was of Scottish descent, although it is unclear why he held that belief. His mother and father had been American born. In fact, his mother was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization that requires an ancestor who had fought in that cause. With a name you could tie to William Wallace or Robert the Bruce, he may have been correct. Nevertheless, Bruce held on to his belief and studied Scottish history and poetry throughout his youth.
After becoming a Lawyer, Bruce took his first trip to Scotland in 1870. He called it his “walking tour” and visited every monument to Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. He then traveled to Paris where he witnessed the Franco-Prussian war before returning to America in 1871. He returned with great enthusiasm to lecture and spread the works of Burns, Scott, and 6
others. He later claimed that he had spread his love for the works of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott from one end of America to the other and that between 1871 and 1889, he averaged 120 lectures per year on European and American writers. In 1875, he delivered his poem, “Parson Allen’s Ride” at the centennial celebration at Bennington, Vermont to great acclaim.
In 1878, Wallace Bruce published, “The Land of Bruce”, an ode to his hero. The poem ends:
His “Scots wha hae” rings out more clear
Than any song in field or camp
And others rise more true and dear
“The rank is but the guinea-stamp.”
For there are grander fields to fight.
Where man proclaims his brother’s right;
And Burns of poets leads the van
In simple truth-that man is man.
“The little “cottage” thatched with straw
Still speaks the truth he loved to sign:
A glorious manhood free to a,
Which titles could not take or bring.
Mansions of rank are poor indeed
Beside this cotter’s lowly shed.
And pride is humbled as it turns.
To cross the porch of Robert Burns.
Between 1878 and 1894, Bruce published several writings and was labeled as an excellent orator. In 1885, Bruce became a regular speaker at Florida’s Chautauqua School. It was an educational/religious organization which was founded where he grew up in New York. In 1884, Ulysses S. Grant had been a popular lecturer at the New York school. The following year, Bruce accepted the position as President of the newly formed Florida School and would hold that position until given the job of Scottish Consulate. 7
Sir Walter Scott had already enjoyed profound respect across America and a statue of him had been erected in New York Cities’ Central Park in 1872. On October 2, 1880, Bruce was the Keynote speaker when a sizeable bronze statue of Robert Burns was unveiled just across from Sir Walter Scott in Central Park. On July 8, 1891, he was given the honor to compose a poem for the unveiling of the statue of Robert Burns at Ayr. The poem was so well received that the Glasgow Herald wrote, “Mr. Bruce’s verse thrills with fine, free-flowing, vigorous spirit, which imparts to it that feeling of reality and freshness that gives to the poetry of Burns its permanent attraction. It is not difficult to imagine the great enthusiasm Wallace Bruce must have had as the new Consul to Scotland and his desire to make a difference for its people. He did not have to wait long.
The Sad Edinburgh Widow
In the summer of 1890, the widow of Edinburgh native John McEwan, Margaret McEwan made her way to the American Consul’s office. She hoped to obtain her deceased husband’s pension benefits from his service in the civil war. Margaret also hoped to gain some financial help with funeral expenses. It is unknown why her husband had made the decision to travel to American and fight on the side of Lincoln’s federal Union Army. McEwan fought with distinction, reaching the rank of Sgt. Major, the highest rank an enlisted soldier could achieve. When Margaret McEwan arrived at the Consulate that summer day, she was fortunate to have been greeted by the Consul’s wife, Anna Bruce, who it appears assisted at the Consulate whenever she could.
Margaret McEwan explained to Anna Bruce that after John returned to Scotland from the war, he continued to proudly wear his blue Union coat and enjoyed people who would gather around him as he told his stories of fighting in America. She had met him on a break from work during just such a time and admired the ideals that led him to stand behind Lincoln. She said he had enlisted in Company H of the 65th Illinois Regiment, raised out of President Lincoln’s home state, made up almost exclusively of Scotsmen or those of Scottish ancestry, it was known as the “Scottish Regiment”. John McEwan began his service as a Private on May 1, 1862, and mustered out in July 1865 at the conclusion of the war. However, John had developed an illness 8
during the war and poor health followed him home. He was never able to connect the illness to his service and was initially denied a pension. For a time, Margaret worked in the mill in Galashiels where they began their family. They later moved to Edinburgh where she and the children would work for just five shillings a week to live and pay for John’s doctor bills. Unfortunately, shortly before Margaret’s visit to the Consulate, John’s health had taken a serious turn for the worse. The family was broke and John even tried to give his Union sword to his doctor for payment. The kind doctor declined and said, “it is my business to save life, not to take it”. She must have been in tears when she reported that in his final days, after months of suffering, he loved having his service pistol where he could touch it. When he died, Margaret pulled back the coverlet, and found he had clutched his pistol over his heart.
Anna Bruce, certainly feeling dreadful, asked where John was buried so that she might accompany her and place some flowers on the grave. Margaret said she had been forced to bury John in an unmarked grave. Since she had no way to mark the grave, she worried that she might not be able locate it again. It was the lowest of a pauper’s funeral. To make matters worse, on the Sunday following his funeral, she returned with the children to visit her husband only to find another funeral underway and another body being buried in the very same plot.
Margaret and her children must have been devastated.
Anna Bruce was shocked and saddened by the story and promptly brought the problem to the attention of her husband. Bruce was sympathetic to the plight of Margaret McEwan and promised to take whatever action he could. He soon cleared the way for her to receive her husband’s pension and seeing the need for a burial place in Edinburgh for other Scottish civil war veterans, took the endeavor to heart. Bruce consulted anyone who would listen and made significant headway when he told Margaret McEwan’s story to Lord Provost Russel of Edinburgh and proposed the idea of a monument to honor John McEwan and other Scottish war veterans. He then wrote to Magistrates and the Town Council asking for a plot in one of the town’s cemeteries. Bruce’s request was heartfully granted and it occurred to him that a grand monument could highlight and honor the connections between America and Scotland. Visions of civil war veterans, President Abraham Lincoln, the loyalty of Sgt. Major McEwan, 9
Scotland itself and eventually, Robert Burns must have floated in his head until a glaring connection between the President and Scottish veterans began to form.
The Birth of Scotland’s Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln had been dead for 25 years, but he was still very much beloved around the world. Bruce had matured with Abraham Lincoln prominent in his school studies as a boy. He was aware of the love that Abraham Lincoln had for Scottish culture and for its people. He was also aware that Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, had fought her own battles for the President’s pension and made the trip to Scotland with her son Robert “Tad” in 1869. Mary had died eight years earlier and thoughts of her must have still been fresh in the Bruce’s mind.
-Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln
At that time in history, it was not well known that Abraham Lincoln had the affinity that he did for Scotland and had greatly admired and been somewhat
influenced by the works of Robert Burns. Wallace Bruce had heard many stories of Lincoln’s appreciation of Burns and was aware of speeches where the works of Robert Burns had been recited. The assassination of President Lincoln led to a nationwide passion for knowledge
of his early life, his war time presidency and anything to do with the man who had ended slavery and changed a nation. He had obtained hero status. President Lincoln traveled to Richmond Virginia three days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the end of the civil war. Lincoln was welcomed by massive crowds and newly freed slaves crying his praise. 10
In America, at the same time, the popularity and legend of Robert Burns continued to spread across the new Republic. Burns clubs and Societies sprung up in major cities. The still annual “Burn’s Night Supper” (25 January) had already begun in 1801 and Scots had brought the tradition with them to numerous countries, including America. It was not so much that Burns was able to provide entertaining, relatable poetry and songs to a country desperate for a period of peace and prosperity or that Lincoln was able to bring together a nation long divided morally and politically. Certainly, that was part of the legacy of both men; but each of them were perfectly timed patriots in their own eras.
Burns and Lincoln were two men of humble beginnings who had risen to the top of their chosen professions without the advantage of class or aristocracy. Though it would be sometime yet before either the United Kingdom or the United States would eliminate, at least in large part, the advantages of birth rights, wealth, class, and advancement by nepotism, that was certainly the direction that society was moving. Burns and Lincoln were well-known examples that even a simple pauper farmer, devoid of a formal education could succeed in what was becoming a rapidly evolving world. They unwittingly became the heroes of their day, giving hope to even the lowest in the social spectrum that anything was possible.
In many ways, the chronicle of the early lives of both Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln would have mirrored many who had been born to the plight of farming and poverty. A great deal has been written about the similarities in the lives of the two men. Both grew up as children of poor farmers, both in one or two room cabins or cottages their fathers had built. Both were given minimal education while too young to be much help in the fields and would grow to suffer from depression. Yet, there were two very profound similarities that they shared which would bind them together in history. First, even from an early age, both Robert and Abraham felt a compelling sense of self-worth and strongly believed they were destined to accomplish notable deeds. Certainly, a remarkable attitude from two boys with few possessions and long days in the rocky or clay fields without shoes. Secondly, they had been born with absorbing, quick minds and an undaunted thirst for learning; the latter an imperative for the children of tenant farmers. Both traits would serve the two men well and it is interesting that despite being born several decades and thousands of miles apart, there were 11
many aspects of their lives which would evolve in a similar way. For example, both men were loyal to their respective fathers, working long hours at hard labor while at the same time feeling frustrated at not being able to devote themselves to academics in the ways they desired. Robert Burns remained faithful to his family and the farm until shortly after his father passed away. Abraham Lincoln for his part, worked as his father directed and turned over his wages until he turned twenty-one. Each man would then strike out on his own though take much different paths.
While there are many writings about how similar the lives of the two men were, it would be difficult to find similarities after they had reached the age of majority. In some respects, they were born at a time in the histories of their respective countries when significant political and social change was taking place. Robert Burns was born just twelve years after the Jacobite’s last failed attempt for Scotland’s independence from Great Britain, while Lincoln was born only 25 years after the New England colonies gained freedom from the English monarchy. For Scotland, it was the period of enlightenment, and parliament was finding much less resistance in bringing Scotland in line with English rule. For America, the birth of the industrial revolution was at its onset, the country was busy establishing it’s Republic for a system of state and federal governments and adjusting to the rapid growth in population to the west.
As America quickly became the melting pot it had envisioned itself to be, immigration brought a more skilled and educated populous. From Scotland alone, more than 150,000 Scots and families had emigrated to America before the start of the American Revolution and that number swelled to more than 250,000 before the end of the 18th century. Many settled throughout the Carolinas and found their way west into Tennessee, Kentucky and beyond. Many would become Lincoln’s neighbors sharing stories and traditions of their country and culture.
It seems fair to conclude that Abraham Lincoln held much more respect for Scotland than Robert Burns likely held for America with its ongoing slavery issues. Burns was always sympathetic to the underdog and his writings reflect his love of the humble man. He was conscious of the plight of the American Rebels. He cheered them on, and he wrote about their 12
fight to free themselves from British Rule. Robert Burns was himself a humble man and he believed in equality and respect for those less fortunate than others.
Once Wallace Bruce had the approval of Lord Provost Sir James Alexander Russell and the Edinburgh town council and was granted a large plot in the old Carlton Cemetery, Bruce knew he could turn to an old friend from his home area in Poughkeepsie, New York to help him construct the monument of Lincoln.
-George Bissell, Sculptor (1839-1920)
George Edwin Bissell had served as a private in the civil war with the 23rd Connecticut Volunteers. After studying the art of sculpture abroad, Bissell had joined his father’s marble business in Poughkeepsie. As fortune would have it, somewhere during that same summer when the Bruce’s had met Margaret McEwan, Bruce received an invitation to deliver the Grand Army Chautauqua address at the request of Bishop Vincent, to more than five thousand war veterans and friends, including former U.S. President Rutherford Hayes. Bruce is known to have boarded ship for America at summer’s end for the August 20th Grand Army address. This trip provided him with the opportunity to visit with George Bissell and discuss the design of the sculpture and monument and the cost. Bruce’s friend and veteran, Henry R. Heath had agreed to Chair a committee to organize what they could on that end, including preparing the location and the ultimate dedication. As it turned out, when it was known that the statue would require a marble base, the Edinburgh committee considered several proposals but ultimately awarded the to work to Messrs. Stewart M’Glashen & Sons of Edinburgh who undertook the stonework and lettering for nine-hundred dollars. 13
Bruce must have known he could count on George Bissell and probably never had anyone else in mind. Nevertheless, bids were taken, both in the U.S. and Scotland but most ranged from $6,000 to $8,000. The design selected was called, “Lincoln Freeing the Slave”, a three stepped marble base with statue of Lincoln on top. Below Lincoln is the bronze sculpture of an African American looking up toward Lincoln in front of a wreath and two battle flags. Bissell agreed to complete the statue for four thousand dollars which he estimated to be what his costs would be. He obviously wanted to be a part of Wallace’s project and knew he would gain much notoriety for sculpting the first statue of an American President ever to sit on foreign.
Bruce, by now considered Poet Laureate of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge #2 in Edinburgh, used the occasion of his Grand Army address to announce his grand project to honor Lincoln and the Scottish veterans who joined forces and fought on the side of the Union. It must have been clear that funds needed to be raised and his audience was very enthusiastic to the cause.
Before Bruce stepped aboard the steamer which would sail him back to Edinburgh the following November, he spent the next two and a half months raising $6,300.00 from donors in New York, Chicago and even the small town of Poughkeepsie. Most gave one hundred dollars apiece, but donations also came from men like Andrew Carnegie, William Rockefeller, John S.
Kennedy and even Bissell and Bruce.
Bissell’s work received high praise and reflected well on the good judgment of Wallace Bruce. Once the statue was completed and sealed, it was packed and shipped to Edinburgh. The whole project would only take ten months from start to finish.
The square upper base George Bissell created for Lincoln to stand upon contained the word “Emancipation” facing front and then surrounded the remaining three sides with “Suffrage”, “Union Education” and “George F. Bissell SCT 1893”. Some critics had then and even today, compare the statue to the image of Mary Magdalene at the feet of Christ. In truth, the concept for the Edinburgh statue more than likely came from two similar bronze creations which had been created by Sculptor Thomas Ball. 14
The day that President Lincoln was assassinated, an elderly former slave from Virginia, but then working in Ohio, donated five dollars of her pay back to her employer to put toward the creation of a monument in honor of the President. That small donation led to a campaign that resulted in over $18,000 being raised, mostly by freed slaves. On April 14, 1876, a life size figure of Abraham Lincoln with a slave, believed to be a newly unchained “Archer Alexander”, rising to his feet, still wearing broken shackles under the outstretched hand of Lincoln, was dedicated in the West Potomac Park in Washington, DC. The ceremony was attended by numerous political figures, including then President Ulysses S. Grant. The hard work of Frederick Douglas was paying off and he was the keynote speaker at that unveiling.
Three years later, in 1879, a duplicate of Ball’s sculpture was dedicated in Boston, Massachusetts. It likely that Ball’s work may have led to the decision to include the slave at the feet of Lincoln on the Edinburgh statue. Sadly, the City of Boston, under pressure from a small group of protesters, removed their statue in 2020. Thankfully, there are hundreds of statues and busts of Abraham Lincoln throughout America.
While the work of George Bissell, including the medallion affixed to the second portion of the pedestal, the flags of Britain and the United States and the surrounding thistles and cotton plants seems self-explanatory, the inscriptions of only five names to the right side of the pedestal have left a few unanswered questions.
Across the lower half of Stewart’s marble base he carved, “In memory of Scottish American soldiers” and just above that to the left he inscribed, “To preserve the jewel of liberty in the framework of peace – Abraham Lincoln.” Lincoln faces east to greet each new day. A few blocks away, Edinburgh’s statue to “Robert Burns” returns the glance. On the opposite side of the pedestal, facing to the west are the words, “Unveiled 21st August 1893”.
This plot of ground given by the Lord Provost, Town Council of Edinburgh to Wallace Bruce, US Consul as a burial place for Scottish soldiers of the American Civil War 1861-5”. What has 15
confused writers on this topic for decades is why denote that the monument is to all Scottish soldiers who fought in the war and then add the names of a few men?
-Scottish Veterans honored
On the northside, or to the right of Lincoln’s front Stewart, presumably with the approval of Bruce, added the names of the following five men and their regiments:
“SERGEANT MAJOR JOHN M’EWAN – Co. H 65th Reg Illinois Vol Infantry
WILLIAM L. DUFF – Lt. Col. 2nd Illinois Reg of Artillery
ROBERT STEEDMAN – Co. E. 5th Reg Maine Infantry Volunteers
JAMES WILKIE – Co. C. 1st. Michigan Calvary
ROBERT FERGUSON – Co. F. 57th Reg New York Infantry Volunteers
Surprisingly, truly little is known about the five men who received the honor to be inscribed on this famous memorial. It’s unlikely they were the only Scots known or perhaps they had some personal ties to the local organizers. Either way, there exists a missing element as to the reasons for their selection or to the specifics of their lives. This is most obvious in the absence of the dates of birth or death of the men. Thanks to Mrs. M’Ewan we do know that her husband reached the rank of Sgt. Major and since she visited Mrs. Bruce at the Consulate in 1890 and told the story of her recent visit to his grave, the evidence seems clear that he died that same summer. It is also interesting that while many have written that two of the men are buried at the monument and another nearby, no one has identified who they are. Nevertheless, it seems safe to conclude that John M’Ewan is one of the men buried beneath the monument.
At this point, little is known of William Duff, other than like Sgt. M’Ewan, Duff found himself a member of an Illinois Regiment, organized in Lincoln’s home state. Neither found a spot in the famous Illinois 12th Infantry, otherwise known as the First Scotch Regiment. We do know that Duff’s full name was William Latimer Duff and that he was the son of a Minister from Elgin, in Morayshire. Unfortunately, information on Robert Steedman and Robert Ferguson remains elusive. James Wilkie also served in a famous and colorful Regiment. Civil War enlistment records listed James Wilkie from Dundee, Angus (Forfarshire) and indicate he was born sometime in 1835. He was 28 years old when either by choice or chance, he made his way to Detroit, Michigan, USA 16
and on October 30, 1863, joined what would become the most famous Regiment of the American west; the 1st Michigan Calvary.
Most fans of history remember the 1st Michigan Calvary by its nickname, “The Wolverines” and by its Commanding Officer, General George Armstrong Custer. Just two years out of West
Point, Custer had already been promoted to Brigadier General and took over the 1st Michigan Calvary at the age of 24. Despite finishing last in his class at West Point, Custer proved to be a great leader and an aggressive commander. Many of his men continued to serve with him after the civil war but we know James Wilkie was not one of them. He was discharged at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on July 10, 1865. He had been wounded in the left leg and would receive a pension of two dollars a month. Presumably, Wilkie returned to Scotland. The search for more information
Dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, August 21, 1893
Finally, it was the day Bruce had worked so hard to make happen. Locals had witnessed the Stewart’s marble base and the huge, crated box containing what they knew to be the statue of Lincoln being moved through the streets toward Carlton Hill. Word of a grand ceremony and the dedication of the statue of the Abraham Lincoln honoring the veterans of Scotland had passed through Edinburgh and the surrounding areas for weeks.
It was Monday, August 21, 1893. Bruce braced against a biting southwest wind that seemed to accelerate through the mort safes and around the ghastly amalgamations of monuments and stones that packed the Old Calton cemetery. A new monument, covered in the flags of the United States and the Scotland was about to be unveiled. Those eager to see the new addition to the cemetery, surrounded the platform that had been erected for the late afternoon unveiling. Sir William Arrol, a local hero who three years prior finished construction of the new Forth bridge, would serve as Master of Ceremonies. Sir Arrol’s presence spoke to the importance of the event. The Forth bridge, which connected Fife with Edinburgh, was the longest, all steel cantilever bridge in the world. Many hailed it as the eight wonders of the world. 17
Sutherland and Argyll Highlanders joined by their band and piper were also in attendance, adding a pompous and militaristic presence to the event. The festivities had begun at Edinburgh Castle where the participants and guests had gathered to march toward the prestigious graveyard, established in 1718. Everyone aside from those fortunate enough to be on stage knew it would be a crammed affair and the crowd shuffled amidst surrounding monuments and gravestones seeking the best view possible. At exactly 4:00 p.m. the band fell silent, and a familiar hush fell over the yard. Suddenly, Clara Bruce, the Consul’s teenage daughter, dressed to represent Columbia wearing a long white dress with a Grecian band of gold encircled in her hair, came forward and pulled a cord causing the covering flags of America and Scotland to fall from the tall statue. There, standing tall in a solemn and formal pose stood the bronze statue of America’s sixteenth President Abraham Lincoln, a freed slave reached up to him at his feet. A loud cheer burst from the assemblage and the band of the Highlanders played “Hail Columbia” and “Rule Britannia”. Many in the crowd called for the sculptor and George Bissell came forward and bowed his acknowledgment.
After some brief words by Sir Arrol and Henry Health, Wallace Bruce took center stage and give a long presentation he had carefully prepared. With the weather not improving, Bruce made the decision to postpone reading his sixteen-verse poem entitled, “Columbia’s Garland” which he had written especially for the occasion. Concluding, he read a formal minute of the Committee of Arrangements requesting the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Council to accept custody of the Memorial. Sir William Arrol accepted the memorial on behalf of the town council. In a short but eloquent acceptance speech, Sir Arrol stated in part, “It is a monument to freedom, and we are glad that we have been able to give a site for this monument in a burial place where there are other monuments to men who did great things in procuring liberty and freedom.” He accepted the monument with “great pleasure” on behalf of the Town Council of
Edinburgh. Appropriately, the ceremony ended with the Highlanders playing Robert Burn’s, “Auld Langsyne.”
William Knox, “Mortality” – The New Carlton Cemetery
The addition of the Lincoln memorial sparked more interest in Scotland in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Two years after the dedication of his statue in the Old Carlton cemetery, the name of Lincoln would find its way into the new Old Carlton cemetery just a quarter mile west.
After Lincoln’s death, many who knew him personally affirmed his love of Robert Burns but also made clear that Lincoln’s favorite poem was called, “Mortality” which had been written by Scottish Poet, William Knox (1789-1825). Lincoln had been given a copy of the poem in approximately 1831 but it was torn from the Louisville Evening Post and listed the author as anonymous much to Lincoln’s frustration. He loved the poem from the moment he read it and quickly committed it to memory. He especially loved and often quoted the verse,
“Oh, why should the spirit Of Mortal be Proud
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, A fast-flying cloud.
A flash of the Lightening,
A break of the wave,
Man passes from life to the
Rest in his grave”
A dismal poem which reminds us of the inevitability and indiscriminate certainty of death, it nevertheless became embraced within the heart of the American President. It would not be until 1864, just a year prior to his assassination that Lincoln would learn from his friend, James Wilson, that William Knox was the author and that he had passed away in 1825. William Knox was buried in the New Carlton Cemetery when he passed away of a stroke at just thirty-six. If you visit his grave today, you will find a rather impressive stone covered on each side with inscriptions of his poems and accomplishments. One of those inscriptions which mentions his poem, “mortality” reads, “It was a favorite poem of Abraham Lincoln who recited verses from it on the day of his assassination.”
Since President Lincoln did not die until 1865, it would appear Knox’s ties to Lincoln were recognized with a new monument installed in 1895. Unfortunately, the monument is falling into disrepair, particularly the words relevant to Lincoln, which appear to be flaking off the face of the stone. It is noteworthy nonetheless that the name of Abraham Lincoln graces the resting places of two Edinburgh cemeteries.
In 1993, on the memorial’s hundredth anniversary, a rededication of the Lincoln memorial took place presided by Lord Longford. He was well-versed on the effort and had written a biography of Abraham Lincoln in the mid-seventies. Dr. Daniel Bassuk, a member of the Lincoln Group in Washington, D.C., dressed as Lincoln and read the Gettysburg Address. It was during this rededication that that the name “ALEXANDER SMITH – G Group, 66th Regt New York Volunteers Infantry” was inscribed, alone on the southside of the monument. It is confusing to many that Alexander Smith was added to the exclusion of others.
Little was known of Smith since, unlike Lt. Col. Duff and Sgt. M’Ewan, Smith’s rank, of Sergeant, was not included on the base of the statue along with his name. With only cursory research, it was discovered that Smith was 42 years old when he enlisted in the Union Army on September 7, 1861, with the rank of private in Company G of the 66th New York. He must have served with distinction as he was promoted to Sergeant after just three months on January 1, 1862.
Later that year, he fought at the very deadly battle of Fredericksburg and was wounded on December 11th resulting in the loss of his right foot. He was subsequently discharged on May 1, 1863, after spending months recovering at the Harewood Hospital in Washington, D.C. He returned to Edinburgh, Lothian and began to draw a pension of eighteen dollars per month in October 1863.
The answer to the question of why Alexander Smith was the only Union Scot veteran added to the monument after one hundred years remains a mystery for many. Despite outdoor battlefield conditions, most Regiments did an acceptable job of keeping records of their men. For American historians who focus on the civil war, the information available is overwhelming and a sizable task to master in one’s lifetime. There have been efforts by organizations and Scottish researchers to try to determine the extent of participation by Scots who voluntarily left the safety of their own country to fight on foreign soil as opposed to those who fought in America and professed Scottish heritage.
Other Scottish Volunteers Not Recognized.
Hopefully, someone will assume the challenge to complete the list of Scottish men and yes, women who are just as entitled to grace the monument base as those who have been given the privilege. For example:
Lt. John McKay (Johnstone, Renfrewshire) joined the 7th Reg. Rhode Island Volunteers. His Regiment would eventually become part of General Ulysses S. Grants Army who spent 10 months between 1864 and 1865 trying to rid Petersburg, Virginia of the 20,000 soldiers who had seize of the city resulting in brutal trench warfare. 70,000 men died in that conflict.
Robert Leiston (Glasgow, Lanarkshire), enlisted as a private, January 23, 1864, in Co. B 1st Battalion at Petersburg. He would be one of the men who was wounded and died there.
John Dempster (Glasgow, Lanarkshire), enlisted in Co. E, 7th Rhode Island Volunteers on August 13, 1862 (possibly with Lt. McKay), was killed with roughly 18,000 others at the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
John Fortune (Thornton, Dysart, Fife), enlisted June 19, 1861. Fortune was killed in action on May 15, 1864, at the battle of Resaca.
Andrew Angus (Glasgow, Lanarkshire), joined the 72nd New York and was wounded twice. He returned home and received a pension of $8.00 per month for a wound in his left groin.
John Burland (Edinburgh, Leith), enlisted March 7, 1862, in Co. H, 17th U.S. Infantry. Died of pneumonia on December 20, 1862.
Walter Breckinridge (Paisley, Renfrewshire), Burland enlisted July 25, 1861, in Co. K, 73rd Pennsylvania. He was captured by the Confederates and died a prisoner of war on August 24, 1864.
William McPherson (Montrose, Angus) enlisted October 15, 1863 in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, Co. F. McPherson, like Burland, he was captured by the Confederates in the summer of 1864 and died a prisoner of war on August 30,1864.
James D. Wilson (Glasgow, Lanarkshire), Wilson enlisted in the 82nd New York Infantry on July 3, 1851, and was wounded in the hand at the famous battle at Bull Run early in the war. His injury to his right hand prevented him from further service and he was discharged on November 10, 1861.
One name some writers have added to the list of Scots who served in the union army is, George Henry Mackenzie who was born in North Kessock, Near Inverness in 1837 (Many would find his addition improper). Mackenzie moved to the United States in 1863 in the middle of the civil war. He enlisted and was granted the rank of Captain and assigned to lead the Black Union soldiers of the 10th United States Colored Troops Regiment. It would have provided an intriguing story but for the fact that Mackenzie was reported a deserter by the army on June 16, 1864. In 1853, he had begun to play chess and won a handicap tournament in London in 1862. Apparently, preferring the quiet of chess to the thunder of cannons, he moved to New York and ultimately became a well-known and accomplished world champion. Why the Army did not prosecute him for desertion is unknown.
The list above is by no means complete. Others served throughout the war without injury and returned home, many died of illness, and many are yet to be discovered.
Scottish Women Who Served
Women were not permitted to serve as soldiers during the civil war and that would remain true until recent times. That did not mean that some throughout history would try anyway, and the civil war was no exception. It has been estimated that between 500 and 1,000 women fought as soldiers during the war. Since most served incognito, not recorded on the Regimental rolls, it will probably never be known just how many chose to fight in what is clearly considered one of the most brutal and deadly wars in modern times. Thanks to the research of Larry Eggleston, author of the book, “Women in the Civil War”, we do know of two women of Scottish heritage who demonstrated remarkable courage and should be remembered.
Marian McKenzie was born in 1844 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire. Shortly after her birth, her mother died, and her father moved her and several brothers and sisters to New York when Marian was four years old. Her father, died not long after arriving in the United States. In her teens she tried a career in acting but soon abandoned that idea and moved around trying to find work. It has been said that she likely had patriotic sympathies for the north and saw a sense of adventure.
At eighteen years old, she cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothing, and assumed the name, “Harry Fitzallen”. She must have appeared a bit rough and unassuming. She was able to pass by her recruiter and was enlisted in the Union army’s 23rd Kentucky Infantry Regiment. Her enlistment documents describe her as 5ft 3in, of Scottish origin with a dark completion, light blue eyes, black hair, and course-looking and rounded features. Four months after joining the 23rd, Marian was discovered, and she was promptly discharged. She was given the option of remaining as a nurse but rejected that offer and took off to find another infantry. She was subsequently able to reenlist with the 92nd Ohio Infantry Regiment where she fought for six months before being found out again. For the next three years, each time Marian was caught, she would simply move to a different regiment. Whatever became of Marian is unknown. There are a couple of pictures in existence. I wonder if anyone else sees a resemblance to Lincoln himself?
Another brave woman was Kady Brownell who was the daughter of a Scottish father who served as a Colonel in the British Army. Kady was born in an army camp in Kaffraria, South Africa in 1842. Her mother also died shortly after her birth and she was adopted by a couple who migrated to Providence, Rhode Island. In April of 1861, she married Robert Brownell who joined the Union army’s 1st Rhode Island Infantry. During the American Revolution, this had been the first black Regiment in military history. Wishing to follow her husband, she gained approval to be a color bearer. Kady braved bullets and cannon shot at the battle of Bull Run and is credited with saving the lives of many soldiers during the battle of New Bern. She is the only woman to receive discharge papers and was ultimately awarded a pension, although it was $16.00 per month less than her husband received. The story of Kady Brownell is more remarkable than is possible here. She was a brave woman with remarkable courage.
While the search continues to identify homeland Scots who fought for the Union, information on Scots who fought for the Confederacy is limited. There were some Scots who believed that if the south wished to succeed from the Union that it should be afforded that right, Others may have had more of a financial interest seeing it as a way to get a foothold in the new country.
A Confederate Connection
Shortly after the war had begun, President Lincoln ordered the Union Navy to block all Confederate ports. The idea was that the blockade would prevent Confederate access to weapons and materials that had primarily been produced in the north. Lincoln was able to gain the compliance of some foreign governments, asking them to view the blockage as a legitimate tool of war. Unfortunately for the north, the size of the Union Navy was limited and unable to completely prevent the smuggling of weapons, ordinance and other materials and the export of cotton through other controlled Confederate ports in Mexico, the Bahamas and Cuba.
The Union blockade had a serious impact on textile manufacturing in areas of Scotland, Britain and France which depended upon American cotton, almost exclusively grown in the southern United States. Further, many of the shipbuilders of the Clyde sided with the Confederacy and disagreed that the Union blockade should affect neutral countries.
To avoid the blockade, the Confederacy required fast ships and for that they turned to Scottish shipbuilders from Govan to Greenock. Others were built in England regardless of Britain’s neutrality. First, the Confederacy bought all the used steam powered light weight ships that were available and then contracted for the building of new ships. These vessels, known as “Blockade Runners,” were fast, shallow drafted, had large cargo holds and were exactly what the South needed to avoid the Union Navy. Although the Lincoln Administration tried throughout the war to stop the smuggling, the offer to exchange cotton and the vast amounts of money that shipbuilders and crews were paid provided only limited Success.
There is one cemetery in Edinburgh where you can find reference to a Scot who fought and died in service to the Confederacy. Robert Alexander Smith was born in Edinburgh on April 5, 1836.
At the age of fourteen Smith moved to Jackson, Mississippi to live with his eldest brother and later he became successful in business. When it became apparent that war would break out between the states, he was appointed as a Captain in the Mississippi Rifles Company. One of his first duties was to escort Jefferson Davis, the newly elected President of the Southern states to his headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama. Smith is often referred to as the personal bodyguard of President Davis, but it would appear his escort was the extent of that duty. He performed exceptional in all his duties and was ultimately appointed to the rank of Colonel.
Smith fought in numerous battles, including the battle of Shiloh. Some believed he was destined to be advanced to Brigadier General. On September 14, 1862, Colonel Smith was killed at the Battle of Munfordville, Kentucky. Leading his men and charging the enemy, he was shot from his horse and killed. He was later buried in Greenwood cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi in a circular plot with an iron fence. There is a Scotch granite monument with the words, “Erected to the memory of Colonel R.A. Smith, of the Tenth Mississippi regiment, Confederate States army, a native of Edinburgh, who fell mortally wounded in the battle of Munfordville, Ky., September 14, 1862, while gallantry leading in the charge. Aged twenty-six years.”
In later years, to honor Colonel Smith in his homeland, his brother, James had a memorial constructed in Edinburgh’s Dale Cemetery with similar wording to that of the Mississippi monument.
The Genius of Wallace Bruce
The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Edinburgh has fulfilled what Wallace Bruce had sincerely hoped. He was further able to complete a task that Lincoln himself was prevented from carrying out. On the night before his assassination, Lincoln told his secretary that it was time for him to travel to Scotland and pay his respects to Robert Burns and the land of Sir Walter Scott and the author of his favorite poem, William Knox. Standing tall in the Edinburgh cemetery, Lincoln could look out over the country he had heard so much about. Thanks to Bruce, Lincoln had made it after all.
America was still an infant country in 1893 and it is fitting that the President who had helped Frederick Douglas bring blacks closer to the freedom that the majority of Scots had felt was their God given right and accomplish that goal with the help of those very people was something Lincoln would have wanted to recognize. At the same time, the placing of this magnificent statue in Scotland’s ancient capital would serve as a reminder of the common sentiment and cooperation between American and the land of “Robbie” Burns.
This bronze reminder of the service of unselfish and patriotic Scots continues to exist to bring attention to the service that Scotland rendered to the new nation. To bring recognition to those from Scotland who came to America and volunteered to fight to preserve what the founding fathers had envisioned, a United States. Now, almost one hundred and thirty years later, it has afforded a prosperous and peaceful relationship between Scotland and America. Each year, on the American President’s Day (February 20) or near that date, the two governments come together, place their respective wreaths before the outreaching freed slave and remember. Not only the names of the six men etched in its stone, but all, men, and women, who sacrificed for freedom.
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Photo credit: Lincoln Monument, front page: CDR Jim Poole, United States Navy (ret), Trustee, John Paul
Jones Cottage and Museum, Kirkbean Scotland
About the author: James Bliss, J.D.is a Writer, Historian, Navy Veteran and Trustee to the John Paul Jones Cottage and Museum at Arbigland in Kirkbean, Scotland. You may visit his website at: ”http://drjamesbliss.net/ Email at: email@example.com or Commander400@yahoo.com