VIENNA, Va., May 22, 2013 — If you thought for a month or more, you would probably never guess where the first statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the United States is located, much less that it is the only one honoring the Scots who fought with the Union in the Civil War.
Such is the case and it’s to be found in a delightful ages-old cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland, called Old Calton Cemetery on Waterloo Place, amid a mélange of hundreds of ornate funerary architecture and monuments. There stands Lincoln’s tall, imposing figure on a large base, approximately 35 feet tall.
Atop a plinth is a 16-foot statue of the 16th President, and at the bottom on another large marble multi-level base is the figure of a crouching Negro slave, resting on his side and stretching one hand up toward the Great Emancipator. In his other hand he holds a book, symbolic of the education to which the freed slaves were then introduced, a side effect of emancipation.
It should be noted that many African-Americans have expressed dislike of the way the person reaching up to Lincoln was portrayed.
At the base of the figure and behind it is a bronze shield, which bears the old U.S. Flag, wreathed in thistles to the left for Scotland and with cotton branches on the right for the U.S.
“Jewel of Liberty”
On one bottom corner are inscribed Lincoln’s words “To preserve the jewel of liberty in the framework of Freedom.”
Around the base on its four sides are inscribed the seminal words, “Suffrage,” “Union,” “Education,” and “Emancipation,” one supposes the summum bonum to be acquired through their freedom.
It is a beautifully magnificent statue, overlooking many other examples of ornate instrumentation, and the commonly accepted understanding is that it was the first statue to Lincoln outside America. George E. Bissell of Connecticut, one of the more famous sculptors at the time, did it.
Along four sides above the words are the names and unit numbers of some 15 men of pure Scot descent who served with the Union Army.
A Widow’s Request and Mrs. Bruce
The back-story is poignant. A Mrs. McEwan, Scots lady, applied to the American Consul, Wallace Bruce for a widow’s pension since her husband had served in the Union Army. Her husband’s health after the war very bad and they were extremely poor, resulting in the children and her having to go out and work. The man once tried to give his sword to his doctor in exchange for treatment and the doctor graciously refused but treated him anyway. McEwan later died.
In stepped Mrs. Bruce, wife of the consul, who heard the story and even though it was past Memorial Day, asked if she could take some flowers to his grave. The widow told her that due to their poverty, he was buried in an unknown pauper’s grave.
That prompted the consul to go to the Edinburgh Corporation to ask for a burial site for those Scots who had served in the Civil War but who had returned home. They gave him a plot of ground in Old Calton. He wanted to have a statue of Lincoln as well and began a fundraising project in the United States.
It was Bruce who contacted George Bissell, the sculptor, since both had served in the Union Army, and they decided the statue should be a gift to Scotland from America, and soon funds were raised. When the time came, interest had become so strong that the organizers had to give out admission tickets to get in, even on a typically Scottish windy, rainy day, August 21, 1893.
Bruce’s young daughter was dressed in a long white dress to represent Columbia, a Grecian band of gold on her head. Bruce had written a 16-verse poem entitled “Columbia’s Garland” but postponed the reading of it because of the inclement weather. The tenor is fairly well summed up in its last verse, which reads as follows:
“Through prismed tears let sunlight play
Secure in joy, redeemed in grief,
One song unites the Blue and Gray,
One glory binds the garnered sheaf
War’s cruel reaping kindly sealed
By brothers of the martyred field.”
The Burials and Named Soldiers
Of the fifteen soldiers named on the monument, only one is actually buried beneath it, Lt. Col. William Duff, 2nd Regt. Illinois Volunteer Light Artillery. The others are buried in a nearby plot: Sgt. Major John McEwan, Illinois Volunteer Infantry; Robert Steedman, Maine Volunteer Infantry; James Wilkie, 1st Regt. Michigan Cavalry; Robert Ferguson, New York Volunteer Infantry; and Alexander Smith, New York Volunteer Infantry (added in 1993 after research.) Their names are also on the sides of the statue.
At the bottom of the base it reads: “This plot of ground given by the Lord Provost and Town Council of Edinburgh to Wallace Bruce U.S. Counsul [sic} as a burial place for Scottish soldiers of the American Civil War 1861-5.”
While this was the first Lincoln statue outside the United States, in the ensuing years there have been Lincoln statues erected in Mexico, Cuba, Manchester, and England. There is also a move afoot to raise funds to recognize the men who served in the Confederate army as well.
[My thanks to Margaret Murdock, an attorney friend from Mississippi, who first advised me of this marker when she and college student Augusta Williams discovered it on a cemetery jaunt in Scotland. Augusta is also responsible for the photographs.]
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