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Secret memorial to Scottish troops who fought for Abraham Lincoln

The memorial in Old Calton Cemetery

The memorial in Old Calton Cemetery

EVERY year, six million people climb the 58 steep steps and stand in awe as they gaze upon the 19ft memorial to the president who reunited the states of America and abolished slavery.

Abraham Lincoln sits impassive in white marble, staring out over the Washington Mall, immune to the gawps and gasps of the tourists.

Meanwhile, 3400 miles away, the fortunes of a similar, if smaller, statue of America’s 16th president, couldn’t be more different.

Almost forgotten, the Lincoln in Edinburgh’s Old Calton Cemetery stands lonely. No crowds flock to see the first memorial in Europe built to the great emancipator; no ceremonies are held to remember what he did – or the actions of the Scottish soldiers who fought on behalf of his beloved Union who are also honoured on the memorial.

Of course all that could change after today’s nationwide release of the new Hollywood blockbuster Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film traces one of the defining moments of Lincoln’s life and America’s history – the passing of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution by the House of Representatives in January 1865: the law which abolished slavery.

It was, of course, Lincoln’s desire to free Negro slaves which prompted the southern states to quit the fledgling United States of America, which ultimately brought about the country’s four-year civil war.

At the time, the British government announced the country would remain neutral – but there were those who were all too eager to cross the Atlantic to join in on both sides, including famous individuals like Henry Morton Stanley – the finder of David Livingstone – who fought for the south, and the actor Sir Charles Wyndham, who fought for the north.

But many ordinary men signed up – including six from Edinburgh who fought on Lincoln’s behalf, and whose names are inscribed on the memorial in Calton cemetery.

Sergeant Major John McEwan, Lt Col William Duff, Robert Steedman, James Wilkie, Robert Ferguson and Alexander Smith are all remembered on the Scottish granite plinth of the statue which depicts Lincoln standing while a black slave is released from his shackles at his feet.

There is also a bronze shield which bears the old US flag, wreathed in thistles to the left and cotton to the right. Two regimental flags lay furled, the battle being over.

Yet it was thanks to the perseverance of McEwan’s widow – whose own name has been lost in the mists of history – that the memorial even exists.

According to Carol Hurley, an Edinburgh University history graduate who wrote her Masters dissertation about the statue, if Mrs McEwan hadn’t fought for her war widow’s pension, the statue might never have been built.

“As far as we know she was in Edinburgh – her husband had returned home after the war – and when he died she found trying to claim his army pension rather difficult. She went to the US Consul Wallace Burns for help, got talking to his wife and that seems to be the genesis of the project.

“Mr Burns then wrote to the Edinburgh council asking them to find a plot of land, but the money for the statue was raised in America.”

Carol adds: “The whole thing cost around $6300 and most of that came from Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockerfeller, although all the money was raised in the States. It’s made of bronze, and was created in America and then shipped across.”

But just why did Scots feel the need to fight on behalf of Lincoln and his ideals? According to Paul Quigley, lecturer in American History at Edinburgh University, many men signed up because they’d already travelled to America looking to make their fortunes.

“America was seen as the land of new opportunity so people would have emigrated there, and when war started, picked a side. They would have received a good wage for being in the army,” he says.

But Carol believes that the Edinburgh men were different. “Given that they all came back afterwards, I think they probably did go because of their ideals, just as people did during the Spanish civil war.

“Obviously we’ll never know their motivation, but anti-slavery sentiment was very strong in Scottish churches at that time. It might just have appealed to them as a cause. Certainly we know that in Glasgow, people went to the consulate there to sign up for that reason.

“Wallace Burns was very loyal to Scottish-Americans, so the idea of a memorial to these Edinburgh men would have appealed to him. It was up to the council to find the land, and to place it next to that of David Hume was probably seen as very appropriate.

“It is interesting that they chose a statue of Lincoln though to symbolise the civil war rather than a soldier, as was more common – even in the US. I think it became more about Scottish-American relations, which is why people like Carnegie got involved. It’s just a shame that these days it seems to have been largely forgotten.”

Paul Quigley agrees: “I certainly think the tourist board could be making much more of it. I know when my in-laws come over from the States they are always excited to see it, particularly because it depicts him as the great emancipator.

“It’s been standing since 1893, was the first to Lincoln in Europe and is the only one to commemorate the civil war in general and not just the man, and yet to many people it’s a surprise to find it’s there. It would be great if the new film sparks people’s interest to go and see it themselves.”

• Lincoln opens in cinemas today

Roll of honour

For years, there would be a dedication ceremony held at the Edinburgh monument by the US Consul. The last time was in 1993 when Alexander Smith was added. The names commemorated are:

Sergeant Major John McEwan, 65th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry

Lt. Col. William L. Duff, Illinois Volunteer

Light Artillery

Robert Steedman, 5th Regiment, Maine

Volunteer Infantry

James Wilkie, 1st Regiment, Michigan

Volunteer Cavalry

Robert Ferguson, 57th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry

Alexander Smith, 66th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry

Remarkable career

BORN in February 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States – serving for just over four years until he was assassinated.

Although he was born into poverty, he educated himself, becoming a country lawyer, before moving into politics. He was a Whig Party leader and an Illinois State legislator, ultimately becoming a Congressman for just one term.

However a series of debates in 1858 gave national visibility to his opposition to the expansion of slavery, and in 1860 he secured the Republican Party presidential nomination.

With almost no support in the South, Lincoln swept the north and was elected president. His election was the signal for seven southern slave states to declare their secession from the Union and form the

Confederacy.

With no compromise or reconciliation forthcoming, in 1861 Lincoln said: “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”

Lincoln’s goal was to reunite the US, but in 1863 he also issued his Emancipation Proclamation, and by 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was agreed and slavery was

abolished.

His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history: the iconic statement declaring America’s dedication to the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.

He was assassinated by actor and Confederate supporter John Wilkes Booth, who shot the president in the head as he watched the play Our American Cousin. Booth was later killed by Union soldiers.

 

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