Wallace Bruce, Abraham Lincoln, and Edinburgh; Civil War Memory or Scottish Nationalism?

Wallace Bruce, Abraham Lincoln, and Edinburgh; Civil War Memory or Scottish Nationalism?

William B. Lees, PhD, RPA

University of West Florida
Florida Public Archaeology Network

ABSTRACT of Paper to be presented in September 2016 at Fields of Conflict, Dublin, Ireland:

The year 1893 saw the grand dedication in Edinburg’s Old Calton Burial Ground of a statue of martyred US President Abraham Lincoln towering over an obviously grateful emancipated African American slave. Funded largely by US donors, the Edinburgh monument was the inspiration of American Wallace Bruce who served as United States consul at Edinburgh between 1889 and 1893. Ostensibly dedicated to the Scottish American soldier who served during the American Civil War, this statue is enigmatic outside of the United States. While there are other statues to Lincoln, for example in London’s Parliament Square and in Manchester, England, and while there is a monument to “Confederado” ancestors in Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, Brazil, the Edinburgh monument may be a unique tribute to the American Civil War and its soldiers outside of the United States. The symbolism on this soldier-dedicated monument is also enigmatic by its statuary of Lincoln and an emancipated slave, as well as by accompanying inscriptions. After a journey through the history of this monument and of Wallace Bruce, I suggest that Lincoln may stand in Edinburgh perhaps more as a symbol of Scottish nationalism than of remembrance of Scottish-American sacrifice in the American Civil War.


Who shot the Eagle at Natural Bridge Battlefield?

In 1921 the Florida legislature appropriated funds for erection of a monument at the Natural Bridge Battlefield (March 6, 1865), and directed that the funds were to be expended under the direction of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The monument was dedicated to the “Defenders of Natural Bridge” and is one of the most prominent Civil War monuments in Florida. The monument is the centerpiece of the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park.

PR10756 1922 Natural B small

The granite monument was graced with a large eagle with spread wings, which was removed recently for conservation and eventual museum display. A replica is to take its place atop the monument, hopefully making it appearance prior to the 150th anniversary commemoration of the battle.

I recently had a chance to see the eagle in the Research and Conservation Laboratory of the Florida Department of Historical Resources in Tallahassee. Having seen it many times atop the monument, I was struck with how much larger it appears when on eye-level. Conservator Claire Tindel told me it was made of sheets of copper-alloy that had been brazed together. It is my guess that this is one of a number of standard eagles offered by the W. H. Mullins Company of Salem, Ohio, one of the leading providers of Civil War monuments, including many in Florida.  It has always given me pause that this magnificent eagle–so prominent a symbol of the Union and not the Confederacy–graced the pediment of a major Confederate monument.

Before I visited the monument, I knew that it had been shot by some unknown marksman in the past. I expected a bullet hole or two, and was shocked to see that it was literally riddled with bullet-holed and dented by innumerable shotgun pellets.  Riddled indeed! It is a miracle it survived at all, and that was probably due to careful patching through time of the innumerable bullet holes. Eagle 4 small

All of the patches were carefully removed during conservation, and bullets and shreds of lead emptied from the hollow cavity inside the eagle itself. Conservator Tindel told me that park staff had not patched the eagle in recent memory, and suspects most of the holes were made 30 or more years ago; a couple more recent holes were never patched. I am struck by the disrespect of a symbol of respect; perhaps it was the eagle as a symbol of the Union or the eagle as a symbol of the reach of the Federal Government through laws that protect the Bald Eagle itself that was the cause. Worse yet would be if there was no rational thought behind this act of destruction.

Eagle 5 small

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act has made it illegal to shoot Bald Eagles since its enactment in 1940. Bald Eagles were listed as endangered between 1967 and 2007. This protection did not, apparently, engender any respect for the likeness of this bird on a monument to southern sacrifice and valor at Natural Bridge. Despite this insult to its likeness at Natural Bridge, Florida now has the largest population of Bald Eagles in the nation.

William B. Lees

Union Monument at Olustee Long Overdue

As the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, Florida, grows near, controversy has arisen over a proposal to erect a new monument on the state-owned portion of the battlefield that would commemorate the participation of Union troops in the battle.  Currently there is an impressive monument and two flanking monuments, all honoring the Confederacy, on the state property. There is also, in an adjacent cemetery, a monument honoring the Union participation in the battle.

The Union monument is a large granite cross that represents a wooden monument (of unknown form) that was placed on the battlefield when a detachment of Union soldiers returned in 1866 to gather and bury Union dead from the battlefield.  This was one of the first Civil War monuments in Florida, but within a decade it was no longer present. In 1991 the granite cross was erected by the Union Army District of Florida (a Union reenactment organization). It incorporates the inscriptions recorded as having been on the 1866 monument. Of relevance, because it also commemorates soldier graves, is a monument dedicated to “Our Confederate Dead” erected in 1901 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the Lake City’s Oaklawn Cemetery where Confederate dead from the Battle of Olustee are buried.

Olustee dedication

1912 Dedication

Three Confederate monuments were placed on the actual battlefield in 1912, 1936, and 1951.  The 1912 monument is one of the largest and most impressive in Florida, and was funded by the State of Florida and the UDC. In 1899 the Florida Legislature approved a bill to erect a monument at the Olustee Battlefield dedicated to both the Union and Confederate officers and soldiers who had participated. Subsequent protestations by the UDC resulted in the bill being amended by the 1901 Legislature to remove reference to the Union. In 1909 land was donated to the state for placement of this monument, and in 1912 the impressive Gothic-style monument that is now prominent at the battlefield was dedicated with great fanfare.

The intent of the Florida Legislature and the UDC that this would be a Confederate monument is clear. It is also clear by examining the symbolism and the language on the monument that this is the case. The monument is emblazoned with three Confederate battle flags. The inscription on the front of the monument reads:

“The Battle of Olustee was fought on this ground February 20th, 1864, between 5,000 Confederate troops commanded by General Joseph E. Finegan and 6,000 Federal troops under General Truman Seymour. The Federals were defeated with a loss of 2,000 men the Confederate loss was less than 1,000.”

The inscription on the back reads:

“To the men who fought and triumphed here in defence of their homes and firesides this monument is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy aided by the state of Florida, in commemoration of their devotion to the cause of liberty and state sovereignty.”

Some of those who object to a new Union monument have said that the 1912 monument honors both Confederate and Union, but this is clearly not the case; the only mention of Federals is about their defeat.

That this is a Confederate monument was reconfirmed in 1994 when a granite band was added around the 1912 monument dedicated to the southern units that fought there.

In 1936 and 1951 the UDC erected smaller monuments in front of and flanking the 1912 monument. The 1936 monument honors Confederate Brigadier Alfred Holt Colquitt. The 1951 monument honors Brigadier General Joseph E. Finegan.

It is my opinion that the State of Florida should allow the placement of a monument to commemorate the sacrifice of the Union soldiers who fought and died at Olustee.  The Union sacrifice was significant, and this ground is hallowed by their blood as much as that of the victorious Confederate soldiers.

There is ample precedence for this, as demonstrated by the erection of monuments in recent years at Civil War battlefields in Florida and beyond. In fact, Florida did not erect monuments to their troops at Vicksburg until 1954 and at Gettysburg until 1963, long after most of the scores of monuments that decorate those grounds were placed. In 1994 at Olustee, the granite border was added to the landscape to honor Confederate units, and in 2000 at Natural Bridge a modest monument was added to honor both Confederate and Union dead.  The recent Natural Bridge monument was sponsored by a number of organizations, including the UDC and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Confederate monuments continue to be erected in Florida cemeteries and parks by the SCV and other Confederate heritage organizations. In this context, erection of a Union monument hardly seems unusual or controversial. 

The Civil War is in fact over, right? The armies have surrendered, but the current vocal controversy shows that the pro-Confederate narrative introduced in 1866 as the “Lost Cause” is still alive and well.  The UDC spent many years with an elaborate education and commemoration program in the south to validate the southern soldier and soldier dead, and did as much to slow national reconciliation after the war as anything.  It is time that the “Lost Cause” be retired, so that we can begin to be a nation that can honor all of our soldiers who fought in the Civil War, even those who died after defeat on southern soil.

Those who truly honor southern heritage, including members of the UDC and SCV, should not oppose a Union monument at Olustee. They instead should offer to help raise the funds needed to erect a monument fitting of the memory of the Federal soldiers who died on this truly hallowed ground.

William B. Lees

New life for a steamboat at Fort Gadsden National Historic Landmark

Sometime several decades ago, the boilers and paddle wheels from a steamboat were dredged from the bottom of the Apalachicola River and were redeposited at Fort Gadsden Recreation Area in Franklin County, Florida. Until this week, these artifacts sat on the ground, slowly rusting and becoming embedded in the soil. This week, a crew of staff and student volunteers from the University of West Florida began a project that will ultimately see these artifacts receive the care and attention that they deserve.

Machinery as it existed prior to the current project

Fort Gadsden is an National Historic Landmark. It is the site of an earthen British Fort of significance during the First Seminole War. The fort is well preserved today, and the story of this site is presented in a well done interpretive kiosk originally developed when the site was managed by the Florida Park Service. The site is part of the Apalachicola National Forest and is now managed by the US Forest Service as a recreational area.

A park service plaque by the artifacts attribute them to the steamboat “Irvington” which was lost on the river in 1838. The steamboat artifacts have nothing specific to do with why this site is a National Historic Landmark, but they do relate to the use of the river as a major artery of trade and transportation during the 19th century. before the Civil War, this river served the cotton plantations of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and provided access to the industrial town of Columbus, Georgia. Many steamboats were sunk by snags or lost due to fire or explosion.

We are not positive that the boiler and paddle wheels are from the Irvington but all indications are that they were part of a steamboat constructed in the early 19th century. This was a period of rapid innovation in steamboats designed for use on the nation’s shallow and treacherous western rivers which shared many characteristics with the Apalachicola. Research by UWF anthropology graduate student Bill Neal will fully document these artifacts. Characteristics of the artifacts and their construction, along with historical research will help determine the age of this ship and hopefully its specific identify.

This week, work was begun to lift these artifacts off the ground and place them on timber bases that will help in their preservation and study, and will prepare them for public viewing. Treated timber bases were designed and prefabricated by Steve McLinn of the UWF Marine Services Center and transported to the site this Wednesday. The two massive iron boilers were repositioned as they would have been aboard the ship, and were oriented along the interpretive trail from the parking lot to the remains of Fort Gadsden. They were then lifted with a series of hand-operated jacks and the timber bases were assembled beneath. Once lowered onto the bases, these boilers immediately took on the appearance of artifacts of importance.

The first boiler being lifted so base can be construted underneath.

The boilers are impressive. They are hand made from thin sheets of wrought iron, riveted together like a patchwork quilt. The ends are of heavy cast iron, and fittings for water and steam pipes penetrate the iron skin. Two flues run the entire length of the boilers, and provided the heat to transform river water into steam that in turn powered steam pistons that turned the paddle wheels.

Repositioned boilers sitting on new timber frame bases.

After the boilers were placed on their bases, the heavy iron axles and paddle wheel hubs–one for the port and one for the starboard side–were placed in front of the boilers where they will ultimately be displayed. In a few weeks we will return and with specially designed bases for these artifacts as well.

A bonus for our trip to Fort Gadsden was the discovery of an additional part of this ship. The volunteer host at the site led us to this artifact along a park maintenance road. Preliminary research suggests that this may be a “feedwater heater” that was installed inside the smoke stack. This would have used exhaust heat to preheat water before it was added to the boilers. This seems to be a poorly understood part of 19th century steamboat technology and this may turn out to be the most significant parts of the remains of the Fort Gadsden steamboat.

This project is an initiative of the UWF Florida Public Archeology Network, and was done in cooperation with the US National Forest Service and under Forest Service Permit. I thank Forest Service archaeologists Andrea Repp and William Stanton for their assistance in making this possible and for their interest in helping to preserve these significant artifacts and improve the public educational experience at this site.

William Lees

Battle of Selma 2011

This is one of the most spectacular reenacting photos that I have, which I was able to capture only because I was sitting in the audience with my family during this battle (I would otherwise have been on the field as part of the Federal infantry). Generally there is no fire, but at Selma it is a key component of the Sunday battle.

We have been going to the spring reenactment of the Battle of Selma for years and enjoy it immensely because it is a very well done yet intimate (small) reenactment. The public experience is excellent in terms of access to reenactor camps (especially the Confederate camp), a good selection of sutlers (vendors selling Civil War period clothing, equipment, etc), an excellent reenactor ball at an antebellum mansion in town (Sturdivant Hall), and of course well scripted and exciting reenactments on Saturday and Sunday. The battlefield features a good recreation of breastworks of the sort that protected Selma during the Civil War, and a house that is rebuilt every year so it can be burned during the Sunday battle.

Selma was of vital importance to the Confederacy as a center for manufacture of military goods, and its capture in the April of 1865 was one of a number of important events leading to the end of the Civil War not just at Appommattox Court House (Lee surrendered there on April 9) but throughout the South.

Although many buildings in Selma were destroyed following its capture, many antebellum homes and buildings remain, as do archaeological remains of Civil War Selma in town and in the river. Illegal recovery of military goods dumped into the river by the Federal forces following the battle has sparked a new battle over the protection of archaeological resources in Alabama’s rivers.

About the past embedded in the present

We are wrapped in a blanket of the past in everything that we do in our minds and personal lives and in our landscapes as we work, travel, and relax.  I have made the past my life’s work through archaeology and public history, and have embraced it within my personal life as a consumer of heritage, a living historian, and as someone who generally likes to live within the fabric of the past.

Because of this in part, but probably more because I like to write and take photographs, I have thought about starting a blog for some time without really being certain of its utility to anyone but myself.  Time will tell.  Time will tell if I will actually sustain this endeavor.