A Widow's Pension
and The Civil War
A Clan McEwan Story
by Bonnie Blackmore
(Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii)
Lincoln Monument in Edinburgh
John McEwan born in 1833 was a sober man. He was born in Blackford, Perthshire. In 1857, along with his brother Peter, John set sail on the Cultivator bound for Chicago. He lived in Chicago for five years and in 1862 became a volunteer in the Civil War with the 65th Infantry made up of Scottish born soldiers and their regiment was known as the "Scotch Regiment". To quote from a fellow infantryman "John is a good soldier - we had none better - always sober, and always ready for duty. If he knew what fear was, he never showed it. He was in several battles, among the number where Harper's Ferry, 1862, siege of Knoxville, all through the Atlanta campaign, Columbia, Franklin, Nashville, Fort Anderson and on up to Raleigh. John McEwan deserves especial mention for the courage he ever exhibited. I have seen him in very close quarters several tmes, but he never shirked or exhibited a white feather." - Melvin Nichols, Brooklyn, NY July 21, 1893.
But the ravages of war and conditions of battle took their toll on John. When he returned to Blackford in 1865, his kidneys were shot and his energy was so poor he could only work partial days. Shortly after his return he met Margaret King of Doune, the two married on November 30, 1866 and they moved to Galashiels where the two raised their family of one boy and four girls (the sixth child, John, died in infancy). John was a weaver and did his weaving in his home.
During this time John began appealing to the United States Government for a pension for his service in the war and told his tale of how he could barely work. He had never complained to anyone, never told his employers of his problem. The government denied is claim and in 1888, John died.
This is where our story begins. Margaret, destitute with
two minor daughters to support began appealing again for a widow's pension. This time she went to Wallace Bruce who was then the consul in Edinburgh and moved the family to Edinburgh to find work. She met with Bruce in person and told her story with Wallace's wife within earshot. Mrs. Wallace was so taken with the story she asked Margaret to tell her where her husband was buried so she could put flowers on his grave. Margaret responded with tears in her eyes 'he lies in a common grave'.
With Wallace Bruce's support, Margaret wrote to Andrew Carnegie and was granted her pension of 2.10 pounds per month. This was very welcome news (I have the original letter written by Andrew Carnegie to Margaret) but when Margaret got the first installment, she found that they had deducted taxes from the amount promised. Unruffled, Margaret wrote again to Carnegie practically demanding that the full pension amount be given. And it was.
This would have been the end of it but Wallace Bruce was so taken with the dedication of the Scottish men who fought in a foreign war to free the black man from bondage that he began his own campaign to raise money for a monument for those men. With subscribers with names such as Morton, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Waldorf Astor and many others including his own, enough money was raised for the monument that was unveiled on Old Calton Hill on August 21, 1893. The sculptor was George Bissell and the monument of Lincoln standing above a freed slave sitting on the stairs below. My Great-Great Grandfather, John McEwan's name is the first one engraved on the monument dedicated to the Scotsmen who fought in the Civil War under the clan of McEwan. I am proud to be of such character and plan to travel to Scotland next summer and connect with my true homeland.
Bonnie Jean Blackmore