Sowing the Wind and
Reaping the Whirlwind
Abraham Lincoln as a War President
Gregory J. W. Urwin
Any consideration of Abraham Lincoln as a war president must attempt to contrast image with historical reality. When it comes to Lincoln, of course, there is no shortage of images. Our conception of this fascinating, contradictory man has been shaped by a mountain of books and articles, as well as numerous works from photographers, painters, sculptors, poets, playwrights, and screenwriters.1
Perhaps the most appropriate way to start wrestling with this titanic figure is to consider the way that Union veterans—the men Lincoln considered his chief partners in the struggle to preserve the American experiment in federated self-government—viewed their commander in chief2 On July 4, 1894, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, dedicated its Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, a $280,000 tribute in stone and bronze, on Cleveland’s spacious Public Square. Designed by Levi T. Scofield, a former Union Army captain turned architect, the monument featured a fifteen-foot statue of an armed Goddess of Liberty towering over the Cleveland skyline from a shaft more than one hundred feet tall.
Scofield guarded the approaches to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument with four larger-than-life groups of statuary, which he sculpted himself. These represented the contributions of the Union’s four combat arms, the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Navy. Inside the ornately carved granite and Amherst stone building encasing the shaft’s base, Scofield placed four bronze bas-reliefs commemorating pivotal moments in the war. Scofield chose the entrance from Superior Avenue as the setting for the most dramatic of these scenes, “The Emancipation of the Slave.”
Standing in the forefront of this tableau is Scofield’s vision of Lincoln the war president. What we see here is not the gentle “Father Abraham” of beloved memory, but a virile, militant man striking a pose of righteous defiance. Portrayed in full relief, he seems to be lunging from the bronze panel. Backed by four of Ohio’s prominent wartime politicians (Salmon P. Chase, John Sherman, Benjamin Wade, and Joshua R. Giddings) and the serried ranks of the Union Army