Unexpected Lincoln: Rollin’ Down the Highway to His New Kentucky Home
By Wendy Swanson
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
Workmen load a statue of the seated Lincoln to a truck for transport to its new location at the Middle Creek Civil War Battlefield in Eastern Kentucky. (Photo credit: Floyd County Fiscal Court)
Images of Lincoln are not at all unexpected in Kentucky. After all, the state is home to his birthplace and Lincoln references abound. However, last year some drivers in the eastern portion of the Blue Grass State likely had to take a second glance to be sure that their eyes were not deceiving them. For there, traveling down the highway was a replica of the Lincoln Memorial-version of the Sixteenth President. Now that is an unexpected Lincoln!
Our story starts in 2010 when a Stanville, Kentucky, attorney announced he was giving Kentucky "the second largest seated Lincoln in the world." He had commissioned a sculpture described as “only a tad smaller than the D.C. version,” and shared plans for the statue to be placed on the grounds of his legal office. What was his reasoning behind such a “gift?” The donor, like Lincoln, was a lawyer. He believed that Kentucky, although the birthplace of Lincoln, was short changed as far as Lincoln sites. (Naturally he offered an easy solution: just create a new site.) Finally, the donor really liked statues. The statue was proportioned to be just smaller than the original version “out of respect for the Great Emancipator.”
The unveiling occurred on November 4, 2010, not precisely on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s election, as was reported at the time, but close enough. (The 1860 election actually took place on November 6) The statue – equipped with its own lightning rods, night-time lighting and surveillance cameras – became a well-known and well-visited landmark in the area. The work sat in the parking lot of the donor’s legal office – until it didn’t.
Suddenly, the local Lincoln attraction was sitting in an empty parking lot. The attorney who had commissioned the statue was found guilty of defrauding a government agency, the Social Security Administration, no less. He was in a federal prison; his office was shuttered and abandoned; and the once bustling parking lot empty except for the Lincoln statue. An area businessman purchased the property and donated the statue to the county with an eye on enhancing local tourism.
The Lincoln statue seen moving down the highway last spring was on its way to its new home: the Middle Creek Civil War Battlefield in Floyd County, Kentucky. Only the upper portion of the sculpture, the seated Lincoln, was moved. A new base was poured at the battlefield.
In early April 2021 the seated Lincoln statue arrived at the Middle Creek Civil War Battlefield, probably an unexpected landing spot, but not necessarily an inappropriate one. Lincoln was commander-in-chief of Union forces during the Civil War. He recognized the strategic value of his home state and initiated a strategy to keep his birthplace under Union control. The campaign leading up to the Battle of Middle Creek was part of that strategy.
For those who are wondering what took place at the Battle of Middle Creek, here is a brief summary: On January 10, 1862, an unknown colonel, James A. Garfield (yes, the same James Garfield who later became president), led Union soldiers against the experience of Brig. Gen. Humphrey Marshall and his Confederate soldiers, in what would become the largest and most significant Civil War battle in eastern Kentucky.
The battle too sadly illustrates the brother-against-brother nature of the war as a whole and in particular the struggle for Kentucky. Union soldiers from Kentucky units, specifically, the 14th and 22nd Kentucky Infantries, charged up the steep hillsides overlooking Middle Creek and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the 5th Kentucky Infantry, C.S.A. The Union victory brought attention to Garfield whose military career eventually led him to the White House. Meanwhile, the Confederate retreat raised questions concerning the competence of the leadership of Marshall.
How is Honest Abe faring in his new home? Local reaction has been favorable with residents finding the new site a more appropriate one for a presidential statue than the previous parking lot setting. One battlefield visitor described the statue as bringing “more depth” to his battlefield experience. Many undoubtedly also echoed the thoughts of one local who saw the move as “freeing Abraham Lincoln.”
The seated Lincoln, a well-known landmark in eastern Kentucky, now surveys the Middle Creek Civil War Battlefield, site of a Union victory. (Photo credit: Columbia Magazine)