Irish-American naval hero was from landlocked Lanark

Hugh Logan's gravestone in Lanark Cemetery. Picture Sarah Peters.
Hugh Logan's gravestone in Lanark Cemetery. Picture Sarah Peters.

When it comes to commemorating Clydesdale’s war heroes of the past, current attention is, quite rightly, fixed on local men’s deeds in the First World War.

However, far less remembered is the amazing story of a Lanarkian whose valour in an earlier conflict won him the USA’s equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the Congressional Medal of Honour.

Although born in landlocked Lanark in 1833 and buried there in 1903, it was on stormy seas thousands of miles away from the Royal Burgh that Hugh Logan became a true American hero, all the more admirable as he won his medal for saving rather than taking lives during a war.

That conflict was the American Civil War in which literally thousands of Scots emmigrants to the States served on the Union and Confederate sides.

The records don’t tell us why or exactly when Hugh crossed the Atlantic to start a new life in the New World but we do know that in late 1862 he found himself serving in the US Navy as a non-commissioned officer on the supply ship USS Rhode Island.

This humble vessel was given the task of escorting the US Navy’s most famous warship, the USS Monitor, on a short voyage from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to a US Navy shipyard for repairs.

The Monitor, which had recently taken part in its famed action with the Confederate ironclad Virginia, was really designed for river warfare and the stormy seas soon swamped the vessel which sank taking 16 of its crew with her.

However, the majority of that crew was saved thanks to the courage of Hugh Logan and his shipmates on the USS Rhode Island. They took to the stormy waters in their ship’s flimsy cutters to pick up the survivors.

Both rescued and rescuers then nearly drowned together as the heavy seas swept them away. They endured 12 hours adrift in freezing conditions before being picked up by another vessel.

When the tale of the Monitor’s crew’s rescue was recounted to the authorities, it was judged that Lanark’s Hugh Logan’s bravery during it was exceptional and he became the recipient of the States’ highest honour.

The Medal of Honour (or ‘Honor’ in American English) was formally awarded to him at the Civil War’s end in 1865.

At some point Hugh returned to Scotland and, his deed long forgotten, he died in obscurity at the age of 70 in Glasgow. His sister, a resident of Lanark’s North Vennel, brought his body back to his home town for burial and he lies today in Lanark’s St Kentigern’s Cemetery, the grave marked by a recently installed plaque, marking his achievement.

The reason Hugh Logan became largely a forgotten hero might lie in his very surname.

Many in the States to this day get the Scots and Irish mixed up and, over the decades, Hugh Logan, due to his Irish-sounding surname, mistakenly became celebrated as an Irish-American hero rather than a Scottish-American one.

In fact, as far as anyone knows, Hugh never ever set foot in the Emerald Isle in his life!

There was also a mix-up over his life story in some American historical records, mistakenly relating that Hugh drowned during the 1862 rescue attempt.

The actual truth was that he lived on another 41 years.

Many thanks to the Gazette’s good friend Graham Forbes for all his research into this fascinating tale and for bringing it to our attention.