Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"'Still he called for more tail, and, there being no other place
to coil it, they began wrapping it around his shoulders. He
continued his call for more, and they kept on winding the
additional tail around him until its weight broke him down.'

"I saw the point, and, rising from my chair, replied, 'Mr.
President, I will not call for any more assistance unless I find
it impossible to do with what I already have.'"

Ward Lamon, Marshal of the District of Columbia during Lincoln's
time in Washington, was a powerful man; his strength was
phenomenal, and a blow from his fist was like unto that coming
from the business end of a sledge.

Lamon tells this story, the hero of which is not mentioned by
name, but in all probability his identity can be guessed:

"On one occasion, when the fears of the loyal element of the city
(Washington) were excited to fever-heat, a free fight near the
old National Theatre occurred about eleven o'clock one night. An
officer, in passing the place, observed what was going on, and
seeing the great number of persons engaged, he felt it to be his
duty to command the peace.

"The imperative tone of his voice stopped the fighting for a
moment, but the leader, a great bully, roughly pushed back the
officer and told him to go away or he would whip him. The officer
again advanced and said, 'I arrest you,' attempting to place his
hand on the man's shoulder, when the bully struck a fearful blow
at the officer's face.

"This was parried, and instantly followed by a blow from the fist
of the officer, striking the fellow under the chin and knocking
him senseless. Blood issued from his mouth, nose and ears. It was
believed that the man's neck was broken. A surgeon was called,
who pronounced the case a critical one, and the wounded man was
hurried away on a litter to the hospital.

"There the physicians said there was concussion of the brain, and
that the man would die. All the medical skill that the officer
could procure was employed in the hope of saving the life of the
man. His conscience smote him for having, as he believed, taken
the life of a fellow-creature, and he was inconsolable.

"Being on terms of intimacy with the President, about two o'clock
that night the officer went to the White House, woke up Mr.
Lincoln, and requested him to come into his office, where he told
him his story. Mr. Lincoln listened with great interest until the
narrative was completed, and then asked a few questions, after
which he remarked:

"'I am sorry you had to kill the man, but these are times of
war, and a great many men deserve killing. This one, according to
your story, is one of them; so give yourself no uneasiness about
the matter. I will stand by you.'

"'That is not why I came to you. I knew I did my duty, and had
no fears of your disapproval of what I did,' replied the officer;
and then he added: 'Why I came to you was, I felt great grief
over the unfortunate affair, and I wanted to talk to you about

"Mr. Lincoln then said, with a smile, placing his hand on the
officer' shoulder: 'You go home now and get some sleep; but let
me give you this piece of advice--hereafter, when you have
occasion to strike a man, don't hit him with your fist; strike
him with a club, a crowbar, or with something that won't kill

Lincoln could be arbitrary when occasion required. This is the
letter he wrote to one of the Department heads:

"You must make a job of it, and provide a place for the bearer
of this, Elias Wampole. Make a job of it with the collector and
have it done. You can do it for me, and you must."

There was no delay in taking action in this matter. Mr. Wampole,
or "Eli," as he was thereafter known, "got there."

Many amusing stories are told of President Lincoln and his
gloves. At about the time of his third reception he had on a
tight-fitting pair of white kids, which he had with difficulty
got on. He saw approaching in the distance an old Illinois friend
named Simpson, whom he welcomed with a genuine Sangamon county
(Illeenoy) shake, which resulted in bursting his white kid glove,
with an audible sound. Then, raising his brawny hand up before
him, looking at it with an indescribable expression, he said,
while the whole procession was checked, witnessing this scene:

"Well, my old friend, this is a general bustification. You and I
were never intended to wear these things. If they were stronger
they might do well enough to keep out the cold, but they are a
failure to shake hands with between old friends like us. Stand
aside, Captain, and I'll see you shortly."

Simpson stood aside, and after the unwelcome ceremony was
terminated he rejoined his old Illinois friend in familiar

H. C. Whitney wrote in 1866: "I was in Washington in the Indian
service for a few days before August, 1861, and I merely said to
President Lincoln one day: 'Everything is drifting into the war,
and I guess you will have to put me in the army.'

"The President looked up from his work and said, good-humoredly:

'I'm making generals now; in a few days I will be making
quartermasters, and then I'll fix you.'"

In the "Diary of a Public Man" appears this jocose anecdote:

"Mr. Lincoln walked into the corridor with us; and, as he bade us
good-by and thanked Blank for what he had told him, he again
brightened up for a moment and asked him in an abrupt kind of
way, laying his hand as he spoke with a queer but not uncivil
familiarity on his shoulder, 'You haven't such a thing as a
postmaster in your pocket, have you?'

Blank stared at him in astonishment, and I thought a little in
alarm, as if he suspected a sudden attack of insanity; then Mr.
Lincoln went on:

'You see it seems to me kind of unnatural that you shouldn't have
at least a postmaster in your pocket. Everybody I've seen for
days past has had foreign ministers and collectors, and all
kinds, and I thought you couldn't have got in here without having
at least a postmaster get into your pocket!'"

When a surveyor, Mr. Lincoln first platted the town of
Petersburg, Ill. Some twenty or thirty years afterward the
property-owners along one of the outlying streets had trouble in
fixing their boundaries. They consulted the official plat and got
no relief. A committee was sent to Springfield to consult the
distinguished surveyor, but he failed to recall anything that
would give them aid, and could only refer them to the record. The
dispute therefore went into the courts. While the trial was
pending, an old Irishman named McGuire, who had worked for some
farmer during the summer, returned to town for the winter. The
case being mentioned in his presence, he promptly said: "I can
tell you all about it. I helped carry the chain when Abe Lincoln
laid out this town. Over there where they are quarreling about
the lines, when he was locating the street, he straightened up
from his instrument and said: 'If I run that street right
through, it will cut three or four feet off the end of --'s
house. It's all he's got in the world and he never could get
another. I reckon it won't hurt anything out here if I skew the
line a little and miss him."'

The line was "skewed," and hence the trouble, and more testimony
furnished as to Lincoln's abounding kindness of heart, that would
not willingly harm any human being.

One of the most celebrated courts-martial during the War was that
of Franklin W. Smith and his brother, charged with defrauding the
government. These men bore a high character for integrity. At
this time, however, courts-martial were seldom invoked for any
other purpose than to convict the accused, and the Smiths shared
the usual fate of persons whose cases were submitted to such
arbitrament. They were kept in prison, their papers seized, their
business destroyed, and their reputations ruined, all of which
was followed by a conviction.

The finding of the court was submitted to the President, who,
after a careful investigation, disapproved the judgment, and
wrote the following endorsement upon the papers:

"Whereas, Franklin W. Smith had transactions with the Navy
Department to the amount of a millon and a quarter of dollars;

"Whereas, he had a chance to steal at least a quarter of a
million and was only charged with stealing twenty-two hundred
dollars, and the question now is about his stealing one hundred,
I don't believe he stole anything at all.

"Therefore, the record and the findings are disapproved, declared
null and void, and the defendants are fully discharged."

President Lincoln, after listening to the arguments and appeals
of a committee which called upon him at the White House not long
before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, said:

"I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see
must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull against the

A "high" private of the One Hundred and Fortieth Infantry
Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, wounded at Chancellorsville,
was taken to Washington. One day, as he was becoming
convalescent, a whisper ran down the long row of cots that the
President was in the building and would soon pass by. Instantly
every boy in blue who was able arose, stood erect, hands to the
side, ready to salute his Commanderin-Chief.

The Pennsylvanian stood six feet seven inches in his stockings.
Lincoln was six feet four. As the President approached this giant
towering above him, he stopped in amazement, and casting his eyes
from head to foot and from foot to head, as if contemplating the
immense distance from one extremity to the other, he stood for a
moment speechless.

At length, extending his hand, he exclaimed, "Hello, comrade, do
you know when your feet get cold?"

"Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper" of March 2nd, 1861, two
days previous to the inauguration of President-elect Lincoln,
contained the caricature reproduced here. It was intended to
convey the idea that the National Administration would thereafter
depend upon the support of bayonets to uphold it, and the text
underneath the picture ran as follows:

OLD ABE: "Oh, it's all well enough to say that I must support the
dignity of my high office by force--but it's darned uncomfortable
sitting, I can tell yer."

This journal was not entirely friendly to the new Chief
Magistrate, but it could not see into the future. Many of the
leading publications of the East, among them some of those which
condemned slavery and were opposed to secession, did not believe
Lincoln was the man for the emergency, but instead of doing what
they could do to help him along, they attacked him most
viciously. No man, save Washington, was more brutally lied about
than Lincoln, but he bore all the slurs and thrusts, not to
mention the open, cruel antagonism of those who should have been
his warmest friends, with a fortitude and patience few men have
ever shown. He was on the right road, and awaited the time when
his course should receive the approval it merited.

General James B. Fry told a good one on Secretary of War Stanton,
who was worsted in a contention with the President. Several
brigadier-generals were to be selected, and Lincoln maintained
that "something must be done in the interest of the Dutch." Many
complaints had come from prominent men, born in the Fatherland,
but who were fighting for the Union.

"Now, I want Schimmelpfennig given one of those brigadierships."

Stanton was stubborn and headstrong, as usual, but his manner and
tone indicated that the President would have his own way in the
end. However, he was not to be beaten without having made a

"But, Mr. President," insisted the Iron War Secretary, "it may be
that this Mr. Schim--what's-his-name--has no recommendations
showing his fitness. Perhaps he can't speak English."

"That doesn't matter a bit, Stanton," retorted Lincoln, "he may
be deaf and dumb for all I know, but whatever language he speaks,
if any, we can furnish troops who will understand what he says.
That name of his will make up for any differences in religion,
politics or understanding, and I'll take the risk of his coming
out all right."

Then, slamming his great hand upon the Secretary's desk, he said,
"Schim-mel-fen-nig must be appointed."

And he was, there and then.

"Do you know General A--?" queried the President one day to a
friend who had "dropped in" at the White House.

"Certainly; but you are not wasting any time thinking about him,
are you?" was the rejoinder.

"You wrong him," responded the President, "he is a really great
man, a philosopher."

"How do you make that out? He isn't worth the powder and ball
necessary to kill him so I have heard military men say," the
friend remarked.

"He is a mighty thinker," the President returned, "because he has
mastered that ancient and wise admonition, 'Know thyself;' he has
formed an intimate acquaintance with himself, knows as well for
what he is fitted and unfitted as any man living. Without doubt
he is a remarkable man. This War has not produced another like

"How is it you are so highly pleased with General A-- all at

"For the reason," replied Mr. Lincoln, with a merry twinkle of
the eye, "greatly to my relief, and to the interests of the
country, he has resigned. The country should express its
gratitude in some substantial way."

There was no member of the Cabinet from the South when
Attorney-General Bates handed in his resignation, and President
Lincoln had a great deal of trouble in making a selection.
Finally Titian F. Coffey consented to fill the vacant place for a
time, and did so until the appointment of Mr. Speed.

In conversation with Mr. Coffey the President quaintly remarked:

"My Cabinet has shrunk up North, and I must find a Southern man.
I suppose if the twelve Apostles were to be chosen nowadays, the
shrieks of locality would have to be heeded."

It is not generally known that President Lincoln adopted a
suggestion made by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase in
regard to the Emancipation Proclamation, and incorporated it in
that famous document.

After the President had read it to the members of the Cabinet he
asked if he had omitted anything which should be added or
inserted to strengthen it. It will be remembered that the closing
paragraph of the Proclamation reads in this way:

"And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice
warranted by the Constitution, I invoke the considerate judgment
of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God!" President
Lincoln's draft of the paper ended with the word "mankind," and
the words, "and the gracious favor of Almighty God," were those
suggested by Secretary Chase.

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