Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Glancing from it to the face of the petitioner, whose tears had
broken forth afresh, he studied its expression for a moment, and
then his eye fell upon her scanty but neat dress. Instantly his
face lighted up.

"My poor girl," said he, "you have come here with no Governor, or
Senator, or member of Congress to plead your cause. You seem
honest and truthful; and you don't wear hoopskirts--and I will be
whipped but I will pardon your brother." And he did.

President Lincoln's favorite son, Tad, having been sportively
commissioned a lieutenant in the United States Army by Secretary
Stanton, procured several muskets and drilled the men-servants of
the house in the manual of arms without attracting the attention
of his father. And one night, to his consternation, he put them
all on duty, and relieved the regular sentries, who, seeing the
lad in full uniform, or perhaps appreciating the joke, gladly
went to their quarters. His brother objected; but Tad insisted
upon his rights as an officer. The President laughed but declined
to interfere, but when the lad had lost his little authority in
his boyish sleep, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of
the United States went down and personally discharged the
sentries his son had put on the post.

When Mr. Lincoln delivered his first inaugural he was introduced
by his friend, United States Senator E. D. Baker, of Oregon. He
carried a cane and a little roll--the manuscript of his inaugural
address. There was moment's pause after the introduction, as he
vainly looked for a spot where he might place his high silk hat.

Stephen A. Douglas, the political antagonist of his whole public
life, the man who had pressed him hardest in the campaign of
1860, was seated just behind him. Douglas stepped forward
quickly, and took the hat which Mr. Lincoln held helplessly in
his hand.

"If I can't be President," Douglas whispered smilingly to Mrs.
Brown, a cousin of Mrs. Lincoln and a member of the President's
party, "I at least can hold his hat."

Mr. Lincoln once said in a speech: "Fellow-citizens, my friend,
Mr. Douglas, made the startling announcement to-day that the
Whigs are all dead.

"If that be so, fellow-citizens, you will now experience the
novelty of hearing a speech from a dead man; and I suppose you
might properly say, in the language of the old hymn

"'Hark! from the tombs a doleful sound.'"

President Lincoln--as he himself put it in conversation one day
with a friend--"fairly ached" for his generals to "get down to
business." These slow generals he termed "snails."

Grant, Sherman and Sheridan were his favorites, for they were
aggressive. They did not wait for the enemy to attack. Too many
of the others were "lingerers," as Lincoln called them. They were
magnificent in defense, and stubborn and brave, but their names
figured too much on the "waiting list."

The greatest fault Lincoln found with so many of the commanders
on the Union side was their unwillingness to move until
everything was exactly to their liking.

Lincoln could not understand why these leaders of Northern armies

When the Union forces were routed in the first battle of Bull
Run, there were many civilians present, who had gone out from
Washington to witness the battle. Among the number were several
Congressmen. One of these was a tall, long-legged fellow, who
wore a long-tailed coat and a high plug hat. When the retreat
began, this Congressman was in the lead of the entire crowd
fleeing toward Washington. He outran all the rest, and was the
first man to arrive in the city. No person ever made such good
use of long legs as this Congressman. His immense stride carried
him yards at every bound. He went over ditches and gullies at a
single leap, and cleared a six-foot fence with a foot to spare.
As he went over the fence his plug hat blew off, but he did not
pause. With his long coat-tails flying in the wind, he continued
straight ahead for Washington.

Many of those behind him were scared almost to death, but the
flying Congressman was such a comical figure that they had to
laugh in spite of their terror.

Mr. Lincoln enjoyed the description of how this Congressman led
the race from Bull's Run, and laughed at it heartily.

"I never knew but one fellow who could run like that," he said,
"and he was a young man out in Illinois. He had been sparking a
girl, much against the wishes of her father. In fact, the old
man took such a dislike to him that he threatened to shoot him if
he ever ought him around his premises again.

"One evening the young man learned that the girl's father had
gone to the city, and he ventured out to the house. He was
sitting in the parlor, with his arm around Betsy's waist, when he
suddenly spied the old man coming around the corner of the house
with a shotgun. Leaping through a window into the garden, he
started down a path at the top of his speed. He was a long-legged
fellow, and could run like greased lightning. Just then a
jack-rabbit jumped up in the path in front of him. In about two
leaps he overtook the rabbit. Giving it a kick that sent it high
in the air, he exclaimed: 'Git out of the road, gosh dern you,
and let somebody run that knows how.'

"I reckon," said Mr. Lincoln, "that the long-legged Congressman,
when he saw the rebel muskets, must have felt a good deal like
that young fellow did when he saw the old man's shot-gun."


Lincoln was a strong believer in the virtue of dealing honestly
with the people.

"If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow-citizens," he
said to a caller at the White House, "you can never regain their
respect and esteem.

"It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time;
you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't
fool all of the people all the time."

The night President-elect Lincoln arrived at Washington, one man
was observed watching Lincoln very closely as he walked out of
the railroad station. Standing a little to one side, the man
looked very sharply at Lincoln, and, as the latter passed, seized
hold of his hand, and said in a loud tone of voice, "Abe, you
can't play that on me!"

Ward Lamon and the others with Lincoln were instantly alarmed,
and would have struck the stranger had not Lincoln hastily said,
"Don't strike him! It is Washburne. Don't you know him?"

Mr. Seward had given Congressman Washburne a hint of the time the
train would arrive, and he had the right to be at the station
when the train steamed in, but his indiscreet manner of loudly
addressing the President-elect might have led to serious
consequences to the latter.

Mrs. Rose Linder Wilkinson, who often accompanied her father,
Judge Linder, in the days when he rode circuit with Mr. Lincoln,
tells the following story:

"At night, as a rule, the lawyers spent awhile in the parlor, and
permitted the women who happened to be along to sit with them.
But after half an hour or so we would notice it was time for us
to leave them. I remember traveling the circuit one season when
the young wife of one of the lawyers was with him. The place was
so crowded that she and I were made to sleep together. When the
time came for banishing us from the parlor, we went up to our
room and sat there till bed-time, listening to the roars that
followed each ether swiftly while those lawyers down-stairs told
stoties and laughed till the rafters rang.

"In the morning Mr. Lincoln said to me: 'Rose, did we disturb
your sleep last night?' I answered, 'No, I had no sleep'--which
was not entirely true but the retort amused him. Then the young
lawyer's wife complained to him that we were not fairly used. We
came along with them, young women, and when they were having the
best time we were sent away like children to go to bed in the

"'But, Madame,' said Mr. Lincoln, 'you would not enjoy the
things we laugh at.' And then he entered into a discussion on
what have been termed his 'broad' stories. He deplored the fact
that men seemed to remember them longer and with less effort than
any others.

"My father said: 'But, Lincoln, I don't remember the "broad" part
of your stories so much as I do the moral that is in them,' and
it was a thing in which they were all agreed."

When President Lincoln heard of the Confederate raid at Fairfax,
in which a brigadier-general and a number of valuable horses were
captured, he gravely observed:

"Well, I am sorry for the horses."

"Sorry for the horses, Mr. President!" exclaimed the Secretary of
War, raising his spectacles and throwing himself back in his
chair in astonishment.

"Yes," replied Mr., Lincoln, "I can make a brigadier-general in
five minutes, but it is not easy to replace a hundred and ten

Dr. Jerome Walker, of Brooklyn, told how Mr. Lincoln once
administered to him a mild rebuke. The doctor was showing Mr.
Lincoln through the hospital at City Point.

"Finally, after visiting the wards occupied by our invalid and
convalescing soldiers," said Dr. Walker, "we came to three wards
occupied by sick and wounded Southern prisoners. With a feeling
of patriotic duty, I said: 'Mr. President, you won't want to go
in there; they are only rebels.'

"I will never forget how he stopped and gently laid his large
hand upon my shoulder and quietly answered, 'You mean
Confederates!' And I have meant Confederates ever since.

"There was nothing left for me to do after the President's remark
but to go with him through these three wards; and I could not see
but that he was just as kind, his hand-shakings just as hearty,
his interest just as real for the welfare of the men, as when he
was among our own soldiers."

"Old Pap," as the soldiers called General George H. Thomas, was
aggravatingly slow at a time when the President wanted him to
"get a move on"; in fact, the gallant "Rock of Chickamauga" was
evidently entered in a snail-race.

"Some of my generals are so slow," regretfully remarked Lincoln
one day, "that molasses in the coldest days of winter is a race
horse compared to them.

"They're brave enough, but somehow or other they get fastened in
a fence corner, and can't figure their way out."

Joseph Medill, for many years editor of the Chicago Tribune, not
long before his death, told the following story regarding the
"talking to" President Lincoln gave himself and two other Chicago
gentlemen who went to Washington to see about reducing Chicago's
quota of troops after the call for extra men was made by the
President in 1864:

"In 1864, when the call for extra troops came, Chicago revolted.
She had already sent 22,000 troops up to that time, and was
drained. When the call came there were no young men to go, and no
aliens except what were bought. The citizens held a mass meeting
and appointed three persons, of whom I was one, to go to
Washington and ask Stanton to give Cook County a new enrollment.
"On reaching Washington, we went to Stanton with our statement.
He refused entirely to give us the desired aid. Then we went to
Lincoln. 'I cannot do it,' he said, 'but I will go with you to
the War Department, and Stanton and I will hear both sides.'

"So we all went over to the War Department together. Stanton and
General Frye were there, and they, of course, contended that the
quota should not be changed. The argument went on for some time,
and was finally referred to Lincoln, who had been sitting
silently listening.

"I shall never forget how he suddenly lifted his head and turned
on us a black and frowning face.

"'Gentlemen,' he said, in a voice full of bitterness, 'after
Boston, Chicago has been the chief instrument in bringing war on
this country. The Northwest has opposed the South as New England
has opposed the South. It is you who are largely responsible for
making blood flow as it has.

"'You called for war until we had it. You called for
Emancipation, and I have given it to you. Whatever you have
asked, you have had. Now you come here begging to be let off from
the call for men, which I have made to carry out the war which
you demanded. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I have a
right to expect better things of you.

"'Go home and raise your six thousand extra men. And you,
Medill, you are acting like a coward. You and your Tribune have
had more influence than any paper in the Northwest in making this
war. You can influence great masses, and yet you cry to be spared
at a moment when your cause is suffering. Go home and send us
those men!'

"I couldn't say anything. It was the first time I ever was
whipped, and I didn't have an answer. We all got up and went out,
and when the door closed one of my colleagues said:

"'Well, gentlemen, the old man is right. We ought to be ashamed
of ourselves. Let us never say anything about this, but go home
and raise the men.'

"And we did--six thousand men--making twenty-eight thousand in
the War from a city of one hundred and fifty-six thousand. But
there might have been crape on every door, almost, in Chicago,
for every family had lost a son or a husband. I lost two
brothers. It was hard for the mothers."

In 1862 a delegation of New York millionaires waited upon
President Lincoln to request that he furnish a gunboat for the
protection of New York harbor.

Mr. Lincoln, after listening patiently, said: "Gentlemen, the
credit of the Government is at a very low ebb; greenbacks are not
worth more than forty or fifty cents on the dollar; it is
impossible for me, in the present condition of things, to furnish
you a gunboat, and, in this condition of things, if I was worth
half as much as you, gentlemen, are represented to be, and as
badly frightened as you seem to be, I would build a gunboat and
give it to the Government."

President Lincoln's sense of duty to the country, together with
his keen judgment of men, often led to the appointment of persons
unfriendly to him. Some of these appointees were, as well, not
loyal to the National Government, for that matter.

Regarding Secretary of War Stanton's attitude toward Lincoln,
Colonel A. K. McClure, who was very close to President Lincoln,

"After Stanton's retirement from the Buchanan Cabinet when
Lincoln was inaugurated, he maintained the closest confidential
relations with Buchanan, and wrote him many letters expressing
the utmost contempt for Lincoln, the Cabinet, the Republican
Congress, and the general policy of the Administration.

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