Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

Lincoln bore it all in patience for a long time, but one day,
when he had received another request for more men, he made a
vigorous protest.

"If I gave McClellan all the men he asks for," said the
President, "they couldn't find room to lie down. They'd have to
sleep standing up."

General Meade, after the great victory at Gettysburg, was again
face to face with General Lee shortly afterwards at Williamsport,
and even the former's warmest friends agree that he might have
won in another battle, but he took no action. He was not a
"pushing" man like Grant. It was this negligence on the part of
Meade that lost him the rank of Lieutenant-General, conferred
upon General Sheridan.

A friend of Meade's, speaking to President Lincoln and intimating
that Meade should have, after that battle, been made
Commander-in-Chief of the Union Armies, received this reply from

"Now, don't misunderstand me about General Meade. I am profoundly
grateful down to the bottom of my boots for what he did at
Gettysburg, but I think that if I had been General Meade I would
have fought another battle."

In one of his reminiscences of Lincoln, Ward Lamon tells how
keenly the President-elect always regretted the "sneaking in act"
when he made the celebrated "midnight ride," which he took under
protest, and landed him in Washington known to but a few. Lamon

"The President was convinced that he committed a grave mistake in
listening to the solicitations of a 'professional spy' and of
friends too easily alarmed, and frequently upbraided me for
having aided him to degrade himself at the very moment in all his
life when his behavior should have exhibited the utmost dignity
and composure.

"Neither he nor the country generally then understood the true
facts concerning the dangers to his life. It is now an
acknowledged fact that there never was a moment from the day he
crossed the Maryland line, up to the time of his assassination,
that he was not in danger of death by violence, and that his life
was spared until the night of the 14th of April, 1865, only
through the ceaseless and watchful care of the guards thrown
around him."

President Lincoln was calm and unmoved when England and France
were blustering and threatening war. At Lincoln's instance
Secretary of State Seward notified the English Cabinet and the
French Emperor that as ours was merely a family quarrel of a
strictly private and confidential nature, there was no call for
meddling; also that they would have a war on their hands in a
very few minutes if they didn't keep their hands off.

Many of Seward's notes were couched in decidedly peppery terms,
some expressions being so tart that President Lincoln ran his pen
through them.

General Farnsworth told the writer nearly twenty years ago that,
being in the War Office one day, Secretary Stanton told him that
at the last Cabinet meeting he had learned a lesson he should
never forget, and thought he had obtained an insight into Mr.
Lincoln's wonderful power over the masses. The Secretary said a
Cabinet meeting was called to consider our relations with England
in regard to the Mason-Slidell affair. One after another of the
Cabinet presented his views, and Mr. Seward read an elaborate
diplomatic dispatch, which he had prepared.

Finally Mr. Lincoln read what he termed "a few brief remarks upon
the subject," and asked the opinions of his auditors. They
unanimously agreed that our side of the question needed no more
argument than was contained in the President's "few brief

Mr. Seward said he would be glad to adopt the remarks, and,
giving them more of the phraseology usual in diplomatic circles,
send them to Lord Palmerston, the British premier.

"Then," said Secretary Stanton, "came the demonstration. The
President, half wheeling in his seat, threw one leg over the
chair-arm, and, holding the letter in his hand, said, 'Seward, do
you suppose Palmerston will understand our position from that
letter, just as it is?'

"'Certainly, Mr. President.'

"'Do you suppcse the London Times will?'


"'Do you suppose the average Englishman of affairs will?'

"'Certainly; it cannot be mistaken in England.'

"'Do you suppose that a hackman out on his box (pointing to the
street) will understand it?'

"'Very readily, Mr. President.'

"'Very well, Seward, I guess we'll let her slide just as she

"And the letter did 'slide,' and settled the whole business in a
manner that was effective."

One morning President Lincoln asked Major Eckert, on duty at the
White House, "Who is that woman crying out in the hall? What is
the matter with her?"

Eckert said it was a woman who had come a long distance expecting
to go down to the army to see her husband. An order had gone out
a short time before to allow no women in the army, except in
special cases.

Mr. Lincoln sat moodily for a moment after hearing this story,
and suddenly looking up, said, "Let's send her down. You write
the order, Major."

Major Eckert hesitated a moment, and replied, "Would it not be
better for Colonel Hardie to write the order?"

"Yes," said Mr. Lincoln, "that is better; let Hardie write it."

The major went out, and soon returned, saying, "Mr. President,
would it not be better in this case to let the woman's husband
come to Washington?"

Mr. Lincoln's face lighted up with pleasure. "Yes, yes," was the
President's answer in a relieved tone; "that's the best way;
bring him up."

The order was written, and the man was sent to Washington.

"You can't carry on war without blood-letting," said Lincoln one

The President, although almost feminine in his kind-heartedness,
knew not only this, but also that large bodies of soldiers in
camp were at the mercy of diseases of every sort, the result
being a heavy casualty list.

Of the (estimated) half-million men of the Union armies who gave
up their lives in the War of the Rebellion--1861-65--fullY
seventy-five per cent died of disease. The soldiers killed upon
the field of battle constituted a comparatively small proportion
of the casualties.

London "Punch" caricatured President Lincoln in every possible
way, holding him and the Union cause up to the ridicule of the
world so far as it could. On August 23rd, 1862, its cartoon
entitled "Lincoln's Two Difficulties" had the text underneath:
LINCOLN: "What? No money! No men!" "Punch" desired to create the
impression that the Washington Government was in a bad way,
lacking both money and men for the purpose of putting down the
Rebellion; that the United States Treasury was bankrupt, and the
people of the North so devoid of patriotism that they would not
send men for the army to assist in destroying the Confederacy.
The truth is, that when this cartoon was printed the North had
five hundred thousand men in the field, and, before the War
closed, had provided fully two million and a half troops. The
report of the Secretary of the Treasury which showed the
financial affairs and situation of the United States up to July,
1862. The receipts of the National Government for the year ending
June 30th, 1862, were $10,000,000 in excess of the expenditures,
although the War was costing the country $2,000,000 per day; the
credit of the United States was good, and business matters were
in a satisfactory state. The Navy, by August 23rd, 1862, had
received eighteen thousand additional men, and was in fine shape;
the people of the North stood ready to supply anything the
Government needed, so that, all things taken together,the "Punch"
cartoon was not exactly true, as the facts and figures abundantly

An old and intimate friend from Springfield called on President
Lincoln and found him much depressed.

The President was reclining on a sofa, but rising suddenly he
said to his friend:

"You know better than any man living that from my boyhood up my
ambition was to be President. I am President of one part of this
divided country at least; but look at me! Oh, I wish I had never
been born!

"I've a white elephant on my hands--one hard to manage. With a
fire in my front and rear to contend with, the jealousies of the
military commanders, and not receiving that cordial co-operative
support from Congress that could reasonably be expected with an
active and formidable enemy in the field threatening the very
life-blood of the Government, my position is anything but a bed
of roses."

Ward Lamon, one of President Lincoln's law partners, and his most
intimate friend in Washington, has this to relate:

"I am not aware that there was ever a serious discord or
misunderstanding between Mr. Lincoln and General Grant, except on
a single occasion. From the commencement of the struggle,
Lincoln's policy was to break the backbone of the Confederacy by
depriving it of its principal means of subsistence.

"Cotton was its vital aliment; deprive it of this, and the
rebellion must necessarily collapse. The Hon. Elihu B. Washburne
from the outset was opposed to any contraband traffic with the

"Lincoln had given permits and passes through the lines to two
persons--Mr. Joseph Mattox of Maryland and General Singleton of
Illinois--to enable them to bring cotton and other Southern
products from Virginia. Washburne heard of it, called immediately
on Mr. Lincoln, and, after remonstrating with him on the
impropriety of such a demarche, threatened to have General Grant
countermand the permits if they were not revoked.

"Naturally, both became excited. Lincoln declared that he did not
believe General Grant would take upon himself the responsibility
of such an act. 'I will show you, sir; I will show you whether
Grant will do it or not,' responded Mr. Washburne, as he abruptly

"By the next boat, subsequent to this interview, the Congressman
left Washington for the headquarters of General Grant. He
returned shortly afterward to the city, and so likewise did
Mattox and Singleton. Grant had countermanded the permits.

"Under all the circumstances, it was, naturally, a source of
exultation to Mr. Washburne and his friends, and of corresponding
surprise and mortification to the President. The latter, however,
said nothing further than this:

"'I wonder when General Grant changed his mind on this subject?
He was the first man, after the commencement of this War, to
grant a permit for the passage of cotton through the lines, and
that to his own father.'

"The President, however, never showed any resentment toward
General Grant.

"In referring afterwards to the subject, the President said: 'It
made me feel my insignificance keenly at the moment; but if my
friends Washburne, Henry Wilson and others derive pleasure from
so unworthy a victory over me, I leave them to its full

"This ripple on the otherwise unruffled current of their
intercourse did not disturb the personal relations between
Lincoln and Grant; but there was little cordiality between the
President and Messrs. Washburne and Wilson afterwards."

The story as to how President Lincoln won the support of James
Gordon Bennett, Sr., founder of the New York Herald, is a most
interesting one. It was one of Lincoln's shrewdest political
acts, and was brought about by the tender, in an autograph
letter, of the French Mission to Bennett.

The New York Times was the only paper in the metropolis which
supported him heartily, and President Lincoln knew how important
it was to have the support of the Herald. He therefore, according
to the way Colonel McClure tells it, carefully studied how to
bring its editor into close touch with himself.

The outlook for Lincoln's re-election was not promising. Bennett
had strongly advocated the nomination of General McClellan by the
Democrats, and that was ominous of hostility to Lincoln; and when
McClellan was nominated he was accepted on all sides as a most
formidable candidate.

It was in this emergency that Lincoln's political sagacity served
him sufficiently to win the Herald to his cause, and it was done
by the confidential tender of the French Mission. Bennett did not
break over to Lincoln at once, but he went by gradual approaches.

His first step was to declare in favor of an entirely new
candidate, which was an utter impossibility. He opened a "leader"
in the Herald on the subject in this way: "Lincoln has proved a
failure; McClellan has proved a failure; Fremont has proved a
failure; let us have a new candidate."

Lincoln, McClellan and Fremont were then all in the field as
nominated candidates, and the Fremont defection was a serious
threat to Lincoln. Of course, neither Lincoln nor McClellan
declined, and the Herald, failing to get the new man it knew to
be an impossibility, squarely advocated Lincoln's re-election.

Without consulting any one, and without any public announcement:
whatever, Lincoln wrote to Bennett, asking him to accept the
mission to France. The offer was declined. Bennett valued the
offer very much more than the office, and from that day until the
day of the President's death he was one of Lincoln's most
appreciative friends and hearty supporters on his own independent

Once, in reply to a delegation, which visited the White House,
the members of which were unusually vociferous in their demands
that the Silent Man (as General Grant was called) should be
relieved from duty, the President remarked:

"What I want and what the people want is generals who will fight
battles and win victories.

"Grant has done this, and I propose to stand by him."

This declaration found its way into the newspapers, and Lincoln
was upheld by the people of the North, who, also, wanted
who will fight battles and win victories."

President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward met Alexander H.
Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, on February 2nd,
1865, on the River Queen, at Fortress Monroe. Stephens was
enveloped in overcoats and shawls, and had the appearance of a
fair-sized man. He began to take off one wrapping after another,
until the small, shriveled old man stood before them.

Lincoln quietly said to Seward: "This is the largest shucking for
so small a nubbin that I ever saw."

President Lincoln had a friendly conference, but presented his
ultimatum that the one and only condition of peace was that
Confederates "must cease their resistance."

During the Civil War, Clement L. Vallandigham, of Ohio, had shown
himself, in the National House of Representatives and elsewhere,
one of the bitterest and most outspoken of all the men of that
class which insisted that "the war was a failure." He declared
that it was the design of "those in power to establish a
despotism," and that they had "no intention of restoring the
Union." He denounced the conscription which had been ordered, and
declared that men who submitted to be drafted into the army were
"unworthy to be called free men." He spoke of the President as
"King Lincoln."

Such utterances at this time, when the Government was exerting
itself to the utmost to recruit the armies, were dangerous, and
Vallandigham was arrested, tried by court-martial at Cincinnati,
and sentenced to be placed in confinement during the war,

General Burnside, in command at Cincinnati, approved the
sentence, and ordered that he be sent to Fort Warren, in Boston
Harbor; but the President ordered that he be sent "beyond our
lines into those of his friends." He was therefore escorted to
the Confederate lines in Tennessee, thence going to Richmond. He
did not meet with a very cordial reception there, and finally
sought refuge in Canada.

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