Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

When Abe Lincoln used to be drifting around the country,
practicing law in Fulton and Menard counties, Illinois, an old
fellow met him going to Lewiston, riding a horse which, while it
was a serviceable enough animal, was not of the kind to be
truthfully called a fine saddler. It was a weatherbeaten nag,
patient and plodding, and it toiled along with Abe--and Abe's
books, tucked away in saddle-bags, lay heavy on the horse's

"Hello, Uncle Tommy," said Abe.

"Hello, Abe," responded Uncle Tommy. "I'm powerful glad to see
ye, Abe, fer I'm gwyne to have sumthin' fer ye at Lewiston co't,
I reckon."

"How's that, Uncle Tommy?" said Abe.

"Well, Jim Adams, his land runs 'long o' mine, he's pesterin' me
a heap an' I got to get the law on Jim, I reckon."

"Uncle Tommy, you haven't had any fights with Jim, have you?"


"He's a fair to middling neighbor, isn't he?"

"Only tollable, Abe."

"He's been a neighbor of yours for a long time, hasn't he?"

"Nigh on to fifteen year."

"Part of the time you get along all right, don't you?"

"I reckon we do, Abe."

"Well, now, Uncle Tommy, you see this horse of mine? He isn't as
good a horse as I could straddle, and I sometimes get out of
patience with him, but I know his faults. He does fairly well as
horses go, and it might take me a long time to get used to some
other horse's faults. For all horses have faults. You and Uncle
Jimmy must put up with each other as I and my horse do with one

"I reckon, Abe," said Uncle Tommy, as he bit off about four
ounces of Missouri plug. "I reckon you're about right."

And Abe Lincoln, with a smile on his gaunt face, rode on toward

When Mr. Lincoln visited New York in 1860, he felt a great
interest in many of the institutions for reforming criminals and
saving the young from a life of crime. Among others, he visited,
unattended, the Five Points House of Industry, and the
superintendent of the Sabbath school there gave the following
account of the event:

"One Sunday morning I saw a tall, remarkable-looking man enter
the room and take a seat among us. He listened with fixed
attention to our exercises, and his countenance expressed such
genuine interest that I approached him and suggested that he
might be willing to say something to the children. He accepted
the invitation with evident pleasure, and coming forward began a
simple address, which at once fascinated every little hearer and
hushed the room into silence. His language was strikingly
beautiful, and his tones musical with intense feeling. The little
faces would droop into sad conviction when he uttered sentences
of warning, and would brighten into sunshine as he spoke cheerful
words of promise. Once or twice he attempted to close his
remarks, but the imperative shout of, 'Go on! Oh, do go on!'
would compel him to resume.

"As I looked upon the gaunt and sinewy frame of the stranger, and
marked his powerful head and determined features, now touched
into softness by the impressions of the moment, I felt an
irrepressible curiosity to learn something more about him, and
while he was quietly leaving the room, I begged to know his name.
He courteously replied: 'It is Abraham Lincoln, from Illinois.'"

A slight variation of the traditional sentry story is related by
C. C. Buel. It was a cold, blusterous winter night. Says Mr.

"Mr. Lincoln emerged from the front door, his lank figure bent
over as he drew tightly about his shoulders the shawl which he
employed for such protection; for he was on his way to the War
Department, at the west corner of the grounds, where in times of
battle he was wont to get the midnight dispatches from the field.
As the blast struck him he thought of the numbness of the pacing
sentry, and, turning to him, said: 'Young man, you've got a cold
job to-night; step inside, and stand guard there.'

"'My orders keep me out here,' the soldier replied.

"'Yes,' said the President, in his argumentative tone; 'but your
duty can be performed just as well inside as out here, and you'll
oblige me by going in.'

"'I have been stationed outside,' the soldier answered, and
resumed his beat.

"'Hold on there!' said Mr. Lincoln, as he turned back again; 'it
occurs to me that I am Commander-in-Chief of the army, and I
order you to go inside.'"

Perhaps the majority of people in the United States don't know
why Lincoln "growed" whiskers after his first nomination for the
Presidency. Before that time his face was clean shaven.

In the beautiful village of Westfield, Chautauqua county, New
York, there lived, in 1860, little Grace Bedell. During the
campaign of that year she saw a portrait of Lincoln, for whom she
felt the love and reverence that was common in Republican
families, and his smooth, homely face rather disappointed her.
She said to her mother: "I think, mother, that Mr. Lincoln would
look better if he wore whiskers, and I mean to write and tell him

The mother gave her permission.

Grace's father was a Republican; her two brothers were Democrats.
Grace wrote at once to the "Hon. Abraham Lincoln, Esq.,
Springfield, Illinois," in which she told him how old she was,
and where she lived; that she was a Republican; that she thought
he would make a good President, but would look better if he would
let his whiskers grow. If he would do so, she would try to coax
her brothers to vote for him. She thought the rail fence around
the picture of his cabin was very pretty. "If you have not time
to answer my letter, will you allow your little girl to reply for

Lincoln was much pleased with the letter, and decided to answer
it, which he did at once, as follows:

"Springfield, Illinois, October i9, 1860.

"Miss Grace Bedell.

"My Dear Little Miss: Your very agreeable letter of the fifteenth
is received. I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughter.
I have three sons; one seventeen, one nine and one seven years of
age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family. As to
the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people
would call it a piece of silly affectation if I should begin it
now? Your very sincere well-wisher, A. LINCOLN."

When on the journey to Washington to be inaugurated, Lincoln's
train stopped at Westfield. He recollected his little
correspondent and spoke of her to ex-Lieutenant Governor George
W. Patterson, who called out and asked if Grace Bedell was

There was a large surging mass of people gathered about the
train, but Grace was discovered at a distance; the crowd opened a
pathway to the coach, and she came, timidly but gladly, to the
President-elect, who told her that she might see that he had
allowed his whiskers to grow at her request. Then, reaching out
his long arms, he drew her up to him and kissed her. The act drew
an enthusiastic demonstration of approval from the multitude.

Grace married a Kansas banker, and became Grace Bedell Billings.

Lincoln made his first appearance in society when he was first
sent to Springfield, Ill., as a member of the State Legislature.
It was not an imposing figure which he cut in a ballroom, but
still he was occasionally to be found there. Miss Mary Todd, who
afterward became his wife, was the magnet which drew the tall,
awkward young man from his den. One evening Lincoln approached
Miss Todd, and said, in his peculiar idiom:

"Miss Todd, I should like to dance with you the worst way." The
young woman accepted the inevitable, and hobbled around the room
with him. When she returned to her seat, one of her companions
asked mischievously

"Well, Mary, did he dance with you the worst way."

"Yes," she answered, "the very worst."

An instance of young Lincoln's practical humanity at an early
period of his life is recorded in this way:

One evening, while returning from a "raising" in his wide
neighborhood, with a number of companions, he discovered a stray
horse, with saddle and bridle upon him. The horse was recognized
as belonging to a man who was accustomed to get drunk, and it was
suspected at once that he was not far off. A short search only
was necessary to confirm the belief.

The poor drunkard was found in a perfectly helpless condition,
upon the chilly ground. Abraham's companions urged the cowardly
policy of leaving him to his fate, but young Lincoln would not
hear to the proposition.

At his request, the miserable sot was lifted on his shoulders,
and he actually carried him eighty rods to the nearest house.

Sending word to his father that he should not be back that night,
with the reason for his absence, he attended and nursed the man
until the morning, and had the pleasure of believing that he had
saved his life.

On one occasion, exasperated at the discrepancy between the
aggregate of troops forwarded to McClellan and the number that
same general reported as having received, Lincoln exclaimed:
"Sending men to that army is like shoveling fleas across a
barnyard--half of them never get there."

To a politician who had criticised his course, he wrote: "Would
you have me drop the War where it is, or would you prosecute it
in future with elder stalk squirts charged with rosewater?"

When, on his first arrival in Washington as President, he found
himself besieged by office-seekers, while the War was breaking
out, he said: "I feel like a man letting lodgings at one end of
his house while the other end is on fire."

Ward Lamon, Marshal of the District of Columbia during Lincoln's
time in Washington, accompanied the President everywhere. He was
a good singer, and, when Lincoln was in one of his melancholy
moods, would "fire a few rhythmic shots" at the President to
cheer the latter. Lincoln keenly relished nonsense in the shape
of witty or comic ditties. A parody of "A Life on the Ocean Wave"
was always pleasing to him:

"Oh, a life on the ocean wave,
And a home on the rolling deep!
With ratlins fried three times a day
And a leaky old berth for to sleep;
Where the gray-beard cockroach roams,
On thoughts of kind intent,
And the raving bedbug comes
The road the cockroach went."

Lincoln could not control his laughter when he heard songs of
this sort.

He was fond of negro melodies, too, and "The Blue-Tailed Fly" was
a great favorite with him. He often called for that buzzing
ballad when he and Lamon were alone, and he wanted to throw off
the weight of public and private cares. The ballad of "The
Blue-Tailed Fly" contained two verses, which ran:

"When I was young I used to wait
At massa's table, 'n' hand de plate,
An' pass de bottle when he was dry,
An' brush away de blue-tailed fly.

"Ol' Massa's dead; oh, let him rest!
Dey say all things am for de best;
But I can't forget until I die
Ol' massa an' de blue-tailed fly."

While humorous songs delighted the President, he also loved to
listen to patriotic airs and ballads containing sentiment. He was
fond of hearing "The Sword of Bunker Hill," "Ben Bolt," and "The
Lament of the Irish Emigrant." His preference of the verses in
the latter was this:

"I'm lonely now, Mary,
For the poor make no new friends;
But, oh, they love the better still
The few our Father sends!
And you were all I had, Mary,
My blessing and my pride;
There's nothing left to care for now,
Since my poor Mary died."

Those who knew Lincoln were well aware he was incapable of so
monstrous an act as that of wantonly insulting the dead, as was
charged in the infamous libel which asserted that he listened to
a comic song on the field of Antietam, before the dead were

Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a friend that his religion was like
that of an old man named Glenn, in Indiana, whom he heard speak
at a church meeting, and who said: "When I do good, I feel good;
when I do bad, I feel bad; and that's my religion."

Mrs. Lincoln herself has said that Mr. Lincoln had no faith--no
faith, in the usual acceptance of those words. "He never joined a
church; but still, as I believe, he was a religious man by
nature. He first seemed to think about the subject when our boy
Willie died, and then more than ever about the time he went to
Gettysburg; but it was a kind of poetry in his nature, and he
never was a technical Christian."

During the afternoon preceding his assassination the President
signed a pardon for a soldier sentenced to be shot for desertion,
remarking as he did so, "Well, I think the boy can do us more
good above ground than under ground."

He also approved an application for the discharge, on taking the
oath of allegiance, of a rebel prisoner, in whose petition he
wrote, "Let it be done."

This act of mercy was his last official order.

The first corps of the army commanded by General Reynolds was
once reviewed by the President on a beautiful plain at the north
of Potomac Creek, about eight miles from Hooker's headquarters.
The party rode thither in an ambulance over a rough corduroy
road, and as they passed over some of the more difficult portions
of the jolting way the ambulance driver, who sat well in front,
occasionally let fly a volley of suppressed oaths at his wild
team of six mules.

Finally, Mr. Lincoln, leaning forward, touched the man on the
shoulder and said

"Excuse me, my friend, are you an Episcopalian?"

The man, greatly startled, looked around and replied:

"No, Mr. President; I am a Methodist."

"Well," said Lincoln, "I thought you must be an Episcopalian,
because you swear just like Governor Seward, who is a church

The first night after the departure of President-elect Lincoln
from Springfield, on his way to Washington, was spent in
Indianapolis. Governor Yates, O. H. Browning, Jesse K. Dubois, O.
M. Hatch, Josiah Allen, of Indiana, and others, after taking
leave of Mr. Lincoln to return to their respective homes, took
Ward Lamon into a room, locked the door, and proceeded in the
most solemn and impressive manner to instruct him as to his
duties as the special guardian of Mr. Lincoln's person during the
rest of his journey to Washington. Lamon tells the story as

"The lesson was concluded by Uncle Jesse, as Mr. Dubois was
commonly, called, who said:

"'Now, Lamon, we have regarded you as the Tom Hyer of Illinois,
with Morrissey attachment. We intrust the sacred life of Mr.
Lincoln to your keeping; and if you don't protect it, never
return to Illinois, for we will murder you on sight."'

Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner was one of the few men to whom
Mr. Lincoln confided his intention to issue the Proclamation of

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