Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"He reminds me of the story of a man out in Illinois who, in
company with a number of friends, visited the State penitentiary.
They wandered all through the institution and saw everything, but
just about the time to depart this particular man became
separated from his friends and couldn't find his way out.

"He roamed up and down one corridor after another, becoming more
desperate all the time, when, at last, he came across a convict
who was looking out from between the bars of his cell-door. Here
was salvation at last. Hurrying up to the prisoner he hastily

"'Say! How do you get out of this place?"

President Lincoln often avoided interviews with delegations
representing various States, especially when he knew the objects
of their errands, and was aware he could not grant their
requests. This was the case with several commissioners from
Kentucky, who were put off from day to day.

They were about to give up in despair, and were leaving the White
House lobby, their speech being interspersed with vehement and
uncomplimentary terms concerning "Old Abe," when "Tad" happened
along. He caught at these words, and asked one of them if they
wanted to see "Old Abe," laughing at the same time.

"Yes," he replied.

"Wait a minute," said "Tad," and rushed into his father's office.
Said he, "Papa, may I introduce some friends to you?"

His father, always indulgent and ready to make him happy, kindly
said, "Yes, my son, I will see your friends."

"Tad" went to the Kentuckians again, and asked a very dignified
looking gentleman of the party his name. He was told his name. He
then said, "Come, gentlemen," and they followed him.

Leading them up to the President, "Tad," with much dignity, said,
"Papa, let me introduce to you Judge --, of Kentucky;" and
quickly added, "Now Judge, you introduce the other gentlemen."

The introductions were gone through with, and they turned out to
be the gentlemen Mr. Lincoln had been avoiding for a week. Mr.
Lincoln reached for the boy, took him in his lap, kissed him, and
told him it was all right, and that he had introduced his friend
like a little gentleman as he was. Tad was eleven years old at
this time.

The President was pleased with Tad's diplomacy, and often laughed
at the incident as he told others of it. One day while caressing
the boy, he asked him why he called those gentlemen "his
friends." "Well," said Tad, "I had seen them so often, and they
looked so good and sorry, and said they were from Kentucky, that
I thought they must be our friends." "That is right, my son,"
said Mr. Lincoln; "I would have the whole human race your friends
and mine, if it were possible."

The President told a story which most beautifully illustrated the
muddled situation of affairs at the time McClellan's fate was
hanging in the balance. McClellan's s work was not satisfactory,
but the President hesitated to remove him; the general was so
slow that the Confederates marched all around him; and, to add to
the dilemma, the President could not find a suitable man to take
McClellan's place.

The latter was a political, as well as a military, factor; his
friends threatened that, if he was removed, many war Democrats
would cast their influence with the South, etc. It was,
altogether, a sad mix-up, and the President, for a time, was at
his wits' end. He was assailed on all sides with advice, but none
of it was worth acting upon.

"This situation reminds me," said the President at a Cabinet
meeting one day not long before the appointment of General
Halleck as McClellan's successor in command of the Union forces,
"of a Union man in Kentucky whose two sons enlisted in the
Federal Army. His wife was of Confederate sympathies. His nearest
neighbor was a Confederate in feeling, and his two sons were
fighting under Lee. This neighbor's wife was a Union woman and it
nearly broke her heart to know that her sons were arrayed against
the Union.

"Finally, the two men, after each had talked the matter over with
his wife, agreed to obtain divorces; this they, did, and the
Union man and Union woman were wedded, as were the Confederate
man and the Confederate woman--the men swapped wives, in short.
But this didn't seem to help matters any, for the sons of the
Union woman were still fighting for the South, and the sons of
the Confederate woman continued in the Federal Army; the Union
husband couldn't get along with his Union wife, and the
Confederate husband and his Confederate wife couldn't agree upon
anything, being forever fussing and quarreling.

"It's the same thing with the Army. It doesn't seem worth while
to secure divorces and then marry the Army and McClellan to
others, for they won't get along any better than they do now, and
there'll only be a new set of heartaches started. I think we'd
better wait; perhaps a real fighting general will come along some
of these days, and then we'll all be happy. If you go to mixing
in a mixup, you only make the muddle worse."

George M. Pullman, the great sleeping-car builder, once told a
joke in which Lincoln was the prominent figure. In fact, there
wouldn't have been any joke had it not been for "Long Abe." At
the time of the occurrence, which was the foundation for the
joke--and Pullman admitted that the latter was on him--Pullman
was the conductor of his only sleeping-car. The latter was an
experiment, and Pullman was doing everything possible to get the
railroads to take hold of it.

"One night," said Pullman in telling the story, "as we were about
going out of Chicago--this was long before Lincoln was what you
might call a renowned man--a long, lean, ugly man, with a wart on
his cheek, came into the depot. He paid me fifty cents, and half
a berth was assigned him. Then he took off his coat and vest and
hung them up, and they fitted the peg about as well as they
fitted him. Then he kicked off his boots, which were of
surprising length, turned into the berth, and, undoubtedly having
an easy conscience, was sleeping like a healthy baby before the
car left the depot.

"Pretty soon along came another passenger and paid his fifty
cents. In two minutes he was back at me, angry as a wet hen.

"'There's a man in that berth of mine,' said he, hotly, 'and
he's about ten feet high. How am I going to sleep there, I'd like
to know? Go and look at him.'

"In I went--mad, too. The tall, lank man's knees were under his
chin, his arms were stretched across the bed and his feet were
stored comfortably--for him. I shook him until he awoke, and then
told him if he wanted the whole berth he would have to pay $1.

"'My dear sir,' said the tall man, 'a contract is a contract. I
have paid you fifty cents for half this berth, and, as you see,
I'm occupying it. There's the other half,' pointing to a strip
about six inches wide. 'Sell that and don't disturb me again.'

"And so saying, the man with a wart on his face went to sleep
again. He was Abraham Lincoln, and he never grew any shorter
afterward. We became great friends, and often laughed over the

When the enemies of General Grant were bothering the President
with emphatic and repeated demands that the "Silent Man" be
removed from command, Mr. Lincoln remained firm. He would not
consent to lose the services of so valuable a soldier. "Grant
fights," said he in response to the charges made that Grant was a
butcher, a drunkard, an incompetent and a general who did not
know his business.

"That reminds me of a story," President Lincoln said one day to a
delegation of the "Grant-is-no-good" style.

"Out in my State of Illinois there was a man nominated for
sheriff of the county. He was a good man for the office, brave,
determined and honest, but not much of an orator. In fact, he
couldn't talk at all; he couldn't make a speech to save his life.

"His friends knew he was a man who would preserve the peace of
the county and perform the duties devolving upon him all right,
but the people of the county didn't know it. They wanted him to
come out boldly on the platform at political meetings and state
his convictions and principles; they had been used to speeches
from candidates, and were somewhat suspicious of a man who was
afraid to open his mouth.

"At last the candidate consented to make a speech, and his
friends were delighted. The candidate was on hand, and, when he
was called upon, advanced to the front and faced the crowd. There
was a glitter in his eye that wasn't pleasing, and the way he
walked out to the front of the stand showed that he knew just
what he wanted to say.

"'Feller Citizens,' was his beginning, the words spoken quietly,
'I'm not a speakin' man; I ain't no orator, an' I never stood up
before a lot of people in my life before; I'm not goin' to make
no speech, 'xcept to say that I can lick any man in the crowd!'"

Charles E. Anthony's one meeting with Mr. Lincoln presents an
interesting contrast to those of the men who shared the
emancipator's interest in public affairs. It was in the latter
part of the winter of 1861, a short time before Mr. Lincoln left
for his inauguration at Washington. Judge Anthony went to the
Sherman House, where the President-elect was stopping, and took
with him his son, Charles, then but a little boy. Charles played
about the room as a child will, looking at whatever interested
him for the time, and when the interview with his father was over
he was ready to go.

But Mr. Lincoln, ever interested in little children, called the
lad to him and took him upon his great knee.

"My impression of him all the time I had been playing about the
room," said Mr. Anthony, "was that he was a terribly homely man.
I was rather repelled. But no sooner did he speak to me than the
expression of his face changed completely, or, rather, my view of
it changed. It at once became kindly and attractive. He asked me
some questions, seeming instantly to find in the turmoil of all
the great questions that must have been heavy upon him, the very
ones that would go to the thought of a child. I answered him
without hesitation, and after a moment he patted my shoulder and

"'Well, you'll be a man before your mother yet,' and put me

"I had never before heard the homely old expression, and it
puzzled me for a time. After a moment I understood it, but he
looked at me while I was puzzling over it, and seemed to be
amused, as no doubt he was."

The incident simply illustrates the ease and readiness with which
Lincoln could turn from the mighty questions before the nation,
give a moment's interested attention to a child, and return at
once to matters of state.

Donn Piatt, one of the brightest newspaper writers in the
country, told a good story on the President in regard to the
refusal of the latter to sanction the death penalty in cases of
desertion from the Union Army.

"There was far more policy in this course," said Piatt, "than
kind feeling. To assert the contrary is to detract from Lincoln's
force of character, as well as intellect. Our War President was
not lost in his high admiration of brigadiers and major-generals,
and had a positive dislike for their methods and the despotism
upon which an army is based. He knew that he was dependent upon
volunteers for soldiers, and to force upon such men as those the
stern discipline of the Regular Army was to render the service
unpopular. And it pleased him to be the source of mercy, as well
as the fountain of honor, in this direction.

"I was sitting with General Dan Tyler, of Connecticut, in the
antechamber of the War Department, shortly after the adjournment
of the Buell Court of Inquiry, of which we had been members, when
President Lincoln came in from the room of Secretary Stanton.
Seeing us, he said: 'Well, gentlemen, have you any matter worth

"'I think so, Mr. President,' replied General Tyler. 'We had it
proven that Bragg, with less than ten thousand men, drove your
eighty-three thousand men under Buell back from before
Chattanooga, down to the Ohio at Louisville, marched around us
twice, then doubled us up at Perryville, and finally got out of
the State of Kentucky with all his plunder.'

"'Now, Tyler,' returned the President, 'what is the meaning of
all this; what is the lesson? Don't our men march as well, and
fight as well, as these rebels? If not, there is a fault
somewhere. We are all of the same family--same sort.'

"'Yes, there is a lesson,' replied General Tyler; 'we are of the
same sort, but subject to different handling. Bragg's little
force was superior to our larger number because he had it under
control. If a man left his ranks, he was punished; if he
deserted, he was shot. We had nothing of that sort. If we attempt
to shoot a deserter you pardon him, and our army is without

"The President looked perplexed. 'Why do you interfere?'
continued General Tyler. 'Congress has taken from you all

"'Yes,' answered the President impatiently, 'Congress has taken
the responsibility and left the women to howl all about me,' and
so he strode away."

One of the droll stories brought into play by the President as an
ally in support of his contention, proved most effective.
Politics was rife among the generals of the Union Army, and there
was more "wire-pulling" to prevent the advancement of fellow
commanders than the laying of plans to defeat the Confederates in

However, when it so happened that the name of a particularly
unpopular general was sent to the Senate for confirmation, the
protest against his promotion was almost unanimous. The
nomination didn't seem to please anyone. Generals who were
enemies before conferred together for the purpose of bringing
every possible influence to bear upon the Senate and securing the
rejection of the hated leader's name. The President was
surprised. He had never known such unanimity before.

"You remind me," said the President to a delegation of officers
which called upon him one day to present a fresh protest to him
regarding the nomination, "of a visit a certain Governor paid to
the Penitentiary of his State. It had been announced that the
Governor would hear the story of every inmate of the institution,
and was prepared to rectify, either by commutation or pardon, any
wrongs that had been done to any prisoner.

"One by one the convicts appeared before His Excellency, and each
one maintained that he was an innocent man, who had been sent to
prison because the police didn't like him, or his friends and
relatives wanted his property, or he was too popular, etc., etc.
The last prisoner to appear was an individual who was not all
prepossessing. His face was against him; his eyes were shifty; he
didn't have the appearance of an honest man, and he didn't act
like one.

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