Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

He showed his papers to Mr. Lincoln, who said he would look into
the case and give him the result next day.

The old man, in an agony of apprehension, looked up into the
President's sympathetic face and actually cried out:

"To-morrow may be too late! My son is under sentence of death! It
ought to be decided now!"

His streaming tears told how much he was moved.

"Come," said Mr. Lincoln, "wait a bit and I'll tell you a story;"
and then he told the old man General Fisk's story about the
swearing driver, as follows:

"The general had begun his military life as a colonel, and when
he raised his regiment in Missouri he proposed to his men that he
should do all the swearing of the regiment. They assented; and
for months no instance was known of the violation of the promise.

"The colonel had a teamster named John Todd, who, as roads were
not always the best, had some difficulty in commanding his temper
and his tongue.

"John happened to be driving a mule team through a series of
mudholes a little worse than usual, when, unable to restrain
himself any longer, he burst forth into a volley of energetic

"The colonel took notice of the offense and brought John to

"'John,' said he, 'didn't you promise to let me do all the
swearing of the regiment?'

"'Yes, I did, colonel,' he replied, 'but the fact was, the
swearing had to be done then or not at all, and you weren't there
to do it.'"

As he told the story the old man forgot his boy, and both the
President and his listener had a hearty laugh together at its

Then he wrote a few words which the old man read, and in which he
found new occasion for tears; but the tears were tears of joy,
for the words saved the life of his son.

The President was heard to declare one day that the story given
below was one of the funniest he ever heard.

One of General Fremont's batteries of eight Parrott guns,
supported by a squadron of horse commanded by Major Richards, was
in sharp conflict with a battery of the enemy near at hand.
Shells and shot were flying thick and fast, when the commander of
the battery, a German, one of Fremont's staff, rode suddenly up
to the cavalry, exclaiming, in loud and excited terms, "Pring up
de shackasses! Pring up de shackasses! For Cot's sake, hurry up
de shackasses, im-me-di-ate-ly!"

The necessity of this order, though not quite apparent, will be
more obvious when it is remembered that "shackasses" are mules,
carry mountain howitzers, which are fired from the backs of that
much-abused but valuable animal; and the immediate occasion for
the "shackasses" was that two regiments of rebel infantry were at
that moment discovered ascending a hill immediately behind our

The "shackasses," with the howitzers loaded with grape and
canister, were soon on the ground.

The mules squared themselves, as they well knew how, for the

A terrific volley was poured into the advancing column, which
immediately broke and retreated.

Two hundred and seventy-eight dead bodies were found in the
ravine next day, piled closely together as they fell, the effects
of that volley from the backs of the "shackasses."

Mr. Lincoln enjoyed a joke at his own expense. Said he: "In the
days when I used to be in the circuit, I was accosted in the cars
by a stranger, who said, 'Excuse me, sir, but I have an article
in my possession which belongs to you.' 'How is that?' I asked,
considerably astonished.

"The stranger took a jackknife from his pocket. 'This knife,'
said he, 'was placed in my hands some years ago, with the
injunction that I was to keep it until I had found a man uglier
than myself. I have carried it from that time to this. Allow me
to say, sir, that I think you are fairly entitled to the

It so happened that an official of the War Department had escaped
serious punishment for a rather flagrant offense, by showing
where grosser irregularities existed in the management of a
certain bureau of the Department. So valuable was the information
furnished that the culprit who "gave the snap away" was not even

"That reminds me," the President said, when the case was laid
before him, "of a story about Daniel Webster, when the latter was
a boy.

"When quite young, at school, Daniel was one day guilty of a
gross violation of the rules. He was detected in the act, and
called up by the teacher for punishment.

"This was to be the old-fashioned 'feruling' of the hand. His
hands happened to be very dirty.

"Knowing this, on the way to the teacher's desk, he spit upon the
palm of his right hand, wiping it off upon the side of his

"'Give me your hand, sir,' said the teacher, very sternly.

"Out went the right hand, partly cleansed. The teacher looked at
it a moment, and said:

"'Daniel, if you will find another hand in this school-room as
filthy as that, I will let you off this time!'

"Instantly from behind the back came the left hand.

"'Here it is, sir,' was the ready reply.

"'That will do,' said the teacher, 'for this time; you can take
your seat, sir.'"

The President did not consider that every soldier who ran away in
battle, or did not stand firmly to receive a bayonet charge, was
a coward. He was of opinion that self-preservation was the first
law of Nature, but he didn't want this statute construed too
liberally by the troops.

At the same time he took occasion to illustrate a point he wished
to make by a story in connection with a darky who was a member of
the Ninth Illinois Infantry Regiment. This regiment was one of
those engaged at the capture of Fort Donelson. It behaved
gallantly, and lost as heavily as any.

"Upon the hurricane-deck of one of our gunboats," said the
President in telling the story, "I saw an elderly darky, with a
very philosophical and retrospective cast of countenance,
squatted upon his bundle, toasting his shins against the chimney,
and apparently plunged into a state of profound meditation.

"As the negro rather interested me, I made some inquiries, and
found that he had really been with the Ninth Illinois Infantry at
Donelson. and began to ask him some questions about the capture
of the place.

"'Were you in the fight?'

"'Had a little taste of it, sa.'

"'Stood your ground, did you?'

"'No, sa, I runs.'

"'Run at the first fire, did you?

"'Yes, sa, and would hab run soona, had I knowd it war comin'."

"'Why, that wasn't very creditable to your courage.'

"'Dat isn't my line, sa--cookin's my profeshun.'

"'Well, but have you no regard for your reputation?'

"'Reputation's nuffin to me by de side ob life.'

"'Do you consider your life worth more than other people's?'

"'It's worth more to me, sa.'

"'Then you must value it very highly?'

"'Yes, sa, I does, more dan all dis wuld, more dan a million ob
dollars, sa, for what would dat be wuth to a man wid de bref out
ob him? Self-preserbation am de fust law wid me.'

"'But why should you act upon a different rule from other men?'

"'Different men set different values on their lives; mine is not
in de market.'

"'But if you lost it you would have the satisfaction of knowing
that you died for your country.'

"'Dat no satisfaction when feelin's gone.'

"'Then patriotism and honor are nothing to you?'

"'Nufin whatever, sat--I regard them as among the vanities.'

"'If our soldiers were like you, traitors might have broken up
the government without resistance.'

"'Yes, sa, dar would hab been no help for it. I wouldn't put my
life in de scale 'g'inst any gobernment dat eber existed, for no
gobernment could replace de loss to me.'

"'Do you think any of your company would have missed you if you
had been killed?'

"'Maybe not, sa--a dead white man ain't much to dese sogers, let
alone a dead nigga--but I'd a missed myse'f, and dat was de p'int
wid me.'

"I only tell this story," concluded the President, "in order to
illustrate the result of the tactics of some of the Union
generals who would be sadly 'missed' by themselves, if no one
else, if they ever got out of the Army."

President Lincoln and some members of his Cabinet were with a
part of the Army some distance south of the National Capital at
one time, when Secretary of War Stanton remarked that just before
he left Washington he had received a telegram from General
Mitchell, in Alabama. General Mitchell asked instructions in
regard to a certain emergency that had arisen.

The Secretary said he did not precisely understand the emergency
as explained by General Mitchell, but had answered back, "All
right; go ahead."

"Now," he said, as he turned to Mr. Lincoln, "Mr. President, if I
have made an error in not understanding him correctly, I will
have to get you to countermand the order."

"Well," exclaimed President Lincoln, "that is very much like the
happening on the occasion of a certain horse sale I remember that
took place at the cross-roads down in Kentucky, when I was a boy.

"A particularly fine horse was to be sold, and the people in
large numbers had gathered together. They had a small boy to ride
the horse up and down while the spectators examined the horse's

"At last one man whispered to the boy as he went by: 'Look here,
boy, hain't that horse got the splints?'

"The boy replied: 'Mister, I don't know what the splints is, but
if it's good for him, he has got it; if it ain't good for him, he
ain't got it.'

"Now," said President Lincoln, "if this was good for Mitchell, it
was all right; but if it was not, I have got to countermand it."

There were strange, queer, odd things and happenings in the Army
at times, but, as a rule, the President did not allow them to
worry him. He had enough to bother about.

A quartermaster having neglected to present his accounts in
proper shape, and the matter being deemed of sufficient
importance to bring it to the attention of the President, the
latter remarked:

"Now this instance reminds me of a little story I heard only a
short time ago. A certain general's purse was getting low, and he
said it was probable he might be obliged to draw on his banker
for some money.

"'How much do you want, father?' asked his son, who had been
with him a few days.

"'I think I shall send for a couple of hundred,' replied the

"Why, father,' said his son, very quietly, 'I can let you have

"'You can let me have it! Where did you get so much money?

"'I won it playing draw-poker with your staff, sir!' replied the

"The earliest morning train bore the young man toward his home,
and I've been wondering if that boy and that quartermaster had
happened to meet at the same table."

Governor Hoyt of Wisconsin tells a story of Mr. Lincoln's great
admiration for physical strength. Mr. Lincoln, in 1859, made a
speech at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Fair. After the
speech, in company with the Governor, he strolled about the
grounds, looking at the exhibits. They came to a place where a
professional "strong man" was tossing cannon balls in the air and
catching them on his arms and juggling with them as though they
were light as baseballs. Mr. Lincoln had never before seen such
an exhibition, and he was greatly surprised and interested.

When the performance was over, Governor Hoyt, seeing Mr.
Lincoln's interest, asked him to go up and be introduced to the
athlete. He did so, and, as he stood looking down musingly on the
man, who was very short, and evidently wondering that one so much
smaller than he could be so much stronger, he suddenly broke out
with one of his quaint speeches. "Why," he said, "why, I could
lick salt off the top of your hat."

A prominent volunteer officer who, early in the War, was on duty
in Washington and often carried reports to Secretary Stanton at
the War Department, told a characteristic story on President
Lincoln. Said he:

"I was with several other young officers, also carrying reports
to the War Department, and one morning we were late. In this
instance we were in a desperate hurry to deliver the papers, in
order to be able to catch the train returning to camp.

"On the winding, dark staircase of the old War Department, which
many will remember, it was our misfortune, while taking about
three stairs at a time, to run a certain head like a catapult
into the body of the President, striking him in the region of the
right lower vest pocket.

"The usual surprised and relaxed grunt of a man thus assailed
came promptly.

"We quickly sent an apology in the direction of the dimly seen
form, feeling that the ungracious shock was expensive, even to
the humblest clerk in the department.

"A second glance revealed to us the President as the victim of
the collision. Then followed a special tender of 'ten thousand
pardons,' and the President's reply:

"'One's enough; I wish the whole army would charge like that.'"

"You can't do anything with them Southern fellows," the old man
at the table was saying.

"If they get whipped, they'll retreat to them Southern swamps and
bayous along with the fishes and crocodiles. You haven't got the
fish-nets made that'll catch 'em."

"Look here, old gentleman," remarked President Lincoln, who was
sitting alongside, "we've got just the nets for traitors, in the
bayous or anywhere."

"Hey? What nets?"

"Bayou-nets!" and "Uncle Abraham" pointed his joke with his fork,
spearing a fishball savagely.

Mr. Lincoln's skill in parrying troublesome questions was
wonderful. Once he received a call from Congressman John Ganson,
of Buffalo, one of the ablest lawyers in New York, who, although
a Democrat, supported all of Mr. Lincoln's war measures. Mr.
Ganson wanted explanations. Mr. Ganson was very bald with a
perfectly smooth face. He had a most direct and aggressive way of
stating his views or of demanding what he thought he was entitled
to. He said: "Mr. Lincoln, I have supported all of your measures
and think I am entitled to your confidence. We are voting and
acting in the dark in Congress, and I demand to know--think I
have the right to ask and to know--what is the present situation,
and what are the prospects and conditions of the several
campaigns and armies."

Mr. Lincoln looked at him critically for a moment and then said:
"Ganson, how clean you shave!"

Most men would have been offended, but Ganson was too broad and
intelligent a man not to see the point and retire at once,
satisfied, from the field.

Chauncey M. Depew says that Mr. Lincoln told him the following
story, which he claimed was one of the best two things he ever
originated: He was trying a case in Illinois where he appeared
for a prisoner charged with aggravated assault and battery. The
complainant had told a horrible story of the attack, which his
appearance fully justified, when the District Attorney handed the
witness over to Mr. Lincoln, for cross-examination. Mr. Lincoln
said he had no testimony, and unless he could break down the
complainant's story he saw no way out. He had come to the
conclusion that the witness was a bumptious man, who rather
prided himself upon his smartness in repartee and, so, after
looking at him for some minutes, he said:

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.