Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

It was a difficult matter for him to refuse a pardon if the
slightest excuse could be found for granting it.

Secretary Stanton and the commanding generals were loud in
declaring that Mr. Lincoln would destroy the discipline of the
army by his wholesale pardoning of condemned soldiers, but when
we come to examine the individual cases we find that Lincoln was
nearly always right, and when he erred it was always on the side
of humanity.

During the four years of the long struggle for the preservation
of the Union, Mr. Lincoln kept "open shop," as he expressed it,
where the general public could always see him and make known
their wants and complaints. Even the private soldier was not
denied admittance to the President's private office, and no
request or complaint was too small or trivial to enlist his
sympathy and interest.

It was once said of Shakespeare that the great mind that
conceived the tragedies of "Hamlet," "Macbeth," etc., would have
lost its reason if it had not found vent in the sparkling humor
of such comedies as "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "The Comedy
of Errors."

The great strain on the mind of Abraham Lincoln produced by four
years of civil war might likewise have overcome his reason had it
not found vent in the yarns and stories he constantly told. No
more fun-loving or humor-loving man than Abraham Lincoln ever
lived. He enjoyed a joke even when it was on himself, and
probably, while he got his greatest enjoyment from telling
stories, he had a keen appreciation of the humor in those that
were told him.

His favorite humorous writer was David R. Locke, better known as
"Petroleum V. Nasby," whose political satires were quite famous
in their day. Nearly every prominent man who has written his
recollections of Lincoln has told how the President, in the
middle of a conversation on some serious subject, would suddenly
stop and ask his hearer if he ever read the Nasby letters.

Then he would take from his desk a pamphlet containing the
letters and proceed to read them, laughing heartily at all the
good points they contained. There is probably no better evidence
of Mr. Lincoln's love of humor and appreciation of it than his
letter to Nasby, in which he said: "For the ability to
write these things I would gladly trade places with you."

Mr. Lincoln was re-elected President in 1864. His opponent on the
Democratic ticket was General George B. McClellan, whose command
of the Army of the Potomac had been so unsatisfactory at the
beginning of the war. Mr. Lincoln's election was almost
unanimous, as McClellan carried but three States--Delaware,
Kentucky and New Jersey.

General Grant, in a telegram of congratulation, said that it was
"a victory worth more to the country than a battle won."

The war was fast drawing to a close. The black war clouds were
breaking and rolling away. Sherman had made his famous march to
the sea. Through swamp and ravine, Grant was rapidly tightening
the lines around Richmond. Thomas had won his title of the "Rock
of Chickamauga." Sheridan had won his spurs as the great modern
cavalry commander, and had cleaned out the Shenandoah Valley.
Sherman was coming back from his famous march to join Grant at

The Confederacy was without a navy. The Kearsarge had sunk the
Alabama, and Farragut had fought and won the famous victory in
Mobile Bay. It was certain that Lee would soon have to evacuate
Richmond only to fall into the hands of Grant.

Lincoln saw the dawn of peace. When he came to deliver his second
inaugural address, it contained no note of victory, no exultation
over a fallen foe. On the contrary, it breathed the spirit of
brotherly love and of prayer for an early peace: "With malice
toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as
God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in,
to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have
borne the battle and for his widow and his orphans, to do all
which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among
ourselves and with all nations."

Not long thereafter, General Lee evacuated Richmond with about
half of his original army, closely pursued by Grant. The boys in
blue overtook their brothers in gray at Appomattox Court House,
and there, beneath the warm rays of an April sun, the great
Confederate general made his final surrender. The war was over,
the American flag was floated over all the territory of the
United States, and peace was now a reality. Mr. Lincoln visited
Richmond and the final scenes of the war and then returned to
Washington to carry out his announced plan of "binding up the
nation's wounds."

He had now reached the climax of his career and touched the
highest point of his greatness. His great task was over, and the
heavy burden that had so long worn upon his heart was lifted.

While the whole nation was rejoicing over the return of peace,
the Saviour of the Union was stricken down by the hand of an

>From early youth, Mr. Lincoln had presentiments that he would
a violent death, or, rather, that his final days would be marked
by some great tragic event. From the time of his first election
to the Presidency, his closest friends had tried to make him
understand that he was in constant danger of assassination, but,
notwithstanding his presentiments, he had such splendid courage
that he only laughed at their fears.

During the summer months he lived at the Soldiers' Home, some
miles from Washington, and frequently made the trip between the
White House and the Home without a guard or escort. Secretary of
War Stanton and Ward Lamon, Marshal of the District, were almost
constantly alarmed over Mr. Lincoln's carelessness in exposing
himself to the danger of assassination.

They warned him time and again, and provided suitable body-guards
to attend him. But Mr. Lincoln would often give the guards the
slip, and, mounting his favorite riding horse, "Old Abe," would
set out alone after dark from the White House for the Soldiers'

While riding to the Home one night, he was fired upon by some one
in ambush, the bullet passing through his high hat. Mr. Lincoln
would not admit that the man who fired the shot had tried to kill
him. He always attributed it to an accident, and begged his
friends to say nothing about it.

Now that all the circumstances of the assassination are known, it
is plain that there was a deep-laid and well-conceived plot to
kill Mr. Lincoln long before the crime was actually committed.
When Mr. Lincoln was delivering his second inaugural address on
the steps of the Capitol, an excited individual tried to force
his way through the guards in the building to get on the platform
with Mr. Lincoln.

It was afterward learned that this man was John Wilkes Booth, who
afterwards assassinated Mr. Lincoln in Ford's Theatre, on the
night of the 14th of April.

The manager of the theatre had invited the President to witness a
performance of a new play known as "Our American Cousin," in
which the famous actress, Laura Keane, was playing. Mr. Lincoln
was particularly fond of the theatre. He loved Shakespeare's
plays above all others and never missed a chance to see the
leading Shakespearean actors.

As "Our American Cousin" was a new play, the President did not
care particularly to see it, but as Mrs. Lincoln was anxious to
go, he consented and accepted the invitation.

General Grant was in Washington at the time, and as he was
extremely anxious about the personal safety of the President, he
reported every day regularly at the White House. Mr. Lincoln
invited General Grant and his wife to accompany him and Mrs.
Lincoln to the theatre on the night of the assassination, and the
general accepted, but while they were talking he received a note
from Mrs. Grant saying that she wished to leave Washington that
evening to visit her daughter in Burlington. General Grant made
his excuses to the President and left to accompany Mrs. Grant to
the railway station. It afterwards became known that it was also
a part of the plot to assassinate General Grant, and only Mrs.
Grant's departure from Washington that evening prevented the
attempt from being made.

General Grant afterwards said that as he and Mrs. Grant were
riding along Pennsylvania avenue to the railway station a
horseman rode rapidly by at a gallop, and, wheeling his horse,
rode back, peering into their carriage as he passed.

Mrs. Grant remarked to the general: "That is the very man who sat
near us at luncheon to-day and tried to overhear our
conversation. He was so rude, you remember, as to cause us to
leave the dining-room. Here he is again, riding after us."

General Grant attributed the action of the man to idle curiosity,
but learned afterward that the horseman was John Wilkes Booth.

Probably one reason why Mr. Lincoln did not particularly care to
go to the theatre that night was a sort of half promise he had
made to his friend and bodyguard, Marshal Lamon. Two days
previous he had sent Lamon to Richmond on business connected with
a call of a convention for reconstruction. Before leaving, Mr.
Lamon saw Mr. Usher, the Secretary of the Interior, and asked him
to persuade Mr. Lincoln to use more caution about his personal
safety, and to go out as little as possible while Lamon was
absent. Together they went to see Mr. Lincoln, and Lamon asked
the President if he would make him a promise.

"I think I can venture to say I will," said Mr. Lincoln. "What is

"Promise me that you will not go out after night while I am
gone," said Mr. Lamon, "particularly to the theatre."

Mr. Lincoln turned to Mr. Usher and said: "Usher, this boy is a
monomaniac on the subject of my safety. I can hear him or hear of
his being around at all times in the night, to prevent somebody
from murdering me. He thinks I shall be killed, and we think he
is going crazy. What does any one want to assassinate me for? If
any one wants to do so, he can do it any day or night if he is
ready to give his life for mine. It is nonsense."

Mr. Usher said to Mr. Lincoln that it was well to heed Lamon's
warning, as he was thrown among people from whom he had better
opportunities to know about such matters than almost any one.

"Well," said Mr. Lincoln to Lamon, "I promise to do the best I
can toward it."

The assassination of President Lincoln was most carefully
planned, even to the smallest detail. The box set apart for the
President's party was a double one in the second tier at the left
of the stage. The box had two doors with spring locks, but Booth
had loosened the screws with which they were fastened so that it
was impossible to secure them from the inside. In one door he had
bored a hole with a gimlet, so that he could see what was going
on inside the box.

An employee of the theatre by the name of Spangler, who was an
accomplice of the assassin, had even arranged the seats in the
box to suit the purposes of Booth.

On the fateful night the theatre was packed. The Presidential
party arrived a few minutes after nine o'clock, and consisted of
the President and Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Harris and Major Rathbone,
daughter and stepson of Senator Harris of New York. The immense
audience rose to its feet and cheered the President as he passed
to his box.

Booth came into the theatre about ten o'clock. He had not only,
planned to kill the President, but he had also planned to escape
into Maryland, and a swift horse, saddled and ready for the
journey, was tied in the rear of the theatre. For a few minutes
he pretended to be interested in the performance, and then
gradually made his way back to the door of the President's box.

Before reaching there, however, he was confronted by one of the
President's messengers, who had been stationed at the end of the
passage leading to the boxes to prevent any one from intruding.
To this man Booth handed a card saying that the President had
sent for him, and was permitted to enter.

Once inside the hallway leading to the boxes, he closed the hall
door and fastened it by a bar prepared for the occasion, so that
it was impossible to open it from without. Then he quickly
entered the box through the right-hand door. The President was
sitting in an easy armchair in the left-hand corner of the box
nearest the audience. He was leaning on one hand and with the
other had hold of a portion of the drapery. There was a smile on
his face. The other members of the party were intently watching
the performance on the stage.

The assassin carried in his right hand a small silver-mounted
derringer pistol and in his left a long double-edged dagger. He
placed the pistol just behind the President's left ear and fired.

Mr. Lincoln bent slightly forward and his eyes closed, but in
every other respect his attitude remained unchanged.

The report of the pistol startled Major Rathbone, who sprang to
his feet. The murderer was then about six feet from the
President, and Rathbone grappled with him, but was shaken off.
Dropping his pistol, Booth struck at Rathbone with the dagger and
inflicted a severe wound. The assassin then placed his left hand
lightly on the railing of the box and jumped to the stage, eight
or nine feet below.

The box was draped with the American flag, and, in jumping,
Booth's spurs caught in the folds, tearing down the flag, the
assassin falling heavily to the stage and spraining his ankle. He
arose, however, and walked theatrically across the stage,
brandished his knife and shouted, "Sic semper tyrannis!" and then
added, "The South is avenged."

For the moment the audience was horrified and incapable of
action. One man only, a lawyer named Stuart, had sufficient
presence of mind to leap upon the stage and attempt to capture
the assassin. Booth went to the rear door of the stage, where his
horse was held in readiness for him, and, leaping into the
saddle, dashed through the streets toward Virginia. Miss Keane
rushed to the President's box with water and stimulants, and
medical aid was summoned.

By this time the audience realized the tragedy that had been
enacted, and then followed a scene such as has never been
witnessed in any public gathering in this country. Women wept,
shrieked and fainted; men raved and swore, and horror was
depicted on every face. Before the audience could be gotten out
of the theatre, horsemen were dashing through the streets and the
telegraph was carrying the terrible details of the tragedy
throughout the nation.

Walt Whitman, the poet, has sketched in graphic language the
scenes of that most eventful fourteenth of April. His account of
the assassination has become historic, and is herewith given:

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