Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

The two men looked at each other--the Governor desperately
earnest, and the President masking his humor behind the gravest
exterior. At last Mr. Lincoln asked, with inimitable gravity,
"Was Betsy Ann a good washerwoman?" "Oh, yes, sir, she was,

"Was your Betsy Ann an obliging woman?" "Yes, she was certainly
very kind," responded the Governor, soberly. "Could she do other
things than wash?" continued Mr. Lincoln with the same portentous

"Oh, yes; she was very kind--very."

"Where is Betsy Ann?"

"She is now in New York, and wants to come back to Missouri, but
she is afraid of banishment."

"Is anybody meddling with her?"

"No; but she is afraid to come back unless you will give her a
protection paper."

Thereupon Mr. Lincoln wrote on a visiting card the following:

"Let Betsy Ann Dougherty alone as long as she behaves herself.


He handed this card to her advocate, saying, "Give this to Betsy

"But, Mr. President, couldn't you write a few words to the
officers that would insure her protection?"

"No," said Mr. Lincoln, "officers have no time now to read
letters. Tell Betsy Ann to put a string in this card and hang it
around her neck. When the officers see this, they will keep their
hands off your Betsy Ann."

Captain "Abe" Lincoln and his company (in the Black Hawk War)
were without any sort of military knowledge, and both were forced
to acquire such knowledge by attempts at drilling. Which was the
more awkward, the "squad" or the commander, it would have been
difficult to decide.

In one of Lincoln's earliest military problems was involved the
process of getting his company "endwise" through a gate. Finally
he shouted, "This company is dismissed for two minutes, when it
will fall in again on the other side of the gate!"

Lincoln was one of the first of his company to be arraigned for
unmilitary conduct. Contrary to the rules he fired a gun "within
the limits," and had his sword taken from him. The next
infringement of rules was by some of the men, who stole a
quantity of liquor, drank it, and became unfit for duty,
straggling out of the ranks the next day, and not getting
together again until late at night.

For allowing this lawlessness the captain was condemned to wear a
wooden sword for two days. These were merely interesting but
trivial incidents of the campaign. Lincoln was from the very
first popular with his men, although one of them told him to "go
to the devil."

Under the caption, "The American Difficulty," "Punch" printed on
May 11th, 1861, the cartoon reproduced here. The following text
was placed beneath the illustration: PRESIDENT ABE: "What a nice
White House this would be, if it were not for the blacks!" It was
the idea in England, and, in fact, in all the countries on the
European continent, that the War of the Rebellion was fought to
secure the freedom of the negro slaves. Such was not the case.
The freedom of the slaves was one of the necessary consequences
of the Civil War, but not the cause of that bloody four years'
conflict. The War was the result of the secession of the states
of the South from the Union, and President "Abe's" main aim was
to compel the seceding states to resume their places in the
Federal Union of states.

The blacks did not bother President "Abe" in the least as he knew
he would be enabled to give them their freedom when the proper
time came. He had the project of freeing them in his mind long
before he issued his Emancipation Proclamation, the delay in
promulgating that document being due to the fact that he did not
wish to estrange the hundreds of thousands of patriots of the
border states who were fighting for the preservation of the
Union, and not for the freedom of the negro slaves. President
"Abe" had patience, and everything came out all right in the end.

Charles A. Dana, who was Assistant Secretary of War under Mr.
Stanton, relates the following: A certain Thompson had been
giving the government considerable trouble. Dana received
information that Thompson was about to escape to Liverpool.

Calling upon Stanton, Dana was referred to Mr. Lincoln.

"The President was at the White House, business hours were over,
Lincoln was washing his hands. 'Hallo, Dana,' said he, as I
opened the door, 'what is it now?' 'Well, sir,' I said, 'here is
the Provost Marshal of Portland, who reports that Jacob Thompson
is to be in town to-night, and inquires what orders we have to
give.' 'What does Stanton say?' he asked. 'Arrest him,' I
replied. 'Well,' he continued, drawling his words, 'I rather
guess not. When you have an elephant on your hands, and he wants
to run away, better let him run.'"

The nearest Lincoln ever came to a fight was when he was in the
vicinity of the skirmish at Kellogg's Grove, in the Black Hawk
War. The rangers arrived at the spot after the engagement and
helped bury the five men who were killed.

Lincoln told Noah Brooks, one of his biographers, that he
"remembered just how those men looked as we rode up the little
hill where their camp was. The red light of the morning sun was
streaming upon them as they lay, heads toward us, on the ground.
And every man had a round, red spot on the top of his head about
as big as a dollar, where the redskins had taken his scalp. It
was frightful, but it was grotesque; and the red sunlight seemed
to paint everything all over."

Lincoln paused, as if recalling the vivid picture, and added,
somewhat irrelevantly, "I remember that one man had on buckskin

Always indifferent in matters of dress, Lincoln cut but small
figure in social circles, even in the earliest days of Illinois.
His trousers were too short, his hat too small, and, as a rule,
the buttons on the back of his coat were nearer his shoulder
blades than his waist.

No man was richer than his fellows, and there was no aristocracy;
the women wore linsey-woolsey of home manufacture, and dyed them
in accordance with the tastes of the wearers; calico was rarely
seen, and a woman wearing a dress of that material was the envy
of her sisters.

There being no shoemakers the women wore moccasins, and the men
made their own boots. A hunting shirt, leggins made of skins,
buckskin breeches, dyed green, constituted an apparel no maiden
could withstand.

One man who knew Lincoln at New Salem, says the first time he saw
him he was lying on a trundle-bed covered with books and papers
and rocking a cradle with his foot.

The whole scene was entirely characteristic--Lincoln reading and
studying, and at the same time helping his landlady by quieting
her child.

A gentleman who knew Mr. Lincoln well in early manhood says:
"Lincoln at this period had nothing but plenty of friends."

After the customary hand-shaking on one occasion in the White
House at Washington several gentlemen came forward and asked the
President for his autograph. One of them gave his name as
"Cruikshank." "That reminds me," said Mr. Lincoln, "of what I
used to be called when a young man--'Long-shanks!'"

Governor Blank went to the War Department one day in a towering

"I suppose you found it necessary to make large concessions to
him, as he returned from you perfectly satisfied," suggested a

"Oh, no," the President replied, "I did not concede anything. You
have heard how that Illinois farmer got rid of a big log that was
too big to haul out, too knotty to split, and too wet and soggy
to burn.

"'Well, now,' said he, in response to the inquiries of his
neighbors one Sunday, as to how he got rid of it, 'well, now,
boys, if you won't divulge the secret, I'll tell you how I got
rid of it--I ploughed around it.'

"Now," remarked Lincoln, in conclusion, "don't tell anybody, but
that's the way I got rid of Governor Blank. I ploughed all round
him, but it took me three mortal hours to do it, and I was afraid
every minute he'd see what I was at."

During a public "reception," a farmer from one of the border
counties of Virginia told the President that the Union soldiers,
in passing his farm, had helped themselves not only to hay, but
his horse, and he hoped the President would urge the proper
officer to consider his claim immediately.

Mr. Lincoln said that this reminded him of an old acquaintance of
his, "Jack" Chase, a lumberman on the Illinois, a steady, sober
man, and the best raftsman on the river. It was quite a trick to
take the logs over the rapids; but he was skilful with a raft,
and always kept her straight in the channel. Finally a steamer
was put on, and "Jack" was made captain of her. He always used to
take the wheel, going through the rapids. One day when the boat
was plunging and wallowing along the boiling current, and
"Jack's" utmost vigilance was being exercised to keep her in the
narrow channel, a boy pulled his coat-tail and hailed him with:

"Say, Mister Captain! I wish you would just stop your boat a
minute--I've lost my apple overboard!"

Mr. Lincoln prepared his first inaugural address in a room over a
store in Springfield. His only reference works were Henry Clay's
great compromise speech of 1850, Andrew Jackson's Proclamation
against Nullification, Webster's great reply to Hayne, and a copy
of the Constitution.

When Mr. Lincoln started for Washington, to be inugurated, the
inaugural address was placed in a special satchel and guarded
with special care. At Harrisburg the satchel was given in charge
of Robert T. Lincoln, who accompanied his father. Before the
train started from Harrisburg the precious satchel was missing.
Robert thought he had given it to a waiter at the hotel, but a
long search failed to reveal the missing satchel with its
precious document. Lincoln was annoyed, angry, and finally in
despair. He felt certain that the address was lost beyond
recovery, and, as it only lacked ten days until the inauguration,
he had no time to prepare another. He had not even preserved the
notes from which the original copy had been written.

Mr. Lincoln went to Ward Lamon, his former law partner, then one
of his bodyguards, and informed him of the loss in the following

"Lamon, I guess I have lost my certificate of moral character,
written by myself. Bob has lost my gripsack containing my
inaugural address." Of course, the misfortune reminded him of a

"I feel," said Mr. Lincoln, "a good deal as the old member of the
Methodist Church did when he lost his wife at the camp meeting,
and went up to an old elder of the church and asked him if he
could tell him whereabouts in h--l his wife was. In fact, I am in
a worse fix than my Methodist friend, for if it were only a wife
that were missing, mine would be sure to bob up somewhere."

The clerk at the hotel told Mr. Lincoln that he would probably
find his missing satchel in the baggage-room. Arriving there, Mr.
Lincoln saw a satchel which he thought was his, and it was passed
out to him. His key fitted the lock, but alas! when it was opened
the satchel contained only a soiled shirt, some paper collars, a
pack of cards and a bottle of whisky. A few minutes later the
satchel containing the inaugural address was found among the pile
of baggage.

The recovery of the address also reminded Mr. Lincoln of a story,
which is thus narrated by Ward Lamon in his "Recollections of
Abraham Lincoln"

The loss of the address and the search for it was the subject of
a great deal of amusement. Mr. Lincoln said many funny things in
connection with the incident. One of them was that he knew a
fellow once who had saved up fifteen hundred dollars, and had
placed it in a private banking establishment. The bank soon
failed, and he afterward received ten per cent of his investment.
He then took his one hundred and fifty dollars and deposited it
in a savings bank, where he was sure it would be safe. In a short
time this bank also failed, and he received at the final
settlement ten per cent on the amount deposited. When the fifteen
dollars was paid over to him, he held it in his hand and looked
at it thoughtfully; then he said, "Now, darn you, I have got you
reduced to a portable shape, so I'll put you in my pocket."
Suiting the action to the word, Mr. Lincoln took his address from
the bag and carefully placed it in the inside pocket of his vest,
but held on to the satchel with as much interest as if it still
contained his "certificate of moral character."

The great English funny paper, London "Punch," printed this
cartoon on September 27th, 1862. It is intended to convey the
idea that Lincoln, having asserted that the war would be over in
ninety days, had not redeemed his word: The text under the
Cartoon in Punch was:

MR. SOUTH TO MR. NORTH: "Your 'ninety-day' promissory note isn't
taken up yet, sirree!"

The tone of the cartoon is decidedly unfriendly. The North
finally took up the note, but the South had to pay it. "Punch"
was not pleased with the result, but "Mr. North" did not care
particularly what this periodical thought about it. The United
States, since then, has been prepared to take up all of its
obligations when due, but it must be acknowledged that at the
time this cartoon was published the outlook was rather dark and
gloomy. Lincoln did not despair, however; but although business
was in rather bad shape for a time, the financial skies finally
cleared, business was resumed at the old stand, and Uncle Sam's
credit is now as good, or better, than other nations' cash in

Lincoln could not sympathize with those Union generals who were
prone to indulge in high-sounding promises, but whose
performances did not by any means come up to their predictions as
to what they would do if they ever met the enemy face to face. He
said one day, just after one of these braggarts had been soundly
thrashed by the Confederates:

"These fellows remind me of the fellow who owned a dog which, so
he said, just hungered and thirsted to combat and eat up wolves.
It was a difficult matter, so the owner declared, to keep that
dog from devoting the entire twenty-four hours of each day to the
destruction of his enemies. He just 'hankered' to get at them.

"One day a party of this dog-owner's friends thought to have some
sport. These friends heartily disliked wolves, and were anxious
to see the dog eat up a few thousand. So they organized a hunting
party and invited the dog-owner and the dog to go with them. They
desired to be personally present when the wolf-killing was in

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