James M Stradling.

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James M. Stradling
















By Lord Charnwood
I have been asked to write a pref-
ace to a letter here published for the
first time, written with no suspicion
that it would become literature, by
a man belonging to Lincoln's " plain
people," and describing with keen
intelligence and sympathy an ordi-
nary and characteristic incident of
the darkest days of Lincoln's life.

When I have come across any
similar publication, of something
which an unknown man has writ-
ten very well, I have generally felt
that the more pretentious preface,



attached to it by the hand of a less
unknown writer, is rather a tire-
some thing. Yet I venture on such
a preface : first, for the sake of the
friend who asks me to do so; sec-
ondly, because I suppose I may in-
duce a few more people to read the
letter that follows, which I think
they should do; thirdly, because
Englishmen enjoy doing anything
to honour the great American to
whom, in spite of his most rare gen-
ius, in spite, too, of some real differ-
ences between his own people and
them, they feel themselves inti-
mately akin.

They were very dark days when
this letter was written — the days


between Fredericksburg and Chan-
cellors ville. Lincoln's often star-
tling and nearly perpetual flow of
humour can be so described, by far
less humorous admirers, as to seem
an almost inhuman thing, an " in-
dustrious jocularity " (to use the
phrase of a solemn old gentleman
whom I knew) , which grows tedi-
ous to ordinary mortals. It was, of
course, nothing of the kind ; and I
do not want to dwell ponderously
upon any of the touches in this let-
ter; but it does make Lincoln more
real, and not a shade less humorous
to me, to see him vividly portrayed
upon an occasion when there really
were things that hecould havejoked


about, but, while others smiled, his
awful sadness never relaxed.

Hosts of people, who did not think
Lincoln a great man, soon found out
that he was a good man, and re-
flected later that this is sometimes
a more useful thing to be. The pe-
riod of this letter was just the pe-
riod, in looking back on which men
have said : that Lincoln saved the
Union ; that it was a tremendously
difficult feat; and that it is impos-
sible to tell how he did it except by-
being so very honest. This is so
nearly true that one would only get
into a mist of words if one criticized
it. But there is one thing to be re-
membered alongside of it. Lincoln
C viii ]


triumphed — or, rather, his cause
triumphed, if he did not — because
his heart was right. Let us add that
his heart was so right that he did his
job supremely well.

I am tempted here to dwell on
one of the ways in which he did his
job better than anybody looking on
could imagine at the time. The
letter itself suggests one of those
ways, his management of the cause
of emancipation. I wish to indicate
another, his military administration.

The post of a civil administrator,
who, when a free people is at
war,must always control its armed
forces, is always one of appalling
difficulty. If a reader of history has



the imagination and the elementary
knowledge of affairs to spot what
some of the difficulties are, he can
discover that Lincoln met them as
well as any man has ever done. But
there is more to be said.

When Lincoln interfered, as he
sometimes reluctantly did, with the
plans of the military commanders
under him, he showed in the essen-
tial points far sounder military judg-
ment than they did. It seems im-
pudent to say this when military
historians, who start very properly
with the presumption that the mil-
itary man will be right and the in-
terfering civilian wrong, have said
the contrary. But certain crucial




instances happened shortly before
and shortly after the time of this
letter, in which, when the point is
once clearly seen, it is manifest that
the military critics have been quite
wrong about Lincoln.

Not long before this, Lincoln had
hampered McClellan in the Pen-
insula by withholding from him
forces that McClellan thought nec-
essary for taking Richmond, which
he thought he could do. Why?
Because Lincoln realized, and Mc-
Clellan did not, that even a cer-
tainty of taking Richmond would
not have been worth any appre-
ciable risk of losing Washington,
for Richmond was in no way vital to




the South, and Washington — if for
no other reason, yet because of the
effect which its fall must have had
in Europe — was vital to the North.
A little later, but still before this
letter, McClellan had beaten Lee
at the Antietam ; and again, not long
after the letter, Meade beat him
again at Gettysburg. On these oc-
casions Lincoln put every possible
pressure upon each of these gen-
erals in turn to do, what neither of
them did, and bring about a fur-
ther battle without delay. Why?
Because Lincoln realized, what Mc-
Clellan and Meade in turn would not
grasp, that a fair chance of crushing
Lee's army entirely, before it could




escape south of the Potomac, was
worth the risk of any defeat which
that army could, in its condition at
either of these moments, have in-
flicted on the North.

This is that sort of simple reck-
oning with obvious facts, which any-
body could do, which hardly one in
ten thousand of us habitually does,
and which, in the superb loneliness
of his melancholy thought, Lincoln
almost always did. He was like that
in his dealing with the larger issues
of state. He was like that in those
matters of ordinary duty, in a sense
larger still, with which every man
and woman has to deal every day.
I recall here that he was like this in

t x5ii 3


military matters because it may-
help to set the pages which follow
in their true light if the reader will
remember that the kind, simple, and
sore troubled being who stands out
in them was a terribly efficacious
Commander-in-Chief of the forces
of the United States.

These, too, are very dark days
for many of the nations of the world ;
when rumours of wars and the bit-
terness of recent war abound; and,
instead of enjoying, as many had
been tempted to expect, a sudden
and conclusive victory of down-
trodden justice, we have to realize
that " the end is not yet. " It is good
at this time to be reminded, as what
I xiv J



follows may remind us, of one of
those whom the Great Master fore-
shadowed in the words

He that endureth to the end. ' '


London, July, 1922


For many decades Holicong —
once Greenville — Pennsylvania,
has kept its quiet pace as a typical
Bucks County cross-roads settle-
ment. There, about the middle of
the last century, dwelt John W.
Gilbert, justice of the peace, tan-
ner, and variously important citi-
zen. And there, in the late fifties,
came from the near-by village of
Mechanics ville "Jim" Stradling,
writer of the long-hid letter here-
with first published.

Young Stradling lived with the
Gilbert family while serving a sort
of apprenticeship in the tannery.
Then came the war, and at nine-

C xvii 3


teen he enlisted in a New Jersey
cavalry regiment recruited around
Lambertville, just across the Dela-
ware from the rich-grown slopes
of Bucks.

Of his career the main facts
were his marriage with a volunteer
army nurse, teaching in a South-
ern school, long residence in Phila-
delphia, where he was connected
with a publishing house, and sub-
sequent removal to Beverley, New
Jersey, where he died some six
years ago.

Meantime this letter which

pleased its recipients was pushed

into a pigeonhole to yellow with

the years, but happily to escape

I xviii ]]


the fate of much similar testimony
concerning other momentous men
and times.

As a historical portrait it speaks
for itself, marking its author for
one day, at least, a great reporter.
If anything could deepen its im-
pression, it would be remembrance
that the winter of 1863 shadowed
the forces and friends of the Union
with a weight of gloom which
only a Gettysburg could dispel.
Leigh Mitchell Hodges



Camp Bayard, Virginia
March 6, 1863
Mr. John W. Gilbert,

Greenville, Pa.
My dear Friend John :
I arrived safely in camp yesterday
afternoon and found Captain Boyd
and the boys all well. The captain
was so glad to see me that he sent
me in charge of a squad of men out
on picket that night on the Rappa-
hannock River. On returning from
my furlough I had a number of
quite exciting experiences, which
I will relate as best I can.

On leaving thy beautiful home,



which had been an exceedingly
happy one to me for nearly three
years, I took the stage for Lambert-
ville, New Jersey, where I soon
boarded a train for Trenton, and an-
other one at Philadelphia for Wash-
ington. At Baltimore we had quite
a time getting through the city, for
we were pulled through it by a team
of mules, and it was quite slow work.
The driver of the mules used some
queer language which I suppose the
mules understood, for whenever he
used that language and cracked his
long whip the mules just did their
best towards pulling. It was slow
work, but we landed in due time on
the other side of Baltimore.



I arrived in Washington about
nine-thirty the next morning, and
at once hunted up a restaurant, for
I felt quite empty. There is one
thing, John, that thee may be sure
was left out of that meal, and that
was "hardtack" ! For one meal they
were left offthe bill of fare. After fin-
ishing my breakfast, I walked down
to the river, where I found a river
steamer which was being loaded
and which was going to the front
that night. I presented my furlough
to the captain and told him I should
be pleased to go with him to Acquia
Creek that night. To my great as-
tonishment he refused to take me
on board. I said to him that my fur-

C 5 ^


lough expired the next day and I
was anxious to get to the front.

I told him that if I remained over
the Provost Guard might pick me
up and hustle me off with a lot of
real deserters to the front, but I did
not want to go that way. My plead-
ing with him, however, had no ef-
fect, so I walked up to the Capitol,
and walked through it and came
out and walked down Pennsylva-
nia Avenue, towards the " White
House." I was thinking hard all
the time and wondering what I was
going to do.

While trudging down the Ave-
nue a sudden thought — why not
see the President — flashed into my


mind, and I started for the " White
House/' I supposed that all I would
have to do would be to go down to
the " White House/' knock on the
front door, and if the President was
not in, Mrs. Lincoln could tell me
where he was and probably invite
me in to wait until he returned. ( I
know, John, that thee and Letitia,
and the girls will laugh your heads
off when you read this, and then
you will exclaim — we did not think
Jim was that green. )

When I reached the front door
of the " White House " I found two
or three policemen on guard, who
said to me, " Well, Country, what
do you want ? " I told them I wanted



to see the President, when they
showed me into a very large room
which was full of people. Of course
I was very much bewildered and
did not know which way to turn.

I finally picked up courage to
ask a gentleman near to me if these
people had assembled to hear the
President make a speech. He re-
plied with a twinkle in his eye, after
he had sized me up, that " the peo-
ple were assembled to see the Pres-
ident, but that he was not going to
make a speech, but that every one
would have to wait their turn to be
called into his room for a personal
interview.' ' After thanking him, I
looked around the large room to see

C 8 1


if I could see any one I knew. Pres-
ently I saw General Hooker, stand-
ing over on one side of the room,
near a side door. At that moment a
guard opened the door and General
Hooker passed in. I asked one of the
guards where people landed when
they passed through that side door.
His reply was, " Why, greeny, that
goes to the President's room/'

As soon as I could I edged my
way around to that door and told
the guard that I was a soldier in dis-
tress, and asked him if he could help
me. I told him I had been home on
a furlough and — " You want to get
it extended I suppose. I do not be-
lieve the President will do that."

C 9 3


"I want to get to the front to-
night." I told him there was a
steamer going down to-night, but
the captain of the steamer had re-
fused me passage. " Oh/' he said,
"that is an Indian of another skin."
I asked him what he meant by that,
when he said, " It is a horse of an-
other color." He looked at me and
said, " You are very green, aren't
you?" I acknowledged that I was
just slightly like a green apple, but
I told him I could learn, and in fact
I had learned a whole lot since ten
o'clock this morning. I said to him
that if I could get a chance to put
my case before the President, and
get him to thoroughly understand


that I was endeavoring to get to
and not from the front, that he
would assist me. When he had heard

me through he said " D n all

steamboat captains/' Probably he
had run up against a steamboat
captain some time in his career, too.
He took my furlough and, call-
ing another guard to watch the door,
disappeared. He was gone for a
long, long time. While I was wait-
ing a very nicely dressed gentle-
man came to the guard, and show-
ing him his card, he was passed in.
I asked the guard who that was that
could go in by simply showing his
card. He replied, " That was United
States Senator Ben Wade of Ohio/ '


While still waiting, another fine-
looking old gentleman and a lady-
came up and handed the guard a
letter, which he at once sent in to the
President. The lady's eyes were
very red, and soon she commenced
to weep again, and I heard her re-
mark to her escort, " I must see the
President to-day, or my son will be
shot to-morrow/ '

Of course I was very anxious to
learn who they were and what was
the trouble with her son, and was
about to ask the guard when the
other guard, the one who had my
papers, appeared and said, " Follow
me." I followed him into a small
room where there was a gentleman


sitting, and my guard addressed
him as Mr. Hay. He said, " Please
be seated, the President will see you
very soon."

While waiting there, Mr. Hay
was passing in and out all the time,
but he found time to tell me that he
had given my furlough to the Pres-
ident, with the statement that I was
endeavoring to get to the front,
while most of them were trying
their best to get away from the
front. I told Mr. Hay that the fact
that the President was warmly in-
clined towards those soldiers who
remained in the army and at the
front had trickled down through
the army. For that reason I had no

C is 3


fear about making an effort to see
him. While sitting there waiting I
began to realize where I was and
what I would have to go through,
and what I would have to say to the
President. I became, as thee used
to say, John, weak in the knees and
warm under the collar.

I did not have long to wait, how-
ever, for in a few minutes Mr. Hay
came in and said, " The President
will see you." I followed him into
the President's room, when he an-
nounced, " Sergeant Stradling,"
and passed out. As I came abreast
of the people in the room, there sat
Ben Wade and two other gentle ■
men I did not recognize, and Gen-

t 14 H


eral Hooker was standing up and
saying good- by to the President.

As I approached, the President
hesitated a moment and asked me
to take a seat, when he went on and
said good- by to General Hooker,
and said, " General, we shall expect
to have some good news from you
very soon/' 1 saluted the general,
which he returned and then passed

In my efforts to acknowledge the
President's invitation to take a seat
I had finally blurted out that I would
rather stand. The President then
arose, and I did not think he would
ever stop going up. He was the
tallest man, John, I think I ever

t 15 ]]


saw. He then turned around to me
and extended a hand which was
fully three times as large as mine,
and said, " What can I do for you,
my young friend ?"

He had a grip on him like a vise,
and I felt that my whole hand would
be crushed. I had a small fit of
coughing, during which time I re-
gained my composure. Then I told
him my case briefly as I could. He
then signed my furlough, on which
Mr. Hay had written across the face
of it: "To any steamboat captain
going to the front, please give bearer
transportation," and handed it to
me and said, " If I have any influ-
ence with the steamboat captains,

l i«3


I think that will take you to the

I thanked him and was taking
my leave, when he said to Senator
Wade, "Senator, we have had the
head of the Army here a few min-
utes ago, and learned from him all
he cared to tell. Now we have here
the tail of the Army, so let us get
from him how the rank and file feel
about matters. I mean no reflection
on you, Sergeant, when I say the
tail of the Army."

I said I understood him and knew
what he was driving at. He said a
great many men had deserted in
the last few months, and he was en-
deavoring to learn the cause. He

c »7 n


said there must be some good rea-
son for it. Either the Army was op-
posed to him, to their Generals or
the Emancipation Proclamation,
and he was very desirous of learn-
ing from the rank and file about the
conditions in the Army. " None of
the Generals desert or resign, and
we could spare a number of them
better than we can spare so many

Turning around to me, he asked
if I could enlighten him on any of
these points. In the meantime I had
become perfectly cool, perfectly
composed. The weakness had dis-
appeared from my knees and the
heat from under my collar. I braced

l 18 3


myself to tell him things which I
knew would not be pleasing to him.
I however determined to tell him
frankly and truthfully all I knew
about the feeling in the Army, as
far as I knew it.

First I said, " Mr. President, so
far as I know, the Army has the
utmost confidence in your honesty
and ability to manage this war. So
far as I can learn, the army had
no faith in the ability of General
Burnside. In fact it had but very
little faith in him, and no respect
for his ability. He appeared to us
as a general who had no military
genius whatever, and fought his
battles like some people play the

[ 19 3


fiddle, by main strength and awk-
wardness. Not the most ap-
proved way of fighting a battle,

The President asked me if I was
in the battle of Fredericksburg. I
replied in the affirmative. "Did you
see much of the battle?" I replied
that when the fog lifted we could
see nearly the whole line. I ex-
plained to him that the battle-
ground consisted of a long and level
plain and was what they call in Vir-
ginia "bottom land." The rebels
were entrenched on a number of
low hills skirting this plain on the
south while at the foot of Mary's
Heights was a sunken road. Their

C 2 ° 1


batteries and more infantry were
entrenched on the heights proper,
while the sunken road was full of
infantry and sharpshooters. This
was the position against which
General Burnside launched Gen-
eral Hooker's corps, the flower
of the army. "You know too
well the result, for I can observe
the great gloom which still hangs
around you on account of that

Senator Wade then asked me if
I thought there was any excuse for
such a blunder. I replied that if it
was agreeable, I would give my
views about the matter. The Pres-
ident spoke up and said, " This is

1 « n


very interesting to me, so please go

I said the country was an open
one. There were no mountains or
large rivers to cross, but both flanks
of the rebel army were susceptible
of being turned, and Lee flanked
out of his strong position. Even we
privates wondered why such an at-
tack was made. General Burnside
must have known of the sunken
road, for we of the cavalry had
been over this road with General
Ba}rard in 1862, and he must have
informed General Burnside all
about it. If General Burnside had
possessed any military genius, he
would have flanked Lee out of that

c 22 ]


strong position, and fought him
where he could have had at least an
equal chance.

All of those present listened very
attentively, when the President
said, " What you have stated, Ser-
geant, seems very plausible to me.
When General Hooker left us but
a few minutes ago he said, * Mr.
President, I have the finest army
that was ever assembled together,
and I hope to send you good news
very soon.' That is just the lan-
guage General Burnside used when
he left me shortly before the battle
of Fredericksburg. And such a dis-
aster that followed still makes my
heartsick." ( I wonder if the Pres-


ident has visions of future disasters
to follow. )

I said, " Mr. President, even pri-
vates when on the ground cannot
help seeing and wondering why cer-
tain movements are made. I refer to
the charges of General Hooker on
our right. Our duty, however, is not
to criticise, but to obey even if we
get our heads knocked off. I have
found that soldiers are willing to
obey without hesitation and take the
chances when they feel that their
show is equal to that of the enemy."

The President said, " You have
said nothing about how the soldiers
feel towards the Emancipation Pro-

[ 24 ]


I replied, " Mr. President, I ap-
proach the Emancipation Procla-
mation with great reluctance, for I
know how your heart was set on
issuing that document. So far as I
am personally concerned, I heart-
ily approve of it. But many of my
comrades said that if they had
known the war would free the < nig-
gers ' they would never have en-
listed, so many of them deserted.
Others said they would not desert,
but would not fight any more, and
sought positions in the wagon train ;
the Ambulance Corps ; the Quar-
termaster's Department, and other
places, to get out of fighting. In fact,
the < nigger in the woodpile' is an

1*5 3


old saying, but a very true one in
this instance.

" I was born a Quaker, and was
therefore an anti-slavery young
man when I entered the army.
When I was a boy I attended from
two to three debating societies a
week, and the slavery question was
always under debate in one form or
another. I had heard the question
debated and helped debate it for
two or three years before I entered
the army, and was therefore a full-
blooded abolitionist, and welcomed
the proclamation with open arms.
The issuing of the proclamation
caused many to desert, no doubt,
and the presence of General Burn-

C 26 3


side at the head of the army caused
many others to leave the army."

I suppose the President and Sen-
ator Wade and the other two gen-
tlemen wondered what they had
before them, but, John, I had been
invited to the feast and had my say.

The President sat still a moment
or two, when he said, "Sergeant, I
am very glad indeed to have had
your views. I am glad to know how
many of your comrades feel about
slavery, and I am exceedingly glad
you have mentioned the Emancipa-
tion Proclamation, for I shall take
this opportunity to make a few re-
marks which I desire you to convey
to your comrades.

c 27 n


"The proclamation was, as you
state, very near to my heart. I
thought about it and studied it in all
its phases long before I began to
put it on paper. I expected many
soldiers would desert when the pro-
clamation was issued, and I ex-
pected many who care nothing for
the colored man would seize upon


Online LibraryJames M StradlingHis talk with Lincoln; being a letter written by James M. Stradling (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)