L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Lincoln and the sleeping sentinel; the true story online

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the Class of 1901

founded by





and the Steeping Sentinel









"recollections of PRESIDENT LINCOLN

AND HIS administration"





Copyright, 1909, by Harper & Brothers.

All rights reserved.
Published January, 1909.


Lincoln. — From a painting by-
Howard Pyle Frontispiece

Lincoln in 1857. — From a photograph
in the collection of Charles Carle-
ton Coffin Facing p. 20

Lincoln and His Son Thomas,
KNOWN AS "Tad." — From a pho-
tograph by Brady " 30

Lincoln. — From the statue by-
Augustus St. Gaudens, at Lincoln
Park, Chicago ....... *' 36

Lincoln in 1865. — From a photo-
graph by Rice "■ 46




ITHOUT any attempt at bio-
graphical details or an apprecia-
tion, a few chief facts in Abraham
Lincoln's great career may be
helpfully recalled to the minds
of readers* His ancestors were Quakers in
Berks Cotintyt Pennsylvania* His parents,
born in Virginia, were influenced by the
current of migration across the Alleghanies,
and were carried first to Kentucky and
afterward to Indiana*

It was in Hardin County, Kentucky, that
Abraham Lincoln was born, February \2,

J 809, the child of these humble settlers*



Compared with the opportunities of the
present-day boy, his chances seemed des-
perate indeed* His attendance at a regular
school covered hardly more than a year*
Nearly all the education which, among other
giftst enriched him with such a mastery of
the English tongue he acquired painfully
by himself* It was a question of necessities,
of aiding to wrest a livelihood from a new
country that confronted the boy, and so we
find him at work, and at nineteen entering
a larger world of practical affairs by helping
to guide a flat-boat down the Mississippi to
New Orleans* What he had to do was done
so faithfully that his employer promoted
him to be a clerk, and gave him charge of
a store and mill at New Salem, Illinois*

The first public recognition of Lincoln's
character came in his election as captain of
a company in the war against Black Hawk

and his band of rebellious Indians in 1832*



This was followed by his appointment as
postmaster at New Salem, Illinois, which
gave him better opportunities for study —
opportunities so well improved that he was
admitted to practise as a lawyer in J 836.
He began his professional career at Spring-
field, Illinois* Law and politics were almost
inseparable, and as Lincoln rose in his pro-
fession, and became noted for the shrewd
common -sense and the dry humor of his
speeches at public meetings, he gained more
and more prominence as a leading member
of the old Whig party in Illinois.

The next steps were natural ones — re-
peated elections to the Legislature of
Illinois, and then a nomination for Con-
gress, which led to his election in 1847.
At Washington he made his mark partic-
ularly as an opponent of slavery. Then
followed, in J 858, his selection as a can-
didate for the United States Senate



against Stephen A. Dotiglast which in-
volved a series of historic debates over the
slavery qtiestion. The popular voice was for
Lincohi, but the Legislature elected Doug-
las. From this contest Lincoln emerged
with a standing which finally brought to
him the Republican nomination for the
presidency over William H* Seward in the
stormy days of I860.

Lincoln's great career as the sixteenth
President of the United States, from 1 86 1
to I865t is not to be entered upon in this
outline of facts. His superhuman part in
preserving the Uniont his Proclamation of
Emancipation in 1863, his second election
in 1864, and his assassination at the close
of the Civil War are among our great his-
torical landmarks. It was on April 15,
1865, that death placed him beside Wash-
ington in the Pantheon of American his-



These bare facts of President Lincoln's
life are set down here as an owtline record
to accompany the trtte story of ** Lincoln
and the Sleeping Sentinel,'* which is now
published in a separate book for the first
time. Brief as this summary is, it is dif-
fuse in comparison with the autobiography
written by Lincoln in 1857, which reads:

'*Born, February 12, 1809, in Hardin
County, Kentucky*

** Education defective.
Profession a lawyer.
Have been a captain of volunteers in
the Black Hawk War.

** Postmaster at a very small office; four
times a member of the Illinois Legislature^
and was a member of the lower House of

Had Lincoln finished his autobiography
in J 865 he would have written with the
same modest reticence.




For four years, while Register of the
Treasaryt L. E. Chittenden was in close
personal and official relations with Presi-
dent Lincoln. In his RecoUedions he has
emphasized certain qualities which find so
beautiftil an expression in this story*

** Lincoln's heart was as tender as ever

beat in a human breast,'' Mr. Chittenden

has written. ** Those who saw him standing

by the coffins of young Ellsworth and the

eloquent Baker knew how he loved his

friends — how he sorrowed over their loss.

In his companionship with his boys, and

particularly with the younger, there was a

most touching picture of parental affection;

in his emotion when he lost them, a grief

too sacred to be further exposed. * He

could not deny a pardon or a respite to a

soldier condemned to die for a crime which

did not involve depravity if he were to

try,' said an old army officer. He shrank



from the confirmation of a sentence of death
in sttch a case as if it were a murder by his
hand* ^ They say that I destroy all dis-
cipline and am cr«el to the army when I
will not let them shoot a soldier now and
then/ he said* *B«t I cannot see it* If
God wanted me to see it he would let me
know it, and until he does I shall go on
pardoning and being cruel to the end/
An old friend called by appointment, and
found him with a pile of records of courts-
martial before him for approval* * Go
away, SwettT he exclaimed, with intense
impatience* 'To-morrow is butchering day,
and I will not be interrupted until I have
found excuses for saving the lives of these
poor fellows!' Many pages might be filled
with authentic illustrations of his tender-
ness and mercy, for they were prominent in
his official life* Three times I assisted in

procuring their exercise, each to the saving



of a soldier^ and each time he shared our
own delight over oar success, though he
knew not how his face shone when he felt
that he had spared a haman life/'

The main fact of the story published in
this book has been told with varying de-
tails in many versions* It is related here
as it has been set down by one who bore an
active part* Mr* Chittenden's Recollections
of President Lincoln and His Administration
has taken rank as one of the most valuable
of the volumes of personal reminiscence of
Abraham Lincoln in the war period* Mr*
Chittenden's narrative of ** The Sleeping
Sentinel " represents the truth of history*

and the Sleeping Sentinel

HE trtith is always and every-
where attractive* The child
loveSt and never otitgrows its
lovet for a real trae story. The
story of this yoting soldier^ as it

was presented to me, so totjchingly re-
veals some of the kindlier qualities of the
President's character that it seldom fails
to charm those to whom it is related, I
shall give its facts as I understood them,
and I think I can guarantee their general

On a dark September morning in 1 86 J,


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

when I reached my office I found waiting
there a party of soldiers, none of whom I
personally knew* They were greatly ex-
cited, all speaking at the same time, and
consequently unintelligible. One of them
wore the bars of a captain. I said to them
pleasantly: **Boys, I cannot understand you.
Pray, let your captain say what you want
and what I can do for you.'' They com-
plied, and the captain put me in possession
of the following facts:

They belonged to the Third Vermont
Regiment, raised, with the exception of one
company, on the eastern slope of the Green
Mountains, and mustered into service while
the battle of Bull Run was progressing.
They were immediately sent to Washington,
and since their arrival, during the last days
of July, had been stationed at the Chain
Bridge, some three miles above Georgetown.

Company K, to which most of them be-


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

longed, was largely made tip of farmer
boys, many of them still in their minority.
The sterile flanks of the mountains of
Vermont have, to sortie extent, been aban-
doned for the more fertile regions of the
"West, and are now open to immigration from
the more barren soils of Scandinavia and the
Alps* Fifty years ago these Vermont moun-
tains reared men who have since left their
impress tipon the enterprise of the world.
The hard conditions of life in these moun-
tains then required the most unbroken reg-
ularity in the continuous struggle for ex-
istence. To rise and retire with the sun,
working through all the hours of daylight,
sleeping through all the hours of night, was
the universal rule. Such industry, practised
from childhood, united to a thrift and
economy no longer known in the republic,
enabled the Vermonter to pay his taxes

and train up his family in obedience to the


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

laws of God and his country. Nowhere
under the sun were charityt benevolence,
muttial helpt and similar virtues more
finely developed or universally practised
than among these hard-handed, kind-heart-
ed mountaineers.

The story which I extracted from the
** boys '' was, in substance, this : "William
Scott, one of these mountain boys, just of
age, had enlisted in Company K. Accus-
tomed to his regular sound and healthy
sleep, not yet inured to the life of the camp,
he had volunteered to take the place of a
sick comrade who had been detailed for
picket duty, and had passed the night as a
sentinel on guard. The next day he was
himself detailed for the same duty, and
undertook its performance. But he found
it impossible to keep awake for two nights
in succession, and had been found by the
relief sound asleep on his post. For this


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

offence he had been tried by a court-martial,
found gtjiltyt and sentenced to be shot with-
in twenty-four hours after his trial, and on
the second morning after his offence was

Scott's comrades had set about saving
him in a characteristic way. They had
called a meeting, appointed a committee,
with power to use all the resources of the
regiment in his behalf* Strangers in Wash-
ington, the committee had resolved to call
on me for advice, because I was a Vermonter,
and they had already marched from the
camp to my office since daylight that

The captain took all the blame from
Scott upon himself. Scott's mother op-
posed his enlistment on the ground of his
inexperience, and had only consented on
the captain's promise to look after him as

if he were his own son. This he had wholly


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

failed to do. He must have been asleep or

stupid himself^ he said^ when he paid no

attention to the boy's statement that he

had fallen asleep during the dayt and feared

he could not keep awake the second night

on picket. Instead of sending some one, or

going himself in Scott's place, as he should,

he had let him go to his death. He alone

was guilty — ** if any one ought to be shot,

I am the fellow, and everybody at home

would have the right to say so. There must

be some way to save him. Judge T' (They

all called me Judge.) ** He is as good a boy

as there is in the army, and he ain't to blame.

You will help us, now, won't you?" he said,

almost with tears.

The other members of the committee had

a definite if not a practicable plan. They

insisted that Scott had not been tried, and

gave this account of the proceeding. He

was asked what he had to say to the charge,


p I ■ 'i L-m.i.ujw ■^< imj »ii

From a photograph in the collection of Charles Carleton Coffin

•^^^■— ^■*^<^»» ' ^ " y ■' '^rn^mr*

m j^ mm I m

Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

and said he would tell them just how it all
happened* He had never been tip all night
that he remembered* He was ''all beat
o«t ** by the night before, and knew he
should have a hard fight to keep awake;
he thotight of hiring one of the boys to go
in his placet btit they might think he was
afraid to do his duty, and he dzcidzd to
** chance it/' Twice he went to sleep and
woke himself while he was marching, and
then — he could not tell anything about it —
all he knew was that he was sound asleep
when the guard came* It was very wrong,
he knew* He wanted to be a good soldier
and do all his duty* What else did he en-
list for? They could shoot him, and per-
haps they ought to, but he could not have
tried harder; and if he was in the same
place again he could no more help going
to sleep than he could fly*

One must have been made of sterner


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

staff than I was not to be touched by the
earnest manner with which these men of-
fered to devote even their farms to the aid
of their comrade. The captain and the
others had no need of words to express their
emotions. I saw that the situation was
stJrrotinded by difficulties of which they
knew nothing. They had subscribed a sum
of money to pay counsel, and offered to
pledge their credit to any amount necessary
to secure him a fair trial.

** Put up your money/' I said. *' It will
be long after this when one of my name
takes money for helping a Vermont soldier.
I know facts which touch this case of which
you know nothing. I fear that nothing
effectual can be done for your comrade.
The courts and lawyers can do nothing. I
fear that we can do no more; but we can

I must digress here to say that the Chain


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

Bridge across the Potomac was one of the
positions upon which the safety of Wash-
ington depended* The Confederates had
fortified the approach to it on the Virginia
side, and the Federals on the hills of Mary-
land opposite* Here, for months, the op-
posing forces had confronted each other*
There had been no fighting; the men, and
even the officers, had gradually contracted
an intimacy, and, having nothing better to
do, had swapped stories and other property
until they had come to live upon the footing
of good neighbors rather than mortal ene-
mies* This relation was equally inconsistent
with the safety of Washington and the stern
discipline of war* Its discovery had excited
alarm, and immediate measures were taken
to break it up* General W* F* Smith,
better known as ** Baldy *' Smith, had
been appointed colonel of the Third Ver-
mont Regiment, placed in command of


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

the postt and undertook to correct the ir-

General Smith, a Vermonter by birth, a
"West-Pointer by education, was a soldier
from spur to crown. Possibly he had nat-
ural sympathies, but they were so subor-
dinated to the demands of his profession
that they might as well not have existed.
He regarded a soldier as so much valuable
material, to be used with economy, like
powder and lead, to the best advantage.
The soldier was not worth much to him until
his individuality was suppressed and con-
verted into the unit of an army. He must
be taught obedience; discipline must never
be relaxed. In the demoralization which
existed at the Chain Bridge, in his opinion,
the occasional execution of a soldier would
tend to enforce discipline, and in the end
promote economy of life. He had issued

orders declaring the penalty of death for


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

military offences, among others that of a
sentinel sleeping upon his post. His orders
were made to be obeyed. Scott was, appa-
rently, their first victim. It went without
saying that any appeal in his behalf to
General Smith would lead to nothing but
loss of time*


HE more I reflected upon what
I was to dot the more hopeless
the case appeared* Thought was
useless* I must act upon im-
pulse or I should not act at alh
**Come/' I saidt ** there is only one man
on earth who can save your comrade.
Fortunately, he is the best man on the con-
tinent. We will go to President Lincoln."
I went swiftly out of the Treasury over
to the White House, and up the stairway
to the little office where the President was
writing. The boys followed in a procession.
I did not give the thought time to get any
hold on me that I, an officer of the govern-
ment, was committing an impropriety in


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

thtis rtjshing a matter tjpon the President's
attention. The President was the first to

''What is this?*' he asked. ''An ex-
pedition to kidnap somebody, or to get an-
other brigadier appointed, or for a furlough
to go home to vote? I cannot do it, gentle-
men. Brigadiers are thicker than dram-ma-
jors, and I couldn't get a furlough for my-
self if I asked it from the War Department."

There was hope in the tone in which he
spoke. I went straight to my point. " Mr.
President," I said, " these men want noth-
ing for themselves. They are Green Moun-
tain boys of the Third Vermont, who have
come to stay as long as you need good
soldiers. They don't want promotion until
they earn it. But they do want something
that you alone can givz them — the life of a

" What has he done ?" asked the Presi-


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

dent. " Yoti Vermonters are not a bad lot,
generally. Has he committed mtirder or
mutiny, or what other felony?*'

** Tell him/' I whispered to the captain.

** I cannot ! I cannot ! I should stammer
like a fool! You can do it better!"

** Captain/' I said, pushing him forward,
** Scott's life depends on you. You must
tell the President the story. I only know
it from hearsay."

He commenced like the man by the Sea

of Galilee, who had an impediment in his

speech; but very soon the string of his

tongue was loosened, and he spoke plain.

He began to word-paint a picture with the

hand of a master. As the words burst from

his lips they stirred my own blood. He gave

a graphic account of the whole story, and

ended by saying: ** He is as brave a boy as

there is in your army, sir. Scott is no

coward. Our mountains breed no cowards.



From a photograph by Brady

Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

They are the homes of thirty thousand men
who voted for Abraham Lincoln* They
will not be able to see that the best thing to
be done with William Scott will be to shoot
him like a traitor and bury him like a dog!
Oht Mr* Lincoln, can yoti?**

** No, I can't!** exclaimed the President.
It was one of the moments when his coun-
tenance became such a remarkable study*
It had become very earnest as the captain
rose with his subject; then it took on that
melancholy expression which, later in his
life, became so infinitely touching. I
thought I could detect a mist in the deep
cavities of his eyes. Then, in a flash, there
was a total change. He smiled, and finally
broke into a hearty laugh, as he asked me:

** Do your Green Mountain boys fight as
well as they talk? If they do, I don't won-
der at the legends about Ethan Allen.*'

Then his face softened as he said : ** But


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

what can I do? What do you expect me to
do? As you know, I have not much in-
fluence with the departments?"

** I have not thought the matter out,*' I
said. ** I feel a deep interest in saving
young Scott's life. I think I knew the boy's
father. It is useless to apply to General
Smith. An application to the Secretary of
War would only be referred to General Smith.
The only thing to be done was to apply to
you. It seems to me that if you would
sign an order suspending Scott's execution
until his friends can have his case examined,
I might carry it to the War Department,
and so insure the delivery of the order to
General Smith to-day through the regular
channels of the War Office."

** No! I do not think that course would

be safe. You do not know these officers

of the regular army. They are a law unto

themselves. They sincerely think that it is


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

good policy occasionally to shoot a soldier.
I can see it, where a soldier deserts or com-
mits a crime, but I cannot in sttch a case as
Scott's* They say that I am always inter-
fering with the discipline of the army and
being crttel to the soldiers* "Well, I can't
help it, so I shall have to go right on doing
wrong. I do not think an honest, brave
soldier, conscious of no crime but sleeping
when he was weary, owght to be shot or
htmg. The country has better uses for

** Captain," continued the President,*Vo^i*
boy shall not be shot — that is, not to-mor-
row, nor until I know more about his case."
To me he said: ** I will have to attend to this
matter myself. I have for some time in-
tended to go up to the Chain Bridge. I will
do so to-day. I shall then know that there
is no mistake in suspending the execution."

I remarked that he was undertaking a


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

burden which wc had no right to impose;
that it was asking too much of the Presi-
dent in behalf of a private soldier^

** Scott^s life is as valuable to him as that
of any person in the land,** he said* ** Yoti
remember the remark of a Scotchman about
the head of a nobleman who was decapitated*
* It was a small matter of a head, but it
was valuable to him, poor fellowt for it was
the only one he had/ *'

I saw that remonstrance was vain* I
suppressed the rising gratitude of the sol-
diers, and we took our leave* Two mem-
bers of ** the committee ** remained to
watch events in the city, while the others
returned to carry the news of their success
to Scott and to the camp* Later in the day
the two members reported that the Presi-
dent had started in the direction of the
camp; that their work here was ended, and

they proposed to return to their quarters.



ITHIN a day or two the news-
papers reported that a soldier,
sentenced to be shot for sleeping
on his postt had been pardoned
by the President and returned
to his regiment. Other duties pressed me,
and it was December before I heard any-
thing further from Scott* Then another
elderly soldier of the same company, whose
health had failed, and who was arranging
for his own discharge, called upon me, and
I made inquiry about Scott. The soldier
gave an enthusiastic account of him. He
was in splendid health, was very athletic,
popular with everybody, and had the rep-
utation of being the best all-around soldier


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

in the company^ if not in the regiments
His mate was the elderly soldier who had
visited me with the party in September^
who would be able to tell me all about him.
To him I sent a message^ asking him to see
me when he was next in the city. His name
was Ellis or Evans.

Not long afterward he called at my office^
andt as his leave permitted, I kept him over-
night at my house, and gathered from him
the following facts about Scott. He said
that, as we supposed, the President went to
the camp, had a long conversation with
Scott, at the end of which he was sent back
to his company a free man. The President
had given him a paper, which he preserved
very carefully, which was supposed to be his
discharge from the sentence. A regular
order for his pardon had been read in
the presence of the regiment, signed by

General McCIellan, but every one knew


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel


Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenLincoln and the sleeping sentinel; the true story → online text (page 1 of 2)