L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Lincoln and the sleeping sentinel; the true story online

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that his life had been saved by the Pres-

From that day Scott was the most in-
dttstriotjs man m the company* He was
always at work^ generally helping some
other soldier* His arms and his dress were
neat and cleanly; he took charge of policing
the company's quarters; was never absent
at roll-callt unless he was sent away, and
always on hand if there was any work to be
done. He was very strong, and practised
feats of strength until he cotild pick up a
man lying on the ground and carry him
away on his shoulders* He was of great use
in the hospital, and in all the serious cases
sought employment as a nurse, because it
trained him in night-work and keeping
awake at night* He soon attracted at-
tention* He was offered promotion, which,
for some reason, he declined*

It was a long time before he would speak


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

of his interview with Mr. Lincoln. One
nightt when he had received a long letter
from home, Scott opened his heart and told
Evans the story.

Scott said: ** The President was the kind-
est man I had ever seen; I knew him at once
by a Lincoln medal I had long worn. I was
scared at first, for I had never before talked
with a great man. But Mr. Lincoln was so
easy with me, so gentle, that I soon forgot
my fright. He asked me all about the
people at home, the neighbors, the farm,
and where I went to school, and who my
school-mates were. Then he asked me about
mother, and how she looked, and I was glad
I could take her photograph from my bosom
and show it to him. He said how thankful
I ought to be that my mother still lived, and
how, if he was in my place, he would try
to make her a proud mother, and never

cause her a sorrow or a tear. I cannot


From the statue by Augustus St. Gaudens, at Lincoln Park. Chicago

Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

remember it all, btjt every word was so

** He had said nothing yet about that
dreadful next morning. I thought it must be
that he was so kind-hearted that he didn't
like to speak of it* But why did he say so
much about my mother, and my not causing
her a sorrow or a tear, when I knew that I
must diz the next morning? But I sup-
posed that was something that would have
to go unexplained, and so I determined to
brace up and tell him that I did not feel a
bit guilty, and ask him wouldn't he fix it
so that the firing-party would not be from
our regiment! That was going to be the
hardest of all — to die by the hands of my
comrades* Just as I was going to ask him
this favor he stood up, and he says to me:
* My boy, stand up here and look me in the
face/ I did as he bade me* * My boy,'

he said, * you are not going to be shot to-


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

morrow* I believe yoa when you tell me
that yotj could not keep awake. I am going
to trust yoiSf and send you back to your
regiment* But I have been put to a good
deal of trouble on your account* I have
had to come up here from Washington when
I have got a great deal to do; and what I
want to know is, how you are going to pay
my bill?' There was a big lump in my
throat; I could scarcely speak* I had ex-
pected to diZf you see, and had kind of got
used to thinking that way* To have it all
changed in a minute! But I got it crowded
down, and managed to say, * I am grateful,
Mr* Lincoln! I hope I am as grateful as
ever a man can be to you for saving my life*
But it comes upon me sudden and unex-
pected like* I didn't lay out for it at all*
But there is some way to pay you, and I will
find it after a little* There is the bounty in

the savings-bank* I guess we could borrow


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

some money on the mortgage of the farm.

There was my pay, which was something,

and if he w^octld wait until pay-day I was

sure the boys would help, so I thought we

could make it up^ if it wasn't more than

five or six hundred dollars/ * But it is a

great deal more than that/ he said. Then

I said I didn't just see how, but I was sure

I would find some way — if I lived,

** Then Mr, Lincoln put his hands on my

shoulders and looked into my face as if he

was sorry, and said : * My boy, my bill is a

very large one. Your friends cannot pay

it, nor your bounty, nor the farm, nor all

your comrades! There is only one man in

all the world who can pay it, and his name

is William Scott! If from this day William

Scott does his duty, so that, if I was there

when he comes to diey he can look me in the

face as he does now, and say, *I have kept

my promise, and I have done my duty as a


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

soldiert' then my debt will be paid* Will
yoti make that promise and try to keep


'* I said I would make the promise, and,
with God's help, I would keep it» I could
not say any more* I wanted to tell him
how hard I would try to do all he wanted;
but the words would not come, so I had to
let it all go unsaid. He went away, out of
my sight forever* I know I shall never see
him again; but may God forget me if I ever
forget his kind words or my promise/'

This was the end of the story of Evans,
who got his discharge, and went home at
the close of the year* I heard from Scott
occasionally afterward* He was gaining
a wonderful reputation as an athlete. He
was the strongest man in the regiment* The
regiment was engaged in two or three re-
connoissances in force, in which he per-
formed the most exposed service with sin-


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

gular bravery* If any man was in trouble,
Scott was his good Samaritan; if any
soldier was sick, Scott was his ntirse* He
was ready to volunteer for any extra ser-
vice or labor — he had done some difficult
and useful scouting* He stiU refused pro-
motion, saying that he had done nothing
worthy of it. The final result was that he
was the general favorite of all his comrades,
the most popular man in the regiment, and
modest, unassuming, and unspoiled by his


HE next scene in this drama opens
on the Peninsukt between the
York and the James rivers, in
March, 1862, The sl«ggish War-
wick River rtins from its source,
near Yorktown, across the Peninsula to
its discharge. It formed at that time a
line of defence, which had been forti-
fied by General Magrttder, and was held
by him with a force of some twelve thou-
sand Confederates, Yorktown was an im-
portant position to the Confederates.

On April 1 5th the division of General
Smith was ordered to stop the enemy's
work on the intrenchments at Lee's Mills,

the strongest position on the "Warwick


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

River. His force consisted of the Vermont
brigade of five regiments and three bat-
teries of artillery* After a lively skirmish,
which occupied the greater part of the fore-
noont this order was execttted, and should
have ended the movement*

Bttt about noon General McCIellan with
his staffs including the French princes, came
upon the scene, and ordered General Smith
to assault and capture the rebel works on
the opposite bank. Some discretion was
given to General Smith, who was directed
not to bring on a general engagement, but
to withdraw his men if he found the de-
fence too strong to be overcome* This dis-
cretion cost many lives when the moment
came for its exercise*

General Smith disposed his forces for the

assault, which was made by Companies

D, E, F, and K of the Third Vermont

Regiment, covered by the artillery, with the


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

Vermont brigade in reserve^ About four
o'clock in the afternoon the charge was
ordered* Unclasping their belts and hold-
ing their guns and cartridge-boxes above
their heads^ the Vermonters dashed into and
across the stream at Dam Number One,
the strongest position in the Confederate
line, and cleared out the rifle-pits* But the
earthworks were held by an overwhelming
force of rebels, and proved impregnable.
After a dashing attack upon them the Ver-
monters were repulsed, and were ordered
to retire across the river* They retreated
under a heavy fire, leaving nearly half their
number dead or wounded in the river and
on the opposite shore*

Every member of these four companies
was a brave man* But all the eye-witnesses
agreed that among those who in this, their
first hard battle, faced death without

blanching, there was none braver or more


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

efficient than William Scptt, of Company
K, debtor for his own life to President Lin-
coln* He was almost the first to reach the
sotith bank of the river^ the first in the
rifle-pits, and the last to retreat. He re-
crossed the river with a wounded officer
on his back — he carried him to a place of
safety, and returned to assist his comrades,
who did not agree on the number of wound-
ed men saved by him from drowning or
capture, but all agreed that he had carried
the last wounded man from the south bank,
and was nearly across the stream, when the
fire of the rebels was concentrated upon
him; he staggered with his living burden to
the shore and felL

An account of the closing scene in the life
of "William Scott was given me by a wounded
comrade, as he lay upon his cot in a hospital
tent near Columbia College, in Washington,

after the retreat of the army from the


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

Peninstjla, ** He was shot all to pieces/'

said private H» ** We carried him back,

out of the line of fire, and laid him on the

grass to die* His body was shot through

and through, and the blood was pouring

from his many wounds. But his strength

was great, and such a powerful man was

hard to kill. The surgeons checked the

flow of blood — they said he had rallied from

the shock; we laid him on a cot in a hospital

tent, and the boys crowded around him,

until the doctors said they must leave if he

was to have any chance at all. We all knew

he must die* We dropped onto the ground

wherever we could, and fell into a broken

slumber — wounded and well side by side.

Just at daylight the word was passed that

Scott wanted to see us all. We went into

his tent and stood around his cot. His face

was bright and his voice cheerful. * Boys,'

he said, * I shall never see another battle.


From a photograph by Rice

Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

I supposed this would be my last* I haven't

mtfch to say* Yoa all know what yo« can

tell them at home abotft me* I have tried

to do the right thing! I am almost certain

yoct will all say that/ Then while his

strength was failings his life ehhing away,

and we looked to see his voice sink into a

whisper, his face lighted ttp and his voice

came oat natural and clear as he said : * If

any of you ever have the chance, I wish you

would tell President Lincoln that I have

never forgotten the kind words he said to

me at the Chain Bridge; that I have tried

to be a good soldier and true to the flag;

that I should have paid my whole debt to

him if I had lived; and that now, when I

know that I am dying, I think of his kind

face and thank him again, because he gave

me the chance to fall like a soldier in battle,

and not like a coward by the hands of my



Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel


His facet as he uttered these words, was
that of a happy man* Not a groan or an
expression of pain, not a word of complaint
or regret, came from his Iips» * Good-bye,
boys!' he said, cheerily* Then he closed his
own eyes, crossed his hands on his breast,
and — and — that was all. His face was at
rest, and we all said it was heautiixiL Strong
men stood around his bed; they had seen
their comrades fall, and had been very near
to death themselves: such men are accus-
tomed to control their feelings; btrt now
they wept like children* One only spoke,
as if to himself: * Thank God, I know now
how a brave man dies!'

** Scott wotfid have been satisfied to rest
in the same grave with his comrades,*' the
wounded soldier continued. ** But we want-
ed to know where he lay. There was a
small grove of cherry-trees just in the rear

of the camp, with a noble oak in its centre*


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

At the foot of this oak we dug his grave.
There we laid him, with his empty rifle and
accoutrements by his side* Deep into the
oak we cut the initials, * W*S«/ and under it
the words, * A brave soldier/ Our chaplain
said a short prayer. We fired a volley over
his grave. "Will you carry his last message
to the President?''
I answered: ** Yes.'*

OME days passed before I again
met the President. When I saw
him I asked if he remembered
"William Scott.
** Of Company K, Third Ver-
mont Volunteers?*' he answered. ** Cer-
tainly I do. He was the boy that Baldy
Smith wanted to shoot at the Chain Bridge.
What about William Scott?''

** He is dead. He was killed on the
Peninsula/' I answered. ** I have a message
from him for you, which I have promised
one of his comrades to deliver."

A look of tenderness swept over his face
as he exclaimed: ** Poor boy! Poor boy!

And so he is dead! And he sent me a


Lincoln and the Sleeping Sentinel

message! Well^ I think I will not have it
now* I will come and see you/'

He kept his promise. Before many days
he made one of his welcome visits to my
office. He said he had come to hear Scott's
message. I gave it as nearly as possible in
Scott's own words. Mr. Lincoln had perfect
control of his own countenance: when he
chose, he could make it a blank; when he
did not care to control it, his was the most
readable of speaking human faces. He
drew out from me all I knew about Scott
and about the people among whom he lived.
When I spoke of the intensity of their sym-
pathies, especially in sorrow and trouble, as
a characteristic trait of mountaineers, he
interrupted me and said: ** It is equally
common on the prairies. It is the privilege
of the poor. I know all about it from ex-
perience, and I hope I have my full share of

it. Yes, I can sympathize with sorrow."


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

** Mr. President/' I said, ** I have never
ceased to reproach myself for thrusting
Scott's case so unceremoniotisly before you
— for causing you to take so much trouble
for a private soldier* But I gave way to an
impulse — I could not endure the thought
that Scott should be shot* He was a fel-
low- Vermonter, and I knew there was no
other way to save his life/'

** I advise you always to yield to such

impulses/' he said. *^ You did me as great

a favor as the boy. It was a new experience

for me — a study that was interesting, though

I have had more to do with people of his

class than any other. Did you know that

Scott and I had a long visit? I was much

interested in the boy. I am truly sorry

that he is dead, for he was a good boy — too

good a boy to be shot for obeying nature.

I am glad I interfered."

Mr. Lincoln, I wish your treatment of



Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

this matter could be written into his-

'* Ttrt! tut!" he broke in; ''none of that.
By-the-way, do yoa remember what Jeanie
Deans said to Queen Caroline when the
Duke of Argyle procured her an opportu-
nity to heg for her sister's life?"

'* I remember the incident well, but not
the language."

''I remember both. This is the para-
graph in point: * It is not when we sleep
soft and wake merrily ourselves that we
think on other people's sufferings. Our
hearts are waxed light within us then, and
we are for righting our ain wrangs and
fighting our ain battles. But when the
hour of trouble comes to the mind or to the
body — and when the hour of death comes,
that comes to high and low — oh, then it
isna what we hae dune for oursells, but

what we hae dune for others, that we think


Lincoln and the Steeping Sentinel

on maist pleasantly. And the thoughts that
ye hae intervened to spare the puir thing's
life will be sweeter in that hour, come when
it may, than if a word of your motrth could
hang the whole Porteous mob at the tail of
ae tow/"




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