L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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the revolving mechanism, and then we would be wholly

" I laid the Monitor close alongside the Merrimac, and
gave her a shot. She returned our compliment by a
shell, weighing one hundred and fifty pounds, fired when
we were close together, which struck the turret so square-
ly that it received the whole force. Here you see the
scar, two and a half inches deep in the wrought iron, a
perfect mould of the shell. If anything could test the
turret, it was that shot. It did not start a rivet-head or
a nut ! It stunned the two men who were nearest where
the ball struck, and that was all. I touched the lever
the turret revolved as smoothly as before. The turret
had stood the test ; I could mark that point of weakness
off my list forever.

" You notice that the deck is joined to the side of the
hull by a right angle, at what sailors call the ' plank-


shear.' If a projectile struck that angle, what would
happen ? It would not be deflected ; its whole force
would be expended there. It might open a seain in
the hull below the water-line, or pierce the wooden hull,
and sink us. Here was our second point of weak-

" I had decided how I would fight her in advance. I
would keep the Monitor moving in a circle, just large
enough to give time for loading the guns. At the point
where the circle impinged upon the Merrimac our guns
should be fired, and loaded while we were moving
around the circuit. Evidently the Merrimac would re-
turn the compliment every time. At our second ex-
change of shots, she returning six or eight to our two,
another of her large shells struck our ' plank-shear ' at
its angle, and tore up one of the deck-plates, as you see.
The shell had struck what I believed to be the weakest
point in the Monitor. We had already learned that the
Merrimac swarmed with sharp-shooters, for their bullets
were constantly spattering against our turret and our
deck. If a man showed himself on deck he would draw
their fire. But I did not much consider the sharp-shoot-
ers. It was my duty to investigate the effects of that
shot. I ordered one of the pendulums to be hauled
aside, and, crawling out of the port, walked to the side,
laid down upon my chest, and examined it thoroughly.
The hull was uninjured, except for a few splinters in the
wood. I walked back and crawled into the turret the
bullets were falling on the iron deck all about me as
thick as hail-stones in a storm. None struck me, I sup-
pose because the vessel was moving, and at the angle
lying on the deck, my body made a small mark difficult
to hit. We gave them two more guns, and then I told
the men what was true, that the Merrimac could not


sink us if we let her pound us for a month. The men
cheered ; the knowledge put new life into all.

"We had more exchanges, and then the Merrimac
tried new tactics. She endeavored to ram us, to run us
down. Once she struck us about amidships with her
iron ram. Here you see its mark. It gave us a shock,
pushed us around, and that was all the harm. But the
movement placed our sides together. I gave her two
guns, which I think lodged in her side, for, from my look-
out crack, I could not see that either shot rebounded.
Ours being the smaller vessel, and more easily handled,
I had no difficulty in avoiding her ram. I ran around
her several times, planting our shot in what seemed to
be the most vulnerable places. In this way, reserving
my fire until I got the range and the mark, I planted
two more shots almost in the very spot I had hit when
she tried to ram us. Those shots must have been effect-
ive, for they were followed by a shower of bars of iron.

" The third weak spot was our pilot-house. You see
that it is built a little more than three feet above the
deck, of bars of iron, ten by twelve inches square, built
up like a log-house, bolted with very large bolts at the
corners where the bars interlock. The pilot stands upon
a platform below, his head and shoulders in the pilot-
house. The upper tier of bars is separated from the sec-
ond by an open space of an inch, through which the
pilot may look out at every point of the compass. The
pilot-house, as you see, is a four-square mass of iron, pro-
vided with no means of deflecting a ball. I expected
trouble from it, and I was not disappointed. Until my
accident happened, as we approached the enemy I stood in
the pilot-house and gave the signals. Lieutenant Greene
fired the guns, and Engineer Stimers, here, revolved the


" I was below the deck when the corner of the pilot-
house was first struck by a shot or a shell. It either
burst or was broken, and no harm was done. A short
time after I had given the signal, and with my eye close
against the lookout crack, was watching the effect of
our shot, when something happened to me ; my part in
the fight was ended. Lieutenant Green, who fought the
Merrimac until she had no longer stomach for fighting,
will tell you the rest of the story."

Can it be possible that this beardless boy fought one
of the historic battles of the world? was the thought
of every one, as the modest, diffident young Green was
half pushed forward into the circle. "I cannot add
much to the captain's story," he began. " He had cut
out the work for us, and we had only to follow his pat-
tern. I kept the Monitor either moving around the cir-
cle or around the enemy, and endeavored to place our
shots as near her amidships as possible, where Captain
Worden believed he had already broken through her
armor. We knew that she could not sink us, and I
thought I would keep right on pounding her as long as
she would stand it. There is really nothing new to be
added to Captain Worden's account. "We could strike her
wherever we chose ; weary as they must have been, our
men were full of enthusiasm, and I do not think we
wasted a shot. Once we ran out of the circle for a mo-
ment to adjust a piece of machinery, and I learn that
some of our friends feared that we were drawing out of
the fight. The Merrimac took the opportunity to start
for Norfolk. As soon as our machinery was adjusted
we followed her, and got near enough to give her a part-
ing shot. But I was not familiar with the locality ; there
might be torpedoes planted in the channel, and I did not
wish to take any risk of losing our vessel, so I came back


to the company of our friends. But except that we were,
all of us, tired and hungry when we came back to the
Minnesota at half-past twelve P. M., the Monitor was just
as well prepared to fight as she was at eight o'clock in
the morning when she fired her first gun."

We were then shown the injury to the pilot-house.
The mark of the ball was plain upon the two upper bars,
the principal impact being upon the lower of the two.
This huge bar was broken in the middle, but held firmly
at either end. The further it was pressed in, the stronger
was the resistance on the exterior. On the inside the
fracture in the bar was half an inch wide. Captain Wor-
den's eye was very near to the lookout crack, so that
when the gun was discharged the shock of the ball
knocked him senseless, while the mass of flame filled
one side of his face with coarse grains of powder. He
remained insensible for some hours.

" Have you heard what Captain "Worden's first inquiry
was when he recovered his senses after the general shock
to his system ?" asked Captain Fox of the President.

" I think I have," replied Mr. Lincoln, " but it is worth
relating to these gentlemen."

" His question was," said Captain Fox, " * Have I saved
the Minnesota f '

"Yes, and whipped the Merrimac /" some one an-

" Then," said Captain Worden, " I don't care what be-
comes of me."

Captain Worden apologized for his inability to provide
for the President and his guests the usual refreshments
of a vessel of the navy. The haste of departure from
her port had led to the omission of everything that did
not improve the fighting qualities of his vessel.

" Some uncharitable people say that old Bourbon is an


indispensable element in the fighting qualities of some
of our generals in the field," smilingly responded the
President. " But, captain, after the account that we
have heard to-day, no one will say that any Dutch cour-
age is needed on board the Monitor"

" It never has been, sir," modestly observed the cap-

" Mr. President," said Captain Fox, " not much of the
history to which we have listened is new to me. I saw
this battle from eight o'clock until midday. There was
one marvel in it which has not been mentioned the
splendid handling of the Monitor throughout the battle.
The first bold advance of this diminutive vessel against
a giant like the Merrimac was superlatively grand. She
seemed inspired by Nelson's order at Trafalgar : ' He
will make no mistake who lays his vessel alongside the
enemy.' One would have thought the Monitor a living
thing. No man was visible. You saw her moving around
that circle, delivering her fire invariably at the point of
contact, and heard the crash of the missile against her
enemy's armor above the thunder of her guns, on the
bank where we stood. It was indescribably grand !"

"Now," he continued, "standing here on the deck of
this battle-scarred vessel, the first genuine iron-clad the
victor in the first fight of iron-clads let me make a con-
fession, and perform an act of simple justice. I never
fully believed in armored vessels until I saw this battle.
I know all the facts which united to give us the Monitor.
I withhold no credit from Captain Ericsson, her invent-
or, but I know that the country is principally indebted
for the construction of this vessel to President Lincoln,
and for the success of her trial to Captain "Worden, her



IN the spring of 1862, I had an opportunity of com-
paring and contrasting two striking characters ; one, a
philosopher, trained in the schools, matured by a life of
study and original investigation which would have made
him the equal of Plato and Aristotle had he been their
contemporary ; the other, the product of Nature, with
his strong common-sense developed by the experiences
of human life under hard and trying conditions.

Professor Joseph Henry, Secretary of the Smithsonian
Institution, called at the office of the register on business
connected with the Light-House Board, of which he was
the official head. He would have taken high rank in
any circle of learned men, from the Stoics to the scien-
tists of his own time. He was an eminent physicist be-
fore he was called to his present position. His original
investigations, especially in light and electricity, were of
great value, and but for his inborn modesty would have
credited him with the invention of the art of telegraphy.
After he was placed in charge of Smithson's great trust,
he devoted himself to its care and development, and to
the advancement of the interests of the republic whose
servant he had become. "With what fidelity he pre-
served the principal of that trust, and with its interest
built up an institution for scientific work on a scale of
magnitude of which Smithson never dreamed, is known
to his country and the world. The value to the republic
of his researches into the science of illumination had al-


ready been very great and was increasing with every
passing year. To these good works, add an unassuming
modesty, complete unselfishness, and an unvarying pur-
pose to make every one the better and happier for his
acquaintance, and it becomes apparent that Joseph
Henry was a great man with a very beautiful character.

" Do you often see the President ?" asked Dr. Henry,
when his business was completed.

"Occasionally," I answered. "He sometimes visits
this office, as I presume he does many others. He is
always welcome here, but his visits are by no means as
frequent as I would make them if I could."

"I have only recently come to know the President,
except from a passing introduction," he said. " I have
lately met him five or six times. He is producing a
powerful impression upon me, more powerful than any
one I can now recall. It increases with every interview.
I think it my duty to take philosophic views of men and
things, but the President upsets me. If I did not resist
the inclination, I might even fall in love with him."

It was my opportunity to lure him on. Any views of
his about President Lincoln could not fail to be of in-
terest. "Yes?" I said. "Possibly you do not dijffer
from the rest of us. I know of nobody in this depart-
ment who knows the President who fails to respect and
admire him. What do you find in him so attractive ?"

" I have not yet arranged my thoughts about him in
a form to warrant their expression," he replied. " But
I can say so much as this : President Lincoln impresses
me as a man whose honesty of purpose is transparent,
who has no mental reservations, who may be said to
wear his heart upon his sleeve. He has been called
coarse. In my interviews with him he converses with
apparent freedom, and without a trace of coarseness. He


has been called ignorant. He has shown a comprehen-
sive grasp of every subject on which he has conversed
with me. His views of the present situation are some-
what novel, but seem to me unanswerable. He has read
many books and remembers their contents better than
I do. He is associated with men who I know are
great. He impresses me as their equal, if not their su-
perior. I desired to induce him to understand, and look
favorably upon, a change which I wish to make in the
policy of the Light-House Board in a matter requiring
some scientific knowledge. He professed his ignorance,
or, rather, he ridiculed his knowledge of it, and yet he
discussed it as intelligently "

" The President !" here interrupted a messenger, open-
ing the door to admit President Lincoln.

" You have interrupted an interesting commentary,"
I began, laughingly, as I rose to welcome him.

"Do not! You will not say another word!" ex-
claimed the doctor, blushing like a school-girl. " You
will mortify me excessively if you do." I saw that he
took the matter seriously, and hastened to change the

These two great Americans seated themselves side by
side. They had a long conversation. I took no part in
the conversation, and shall not attempt to recall it. It
began with the subject of the destruction by the Con-
federates of all the lights, buoys, and signal stations
along their coast ; their purpose in such acts, and how
our own vessels could best dispense with these aids to
navigation. It diverged to the subject of illuminating
oils of different kinds. I inferred that the professor was
experimenting with lard oils, with a view to their intro-
duction on account of the saving of expense in their use.
I could not discover that the President was at a loss for


a moment, and that he conversed in any particular less
intelligently than the professor. The latter looked at
his watch, apologized for keeping Mr. Lincoln so long,
and with the air of having done something very repre-
hensible, abruptly took his leave.

"Do you often see Professor Henry?" inquired the
President, as soon as the door had closed.

I smiled, for it was the identical question which the
professor had asked me about the President.

" My visits to the Smithsonian, to Dr. Henry, and his
able lieutenant, Professor Baird, are the chief recrea-
tions of my life," I said. " These men are missionaries
to excite scientific research and promote scientific knowl-
edge. The country has no more faithful servants, though
it may have to wait another century to appreciate the
value of their labors."

"I had an impression," said Mr. Lincoln, "that the
Smithsonian was printing a great amount of useless in-
formation. Professor Henry has convinced me of my
error. It must be a grand school if it produces such
thinkers as he is. He is one of the pleasantest men I
have ever met; so unassuming, simple, and sincere. I
wish we had a few thousand more such men !"

It was not strange that these two great men were at-
tracted towards each other. In their natural qualities
of sterling honesty, simplicity, and unselfishness, they
were much alike. It was in their acquisitions that they
differed, and these did not constitute the foundations of
their characters.



THE Smithsonian recalls almost the only recreation
which we permitted ourselves to enjoy. After the first
Bull Run, there was no time when some of our friends
were not suffering from wounds or sickness, in the hos-
pitals or in our own households. Yictories were infre-
quent ; there was a strange incongruity between so much
suffering and pleasure of any description.

In the early autumn of 1861, Professor Baird sug-
gested that we should resist the general tendency to de-
pression, by occasional meetings of the resident natural-
ists of Washington. Out of this suggestion grew the
Potomac Club, with its fortnightly meetings at the
homes of members, and its memories are still fresh and
delightful after thirty years. Time has dealt hardly
with its members : only three or four of them survive.
I cannot forego this opportunity for a brief notice of
some of the most conspicuous, to whom we were in-
debted for many pleasant hours, in what would other-
wise have been a dark and depressing period of Wash-
ington life.

First, and by our unanimous opinion, facile princeps,
was Spencer F. Baird, Assistant Secretary of the Smith-
sonian Institute, our president. A greater number of
talents were delivered to him than to any other member,
but he was at all times ready to be reckoned with con-
cerning them. The science of the world was his witness
how fruitful he had made them. From boyhood he was


the friend of every living creature. At the age of forty-
five he had written and published a description of the
form, habits, and specific characters of every known
American mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and many of the
mollusks and insects. He had taught his countrymen
the useful lesson that a bountiful Creator had given
these creatures life for some good purpose. He had
brought together that gigantic collection in the Smith-
sonian, and distributed specimens by the hundred thou-
sand to the museums of the world. He had trained a
multitude of useful workers in science all over the coun-
try, who, but for him, would have been ignorant of its
uses and its pleasures. He had created the Fish Com-
mission, with an army of unpaid assistants, now by pre-
cept and now by example, restoring to our coasts and
inland waters the great fish families almost extermi-
nated by the reckless improvidence of man. With the
resources of Smithson's legacy at his command, he was
as poor as when he left his Pennsylvania home. He
had certainly buried none of his talents in the earth ; I
think he had done more scientific work than any natur-
alist who had preceded him. It was not strange that
Professor Baird and Professor Henry had labored so
long and so cordially together, for the former was just
as delightful as, and possibly more genial than, his superior
officer. The Baird evenings of our club, when we met
at his residence, were the most memorable in its history.
I open the pages of a dilapidated photograph-album
of the period. Who is this, shod with moccasins, clad
in furs, with knitted pointed cap, a blanket over his
shoulders, and a dog whip with its trailing lash in his
right hand ? It is Robert Kennicott, just returned from
his three years' exploration of the great marshes of the
Yucon, the Arctic coasts reached by the Coppermine


Kiver, and the regions round about Fort Mackenzie.
He has brought back with him from their breeding-
grounds, before unknown, the eggs of the canvas-back
and red-head duck, and of many other birds new to sci-
ence. He has increased the collection in the museum
by many new specimens, and added many new facts to
scientific lore. He insists that at Fort Churchill, where
he acquired celebrity as a great medicine man, human
beings hibernate as truly as the plantigrades. During
his three years' absence he was cut off from home as
effectually as if he had been in another planet.

Kennicott was born on an Illinois prairie. How en-
ergetic and black-eyed and queer he was ! The play-
mates of his childhood belonged to the Crotalus family.
No rattlesnake, he said, had any venom for him. He
collected them in a bag, and handled them as if they
were eels. None ever struck or attempted to strike at
him. He was a favorite student of Professor Baird, and
the very life of our social meetings. His early death
was a loss to science and a personal grief to all who
knew him.

William Simpson was another of our members one
of the most promising young naturalists of his time. He
had labored diligently in the field. Chicago, charmed
by his enthusiasm, had made him her pet. The citizens
built a fine edifice for his collection, put him in charge
of it with a liberal salary, and it was growing marvel-
lously, when in an hour the fire-fiend touched it with the
finger of annihilation. He had inherited tubercular dis-
ease, against which he had fought with the courage of a
soldier. But this collection was the treasure of his heart,
the jewel of his eye. When he lost it he withered and
died, and science lost a votary and a martyr.

Count Pourtalis was another interesting member of


the club. He belonged to the French nobility. He dif-
fered in opinion with his family, and they cut him off
because he insisted upon marrying the portionless girl
whom he loved, and devoting himself to the study of the
physical sciences. He wedded his love, both came to the
United States, and he presented himself, with an empty
purse and a heart devoted to science, to his massive-
brained countryman, Agassiz. Through him the count
obtained a position in the Coast Survey. There he
proved a most useful worker, was promoted according
to his merit, and was then living modestly and happily
with his wife and boys in Washington. A few years
later, the noble Pourtalis family were glad enough to
invite him to return with his wife and children, and a
national reputation as a scientist, to his paternal halls.

The subject is very tempting, but must not be further
pursued in detail. Yet I cannot wholly pass over Baron
Osten-Sacken, of the Kussian Legation. The Diptera,
or Cuvier's twelfth order of insects, was his forte. Very
learned he was too, and, if I am not mistaken, his mono-
graph on the Diptera, a large quarto, was printed by
the Smithsonian as one of its contributions to science.
He was a genial, kind-hearted, unassuming student of
nature. The club had not a more popular member ; but
owing to his diminutive size, he acquired a name which
clung to him ever afterwards.

" Pray, what are the Diptera ?" asked a member, whose
studies had not been entomological, of another member,
when Osten-Sacken was mentioned.

" Diptera ? "Well, I suppose a Culex belongs to the

" What is a Culex, then ?" pursued his questioner.

"A Culex f" was the reply. "A Culex is an insect
with a double pair of wings, abounding in moist locali-


ties, which, thirsting for human gore, invades the habita-
tions of man with an irritating buzzing sound, pierces the
cuticle with his lancet-shaped proboscis, and discharges
into the wound a poisonous fluid."

"Confound the man! He means a mosquito!" ex-
claimed an irreverent auditor. " Osten-Sacken would
naturally write about the species. Don't you see the
family resemblance ?"

This was sufficient to fasten an undeserved nick-name
upon the good-natured little entomologist.

I can only mention the names of others. Jillson and
Peale, from the Art Departments ; Shaeffer, the Libra-
rian of the Patent Office. Peale was the brother of Kem-
brandt Peale, the artist, with many of his accomplish-
ments ; Shaeffer was one of the most learned of Germans.
Then there was Hay den, who led an exploring -party
every spring beyond the one hundredth meridian, and
returned in the autumn laden with fossils and other
specimens, to worry Congress into granting his appro-
priation for the coming year. He must have understood

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 17 of 35)