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L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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the business, for he never failed. Another of our mem-
bers was A. B. Meek, the most conscientious geologist
who ever described a fossil, whose mind was as clean
and pure as that of an infant, whom we all loved and
honored, but who was so intensely mortified by his deaf-
ness that he could be drawn but seldom to our meetings.
Theodore Gill was our ichthyologist. He was charged
with creating more new species than ever scientific en-
thusiast was responsible for before. S. M. Clarke, then
of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the Treas-
ury, whose microscope, with its collection of lenses, was
our envy, and who was an accomplished manipulator of
the instrument, and Schott, the mathematician of the
Coast Survey, eminent in his work, and the owner of a



244 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

breed of Pomeranian dogs of pure blood, close the list of
our regular members.

Among our occasional visitors was Cope, who had not
then commenced his warfare upon Marsh, and Dr. New-
berry, who has since done such magnificent work for the
spread of scientific instruction, and who was then not
only a director, but a hard worker of the Sanitary Com-
mission. Those were sessions of great interest, when,
just returning from some field of bloody conflict, he told
us of the lives and the pain and suffering saved by the
judicious administration of that, the noblest of all the
charities of the war. O. C. Marsh was always a welcome
guest, able to contribute his full share to the science or
pleasure of the evening.

It is fit that this notice of the members and visitors
of our club should close with the name of Professor
Agassiz. Three nights he was with us. Those were
evenings when we wanted to omit refreshments, because
they interrupted Agassiz, so eager were we to listen to
the words of this giant of science. His facility of ex-
pression would have been considered remarkable in his
native tongue in English, a foreign language to him, it
was marvellous. He was as willing to converse as we
were to listen. And how perfectly unassuming he was !
He pretended to nothing that he did not know. I had
long desired to ascertain his views on one subject. One
evening I had my opportunity. " Professor Agassiz," I
said, " you have studied the Ice Period more exhaustive-
ly than any other physicist. Tell us what it was that
changed the temperature so as to permit the ice-sheet to
cover so large a part of our continent."

He answered, without the slightest hesitation : " I do
not believe that the science of to-day can give a satisfac-
tory answer to that question, simply because we know



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 245

of no conditions which could vaporize as large a quantity
of water as was necessary to form the ice-sheet. Its an-
swer may be found in the great Kocky and Sierra Ne-
vada ranges, or in the basin between, but it has not yet
been discovered."

I have addressed this inquiry to many other physicists.
They have almost invariably attempted some unsatisfac-
tory reply. Professor Agassiz was great enough to say
that he did not know.



XXX.

A NIGHT WITH THE POTOMAC NATURALISTS' CLUB. THE GIANT

OCTOPUS.

THE slogan " On to Richmond !" was no longer heard in
our land. Its latest notes had receded into silence over the
field of Bull Run. The dispirited men who, in broken
ranks, straggled into Washington, had heard enough of
it. They would be contented now to wait for discipline
and preparation before that or any other note of inex-
perience was raised again.

Now it was that the anaconda was taken as the pop-
ular model for the coming campaign. With a firm at-
tachment to Washington as its base, it was to encircle
the whole Confederate army, and when the time for
muscular tension came, not a single soldier of the enemy
was to escape from the deadly constriction of its folds.
The anaconda contrivance appeared to be safe, simple,
and very popular.

At one of our club-meetings a member incidentally
referred to the anaconda model suggested by our young
and popular military chieftain. It was criticised as an
unfortunate suggestion. These boas were a sluggish,
cowardly race, said the member. They lurked in foul
recesses ; they struck from behind. It was essential to
capture that the quarry should be standing quiet at the
moment of attack. The rebels were a restless race, con-
tinually moving about, and could not be counted on to
stand still long enough for the process of constriction,



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 247

The rattlesnake was a better model. He was a fighter
ab ovo. He gave notice before he struck, and rather pre-
ferred to hit his enemy in the face.

" "Why would not the giant octopus answer for a mil-
itary model?" said another member. "He has claims
that are not to be overlooked that is, if his existence is
not wholly fabulous."

" I believe in the giant octopus," said Count Pourtalis.
" I have had occasion recently to investigate his history,
and there is very satisfactory evidence of his existence.
I cannot discuss him as a military model, but as an ex-
isting species he is a fact which I am prepared to prove."

The count was the expert of the Coast Survey in deep-
sea soundings. His reputation as an investigator was
established. He readily acceded to the universal demand
of the members, that he should give them the latest facts
about, as well as the natural history of, the giant octopus.

" Gentlemen," he began, " I think I shall be able to
show you that the cuttle-fish is not to be ridiculed. He
belongs to the squid family, and has a lot of names. He
is called a cephalopod, an octopus, a loligo, a teuthis, as
well as a cuttle-fish and a squid. He cuts an important
figure in the early literature of natural science. In the
' Historiae Naturalis,' of Dr. Johannes Jonstonus, pub-
lished, in two huge folios, at Amsterdam, in 1657, you
will find him figured in five gigantic forms. The learned
doctor has collected all that the naturalists have written
on the subject from Aristotle and Elian, Plutarch and
Hippocrates, to the writers of his own time. Pliny de-
scribes one captured at Carteia, the dried remains of
which weighed seven hundred pounds. Its arms were
thirty feet long, with suckers as big as an urn. All the
writers agree on its enormous size and its destructive-
ness to man. But it is in the Arctic seas that it is largest



248 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

and most ferocious. Olaus Magnus figures one in the
act of taking a sailor from the deck of a vessel. Mont-
fort represented one pulling a three-masted ship under
the waves. It remained for the pious old Bishop Pon-
toppidan, as recently as the last half of the seventeenth
century, to describe it as ' the largest of all living creat-
ures.' ' He never shows his whole body out of the wa-
ter, but shows a portion about an English mile and a half
in circumference.' ' If this creature's arms were to lay
hold of the largest man-of-war, he would drag it down
to the bottom.' 'When he sinks, he creates a whirl-
pool which draws everything down with it.' Perhaps,"
continued the count, " this is enough to show you that
the old naturalists thought him an animal of some mag-
nitude." To which the club readily assented.

" Then," he resumed, " we will take some more recent
evidence. In a late number of the Comptes Rendus of
the French Academy is an account of a battle between
the crew of a French man-of-war and a huge loligo,
which occurred in the Indian Ocean less than two years
ago. This battle is authenticated by the oaths of the
officers. It continued for more than four hours. The
squid escaped, for their harpoons and hooks drew out of
its soft body. But they cut off some of its arms, over
thirty feet in length, exclusive of the paddle, which
measured ten feet more. Travellers in Japan report
paintings of the squid, tearing fishermen from their
boats, and on the coast of Newfoundland huge masses
of one which had been killed were found, with the ten-
tacles attached, over forty feet in length. Upon this
evidence, I am a believer in the existence of the giant
cuttle-fish."

The count having concluded, Professor Baird took up
the discussion. " Suppose, now, that, in the words of Mrs.



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 249

Partington, we ' cease to refrain from odorous compari-
sons/ and look the octopus squarely in the face. His
eyes are like saucers, but as he is not provided with eye-
lids, he carries them under his arms. He is well fixed
in the matter of arms, having anywhere from eight to
twenty, which, for convenience in feeding, are arranged
in a circle around his mouth, which is directly on top
of his head. His jaws are horny and triangular, and
work up and down like the knife of a guillotine. Hav-
ing such a supply of arms, he dispenses with legs alto-
gether, and walks on his head, tail upwards. Along
these tentacles, forty or fifty feet in length, are arranged
rows of cup-shaped suckers. When they grasp their
prey, a single muscular contraction creates a vacuum in
these suckers, and every cup is made as fast as a limpet
to a rock, so that it is easier to tear off than to detach
the arm. They have a fair brain, in a well-protected
skull, a fine sense of hearing, and they handle their arms
with the quickness of a monkey. They move sideways
by means of their arms, or backwards by squirting the
water in advance. They are provided with supplies of
paint in cells under the skin, and by pressing these cells
they can paint themselves in other colors. Like an army
correspondent, they always carry their ink-bag, and,
whenever they wish to retire from the public or any
other view, a gentle pressure upon the ink-bag surrounds
them with a black curtain which no vision can penetrate,
and they can then make their retreat invisible to an en-
emy. Obviously such invisibility would be of great ad-
vantage to a retreating army."

The subject was then open for general discussion,
which was continued on a scientific basis, but in a sim-
ilar temper. We decided that the squid was a fact, if
not a factor, and that he was well arranged for a preda-



250 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

tory life at the expense of the enemy. After a sarcastic
notice of this discussion by the press nothing more was
heard of the anaconda as a model for our army.

To these notes I may add an incident in my own
experience. Years after the close of the war, I was
one day walking along the Pacific coast of the Mexi-
can territory of Lower California, near Magdalena Bay.
The tide was low, and in a cavity of the rock I saw
what I supposed to be a star -fish or a holothurian,
and carelessly thrust the long staff I was using as a
walking-stick into it. Like a flash the tentacles of the
animal grasped it, reaching nearly to my hand. My
companion, an intelligent Ecuadorian, well acquainted
with that coast, shrieked to me to let the creature alone.
I pulled it out, as it adhered to the staff, and found it
to be a squid, weighing thirty or forty pounds. I had
to kill the animal before he would leave the staff. My
companion then gave me the following account, as of a
fact which occurred within his own knowledge. The
Chinese from San Francisco were accustomed to visit
that coast to collect a bivalve mollusk, which they dried
and used for food. One day a man belonging to one of
their schooners disappeared, and was not to be found,
lie was finally discovered adhering, apparently, to the
face of a perpendicular rock, two or three fathoms above
the surface of the water. He was quite dead, in the
grasp of a squid, which was already feasting on his body.
The squid occupied a cavity in the rock, and had seized
the Chinaman in his tentacles, drawn him to the mouth
of his den, and there crushed him. That animal was
supposed to weigh about four hundred pounds.



XXXI.

HOSPITAL NOTES. THE WOUNDED FROM THE WILDERNESS-
CHARITIES OF THE COLORED POOR. SISTERS OF CHARITY.
ANAESTHETICS.

WAS the whole of Grant's army being sent back
wounded to Washington ? It appeared so, in those early
days of May, 1864. Ample hospitals had been provided
for the wounded and disabled from a great battle. Many
swift steamers were constantly plying between Aquia
Creek and Washington. Mattresses spread side by side
covered the decks and the cabin floor, on each of which,
at the beginning of the voyage, lay a wounded man. As
they neared its end, and came to the Sixth Street Land-
ing, some of these were vacant. Their tenants lay in the
bow of the steamer ; their faces were covered, and they
were very still. Attendants moved gently among them,
for they were asleep. Many in that short voyage had
fallen into the sleep that knows no waking.

At the landing the survivors were placed by careful
hands in ambulances, which took their places in a pro-
cession constantly moving on one line out to the hospi-
tals on the hills back of the city, and then returning by
another route to the Sixth Street Landing. This pro-
cession of laden ambulances was more than three miles
long, and the vehicles ran quite near each other ; the re-
turn route was somewhat longer.

For three days and as many nights the procession had
been moving up and down its course, never ceasing its
progress, save when the breaking of a carriage caused a



252 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

temporary delay. "Was it never to stop ? "Was the en-
tire army to be returned in this disabled condition?

The silent patience with which these soldiers endured
their sufferings was most impressive. "Wounded as many
were unto death, tortured by the agony of thirst which
always follows the loss of blood in gun-shot wounds,
some with limbs amputated on the field, and the severed
stumps still undressed, scarcely a sigh or a groan escaped
their parched lips. It was discovered by those who
lived along the route that water, or any liquid which
would quench thirst, was the most grateful relief that
could be afforded them. The colored people were the
first to make the discovery. They built little stands by
the roadside, and from these, little darkies, with vessels
of every form and dimension, trotted along by the ambu-
lances, and served out the contents to the suffering men.
Soon tables were set out before many of the dwellings, and
coffee, tea, and light eatables were given to all soldiers
who would accept them. Almost every residence became
a house of refreshments, managed by patriotic women.
The gratitude which some could express only by a look
was the only compensation demanded.

After midnight on May 10th, there suddenly gathered
over the city one of those heavy rain clouds not uncom-
mon in that locality. This cloud appeared to embrace
the earth, the darkness was complete ; its density was
almost palpable to the sense of feeling. "When the con-
densation began, the rain fell in torrents, like water from
a cascade, bringing with it thunder, and lightning in
flashes so frequent as to seem almost continuous. All
objects were sharply illuminated and brought into bold
relief. The thunder came in crashes rather than in re-
verberations.

The procession of the ambulances could not move in






AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 253

that storm and darkness, and had come to a halt. Look-
ing down Eleventh from M Street to Pennsylvania Ave-
nue, one could see by the lightning flashes for a distance
of half a mile. There was presented a singular and un-
usual spectacle. Around every vehicle was a fringe of
white objects, projecting outward. They were of irreg-
ular forms and sizes, and it puzzled the observer to know
what they were. They proved to be the limbs and por-
tions of the bodies of the wounded their legs, arms,
shoulders, faces, heads, necks, every part which it was
possible to expose to the falling shower of rain. It was
a weird and curious picture, another of the myriad forms
in which are exhibited the pains and miseries of war.

The war had its full complement of miseries ; its scenes
of suffering were very numerous, and painful beyond de-
scription. On the other hand, it developed some of the
finer qualities of our humanity in a remarkable degree,
from unexpected sources. There were occasions when
everybody, the poor equally with the rich, seemed to be
moved by a common impulse to works of benevolence
and charity. This statement is especially true of the
colored race, of which some proofs will be elsewhere
given.

Bull Eun, the first great battle of the war, had proved
the miserable inadequacy of the hospital accommodations
of the army. The churches, all the public buildings which
could possibly be vacated, were filled with sick and
wounded men. Citizens received their wounded friends
into their own homes ; tents were pitched upon the va-
cant squares, and yet there were hundreds who, for a
day or two, lay upon the streets, exposed to the sun, the
rain, the heat, the insects, and all the inconveniences of
an unsheltered situation. Even when a great enlarge-
ment of hospital accommodations was undertaken, so



254 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

little attention was paid to sanitary conditions that the
hospitals were built wherever there was a vacant square.
One of the largest was located near the Smithsonian In-
stitution, along the border of the old canal, which, re-
ceiving the surface drainage of half the city, in the heat
of summer became eventually little less than a noisome
cesspool. It seems incredible that such negligence
should have been permitted. The inevitable result, as
any one could have foreseen, was that this hospital be-
came the slaughter-house of the soldier. Death from
blood-poisoning became so certain that the simplest in-
cised wounds, and even scratches, were fatal, if the suf-
ferer was sent to that hospital.

Experience and the newspapers soon brought about a
reform. The Sanitary Commission made its voice heard
and its influence felt. Instead of erecting hospitals in
the heart of the city, the authorities began to locate them
upon the hills surrounding it, where there was pure air
and abundant room for the tents, which were more
healthy than enclosed structures. Upon these hills were
the forts which defended the capital. By the autumn
of 1864 there was a succession of hospitals in a circle
just outside the city limits, with large accommodations,
and a greater number of tenants than were comprised
in all these forts and their outworks.

Our Sunday afternoons were generally devoted to
visiting these hospitals. The occasions were infrequent
when there were not sufferers from the green hills
of Yermont in some of them, to whom the sight of a
friendly face seemed to be the best of medicines. The
grateful looks of these wounded boys always well repaid
the trouble of a visit. We often found the poor fellows
craving, or rather intensely suffering, for the want of
something which the service did not furnish, but which a



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 255

few cents and a friendly hand could supply. The gift of
diamonds and sapphires would not have elicited the grat-
itude I have seen drawn out by the contents of a hand-
basket. We saw much suffering in these visits, but we also
saw much that illustrated the better side of human nature.

On one occasion I was visiting a Yermont cavalry-
man, who lay in a large hospital near Columbia College,
on the continuation of Fourteenth Street. He had a
splendid record for bravery in the field, and now in the
hospital he was fighting death with equal courage and
fortitude. He was in a ward filled with the wounded
from a battle in the valley some weeks before. Only
those whose wounds were particularly severe had been
brought there, and at the time of my visit most of those
who remained had been there some three or four weeks,
slowly recovering from what seemed to me terrible in-
juries.

I was writing at the dictation of the Vermonter a let-
ter to his wife, when, from my camp-stool at his bedside,
I saw a colored woman enter the ward. She was old,
decrepit, and poorly clad, so lame that she could scarcely
walk, but managed to hobble along by the aid of a staff.
Except a basket, covered by a clean white cloth, which
hung upon her arm, everything about her indicated ex-
treme poverty.

The entrance of this unattractive person produced a
commotion. A dozen men, my cavalry-man included,
shouted their welcome, and even the faces of those too
weak to raise their heads from their pillow were lighted
up with joy. " Here's mammy !" " Come here first,
mammy!" "Don't forget me, mammy!" these and
similar expressions came from all parts of the ward. I
have seen the wife of a President enter a ward without
exciting any such expressions of interest.



256 KECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

" Yes ! ole mammy's heah, chilluns, jes' as I tole you.
She's got two apiece for ebery one of ye ! I had to
borry some from a fren'. It's been offul dry, an' de new
vines ha'n't come on like as I 'spected. But dey 's doin'
well now. Nex' Sunday I 'spect I'll have three apiece,
an' a big one for doctor. Now you all jes' be quiet ; I
won't f orgit one of ye !"

She hobbled up to a bed. It was vacant. "Why,
where 's Mass' Frank ? " she exclaimed, with unmistaka-
ble surprise. " Why don't you tell me ? Where's Mass'
Frank, I say?"

" Poor Frank has gone home, mammy ! He got his
discharge yesterday," said one who lay near by, in a voice
which trembled a little in spite of himself.

" I was afeerd on't ! I was afeerd on't. He tole me
he was goin' away !" And the poor old creature sobbed
as if she had a heart as tender as one of whiter skin.
" Poor Mass' Frank ! I reckon he's better now. He read
me his mammy's letter. Poor mammy ! She's done got
a heap o' trouble. She lose her boy. Poor mammy!
Poor Mass' Frank ! He was a brave one ! His hurt was
offul ! Seemed like you could jes' see his heart in dat
great red hole !"

She dried her tears, took up her basket, and went from
cot to cot, making her distribution of its contents. The
weakest of the wounded boys put out his thin hand
eagerly, as if what she gave was very precious. The
very last was my cavalryman, who was just as eager as
the rest. And then I saw that she had been distribut-
ing small cucumbers pickled in vinegar !

" Dat's all to-day, my chilluns ! Nex' Lord's-day I'll
be here, shore! De weather's done been good, and I
'spect I'll have more an' bigger uns. Yes, I'll come,
shore!"






AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 257

" Bring your basket here, mammy," said one, " I have
something that the boys want to put into it, which you
must not look at nor open until you get home. Will
you promise ?"

" No, Mass' George I You can't fool ole mammy dat
way. I can't make dat promise. I know yo' tricks.
Dat's money, dat is. Mass' George, I'm ole, an' all broke
up wid rheumatiz, workin' in de rice-field. I've got jes'
one boy left. He takes good care o' his ole mammy.
All de rest is sold all gone Souf to de cane-fields or de
cotton-fields ! I 'spect I shall never see 'em again. But,
Mass' George" (here a joyful light flashed over her
wrinkled face), " I'se free now, bress de Lord an' Mass'
Linkum ! I reckon all I'se good for is to raise pickles
for de boys. But I can't sell 'em for money ! No, no !"

She shook her head in the most decided manner and
went out of the ward, followed by shouts of " Good-bye,
mammy !" " God bless you !" " Come again !"

The cavalryman informed me, and the statement has
since been confirmed by surgeons, that there was noth-
ing so much craved by the wounded, especially those
who had lost much blood, as sharp, pickled cucumbers.
He had seen the time when his longing for them was
intolerable, when he would have given a month's pay
for even one small pickle. I have no idea why more of
them were not provided, when such complete provision
was made for all hospital supplies. My informant said
that one of the highest ladies in the land had visited
that ward, and asked what the boys most wanted. The
answer was, pickled cucumbers. She immediately told
them that she would supply that want, and would order
a whole barrel of the coveted delicacies from a whole-
sale grocery-house. The pickles never came, and the
boys were cruelly disappointed. The lady probably f or-
17



258 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

got her promise, or found it inconvenient to keep it.
" Old mammy isn't much on promises," said the cavalry-
man, " but she always fetches the pickles !"

Of all the forms of charity and benevolence seen in
the crowded wards of the hospitals, those of some Cath-
olic sisters were among the most efficient. I never knew
whence they came, or what was the name of their order.
They wore the ordinary plain black dress of some wors-



Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 18 of 35)