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L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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ted stuff, but not the white band about the forehead. One
instance illustrates the value of these volunteer nurses.
In one of the ward? was a gigantic soldier, severely
wounded in the head. He had suddenly become deliri-
ous, and was raging up and down the ward, furious
against those who had robbed him, of what I could
not make out. He cast off the attendants who attempt-
ed to seize him as if they had been children. The surgeon
was called in, and with several officers was consulting 1

7 O

how they should seize and bind him, when a small figure
in black entered the room. With a shout of joyous
recognition the soldier rushed to his cot, and drew the
blanket over him, as if ashamed of his half-dressed ap-
pearance. The sister seated herself at his bedside, and
placed her white hand upon the soldier's heated brow.
His chest was heaving with excitement, but the sight of
her face had restored his reason. " I must have dreamed
it," he said, " but it was so real ! I thought they had
taken you away, and said I should never see you again.
Oh, I could have killed them all !"

"You must sleep now," she said, very gently. "I
shall stay if you are good, and you have been so ex-
cited"

" Yes," he murmured, " I will sleep. I will do any-
thing for you if they will not take you away. I could
not bear that, you know."




AND HIS ADMINISTRATION*. 259

He closed his eyes, holding one of her hands clasped
in both of his, and, while we were looking on, slept as
peacefully as a child.

Late in that terrible battle summer, when Grant was
forcing his resistless march towards Richmond, the hos-
pitals were not only overcrowded, but for a time there
was no proper separation of the wounded from those
sick from other causes. In a single ward were men with
freshly amputated limbs, and gunshot wounds of every
kind, and men burning with many fevers. Erysipelas
was silently sapping the vital forces of one, consumption
undermining the lungs of another, an angry cutaneous
disease absorbing the surface moisture of a third all
stretched upon cots so close together that there was
scarcely room to pass between them. What seemed
especially horrible to me were the surgical operations
carried on in the wards, because the operating-rooms
were so constantly in use. For these suffering men, in
addition to their own ills, to see one of their number
stretched upon a table, where the surgeon's knife severed
the living muscle and the resisting bone, with a display
of all the suggestive machinery of the surgeon's profes-
sion, seemed too much for weak humanity to endure.

These scenes, altogether the most painful I have ever
witnessed, have nevertheless in my memory a beautiful
side. More lovely than anything I have ever seen in
art, so long devoted to illustrations of love, mercy, and
charity, are the pictures that remain of those modest
sisters going on their errands of mercy among the suf-
fering and the dying. Gentle and womanly, yet with
the courage of soldiers leading a forlorn hope, to sustain
them in contact with such horrors. As they went from
cot to cot, distributing the medicines prescribed, or ad-
ministering the cooling, strengthening draughts as di-



260 RECOLLECTIONS Otf PRESIDENT LINCOLN

rected, they were veritable angels of mercy. Their
words were suited to every sufferer. One they incited
and encouraged, another they calmed and soothed.
With every soldier they conversed about his home, his
wife, his children, all the loved ones he was soon to see
again if he was obedient and patient. How many times
have I seen them exorcise pain by their presence or
their words ! How often has the hot forehead of the
soldier grown cool as one of these sisters bathed it !
How often has he been refreshed, encouraged, and tig*
sisted along the road to convalescence, when he would
otherwise have fallen by the way, by the home memo-
ries with which these unpaid nurses filled his heart !

" Are there any means by which I can overcome the
unpleasant sensations which I always feel on my visits
to your hospital-wards ?" I asked of an experienced sur-
geon. " It is a duty to make them, as long as I can be
of any use to the boys, but I am made sick every time.
I have a feeling of nausea which continues for hours."

" It is the effect of your imagination," he responded.
"You are unused to wounds. You exaggerate their
symptoms. These men do not suffer as you imagine ; if
they did, we should relieve them. Wounded men en-
dure great suffering on the field, and on their way to
the hospital, but very little after they come under our
hands. They suffer more from thirst than any other
cause. Loss of blood makes the whole machinery of life
dry and thirsty. After they reach the hospital, relief is
speedy."

" Yes, it must be," I said, ironically. " Belief by be-
ing hacked and cut and sawn in sections must be pain-
less!"

"You should see an operation," said the surgeon
" It would cure your nausea, and correct some of your



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION 261

erroneous ideas. I am perfectly serious. I am to do
rather a difficult piece of work now, as soon as the op-
erating-room is put in order. Come and see it, and judge
for yourself."

" I know it will irritate every nerve in my body, like
a shock of electricity! But it would be cowardly to
decline. Surely, if the poor soldier can endure it, I
ought to be able to stand the sight of it. Yes, I will
come," I said.

I was shown into a small room adjoining the ward,
with windows opening on two sides, through which the
green fields and peach orchards, laden with young fruit,
were visible. The room had just been scoured, and was
fresh and odorless. On one side of the apartment were
washing conveniences with a stream of running water.
A plain, heavy table stood in the centre, covered by a
rubber cloth which extended nearly to the floor on its
four sides. The only suspicious objects visible were
several large mahogany boxes, standing upon shelves in
one corner, but these were closed. If the removal of
the cover had disclosed a proper table, the room might
have been as well suited to billiards as to surgical opera-
tions.

Four strong men now brought in a stretcher, on which
was a bed with white linen sheets, containing a wounded
soldier. The stretcher was laid upon the table. An at-
tendant quickly applied a sponge, which he pressed to
the mouth of the patient. I detected the odor of ether,
and in less time than it has taken to write the account
the soldier lay quietly unconscious and passive. His
clothing, the bed, and everything under him was then
quickly removed, so that his naked chest was in contact
with the rubber covering. His torso was as splendidly
muscular as that of a gladiator. He was a Dane, appa-



262 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

rently about twenty-five years of age, a blond, with blue
eyes, fair hair, and a transparent skin, under which the
strong muscles of his chest and right arm were plain-
ly visible. The upper portion of his left arm and the
entire left shoulder were of a deep purple color, angry
and dark by contrast. Marching with his regiment
through a rocky dell, far down the valley, below Luray,
he had been shot by a bushwhacker ambushed in the
rocks above him. A minie bullet had crashed through
his shoulder at the joint, shattering the humerus to the
elbow. He was far away from any hospital. Lying on
the straw in an army wagon, he had been carted over
the stony roads more than sixty miles to Harper's Ferry,
where he had been placed with other wounded in a box
freight-car on the railroad, and so had reached Wash-
ington and been carried to the hospital. It was now
several days since he received his wound. The shoulder
and arm were swollen, an angry circle of dark purple
surrounding the opening where the ball had entered. It
was a terrible wound, rendered fatal, to all appearance,
by the long fatigue, neglect, and exposure.

The surgeon, with a small-bladed knife, laid open the
arm from the shoulder to the elbow-joint, and began to
separate the muscle from the shattered bone. Piece
after piece of bone was taken out until the entire length,
in six fragments, lay upon the table. The muscle was
then turned out like the finger of a glove, exposing the
shoulder-joint, also badly fractured. The pieces were
removed, and the projecting points cut off. The whole
mass of muscle was then cleansed from blood, washed
with some lotion of an antiseptic nature, and the entire
cut, from elbow to shoulder, carefully stitched together.
The remains of the arm were then laid along the side of
the chest, and firmly fastened to it with bandages. The



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 263

operation occupied nearly an hour. All the bones and
blood were removed, the table again washed, and clean
linen placed upon the soldier. He was laid between the
clean white sheets, the ether was taken away, and he
was restored to consciousness.

During all this horrible operation the patient ap-
peared to be living in a pleasant dream of the farm in
Iowa, where he had made his home. He was driving
his oxen at the plough, reproving the awkwardness of
his farm hands, playing with his children, and consult-
ing with his wife about their schools, and other domes-
tic matters. He talked and laughed and sang. He had
been mercifully spared all pain and suffering, so that
when he recovered consciousness it was a considerable
time before he could be convinced that he had been sub-
jected to any surgical operation.

He was removed to his cot. I gave him my address,
and asked him to write to me if he wanted anything
which the hospital could not provide. We subsequently
furnished him with a few delicacies ; new cases engrossed
our attention, and the Dane was forgotten.

Four or five months later, a stout, rugged man, in the
uniform of a soldier, called at my office in the Treasury.
I did not recognize him, though his face impressed me

as one that I had seen somewhere. " I am B , from

the 4th Iowa, to whom your lady was so kind in the hos-
pital," he said. " I have just got my discharge, and am
on my way home." Upon my inquiry whether his arm
was at all useful to him, he took hold of a large scuttle
filled with coal, and carried it across the room. He made
a fair signature with a pen, and showed that he could
make good use of his arm, except that he could not raise
it above the level of his shoulder. I have since heard of
him as a respected farmer in easy circumstances in Iowa.



264 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

The pain and suffering spared to the soldier by the
intelligent use of anaesthetics during the war was beyond
measure. Although the history belongs to the profes-
sion of those who used them, I saw so much of their
blessed influence that I could not forbear giving this
testimony to their value.



XXXII.

PRESIDENT LINCOLN AND THE SLEEPING SENTINEL. ERRONE-
OUS VERSIONS OF THE STORY. WILLIAM SCOTT, A MEMBER
OF THE THIRD VERMONT, SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR SLEEP-
ING ON HIS POST. HE IS PARDONED BY THE PRESIDENT.
HIS LAST MESSAGE TO THE PRESIDENT. HIS DEATH AT THE
BATTLE OF LEE'S MILLS.

THE story of the President and the sleeping senti-
nel has been so many times sung in song and described
in story that its repetition may seem like the relation
of a thrice-told tale. The substantial facts are common
to all its versions. A soldier named Scott, condemned
to be shot for the crime of sleeping on his post, was
pardoned by President Lincoln, only to be killed after-
wards at the battle of Lee's Mills, on the Peninsula.
The incidental facts are varied according to the taste,
the fancy, or the imagination of the writer of each ver-
sion. The number of persons who claim to have pro-
cured the intervention of the President to save the life
of the soldier nearly equals that of the different ver-
sions. As these persons worked independently of each
other, and one did not know what another had done, it
is not improbable that several of them are entitled to
some measure of credit, of which I should be most un-
willing to deprive them.

The truth is always and everywhere attractive. The
child loves, and never outgrows its love, for a real true
story. The story of this young soldier, as it was pre-
sented to me, so touchingly reveals some of the kindlier



266 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

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 accuracy.

On a dark September morning, in 1861, when I reached
my office, I found waiting there a party of soldiers, none
of whom I personally knew. They were greatly excited,
all speaking at the same time, and consequently unintel-
ligible. 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 complied, and the captain put
me in possession of the following facts :

They belonged to the Third Vermont Eegiment, 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 im-
mediately 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 belonged, was
largely made up of farmer-boys, many of them still in
their minority.

The sterile flanks of the mountains of Yermont have,
to some extent, been abandoned for the more fertile re-
gions of the West, and are now open to immigration
from the more barren soils of Scandinavia and the Alps.
Fifty years ago these Vermont mountains reared men
who have since left their impress upon the enterprise of
the world. The hard conditions of life in these moun-
tains then required the most unbroken regularity in the
continuous struggle for existence. To rise and retire
with the sun, working through all the hours of daylight,
sleeping through all the hours of night, was the univer-



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 267

sal 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 laws of God and his country.
Nowhere under the sun were charity, benevolence, mu-
tual help, and similar virtues more finely developed or
universally practised than among these hard-handed,
kind-hearted 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 suc-
cession, and had been found by the relief sound asleep
on his post. For this offence he had been tried by a
court-martial, found guilty, and sentenced to be shot
within twenty-four hours after his trial, and on the sec-
ond morning after his offence was committed.

Scott's comrades had set about saving him in a char-
acteristic way. They had called a meeting, appointed
a committee, with power to use all the resources of the
regiment in his behalf. Strangers in Washington, 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 morning.

The captain took all the blame from Scott upon himself.
Scott's mother opposed 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



268 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

he had wholly 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
day, 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 !" (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, and
said he would tell them just how it all happened. He
had never been up all night that he remembered. He
was " all beat out " by the night before, and knew he
should have a hard fight to keep awake ; he thought of
hiring one of the boys to go in his place, but they might
think he was afraid to do his duty, and he decided to
" chance it." Twice he went to sleep and woke himself
while he was marching, and then he could not tell any-
thing 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 enlist for? They could shoot him,
and perhaps 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 stuff than I was
not to be touched by the earnest manner with which



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 269

these men offered 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 surrounded 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
Yermont soldier. I know facts which touch this case
of which you know nothing. I fear that nothing effect-
ual can be done for your comrade. The courts and law-
yers can do nothing. I fear that we can do no more ;
but we can try."

I must digress here to say that the Chain Bridge across
the Potomac was one of the positions upon which the
safety of "Washington depended. The Confederates had
fortified the approach to it on the Virginia side, and the
Federals on the hills of Maryland opposite. Here, for
months, the opposing forces had confronted each other.
There had been no fighting ; the men, and even the offi-
cers, had gradually contracted an intimacy, and, having
nothing better to do, had swapped stories and other prop-
erty until they had come to live upon the footing of
good neighbors rather than mortal enemies. This rela-
tion was equally inconsistent with the safety of Wash-
ington 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
Vermont Kegiment, placed in command of the post, and
undertook to correct the irregularity.

General Smith, a Vermonter by birth, a "West-Pointer
by education, was a soldier from spur to crown. Possi-



2TO RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

bly he had natural 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 converted into the unit of an army. He
must be taught obedience ; discipline must never be re-
laxed. In the demoralization which existed at the Chain
Bridge, in his opinion, the occasional execution of a sol-
dier would tend to enforce discipline, and in the end
promote economy of life. He had issued orders de-
claring the penalty of death for 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.

The more I reflected upon what I was to do, the more
hopeless the case appeared. Thought was useless. I
must act upon impulse, or I should not act at all.

" Come," I said, " there is only one man on earth who
can save your comrade. Fortunately, he is the best man
on the continent. 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 proces-
sion. I did not give the thought time to get any hold
on me that I, an officer of the government, was commit-
ting an impropriety in thus rushing a matter upon the
President's attention. The President was the first to
speak.

"What is this?" he asked. "An expedition to kid-
nap somebody, or to get another brigadier appointed, or



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 271

for a furlough to go home to vote? I cannot do it,
gentlemen. Brigadiers are thicker than drum-majors,
and I couldn't get a furlough for myself 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 nothing for themselves. They are
Green Mountain 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 give them the life
of a comrade."

" What has he done ?" asked the President. " You
Vermonters are not a bad lot, generally. Has he com-
mitted murder 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. 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 trai-
tor and bury him like a dog ! Oh, Mr. Lincoln, can you ?"



272 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

" No, I can't !" exclaimed the President. It was one
of the moments when his countenance became such a
remarkable study. It had become very earnest as the
captain rose with his subject ; then it took on that mel-
ancholy expression which, later in his life, became so in-
finitely 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 wonder at the legends about
Ethan Allen." Then his face softened as he said, " But
what can I do? What do you expect me to do? As
you know, I have not much influence with the depart-
ments ?"

" 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 Gen-
eral Smith. An application to Secretary Stanton 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 de-
livery 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



Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 19 of 35)