L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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are a law unto themselves. They sincerely think that
it is good policy occasionally to shoot a soldier. I can
see it, where a soldier deserts or commits a crime, but I
cannot in such a case as Scott's. They say that I am
always interfering with the discipline of the army, and
being cruel 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 sleep-
ing when he was weary, ought to be shot or hung. The
country has better uses for him."

" Captain," continued the President, " your boy shall
not be shot that is, not to-morrow, 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 sus-
pending the execution."

I remarked that he was undertaking a burden which
we had no right to impose ; that it was asking too much
of the President in behalf of a private soldier.

" Scott's life is as valuable to him as that of any per-
son in the land," he said. " You 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 fellow, for it was the only one
he had.'"

I saw that remonstrance was vain. I suppressed the
rising gratitude of the soldiers, and we took our leave.
Two members 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 President
had started in the direction of the camp ; that their work
here was ended, and they proposed to return to their

Within a day or two the newspapers reported that a
soldier, sentenced to be shot for sleeping on his post, had
been pardoned by the President and returned to his reg-
iment. Other duties pressed me, and it was December
before I heard anything further from Scott. Then an-


other 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 every-
body, and had the reputation of being the best all-around
soldier in the company, if not in the regiment. 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

Not long afterwards he called at my office, and, as his
leave permitted, I kept him overnight 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 McClellan, but every one knew that his life had
been saved by the President.

From that day Scott was the most industrious man in
the company. He was always at work, generally help-
ing some other soldier. His arms and his dress were
neat and cleanly ; he took charge of policing the com-
pany's quarters ; was never absent at roll-call, 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 could 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 attention. He was offered promotion,
which, for some reason, he declined.

It was a long time before he would speak of his inter-
view with Mr. Lincoln. One night, when he had re-
ceived a long letter from home, Scott opened his heart,
and told Evans the story.

Scott said : " The President was the kindest 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 neigh-
bors, the farm, and where I went to school, and who
my schoolmates 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 remember it all, but every word was
so kind.

"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 die the
next morning ? But I supposed 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 com-


rades. 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-morrow.
I believe you when you tell me that you could not keep
awake. I am going to trust you, 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 expected to die, 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 unexpected
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 bor-
row some money on the mortgage of the farm. There
was my pay was something, and if he would 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 com-
rades ! 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 die, 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 soldier, then my debt will be paid. Will
you make that promise and try to keep it ?'

" 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 for-
ever. I know I shall never see him again ; but may
God forget me if I ever forget his kind words or my

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 afterwards. He was gain-
ing a wonderful reputation as an athlete. He was the
strongest man in the regiment. The regiment was en-
gaged in two or three reconnoissances in force, in which
he performed the most exposed service with singular
bravery. If any man was in trouble, Scott was his good
Samaritan ; if any soldier was sick, Scott was his nurse.
He was ready to volunteer for any extra service or labor
he had done some difficult and useful scouting. He
still refused promotion, saying that he had done nothing
worthy of it. The final result was that he was the gen-
eral favorite of all his comrades, the most popular man
in the regiment, and modest, unassuming, and unspoiled
by his success.

The next scene in this drama opens on the Peninsula,
between the York and the James rivers, in March, 1862.
The sluggish Warwick River runs from its source, near
Yorktown, across the Peninsula to its discharge. It
formed at that time a line of defence, which had been
fortified by General Magruder, and was held by him with


a force of some twelve thousand Confederates. York-
town was an important position to the Confederates.

On the 15th of April the division of General Smith
was ordered to stop the enemy's work on the entrench-
ments at Lee's Mills, the strongest position on the War-
wick River. His force consisted of the Vermont brigade
of five regiments, and three batteries of artillery. After
a lively skirmish, which occupied the greater part of the
forenoon, this order was executed, and should have ended
the movement.

But about noon General McClellan with his staff, in-
cluding 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 defence too strong to be overcome. This dis-
cretion cost many lives when the moment came for its

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 Vermont brigade in reserve. About four o'clock in
the afternoon the charge was ordered. Unclasping their
belts, and holding 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 reb-
els, and proved impregnable. After a dashing attack
upon them the Vermonters were repulsed, and were or-
dered 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 blenching, there was none braver or more effi-
cient than William Scott, of Company K, debtor for his
own life to President Lincoln. He was almost the first
to reach the south bank of the river, the first in the rifle-
pits, and the last to retreat. He recrossed 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 wounded 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 liv-
ing 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
Peninsula. " 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 power-
ful 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 on to 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 afl. 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. I supposed this would be my last. I haven't
much to say. You all know what you can tell them at
home about me. I have tried to do the right thing ! I
am almost certain you will all say that? Then while his
strength was failing, his life ebbing away, and we looked
to see his voice sink into a whisper, his face lighted up and
his voice came out natural and clear as he said : ' If any
of you ever have the chance, I wish you would tell Presi-
dent 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 comrades.'

" His face, 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 lips. ' 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
beautiful. Strong men stood around his bed ; they had
seen their comrades fall, and had been very near to death
themselves : such men are accustomed to control their
feelings ; but now they wept like children. One only
spoke, as if to himself, * Thank God, I know now how a
brave man dies.'

" Scott would have been satisfied to rest in the same
grave with his comrades," the wounded soldier con-
tinued. " But we wanted 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. 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."

Some days passed before I again met the President.
When I saw him I asked if he remembered William
Scott ?

" Of Company K, Third Vermont Volunteers ?" he
answered. "Certainly I do. He was the boy that
Baldy Smith wanted to shoot at the Chain Bridge.
What about WiUiam Scott ?"

" He is dead. He was killed on the Peninsula," I an-
swered. " 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 ex-
claimed, " Poor boy ! Poor boy ! And so he is dead. And
he sent me a 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
sympathies, especially in sorrow and trouble, as a charac-
teristic 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 experi-
ence, and I hope I have my full share of it. Yes, I can
sympathize with sorrow."

" Mr. President," 1 said, " I have never ceased to re-
proach myself for thrusting Scott's case so unceremo-
niously before you for causing you to take so much
trouble for a private soldier. But I gave way to an im-
pulse I could not endure the thought that Scott should
be shot. He was a fellow- Yermonter 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 interest-
ing, 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 this matter
could be written into history."

" Tut ! Tut !" he broke in ; " none of that. By the
way, do you remember what Jeanie Deans said to Queen
Caroline when the Duke of Argyle procured her an op-
portunity to beg for her sister's life ?"

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

" I remember both. This is the paragraph 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 our-


sells, but what we hae dune for others, that we think on
maist pleasantly. And the thoughts that ye hae inter-
vened to spare the puir thing's life will be sweeter in that
hour, come when it may, than if a word of your mouth
could hang the whole Porteous mob at the tail of ae



No nation has a better Treasury system than the United
States. When its regulations are enforced, it practically
guarantees the government against loss by error or fraud.
It involves the division of the department into bureaus,
each directly responsible to the secretary, having little
connection with each other, and at least three of which
must approve a claim before it can be paid, each thus
acting as a check upon the other. It recognizes the fact
that the subordinates in a bureau, subject to removal by
its chief, will obey the orders of that chief, although they
may involve a violation of law, so that checks within a
bureau are unreliable. But if the payment of a claim
requires an examination by three persons in as many
bureaus, and the approval of the heads of each, a con-
spiracy to defraud becomes difficult and practically im-
possible. Frauds upon the Treasury proper have been
extremely rare. The Assistant Treasuries are abnormal
growths, not subject to these checks, and frauds upon
them, involving large losses, have consequently been per-
petrated. The manufacture and issue of the postal and
fractional currency was another excrescence permitted
to attach itself to the system, and the account of that
issue cannot be verified. It was the only issue of the war
about which there existed any doubt. The account may
be correct, but it is possible that some millions of dol-
lars of that currency more than the amount shown by the
books of the Treasurer were put in circulation. It might


have been done without detection, for the white paper
was turned into money, ready for issue by a single de-
partment, under a single head, without supervision or the
co-operation of any other department or person.

Originally adapted to an expenditure of $25,000,000
per annum, the Treasury system had the capacity of in-
definite expansion without impairing its security. In
March, 1861, it regulated an expenditure averaging
about $8,000,000 per month. Within sixty days it in-
creased to more than $2,000,000 per day, and ultimately
to more than $1,000,000,000 per annum. Yet the sys-
tem required no change except an increase of clerical
force. Thus it happened that during four years of war
more than $3,000,000,000 was received and covered into
the Treasury, and an equal value of securities issued and
delivered to those who were entitled to receive them,
without the loss of one dollar by error or fraud. This
statement rests upon absolute demonstration, and not
upon evidence alone. The amount is as far as infinity
beyond ordinary human comprehension. The statement
and the system which verifies it are wonders of finance
in a country convulsed by civil war.

The Treasury was the creation of Alexander Hamil-
ton. It will live as long as the nation exists, and every
one who comprehends it will accept it as a monument of
the financial ability of its author. It may be criticised
by those who do not understand it as an institution of
red tape, but no experienced Treasury officer ever ad-
vised the removal of one of its checks, or the relaxation
of one of its stringent provisions.

There were three frauds attempted during the secre-
taryship of Mr. Chase. Two of them came as near
success as the Treasury system would permit, and per-
haps their frustration must in some degree be attrib-


uted to the merits of the system, united with good

Among the inheritances from the administration of
Mr. Buchanan was an application for the reissue of a lot
of coupon bonds alleged to have been destroyed. The
claimants proved the facts as clearly as human testimony
could that these bonds, each with six coupons attached,
were deposited in a locked mail-bag in Frankfort, trans-
ported to Liverpool, and there delivered into the hands
of an agent of the post-office on board a steamship which
was wrecked by collision, and went, with all its mails,
and all but two or three of those on board, to the bot-
tom of the sea. The completeness of the evidence was
itself a source of suspicion, and, much to the chagrin of
the claimants, Secretary Chase affirmed the decision of a
bureau officer, that the duplicates should not be issued
except by the direction of Congress. On the application
of the claimants at the next session, Congress passed an
act directing the issue of the duplicates. The claim was
again presented with the act, and the duplicates were
demanded. The same bureau officer again represented
his suspicions to the secretary, and, with the sanction of
the latter, the present regulation was adopted, interpos-
ing a delay of twelve months after proof of the claim
before the actual issue. This rule was vehemently aa-
sailed by the claimants through the press; they even
charged the officer with intentionally nullifying the au-
thority of Congress.

At this time the coupons of bonds redeemed were in
packages in the Kegister's file-room. There was little
need of their examination, and no attempt had been
made to arrange them in consecutive order. Books were
now made with one page appropriated to each bond, and
a space for each coupon, while a force of clerks was de-


tailed to place each redeemed coupon in its appropriate

At the expiration of the year the claimants came for
their duplicates. They were assured that they would
now be issued unless some satisfactory reason could be
shown for further delay. The books were sent for, and
in their proper spaces were found all the coupons which
had been proved to have sunk to the bottom of the sea !
A few months later the bonds themselves were presented
for redemption, and, no adverse claims being made, they
were paid.

What was the explanation of this mystery ? I do not
know. The pressure of official duties, and the anxieties
of war which occupied us so incessantly, prevented any

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 20 of 35)