L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

. (page 23 of 35)
Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 23 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


he been alive to support his secretary, there would have
been no such weak yielding to noisy clamor as then oc-
curred. That tower and stronghold no longer existed.
The secretary continued his work until he had reduced
the volume of the greenbacks to $356,000,000, when, on
the 4th of February, 1868, Congress suspended further
reduction. The amount in circulation has since been
subjected to some variation, in 1875 rising as high as
$382,000,000, and in 1879 being reduced below $347,000,-
000. But it is accurate enough for all practical purposes
to say that since the suspension in 1868, a term of more
than twenty-two years of profound peace, the amount of
legal-tender notes in circulation has been $356,000,000.

If the republic shall again be involved in war there
are many facts in the history of the currency issues here
briefly described which will be useful to its financial
minister. Secretary Chase had no experience of the
past for his guide. The Continental currency of the
Revolution was made a legal tender by state laws only.
His judgment devised, Congress authorized, and the peo-
ple loyally accepted the novelties in currency to which
this chapter refers. In his financial policy he had the
confidence and the support of President Lincoln. His
policy was criticised ; in one or two respects it may have
been erroneous. But he was a statesman and a great
financier. He was stationed at the weakest point in the
national defences, where defeat or retreat would have
been ruin. He preserved the credit of the republic ; he
was supported by a patriotic people ; and by his admin-
istration of the Treasury he fairly earned the gratitude
of posterity.



ONE morning, in the summer of 1862, there was a pro-
cession in the streets of "Washington. It passed along
Fifteenth Street in front of the Treasury, down the
avenue, turned to the right, and, moving over the long
bridge across the Potomac, disappeared among the hills
of Yirginia. It was led by four bay horses ; they were
fine animals, matched and spirited. Their harnesses and
trappings were new and glossy, but plain, and furnished
with dark trimmings. They were driven by a colored
man in blue livery. On the seat with him was another
man of color, wearing a similar livery. The horses were
harnessed to a four-wheeled vehicle called a box- wagon ;
i. e., a wagon the body of which was an oblong box
about six feet wide and high, and eight or nine feet in
length. The running-gear and box were painted a dark-
brown color, and varnished so that they shone in the rays
of the morning sun. Twenty-four other wagons fol-
lowed, each a duplicate of the first. Each had its col-
ored driver and attendant in uniform, and each was
drawn by four matched, spirited bay horses. On the
sides of each box, in large gold letters, was the inscription
in three lines :



Army of the Potomac."

These one hundred matched horses, fifty attendants,
and twenty-five wagons constituted the train provided


to transport the baggage of General George B. McClel-
lan, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Potomac,
and his staff. It was said at the time that this army
was perfect in its organization. This train for use at
headquarters was the only part of it I, personally, saw.
If the army was as well provided for as its general, this
statement was incontrovertible.

I remember another morning in Washington. It was
in the early days of spring, and I was living at Willard's.
The outlook was discouraging, and occurrences in the
Treasury had been very depressing to friends of the
Union. I had risen early, had left my room before
dawn, and, seated by a window which overlooked the
avenue, in the main office, I began to read the morning
paper. The passengers from the Western trains had not
yet arrived. The gas-lights were turned down, and that
potentate, the hotel-clerk, who had not yet put on his
daily air of omnipotence, was peacefully sleeping in his
cushioned arm-chair. Two omnibuses were driven to
the entrance on Fourteenth Street, with the railroad
passengers from the West. The crowd made the usual
rush for the register; the clerk condescended to open
his eyes and assign them rooms on the upper floor (there
was no elevator), as though he felt an acute pleasure in
compelling them to make the ascent, and for a few mo-
ments there was bustle and confusion. It was soon
over ; the clerk resumed his arm-chair, closed his eyes,
and his weary soul appeared to be at rest.

There were two passengers who did not appear to be
in such frantic haste. One was a sunburned man of
middle age, who wore an army hat and a linen duster,
below which, where a small section of his trousers were
visible, I caught a glimpse of the narrow stripe of the
army uniform. He held the younger traveller, a lad


of ten years, by the hand, and carried a small leather

As they modestly approached the counter, the tem-
porary lord of that part of creation, without deigning to
rise from his chair, gave the register a practised whirl,
so that the open page was presented to the elder travel-
ler, observing as he did so, " I suppose you will want a
room together."

He named a room with a high number, gave the usual
call "Front!" while the guest proceeded to write his
name without making any observation. The clerk re-
moved the pen from behind his ear ; gave another whirl
to the register, and was about to enter the number of
the room, when he was suddenly transfixed as with a
bolt of lightning ! His imperial majesty became a ser-
vile menial, thoroughly awake, and ready to grovel be-
fore the stranger. He bowed, scraped, twisted, wriggled.
" He begged a thousand pardons ; the traveller's arrival
had been expected parlor A, on the shady side of the
house, the very best apartment in the hotel, had been
prepared for his reception it was on the first floor, only
one flight of stairs ! Might he be allowed to relieve him
of his travelling convenience?" and the lordly creature
actually disappeared up the stairway, like Judas, carry-
ing the bag.

My curiosity was excited to ascertain who it was that
had wrought such a sudden transformation. I walked
to the counter, and there read the last entry on the reg-
ister. It was " U. S. Grant and son, Galena, 111."

It was the name of the General of the Western Army,
who, after the capture of Vicksburg and the other mighty
victories in the division of the Mississippi, had been called
to the capital, to receive his commission of lieutenant-
general, and to become commander - in - chief of all the


armies of the republic. He was on his first visit to
Washington, for what purpose I did not then know ; but
I have ever since been glad that I witnessed the simple
and unostentatious manner in which the commander of
two hundred thousand men indicated his arrival at the

I depart from my purpose of writing only conversa-
tions with the President when I was present, to mention
an interview between General Grant and the President,
which preceded the advance of the Army of the Potomac
in the spring of 1864. The account was given to me on
the day, or day but one, after the conversation took place,
by a senator of the United States, who was present at
the interview, and whose veracity is beyond question.

The senator was with the President when General
Grant was announced. After a few observations upon
general subjects, he said that as that was his last day in
Washington for the time, he was unwilling to leave the
city until he had thanked the President for his compli-
ance with every wish he had expressed. He said the
President had given him all that he had asked for, and
consequently if the campaign should not prove a suc-
cessful one, its failure could not be charged to any neg-
lect or omission of President Lincoln's. He added that
he was satisfied with the army, its discipline, and its
officers, and that he did not believe a better army was
ever organized.

The President was pleased by the general's remarks,
and cordially thanked him for his thoughtfulness in
making his parting call.

" I have thought much," he said, " about this army.
I always do think much about every army, particularly
when it is about to open a campaign. I look upon this
campaign as of great importance, and hope it may prove


decisive. I have, therefore, tried to think of all the
wants of this army, and, as far as it is in my power, to
cause them to be provided for. I can only act through
others, with some of whom, it is charged, I have not
much influence. It pleases me to know that in this in-
stance my directions appear to have been carried out."

" Now, there is one subject," continued the President,
" which I ought to mention to you. Heretofore we have
always had to provide a large amount of transportation
on the river, in connection with the advance of this
army enough in the event of defeat to transfer the
whole army to the north bank of the Potomac. This
time I have heard nothing said about transportation.
Have you provided it ? and have you a suflicient num-
ber of vessels ?"

"I think so," answered the general. "We have a
good many vessels more, I think, than will be needed
if the army is compelled to cross the river. I do not
intend any reflection upon the past 3 " he continued,
" either upon the army or its generals, but I have an
impression that the Army of the Potomac has never
been fought up to its capacity until its military effect-
iveness was exhausted. This time it will be ; and if it
is defeated, its numbers will be so reduced that it will
not need a large amount of transportation."

The senator declared that it was quite impossible to
describe the quiet firmness and resolute determination
with which these sentences were uttered. The President
congratulated the general upon his firmness of purpose,
and said that it promised as great victories in the East
as had been gained in the West.

"The country should be cautioned," said General
Grant, " against hoping for great successes. The loyal
and the rebel armies, East and West, are made up of


men of the same races. They have had about the same
experience in war. Neither can justly claim any great
superiority over the other in endurance, courage, or dis-
cipline. One may be more skilfully handled than the
other; accidents have sometimes won victories and
caused defeats. But where two such armies meet on
common ground, about equal in numbers, and equally
well handled, I do not know why any better result
should be expected from one than from the other. In
the coming campaign, in one respect, the rebels have the
advantage. We shall be in their territory, with which
they are perfectly familiar, and we shall be upon strange
ground. Their arms are equal to ours, they claim su-
perior discipline and greater endurance. "While I hope
and expect to defeat them, I do not know why this war
should not end as wars generally do, by the exhaustion
of the strength and resources of the weaker party."

I cannot tell how this conversation may impress
others. At the time, it gave me entirely new views of
the character of General Grant, and greater confidence
in his ability as a military leader. Its influence was the
same upon the limited circle to which it was communi-
cated after its occurrence. Had he not touched the very
point and centre of the subject ? Was it not true that
Lee and the rebels would fight, as Montcalm and the
French did, until the resources of the country were com-
pletely exhausted ? If so, it was almost idle to hope for
a great and conclusive victory. The chances of such a
result were not as good as they were at Gettysburg and
Antietam, where the rebel army was in peril of destruc-
tion until it had reached the south bank of the Potomac.
In this campaign General Lee's army would not be ex-
posed to any such risk or danger. When, a few days
later, battle was joined in the Wilderness, and so many


of the vessels on the river began to be employed in
transporting the wounded to Washington ; when for a
week there were no despatches from General Grant ;
when only one fact seemed assured that instead of re-
tiring, as it always had before, the army was all the
time advancing, it was a great comfort to loyal men
to recall this conversation, and to feel that General
Grant had measured the work in advance, and was en-
gaged in its performance with the resolute purpose in-
dicated by the interview. His despatch to the Secretary
of War, of the llth of May, in the light of that conver-
sation, seemed to be the fulfilment of prophecy "We
have now ended the sixth day of very heavy fighting.
The result to this time is much in our favor. Our losses
have been heavy as well as those of the enemy. I think
the loss of the enemy must be greater. ... I propose
to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."



I AM about to describe a visit to a hospital, which
many will say might better have been omitted. All who
make any public reference to such scenes are charged
with intensifying and perpetuating sectional differences
which ought to have ended with the war, and which
must be buried out of memory if we are to have a coun-
try thoroughly reunited. But does not the truth of his-
tory require that some account be preserved of those
melancholy events which are facts as essential to a cor-
rect record of the war as its less repulsive features I

On the evening of the 3d of May, 1864, the President
said to me, " Can you leave your office for to-morrow, and
go over to Annapolis?"

" Certainly," I replied, " with the permission of Secre-
tary Chase."

"I will obtain that permission," said the President,
" or, if there is any difficulty, I will inform you so that
you may return immediately. A party of about four
hundred officers and men out of rebel prisons arrived
there yesterday. Their condition will be investigated
by Congress ; but that will take time. An intelligent
lady, whom you know, has given me such an account of
their sad state that I should like to know the truth at
once from one who will neither exaggerate nor suppress
any of the facts. Will you go and see them and bring
me back your report ?"


I promised to do so. He seemed unwilling to state
what had been the report of the lady he had mentioned,
for he appeared to think that her sympathies might
have influenced her judgment. Still, he seemed much
disturbed, and some expressions fell from him which in-
dicated that his own sympathies had been thoroughly
aroused. I remarked that this lady had a clear head,
sound judgment, and much experience in the hospitals,
and that it was very improbable that she should be de-
ceived or overcome by any sentiment. " I know it," he
said. " I know of few men who are more reliable. Yet she
was so completely overwhelmed that she had great diffi-
culty in telling her story. There must be some mistake
about it ! It is too horrible ! too horrible ! Yet Stanton
had the same story, and believes every word of it."

I went to Annapolis that evening, and saw in the hos-
pitals a memorable spectacle of all that remained of a party
of over three hundred enlisted men. They were men no
longer they were skeletons ! With few exceptions they
were Americans, representing almost every one of the
loyal states. Their minds had gone with their strength.
It was almost impossible to get an intelligent answer to
a question from one of them. I asked one his name.
With a vacant, wandering expression in his eyes he an-
swered, "I guess it is Mason!" The rags in which
they had arrived three days before had been taken from
their bodies and burned. The hair had been shaved
from their heads, and kind hands were washing the
grime from the spaces between their festering sores.
Many had only stumps where their fingers and toes had
been frozen off. All that could converse told the same
story. They had been robbed of their blankets, clothes,
and money, and then left on Belle Isle in the winter
storms to starve and die. Their destruction was well-


nigh completed. Eight died on the voyage. The sur-
geons were of opinion that at least thirty-three per cent,
of them had no chance of life, and that the recovery of
others would be slow and painful.

I will not distress myself nor the reader by a further
description. Those who doubt the facts may consult Re-
port 67 of the first session of the Thirty -eighth Congress.
It is the report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct
of the War, written by Mr. Gooch, of Massachusetts,
a clear-headed, conservative man. Portraits of the pa-
tients, the testimony given by them, and scores of other
reliable witnesses, seem to point to the correctness of
the conclusion drawn by that committee, that exposure
and starvation, and the inhuman practices so indicated,
" were the result of a determination by the rebel author-
ities to reduce our soldiers in their power to such a
condition that those who survive shall never recover
so as to be able to render any effectual service in the

The horrors of Andersonville and Salisbury came
later. They were farther away, and the proof is not so
overwhelming. The proportion chargeable to Wirz and
"Winder, and that for which the Confederate authorities
were responsible, may not in this world be known. The
conduct of these wretches, repeatedly denounced to their
superiors by the more humane officers of the Confeder-
acy, upon official examination, is probably not to be
charged to any direct orders from the rebel authorities.
In the case of the poor victims at Annapolis, there is
less excuse. They were robbed and frozen and starved
in the city of Richmond, in the capital of the Confed-
eracy, under the very windows of the Executive Man-
sion, under the eye of Jefferson Davis and the rebel
congress. Scarcity of food, fuel, and clothing never ex-


isted in Richmond ; they were abundant at the collapse
of the Confederacy almost a year later. It is difficult to
find excuse or apology for the treatment of the prison-
ers at Belle Isle, and I doubt if such will ever be at-

The evidence need not be strained in order to extend
the responsibility for these atrocities to others than the
notoriously guilty. His admirers claim that no part of
it rests upon General Lee, and as we have no record that
any word or remonstrance or objection ever came from
him, it is to be fervently hoped that he was ignorant of
the whole damning story.

It was a Boston woman of wealth and culture who
went with me from cot to cot during the visit of that
evening. In the preceding forty-eight hours every com-
fort which her wealth and energy could procure had been
provided for these poor sufferers with a bountiful hand.
Even their dull minds seemed to recognize in her the
instrument of a kind Providence, and I could not de-
termine whether their tears of gratitude or hers of pity
were the more abundant. I did not see them at their
worst, but even at the time of my visit the scene trans-
cended description. It sickened me ; and the recollec-
tion of its sad and tragic features served to keep sleep
from my eyes during the greater part of the ensuing

At early dawn I hurried back to the hospital to con-
vince myself that my imagination had exaggerated the
horrors of my previous visit. But no such result ensued.
Attendants were removing those who during the night
watches had forgotten their pains and should remember
their miseries no more. Death had harvested seventeen

I returned to Washington by the earliest train. It


was scarcely seven o'clock when I reached the Executive
Mansion. I was not kept waiting.

" Well 2" said the President, as he entered the well-
known room, with a world of interrogation in his face.

"Mr. President," I responded, "all the way from
Annapolis I have been studying the formula for an an-
swer to your question. It is useless ! You would like to
know what I have seen ? I cannot tell you. Imagine,
if you can, a body of stalwart, strong men, such as you
may see in any of our camps, robbed of their money,
blankets, overcoats, boots and clothing, covered with
rags, driven like foxes into holes on an island, exposed
there to frost and cold until their frozen extremities
drop from their bleeding stumps ; fed upon husks, such
as the swine in the parable would have rejected, until,
by exhaustion, their manhood is crushed out, their
minds destroyed, and their bodies, foul with filth and
disease, are brought to the very borders of the grave,
which will close upon more than half of them, and you
may get some faint conception of what may be seen at
Annapolis. But it will be very faint. The picture can-
not be comprehended even when it is seen !"

" Can such things be possible ?" he exclaimed, " and
you are the fourth who has given me the same account !
I cannot believe it ! There must be some explanation
for it. The Kichmond people are Americans of the
same race as ourselves. It is incredible !"

" No, no !" I exclaimed, " I saw these poor unfortu-
nates last evening. I went again this morning to find
something which would relieve the horror of the first
impression. I did not find it. I have conversed with
men who know that they are dying, and that they have
been brought to the very edge of their open graves by
neglect. They all tell the same story, and but one con-


elusion is possible. A frightful weight of responsibility
and guilt rests upon the authorities at Richmond for
these crimes against humanity !"

"I feel all your sympathy," he said; "nothing has
occurred in the war which causes me to suffer like this.
I know it seems impossible to account for the treatment of
these poor fellows, except on the theory that somebody
is guilty. But the world will be slow to believe that the
Confederate authorities intend to destroy their prisoners
by starvation. We should be slow to believe it our-
selves. It must be that they have some claim of excuse !
Why, the Indians torture their prisoners, but I never
heard that they froze them or starved them !"

"It seems to me," I said, "that a parallel to these
cruelties would be hard to find even in the conduct of
the Spaniards towards the Indians of Central and South
America, which Las Casas so graphically sets before us."

" And yet we may not know all the facts, the whole
inside history. They may have excuses of which we
know nothing," said the President.

" Make the case your own," I persisted. " Washing-
ton is larger than Richmond ; your duties are quite as
absorbing as those of Mr. Jefferson Davis. Could Con-
federate prisoners of war be dying by hundreds of ex-
posure and starvation on an island in the Potomac, be-
tween this city and Alexandria, and you not know it ?
Why, the newsboys in the streets would publish it, and
the authorities could not remain ignorant of it if they
were deaf and dumb."

" Well, well !" he said, " you have the best of the ar-
gument, I admit. But do me a favor. Retain your opin-
ions, if you must, but say nothing about them at present,
until we are compelled to make the charge, until there is no
alternative, and the world is forced to think as we do."


" I will do as you request," I responded, " but we can-
not control our judgments. It is plain where the re-
sponsibility of these enormities should rest, and condem-
nation of those who permitted them must follow from
any right-minded and humane person."

The President's face wore that sad expression which
I have so often referred to, as he said, " Let us hope for
the best ! We shall have enough to answer for if we
survive this war. Let us hope, at least, that the crime
of murdering prisoners by exposure and starvation may
not be fastened on any of our people."



THE story of Daniel "Webster's school-days, as related
by Mr. Lincoln, was imperfectly given by Mr. B. F.
Carpenter, the artist, in his anecdotes and reminiscences
appended to Eaymond's " Life and Public Services of
Abraham Lincoln," published soon after his assassina-
tion. The value of the story as an interesting illustra-

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 23 of 35)