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L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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and have become the hacks of either party which will
give them employment. Others, losing their offices, have
sunk into poverty, a few, alas ! into crime. I am unable
to recall an instance where one of my friends, having be-
come dependent on a small office for a livelihood, proved
afterwards of any considerable value to his country or
mankind.



XLI.

WAS GENERAL THOMAS LOYAL?

GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS is dead. Since his death,
and that of nearly all his witnesses, it has been alleged
that he was disloyal. Some Southern historical society
claims to have discovered proofs that he at first decided
to cast his lot with his own people ; in other words, to
follow the example of other officers of Southern origin.

Colonel Henry Stone, of the Army of the Cumberland,
has recently, in a vigorous article, published in the New
York Tribune of June 7th, 1890, given this unfounded
statement its quietus. General Thomas was slow to an-
ger, but if anything would cause him, " in complete steel,"
to revisit "the glimpses of the moon," and blast the
slanderer with a look, it would be such a charge as this
against his memory.

I am able to contribute one or two facts on this sub-
ject. Even before the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, Gen-
eral Scott was very anxious about the safety of the pub-
lic property of large value in Texas, which was under
the control of General Twiggs. The Second U. S.
Cavalry, of which Thomas was major, was stationed
there, and it was upon information communicated by
him that General Scott insisted upon the transfer of
General Twiggs to another post. But Twiggs was a
favorite of President Buchanan. General Scott's wishes
were disregarded, and on the 23d of February Twiggs
delivered himself, as many regular soldiers as he could



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 361

control, and public property valued at one million two
hundred and nine thousand five hundred dollars, to the
state of Texas. After the horse was stolen the stable
was locked. On the first day of March, Secretary Holt
issued an order dismissing Twiggs from the army " for
his treachery to the flag of his country."

Early in April the men who declined to be surrendered
by Twiggs began to arrive in New York. Thomas,
though on sick leave, received and disposed of them, and
from that time was one of the most active and reliable
assistants of General Scott. April 21st was a lively day
in Washington. Lee sent to General Scott a notice of
his resignation. The Baltimore committee were in Wash-
ington, protesting that no more Northern regiments
should be permitted to pass through Maryland. They
brought information that the authorities of Maryland
had ordered the railroad bridges to be burned and all
the railroads broken up. General Scott undertook to
restore and maintain railroad communication with the
North. He did not hesitate for a moment. He ordered
a detachment, which he could scarcely afford to spare
from the few regulars in the city, to disperse the Plug-
Uglies who were threatening the destruction of the
railroad between Baltimore and Harrisburg, and Major
Thomas was the officer selected by him to command the
detachment.

All this occurred on Sunday. There were loyal men
from Baltimore in active communication with the Presi-
dent, and it was at their suggestion that the force was
ordered to protect the Northern railroad. They objected
to intrusting so important a matter to Major Thomas,
and insisted upon the appointment of Colonel Mansfield.
The President referred them to General Scott.

"Why do you object to Major Thomas? What do you



362 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

know to the prejudice of Major Thomas ?" demanded the
old chieftain.

They had nothing against Major Thomas, except that
he was a Virginian. All the Virginians were resigning ;
even Colonel Lee had gone over to the rebels. They
feared that Major Thomas would follow his example.

" I am more fortunate than you are. I know Major
Thomas ; he is incapable of disloyalty. I would intrust
him with what is to me the most precious thing on earth
my country's flag ! I know that some Virginians have
deserted it. But there are Virginians whom I am not
afraid to trust, for I also am a Virginian !" said the old
hero, proudly.

I never heard the loyalty of General Thomas ques-
tioned after this endorsement. He was understood
to be a worker, one of the most efficient organizers of
his time. He was more quiet and unassuming than
Colonel Mansfield, but equally reliable and true. He had
a peculiar mental organization. He was cautious and
deliberate; he would not fight until he was prepared.
His military career was an unbroken success. From Mill
Springs, before the capture of Fort Henry, to the crush-
ing defeat which he administered to Hood before Nash-
ville, I do not remember that he lost a battle. His
tenacity was unyielding. " You must hold Chattanoo-
ga !" General Grant had telegraphed to him, when Long-
street held him at bay. " We will hold the town until
we starve !" was his reply. And his animals did starve,
and his men came very near doing likewise before his
communications could be opened. But he gave no sign
of surrender. In all his campaigns he never moved fast
enough to satisfy Grant. When the " March to the Sea"
was decided upon, Grant and Sherman were both of the
opinion that Hood would move northward to recover



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 363

Tennessee and Kentucky. They left him to the care of
Thomas, intending to reinforce his small army, so as to
enable him to cope with Hood and all the rebel force
north of Atlanta. It was a perilous movement on the
part of Sherman. If Hood was not arrested before he
took Nashville, the result might be fatal. Sherman must
have had great confidence in Thomas, since the success
of the whole campaign would depend upon the result of
a single battle, which Thomas was to win against a vet-
eran army larger than his own.

Sherman left Atlanta on the 15th of November.
Thomas abandoned all the intervening positions, and
Hood apparently forced him back, step by step, into the
defences of Nashville, which he reached on the 3d of
December.

Hood attacked Scofield at Franklin, but was compelled
to draw off after an indecisive battle. Thomas sent no
reinforcements to Scofield, rightly judging that the lat-
ter would be able to hold his own, and also because he
preferred to choose his own ground for the decisive
struggle.

General Grant misunderstood the deliberation of Gen-
eral Thomas's policy, and, from the day Sherman left
Atlanta, pressed him to attack the enemy. As Thomas
made no answer, but continued to retire, Grant became
more emphatic, and finally, when the former was appar-
ently forced back to Nashville, the orders to attack be-
came peremptory. As Thomas gave no sign in reply,
Grant became anxious, and, being satisfied that further
delay would be fatal, directed Logan to relieve Thomas,
and take the command of his army. His solicitude in-
creasing, he left his camp before Richmond and started
for Nashville. He reached Washington on the day when

)gan arrived at Cincinnati.



364 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

I give these facts upon the authority of Captain Fox,
whose relations with the President were at that time of
the most intimate character. He related the incident
immediately after its occurrence, as a strong proof of
the accuracy of the President's judgment, and as show-
ing how confidently he relied upon it in dealing with
men. He said that General Grant informed the Presi-
dent of his anxiety about General Thomas, and of his
purpose to relieve him and place General Logan in his
command. The President suggested that, as General
Thomas was one of the most cautious and prudent of
the generals, whether it might not be that his judgment
on the ground was better than that of others who were
five hundred miles away ; and that it might be better to
wait for more evidence that it was erroneous before re-
moving him. General Grant observed that that might
be, if the consequences of his defeat would not be so se-
rious that he was a very competent officer, but habit-
ually slow, and this time he had been slower than ever.
" But has he not always 'got there' in time?" said the
President. " Some generals have been in such haste that
they have had to move in the wrong direction." How-
ever, the President declined to interfere or to influence
the judgment of General Grant any further than to say,
that " General Thomas acquired my confidence in April,
1861, and he has ever since retained it."

Fortunately, General Grant remained in "Washington
until the evening train for the West. Before he left, de-
spatches were received from General Thomas, stating
that he was ready, and proposed to attack Hood the next
morning. General Grant decided to wait for results.

Possibly the finest trait in the character of General
Grant was the freedom with which he admitted his own
errors, and especially his misjudgment of others. His



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 365

despatches to Thomas implied censure, and had culmi-
nated in an order relieving him from his command. We
may now leave General Grant himself to describe the
sequel.

In his Memoirs, Grant says, in substance, that he had
directed Logan not to take the command if he found
Thomas ready to fight that Thomas did fight and " was
successful from the start ; and that he assailed the ene-
my in their intrenchments, and, after a desperate resist-
ance, they fled in disorder, abandoning everything. In
order to use his entire strength, Thomas had dismounted
his cavalry, and fought them as infantry. This fact and
some accidents prevented his effective pursuit of Hood.
But the morale of the latter's army was destroyed, its
fighting strength annihilated, so that it was rendered in-
capable of inflicting further injury to the Union cause."

The battle of Nashville crushed the Confederacy in
the West, and made Sherman's " march to the sea " mem-
orable in the annals of military science. The result was
foreseen by Thomas, who pursued his plans with a de-
liberation which nothing could disturb, from the time he
parted company with Sherman until, having collected
and marshalled his forces for the final act, he dealt his
annihilating blow to the rebellion before Nashville. Such
a general could not fail to gain the complete confidence
of his men. Well might General Grant send him from
Washington his congratulations on " the splendid success
of to-day." We who watched his career from that anx-
ious Sunday in April, 1861, to its culmination before
Nashville in December, 1864, should at least defend his
memory, and see to it that, while we live, no spot or
blemish shall stain the record of this modest, great
soldier.



XLIL

THE IMPARTIAL JUDGMENT OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN. THE RES-
IGNATION OF SECRETARY CHASE. ITS CAUSES AND CONSE-
QUENCES.

THE endeavor now to write anything novel about
President Lincoln is like gleaning in an exhausted field.
While he has been gradually rising to the position he
now holds in the world's esteem, it is not strange that
those who had any acquaintance with him should each
wish to contribute his mite to the aggregate of material
concerning a man of such distinguished abilities. No
American, possibly no public man anywhere, has had so
many biographers ; no biographers have ever written
with a more imperfect knowledge of their subject than
some of the authors of the so-called lives of Lincoln.
Some of these writers have private griefs to ventilate,
and, not courageous enough to oppose the general opin-
ion of his sterling worth, have descended in a shame-
faced way to make public assumed defects in his char-
acter ; and others, claiming to be his old associates and
friends, have hinted at scandals connected with his ori-
gin and early life which had no foundation, and which
would never have been heard of but for their officious-
ness. Their poor excuse is a desire to exhibit Mr. Lin-
coln as he was, and not as the world would have him to
be. There have been in the lives of all great men oc-
currences upon which friendship lays the seal of silence,
and it would have been more to the credit of these
writers if they had emulated the dignified silence with
which Mr. Lincoln treated unfortunate circumstances



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 367

which he could neither prevent nor control. Examples
of both these classes will be found in any collection of
the lives of Mr. Lincoln, and conspicuously in one col-
lection claimed to have been written by the " distin-
guished men of his time."

One consequence of the caccethes scribendi about Mr.
Lincoln is that all the events of his life, the incidents of
his professional career, the apt stories attributed to him,
many of which he never heard, have been rewritten so
many times, with such variations as the peculiar views
of the writer at the moment suggested, that the points
of some of the best have been lost and others so muti-
lated that they are no longer recognizable. The resig-
nation of the Treasury by Mr. Chase in June, 1864, has
not escaped the general mutilation. It was an impor-
tant event ; its incidents throw a flood of light over the
characters of both the principals. As it has been some-
times described, it is a quarrel between two politicians,
of little consequence to them, of none to anybody else.
Some of the accounts begin with the nomination of
Governor Tod, and omit the important events by which
it was preceded. Except that of Messrs. Nicolay and Hay,
all the accounts that I have seen attribute the resignation
to Mr. Chase's desire for the Kepublican nomination for
the Presidency in 1864, when, in fact, he had given up
all hope of it for 1864, more than six months previously.

This aftermath of Lincoln material seems to increase
as the living witnesses disappear. Soon its inventors will
be able to exclaim, with a distinguished fabricator of his-
tory, " "Who is there to dispute what I say ?" What, then,
is the earnest student to do ? How is he to distinguish
between the false and the true the wheat of fact and
the chaff of fiction ? There can be but one answer to the
inquiry. He will do it just as the works of great mas-



368 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

ters have always been distinguished from their counter-
feits. There is a flavor about a genuine Lincoln sen-
tence or story which is unmistakable as different as
possible from those of any other man. As the connois-
seur in art identifies a Rembrandt or a Diirer at a glance,
as the teller in the Federal Treasury casts out the de-
fective coin by a touch, so will the earnest student be-
come an expert in Lincolniana, in the sentences he has
written, in all the events of his life. A single glance at
a new fact or story will decide whether it has the ring
of the true metal or the leaden sound of the counter-
feit. By such experts must future lives and anecdotes
be judged; to their judgment I submit the following
version of one of the most important and striking events
of his public career.

One of these old friends and associates declares that
Mr. Lincoln had no faith. If Paul understood the sub-
ject, and faith is " the substance of things hoped for, the
evidence of things not seen," then no man ever had a
faith more perfect and sincere than Mr. Lincoln. Once,
during a half-soliloquy in the Eegister's Office, while
the register and his messenger were engaged in their
work, and, as he liked them to be, paying no attention
to him, he broke into a magnificent outburst a word-
painting of what the South would be when the war
was over, slavery destroyed, and she had had an oppor-
tunity to develop her resources under the benignant in-
fluence of peace. Twenty years and more afterwards
this scene flashed upon my memory with the vividness
of an electric light as I recognized the word-picture of
Mr. Lincoln in the following words of welcome by an
eloquent Southerner to a Northern delegation : " You
are standing," he said, " at this moment in the gateway
that leads to the South. The wealth that is there, no



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 369

longer hidden from human eyes, flashes in your very
faces. You can smell the roses of a new hope that fill
the air. You can hear the heart-beats of progress that
come as upon the wings of heaven. You can reach forth
your hands and almost clutch the gold that the sun rains
down with his beams, as he takes his daily journey be-
tween the coal-mine and the cotton-field ; the highlands
of wood and iron, of marble and granite; the lowlands
of tobacco, of sugar and rice, of corn and kine, of wine,
milk, and honey." Such was the picture of the South
presented to the eye of Mr. Lincoln's faith, and very
similar were the words in which that picture was repre-
sented.

I have written the following account largely from
personal knowledge, from what I myself saw and heard.
The principal incidents were written in my journal
about the time they occurred. It has been the regret
of my subsequent life that I did not at the time know
how great a man Mr. Lincoln was ; that I did not at the
time write out and preserve an account of many other
things said and done by him. This occurrence was an
exception. I felt at the time that Mr. Lincoln was re-
vealing himself to me in a new and elevated character,
and I undertook to record the words in which that rev-
elation was made.

The resignation by Secretary Chase of his position as
the chief financial officer of the United States closed his
prospects as a Presidental candidate with the Republi-
can, and did not improve them with the Democratic
party. It was an act which was calculated to embarrass
the President, for which there was no good excuse. He
inferred from past events that his resignation would not
be accepted ; he hoped that it would demonstrate to the
country that he had become a necessity of the financial



370 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

situation, and thereby secure to him its more perfect
control.

A question of forgery had arisen in the Assistant Treas-
ury in New York. The auditor who signed checks for
the payment of money pronounced two checks returned
to him as paid, amounting to nearly $10,000, to be for-
geries. The responsibility for the money lay between
Mr. Cisco and the auditor. If the checks were genuine,
the auditor if they were forged, Mr. Cisco, must bear
the loss.

Mr. Cisco claimed to know that the checks bore the
genuine signature of the auditor. He so testified in an
examination which took place before a commissioner of
the United States. He declined to admit a possibility
that he could be mistaken. His experience, he said, en-
abled him to identify a genuine, or detect a forged sig-
nature with unerring certainty. No one could imitate
his signature so as to cause him to hesitate. He was as
certain that the disputed signatures were genuine as
though he had seen them written.

Friends of the auditor, who were confident of his in-
tegrity, finding that the mind of Mr. Cisco was closed to
all the presumptions arising from the long service and
the unblemished character of the accused, availed them-
selves of the assistance of experts and of photography.
An expert wrote an imitation of the assistant treas-
urer's name, which that officer testified was his own
genuine signature. He was as certain of it as he was
of the genuineness of the disputed checks! The evi-
dence of the expert who wrote the imitation, and an
enlarged photograph of the signatures to the checks,
made their traced, painted, false, and spurious character
so apparent that the auditor was at once exonerated,
notwithstanding the positive evidence of his chief. The



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 3Y1

result so intensely mortified him that he promptly re-
signed his office of assistant treasurer, declaring that
nothing should induce him to withdraw his resigna-
tion.

Secretary Chase was fond of those who recognized his
eminence, and were ready to serve him as their acknowl-
edged superior. Those especially who were watchful of
his convenience and of opportunities to contribute to his
personal comforts secured a strong position in his es-
teem. Maunsel B. Field, an attache in the office of the
assistant treasurer of New York, was conspicuously a
person of this class. From the first visit of the secre-
tary to New York after he took office, Mr. Field had at-
tached himself to his personal service. His devotion to
that service was perfect ; so that afterwards, as the vis-
its of the secretary increased in frequency, Mr. Field at-
tended to his social engagements, and became the
authorized agent for communication with him. Mr.
Field was a person of polished manners, who had the
entree into society. He was also a writer for the news-
papers and a Democrat, without much position or fol-
lowing in his party. His service was so attentive that
the secretary came to regard him as a kind of personal
society representative. The office of Third Assistant
Secretary of the Treasury was created for him. He was
appointed to it, and removed to Washington, where he
was afterwards employed in a confidential relation near
the secretary's person. There were facts, of which it
is impossible that the secretary long remained ignorant,
which, though not reflecting upon his personal integrity,
it was represented necessarily disqualified him for any
position of trust or pecuniary responsibilty. From time
to time he absented himself from the Treasury, some-
times for weeks together. No one seemed to know



372 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

whither he retired, or to have any knowledge of the
cause of his absence.

Mr. Cisco had filled his important office of assistant
treasurer with great fidelity to the country and credit
to himself. The fact that he was a member of the
Democratic party, most earnest in his co-operation with
the administration in all its measures for the suppression
of the rebellion, had enabled him to contribute to the
success of Mr. Chase's financial measures more power-
fully, probably, than any Kepublican could have done in
the same position, while his personal influence upon
members of his own party had been strong, and always
exerted to promote the cause of the Union. Yery strong
Eepublican influences were therefore brought forward
to induce Mr. Cisco to reconsider his resignation, but he
had apparently determined to return to private life, and
peremptorily insisted upon its acceptance.

Always having great responsibility from the amount
of public treasure intrusted to his care, the assistant
treasurer at New York was at that time the most im-
portant civil officer in the republic, next after the
members of the cabinet. The bank presidents of New
York city, Boston, and Philadelphia then represented
the money of the nation, and, acting together, as they
usually did, they could promote the early success of or
delay and obstruct the financial measures of the govern-
ment. That they had always hitherto supported the
secretary, and co-operated in the execution of his plans,
had been largely due to the influence of Mr. Cisco.
There had been occasions when these bank officers had
attempted to defeat some of these plans, or, at least, to
limit their success. But the strength of the secretary
was re-enforced by the persistent influence of Mr. Cisco,
always discreetly but constantly operating, so that when



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 373

Mr. Chase met these gentlemen in the assistant treas-
urer's office, as he so frequently did, his personal mag-
netism usually brought them to his support. It was,
therefore, most desirable that Mr. Cisco's succcessor
should, so far as practicable, possess his qualities, sustain
his relations to the banks, and continue to exercise his
good judgment. Such a man was not readily found.
Ex-Governor Morgan, then a senator from New York,
a financier of wide experience, and intimately acquaint-
ed with all the conditions which controlled financial
movements in that city, took an active interest in the
New York appointments. He was one of the most in-
fluential Republicans in Congress, who was upon every
ground entitled to be consulted in regard to this ap-
pointment. He suggested Mr. John A. Stewart, the
president of the oldest and wealthiest trust company in
the city, an able financier of ripe experience, a pure and
patriotic man, as Mr. Cisco's successor. Secretary Chase
approved it, and the suggestion met with universal favor.
But Mr. Stewart would not accept the appointment.
He was unwilling to sacrifice his permanent position for
one the tenure of which was uncertain, and this consid-



Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 26 of 35)