L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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a New England state, widely known and loved as one of
the purest and most amiable of men, observed :

"I do not understand why you New-Englanders so
persistently repudiate the possession of personal cour-
age. "We know in Kentucky that our citizens of New
England origin are destitute of fear. Senator Morrill
showed to-day that he had courage enough and to spare.
The men that hurried to his support were New England
men. Are you quite ingenuous ? Is this a time to incul-
cate a false estimate of Northern character? I prefer
that the South should understand what I know, that, in
the quality of personal courage, Northern men have no
superiors, certainly not in the South. Had the South
been more accurately informed on the subject, we should
not have drifted so near to revolution !"

" I think you misjudge us," replied Governor H .

" Northern men do not know whether they are men of
courage or not. How is one to know whether or not he
is a coward until he is put to the test ? The masses of


Northern men go through life without any experience on
this subject. You would not have us assume a virtue
which we are not certain of possessing ?"

"I would have both sections form just estimates of
the character and qualities of each," said the Ken-
tuckian. " I do not regret the occurrence in the Confer-
ence. I am quite certain that it will lead to a better
judgment among our people of the Northern men."

This conversation took place many years ago. I have
never since heard from an intelligent Southerner any ex-
pression of doubt as to the courage of Northern men.
In the first year of the war, such rabid sheets as the
Baltimore Sun and the Charleston Mercury were accus-
tomed to use vile names, and to declare that a "flunkey,"
a " servile follower," was a local, an unadulterated Yan-
kee product; but the experiences of the first twelve
months of rebellion relegated such expressions to the era
of many other Southern errors.



THE 4th of March was approaching. Burners of in-
tended revolution multiplied ; evidences of a design to
seize Washington augmented daily, attended by dark
hints of some event which would paralyze the North and
enable the Secessionists to secure the Capitol without
loss of life. Gurowski openly said to the Republicans,
" Lincoln is to be assassinated I know it. I tell you of
it in time for you to prevent it. I know that wagers at
heavy odds have been laid that he will never reach
Washington alive. Yet you do not believe what I tell
you ! It is not even an independent plot ; it is part of
the conspiracy of secession."

A small number of younger Republicans, then tem-
porarily in Washington, had undertaken to act as an in-
dependent committee of safety. They were in active
communication by wire with the principal Northern
cities. The investigation and exposure of rumors was a
part of their work.

On the afternoon of Sunday, February 17th, when we
knew that the President-elect was in Buffalo, a mes-
senger, duly authenticated, from reliable friends in Bal-
timore, came to Washington to tell us that they wished
to have two or three members of our organization re-
turn with the messenger to that city. Their purpose
in inviting us, the latter stated, would be explained on
our arrival. It was too important to be trusted to the


mails or the telegraph, or even to be put upon paper.
He himself did not know what it was. He was directed
to say to us that our coming over that evening was
necessary to enable the Kepublican party of Baltimore
to sustain itself, and to be of any service in the coming

It was arranged that, with a single companion, I
should take a late train that evening which made a stop
at the Relay House, a few miles out of Baltimore. My
associate was a contractor, accustomed to deal with large
bodies of foreigners. I was an acquaintance and friend
of the Republican who sent the invitation, but my com-
panion and myself were alike strangers in Baltimore.
We took the train as arranged. It was boarded at the
Relay House by my Baltimore friend, who stared me in
the face, and then passed me without apparent recog-
nition. A few minutes after the train started, a stranger
half stumbled along the aisle of the dimly lighted car,
partially fell over me, but grasped my hand as he re-
covered himself and apologized for his awkwardness.
I felt that he left a paper in my hand. I went into
the dressing-room to read it. It contained these words :
"Be cautious. At the station follow a driver who
will be shouting ' Hotel Fountain,' instead of ' Fountain
Hotel.' Enter his carriage. He is reliable and has his

I destroyed the paper. "We followed its directions,
and were driven where, I never knew. It was, however,
to a private residence. A gentleman waiting outside
showed us into the house, and the driver hurried away.
Our friend of the train came soon after, and we were
taken to an upper room where were half a dozen Repub-
licans, to whom we were presented. No time was
wasted. Mr. H , well known to me as a true Re-


publican, said: "We want you to help us save Balti-
more from disgrace, and President Lincoln from assassi-
nation. We find our work difficult. We are watched
and shadowed so that we cannot leave the city without
exciting suspicion. We have sent messengers to leading
Kepublicans in Washington, notifying them of the plot
against the President's life ; but they will not credit the
story, nor, so far as we can learn, take any action. We
also learn that Mr. Lincoln declares that he will pursue
his journey openly, if he loses his life in consequence.
Within ten minutes after the presidential train reaches
the Canton station it will be surrounded by a mob of
twenty thousand roughs and plug-uglies, from which he
will never escape alive. We have every detail of the
plot ; we know the men who have been hired to kill him ;
we could lay our hands upon them to-night. But what
are we to do if our friends will not believe our report ?"

" You call the plot a certainty. What proof have
you ? Direct proof, I mean ?"

"We will show you some of it. The sporting men
gave it away by betting at odds that Mr. Lincoln would
never reach Washington. Kecently they have modified
it by betting that he will not pass through Maryland
alive. Then a woman about to be abandoned by her
lover betrayed him to us he had no scruples, and
promptly sold his associates in the plot."

"You cannot condemn reputable men upon such evi-
dence. He is an accomplice !"

" You should hear his story and its confirmations be-
fore you say that. Bring in the fellow !" he said to one
of the company.

Two men entered the room with the supposed as-
sassin. He looked the character. He represented a
genus of the human family seen in pictures of Italian


bandits. His square, bull-dog jaws, ferret-like eyes,
furtively looking out from holes under a low brow, cov-
ered with a coarse mat of black hair ; a dark face, every
line of which was hard, and an impudent swagger in his
carriage, sufficiently advertised him as a low, cowardly
villain. I shall not attempt to imitate his dialect, or the
shameless unconcern with which he described his bar-
gain to murder and his betrayal of his associates.

" A bad president," he said, " was coming in the cars
to free the negroes and drive all the foreigners out of
the country. The good Americans wanted him killed.
They had employed Ruscelli to do the job ; Kuscelli was
a barber who called himself Orsini since he escaped from
Italy, where he was in trouble for killing some men
who failed to pay their ransom. There were five who
were to put the president out of life, who were to have
each a hundred dollars, besides twenty dollars paid
when they made the promise. They were to follow
Euscelli into the car. Each was to strike the president
with a knife, to make sure. Then they were to go quick
away to sea. Yes, the two gold eagles which Mr.
H had were a part of his pay."

There were more details of the fellow's story. He
and his associates were the mere tools. Their employ-
ers were known they were secessionists, pot-house
politicians of a low order, with some admixture of men
of a better class, some of them in the police. Our
friends had an agent who had joined the conspiracy and
attended all the meetings. Through him they had
learned that the murder had been several times in part
rehearsed to avoid mistakes.

At that time the cars were drawn through the city by
horses. At the end of a certain bridge the track was
to be suddenly torn up. When the President's car was


stopped at the obstruction the assassins were to follow
their leader into the rear of the car, pass rapidly through
it, each knifing the president, out at the forward door,
through the crowd to a rum shop, at the rear of which
lay a schooner, with a tug under steam, which would
immediately go down the bay with the schooner in tow.
Clearance papers would be provided for the port of Mo-
bile, to which the schooner would as speedily as possible
make her way. If he left the cars for a carriage, its
progress was to be blocked, and the President killed at
the same crossing. The whole work, it was found, from
arresting the car to the departure of the schooner, could
be done in five or six minutes. To add to the confu-
sion, bombs and hand-grenades, which exploded by con-
cussion, were to be thrown into the cars through the

The seven or eight gentlemen present were reliable
citizens of Baltimore. They had not believed at first
that the conspiracy comprised any but members of the
criminal class. Now they were satisfied that there were
leading Secessionists privy to the plot ; some of them in-
fluential politicians and citizens who had argued them-
selves into the belief that this was a patriotic work
which would prevent greater bloodshed and possible
war. They provided the money which had been used
with a free hand in purchasing the schooner and taking
measures to avoid detection. The disappearance of the
hired ruffian and the woman through whom the plot was
first discovered had made the conspirators watchful, and
some of them had not only withdrawn from the plot,
but had left the city. The others held nightly meetings,
and had no intention of giving up the project. Our
friends were now at a standstill, because Mr. Lincoln
persisted in passing through the city openly, on the day


appointed, and the leading Kepublicans of "Washington
would not accept the evidences of the conspiracy.

" Why,'' we asked, " do not the Kepublicans of Balti-
more arm, organize, and themselves protect the Presi-
dent in his journey through the city ?"

" Because," they replied, " the police, from superinten-
dent to patrolmen, would oppose us and protect the con-
spirators. The Plug-Uglies of Baltimore number thou-
sands, and have been notorious for years as the worst
fighting roughs in existence. If Mr. Lincoln's train
reaches the Canton station, it will, within five minutes,
be surrounded by a crowd of rowdies. If he takes a
carriage, the crowd will block it, and have ample time
to tear him to pieces. If driven to the car, as they in-
tend he shall be, he cannot pass the bridge. What
can we do, with the police, the roughs, and the Seces-
sionists against us ? It would require disciplined regi-
ments to control them. They will surround the car or
the carriage, they will swoop down upon it like vultures,
or swarm over it like monkeys. No, we have done all
that men can do; we have the names of the conspira-
tors ; we have agents who attend their meetings, who
contribute to their expenses. We know that they are
not all hired assassins. There are men among them who
believe they are serving their country. One of them is
an actor who recites passages from the tragedy of Julius
Caesar in their conclaves. They are abundantly supplied
with money. Where does it come from, if not from
men of substance? No, gentlemen, we have done every-
thing in our power ! If the government itself will not
interfere, and if, as he declares he will, Mr. Lincoln in-
sists on passing through Baltimore in open day, on the
train appointed, his murder is inevitable. We have in-
vited you here that you might convince yourselves, and


to ask you to help us to convince others. Have we
satisfied you ?"

" I am satisfied," said my companion, " and I believe
I can satisfy General Scott. But I should like first to
wring the neck of that miscreant in the other room, and
carry his head to Washington as a voucher of the plot !"

The consultation was prolonged until it was time for
an early morning train to Washington. In the gray of
the morning we drove to the house of Elihu B. Wash-
burn, called him from his bed, and in a few words
summed up our night's experience, with the statement
that we had come for his assistance in precautionary

He said that we might put aside our anxiety ; that he
knew positively that Mr. Lincoln had determined to fol-
low the advice of his friends, and would reach Wash-
ington without risk. It was deemed wise that none but
those who had charge of the President's journey should
know by what route or at what time he would pass
through Baltimore, but that he himself, Mr. Seward,
and General Scott had become satisfied that precautions
must be taken to protect his life, and they would be



THE story of Mr. Lincoln's journey through Baltimore,
as recorded in history, requires some correction. Like
other sufferers by the hat of the period, he was pro-
vided with a knitted woollen cap for use in the cars,
particularly at night. This he wore on his night-trip to
Washington. The myth of the disguise and the Scotch
cap had " this extent, no more." There was no neces-
sity for disguise. Mr. Lincoln entered the sleeping-car
at Philadelphia, and slept until awakened within a few
miles of Washington.

The street-lights were not yet extinguished on the
early morning of the 23d of February, when Elihu B.
Washburn and Senator Seward stepped from a carriage
at the ladies' entrance of Willard's Hotel. A tall man,
with a striking face, followed them into the hall, the
swinging doors closed, and the future president and pre-
server of the republic was safely housed in its capital.
The pledge of Mr. Washburn had been kept, and Eepub-
licans could lay aside their anxiety.

There were a few Republicans whose faces shone as
they greeted each other, when they met at the opening
of the Conference that day. They were in the secret of
Mr. Lincoln's arrival. Members were not particular
about the position of their seats, and mine then hap-
pened to be between one occupied by Mr. Seddon and
that of Waldo P. Johnson, an impulsive Secessionist,
afterwards a Confederate general, who then, in part,


represented Missouri. The body-servant of whom Mr.
Seddon was then proprietor was a man scarcely darker
than himself, his equal in deportment, his superior in
figure and carriage. This chattel had made himself a
favorite by his civil and respectful manner, and by gen-
eral consent was the only person, not a member or offi-
cer, who had the entree to the sessions of the Conference.

As soon as the meeting was called to order, this ser-
vant approached his master and handed him a scrap of
paper, apparently torn from an envelope. Mr. Seddon
glanced at it, and passed it before me to Mr. Johnson,
so near to my face that, without closing my eyes, I could
not avoid reading it. The words written upon it were,
" Lincoln is in this hotel !"

The Missourian was startled as by a shock of electric-
ity. He must have forgotten himself completely, for he
instantly exclaimed, " How the devil did he get through
Baltimore?" With a look of utter contempt for the
indiscretion of the impulsive trans - Mississippian, the
Virginian growled, " What would prevent his passing
through Baltimore ?"

There was no reply, but the occurrence left the im-
pression on one mind that the preparations to receive
Mr. Lincoln in Baltimore were known to some who were
neither Italian assassins nor Baltimore Plug-Uglies. Mr.
Johnson was not the only delegate surprised by the an-
nouncement of Mr. Lincoln's presence in Washington.
As the news circulated in whispers through the hall,
members gathered in groups to discuss it, and were too
much absorbed to hear the repeated calls of the chair-
man to order. No event of the Conference, not even
the collision between Commodore Stockton and Senator
Morrill, produced so much excitement. The member
who was addressing the chair, after repeated attempts


to make himself heard above the din of voices, gave up
the effort and resumed his seat. It was not until some
one had moved an adjournment that the burden of prep-
aration weighing upon so many members, and the danger
of losing the opportunity of delivering their speeches,
combined to restore order and enable the Conference to
resume its business.

But the attempt to go on with the debate was una-
vailing. The fact of the arrival of the President-elect
was quickly known to every one. Members were not
in a condition of mind to make speeches or to listen to
them. There was a hurried consultation among the
Kepublicans, which resulted in a motion by Mr. Logan,
one of the delegates from Mr. Lincoln's state, that the
president of the Conference wait upon the President-
elect and inform him that the Conference would be
pleased to visit him in a body at such a time as would
suit his convenience. This motion was fiercely opposed.
Waste of precious time was the open ground of opposi-
tion. There were cries of " No ! no ! Yote it down !"
" Lay it on the table !" with exclamations, in an under-
tone, of " Kail-splitter !" " Ignoramus !" " Vulgar clown!"
etc. Again President Tyler interfered to prevent the
making of a disreputable record. He declared that " the
proposal was eminently proper ; that the office, and not
the individual, was to be considered ; that he hoped that
no Southern member would decline to treat the incom-
ing President with the same respect and attention already
extended to the present incumbent of that honorable and
exalted office." These appropriate observations sup-
pressed the opposition; the motion of Mr. Logan was
unanimously adopted, and the Conference, having re-
solved upon an evening session, adjourned.



THE Republican members of the Conference were not
pleased with the manner in which the chairman per-
formed his duty. Instead of waiting upon the President-
elect in person, as directed by the vote, he announced at
the evening session that he had addressed him a note of
inquiry, in reply to which Mr. Lincoln said that he would
be happy to receive the members at nine o'clock that
evening, or at such other time as might suit their con-
venience. As Mr. Lincoln had taken no exception to
the manner of the invitation, and as President Tyler
could have pleaded the communication to Mr. Buchanan
as a precedent, they decided to raise no question about
what was, after all, but a mere matter of form.

I thought it might prove of advantage to Mr. Lincoln
to have some information in advance of the men who
would meet him that evening. I therefore called upon
him, with the intention of informing him who would
visit him out of respect, and who would come out of cu-
riosity, or only to jeer and ridicule. This, my first meet-
ing with him, was an event which would have been more
impressive had I then appreciated that he was the great-
est of Americans, whose life-labors would restore the
broken Union, and whose death would cement the foun-
dations of the republic.

As I entered his apartment, a tall, stooping figure,


upon which his clothing hung loosely and ungracefully,
advanced to meet me. His kindly eyes looked out from
under a cavernous, projecting brow, with a curiously
mingled expression of sadness and humor. His limbs
were long, and at first sight ungainly. But in the cor-
dial grasp of his large hands, the cheery tones of his
pleasant voice, the heartiness of his welcome, in the air
and presence of the great-hearted man, there was an as-
cendency which caused me to forget my errand, and to
comprehend why it was that Abraham Lincoln won
from all classes and conditions of men a love that
" was wonderful, passing the love of women." " He was
pleased," he said, "to have an opportunity of meeting
so many representative men from different sections of
the Union ; the more unjust they were in their opinions
of himself, the more he desired to make their acquaint-
ance. He had been represented as an evil spirit, a gob-
lin, the implacable enemy of Southern men and women.
He did not set up for a beauty, but he was confident that,
upon a close acquaintance, they would not find him so
ugly nor so black as he had been painted. He hoped
every delegate from the slave states would be present,
especially those most prejudiced against himself. He
mentioned one or two whom he had known in Congress ;
also Mr. Rives and Judge Ruffin, as influential states-
men whom he particularly wished to know. I left him,
having said nothing I had intended to, with a conviction
that he would require no guardian. From that first
visit to the time when my more matured judgment and
intimate knowledge of the noble qualities of his mind
and heart led me to account him the greatest of Ameri-
cans, he never ceased to grow in my esteem.

The hour of nine arrived ; the Conference adjourned,
so that those who wished might attend Mr. Lincoln's


reception. Not, as when we called on President Bu-
chanan, were we formed in procession and marshalled
on our way, preceded by our presiding officer ; but in
straggling groups we made our way as best we might
to the drawing-room, in which the President-elect was
to be placed on exhibition, before what was, in the main,
a most unfriendly audience. No delegate from a slave
state had voted for him ; many entertained for him sen-
timents of positive hatred. I heard him discussed as a
curiosity by men as they would have spoken of a clown
with whose ignorant vulgarity they were to be amused.
They took him for an unlettered boor, with no fixed
principles, whose nomination was an accident, and his
election the victory of the ultra anti-slavery faction. A
small number of more conservative men from the slave,
and very nearly a majority of the delegates from the
free states, were inclined to respect his office, but regard-
ed its prospective incumbent as an extremist, with no
qualification for its duties. Some queried whether, like
old John Brown, he actually longed for an insurrection
of the slaves. Even the small minority of his political
supporters, who had resolved in their hearts that he
should be inaugurated, though stanch in his defence,
had not discovered his intellectual strength, and sus-
pected few of his sterling qualities.

An experienced politician would have prepared him-
self for such an occasion. In fact, his friends antici-
pated that Mr. Lincoln would conduct himself with ex-
treme reserve, and use great caution in the expression
of his opinions.

Mr. Lincoln had not made the slightest preparation.
He stood in the corner of one of the public drawing-
rooms of the hotel alone, unattended. Mr. Lamon, who
had accompanied him from his home, and who it was


understood he would appoint marshal of the district,
was not present until a later hour. No one had been
provided to introduce the delegates or give any direction
to the proceedings. I observed the omission as I en-
tered the room, and, there being no time to stand upon
ceremony, took a position, as if by arrangement, at Mr.
Lincoln's side, and presented each member of the Con-
ference by name. Their number was as large as that
present at President Buchanan's reception. A general
curiosity prevailed to witness the manner in which the
incoming President would conduct himself, and many
wished, by a closer observation of his appearance and
awkwardness, to nourish their contempt for the " rail-

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 5 of 35)