L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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not been informed beforehand, I should not have sus-
pected that these horsemen were the visible parts of
two batteries of horse artillery of the regular army,
ready for action should any occasion arise for their ser-

We were not long kept waiting. A passage had been
kept open from the columns of the eastern portico,
across the whole platform, to its front. From between
the two central columns first appeared the marshal with
a man of soldierly bearing by his side. The tall, bent
form with the intellectual face of the Chief Justice of
the United States followed, arm in arm with the Presi-
dent-elect. Senators, congressmen, officers of the army
and navy brought up the rear. But the crowd had no
eyes for them. All were fixed upon Mr. Lincoln. The
party advanced to the front of the platform, where a
small table had been placed for Mr. Lincoln's conven-
ience. Without seating himself, the silvery voice of
Senator Baker, of Oregon, rang out over the multitude
with these simple words, u Fellow-citizens, I introduce
to you Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect of the
United States of America!"

A slight ripple of applause followed this introduction.
The commanding figure of Senator Baker receded into
the audience. When I next saw it, the soul had gone
out of it at Ball's Bluff. It lay, torn and disfigured by
a score of rebel bullets, in the east room of the White
House, covered by the flag in defence of which he gave
his life. With head uncovered, towering above the
eminent men by whom he was surrounded, Mr. Lincoln
advanced to the table and commenced the reading of
his address.

There were few persons in that uncounted throng who


expected to hear, or were in a frame of mind to appre-
ciate, the import of that address. It needed the light
of subsequent events for its comprehension. I count it
as one of the valued opportunities of my life, that, seated
only a few yards away from the speaker, I heard dis-
tinctly every word he uttered, watched the play of his
strong features, and noted the effect of his emphatic
sentences upon the persons around me. A flash of light
swept over the field as the faces of the multitude were
turned towards Mr. Lincoln, when the words " Fellow-
citizens of the United States" fell from his lips. Few
of those faces were turned away until his last words
had been spoken.

Mr. Lincoln's ordinary voice was pitched in a high
and not unmusical key. Without effort it was heard at
an unusual distance. Persons at the most distant mar-
gins of the audience said that every word he spoke was
distinctly audible to them. The silence was unbroken.
No speaker ever secured a more undivided attention, for
almost every hearer felt a personal interest in what he
was to say. His friends feared, those who were not his
friends hoped, that, forgetting the dignity of his posi-
tion, and the occasion, he would descend to the practices
of the story-teller, and fail to rise to the level of a states-
man. For he was popularly known as the " Bail-split-
ter;" was supposed to be uncouth in his manner, and
low, if not positively vulgar, in his moral nature. If
not restrained by personal fear, it was thought that he
might attack those who differed with him in opinion
with threats and denunciations.

But the great heart and kindly nature of the man
were apparent in his opening sentence, in the tone of his
voice, the expression of his face, in his whole manner
and bearing. The key-note of his address might have


been shown in a sentence. Distrustful of himself, and
relying upon the assistance of the Almighty, he should,
to the best of his ability, discharge the trust which his
office imposed, of supporting the Constitution, and main-
taining the Union of the states in its integrity, as it was
bequeathed to us by our fathers. But he required, he
desired, he besought, the cooperation of his fellow-citi-
zens in the execution of his trust. This same duty rested
alike upon himself and all his fellow-citizens. It was
the defence and preservation of their joint inheritance.
He was about to take an oath in their presence, before
Almighty God, to protect and defend the Constitution.
Would his fellow-citizens assist him to keep the oath,
and execute the trust it involved ? Whatever else might
happen, " the Union must be, should be preserved !"

His introduction had not been welcomed by a cheer,
his opening remarks elicited no response. The silence
was long-continued and became positively painful. But
the power of his earnest words began to show itself;
the sombre cloud which seemed to hang over the audi-
ence began to fade away when he said, " I hold that in
the contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitu-
tion, the Union of these states is perpetual!" with the
words " I shall take care, as the Constitution itself ex-
pressly enjoins upon me, that the 'laws of the Union
shall be faithfully executed in all the states /' ' : And
when, with uplifted eyes and solemn accents, he said,
" The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy,
and possess the property and places belonging to the
government," a great wave of enthusiasm rolled over
the audience, as the united voices of the immense mul-
titude ascended heavenward in a roar of assenting

From this time to the end of the address, Abraham


Lincoln controlled the audience at his will. He had
gained the confidence of his hearers and secured their
respect and affection. ]STor did he abuse his power.
There was not a trace of menace, not a word of criti-
cism, not an unfriendly suggestion in the entire speech.
Who that heard them will ever forget the influence of
those affectionate sentences with which the address ter-
minated ? " I am loath to close. We are not enemies,
but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion
may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of

" The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every
battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and
hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the
chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they
will be, by the better angels of our nature !"

There was no hesitancy in the judgment which the
audience was prepared to pronounce upon this inaugural
address. From end to end of the Capitol, from the
farthest limits of East Capitol Square, from the distant
street where General Scott and his batteries were posted
as a corps of observation, and from every superficial
foot of the enclosed space, a burst of applause arose
which made loyal hearts beat more rapidly, and the
blood in loyal arteries leap joyously to their extremities.
Over and over again the cheer was repeated. Grave
senators and judges "joined in the rapturous cry,
and even the ranks of slavery could scarce forbear to
cheer !"

The Chief Justice of the United States now came for-
ward. His venerable appearance gave to what might
have been a mere matter of form great dignity and im-
pressive significance. He extended an open Bible, upon
which Mr. Lincoln laid his left hand, and, uplifting his


right arm, he slowly repeated after the Chief Justice
the words of the Constitution. " I do solemnly swear
that I will faithfully execute the office of President of
the United States, and will, to the best of my ability,
preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the
United States. So help me God!"

The ceremony ended. Those upon the broad platform
rose and remained standing as the President and his
party passed back into the building. The procession re-
formed in the same order as before and returned, leav-
ing at the White House, as President of the United
States, the private citizen it had escorted from the hotel.
"Within the hour another carriage, in which there was a
single occupant, was driven down the avenue to the only
railroad-station then in "Washington. It contained ex-
President Buchanan, returning as a private citizen to
his Pennsylvania home, bearing with him less credit for
loyal service to his country than he deserved. The
crowd rapidly melted away. The change was com-
pleted. "Without disorder or disturbance, with the dig-
nity befitting an act of such transcendent importance,
and, as events proved, upon the very threshold of civil
war, the will of the people expressed at the ballot-box
was executed, the old administration had surrendered
its great powers to the new, and Abraham Lincoln,
with the prestige of law and order in his favor, had
become the President of the Republic. To this de-
sirable result, General Dix and Mr. Stanton had each
powerfully contributed ; Judge Holt and others less con-
spicuously. Mr. Buchanan might justly have claimed
credit for patriotic intentions partly executed. It was
less his fault than his misfortune that the weakness of
declining years led him to repose confidence in those
who were false to their country and to himself. But


it was the united opinion of the closest observers that
the man to whose prudence, energy, and patriotism the
country was chiefly indebted for the peace of March
4th, 1861, was Winfield Scott, Lieutenant-General, Com-
manding the Army.



ACCIDENT, united with admiration for some of his ster-
ling qualities, at this time gave me opportunities of
acquaintance with General Scott and members of his
military family. Disregarding the chronology of events,
possibly this is as good a time as I shall have to bring
together and revise the impressions made upon me by
these interviews.

No man, not Mr. Lincoln himself, was at this time
more intensely hated by the secessionists than General
Scott. A Virginian by birth and education, he became a
citizen of South Carolina, and, while residing in Charles-
ton, left the law for the career of a soldier. He was a
favorite with Southern officers throughout his long ser-
vice in the army, and they confidently anticipated that
he would side with the South when the hour of separa-
tion came. He had been called from New York to Wash-
ington early in December. Even before the election,
correctly forecasting its results, he had urgently advised
President Buchanan to reinforce the Southern forts and
put them in a better condition for defence. Many times
after he came to Washington he had pressed similar
suggestions upon the Executive. He had become suspi-
cious of the Secretary of War, and on one noted occa-
sion had personally requested permission to send two
hundred and fifty men, with munitions of war and sup-
plies, to Fort Sumter without the knowledge of that


officer. His request was disregarded, and he then turned
his attention to the defence of "Washington and its secur-
ity during the inauguration. Although himself reticent
upon the subject, it was known to his friends that strong
influences, founded upon his attachment to his native
state, had been brought to bear to detach him from the
cause of the Union ; that appeals to his duty to Vir-
ginia, offers of high command, and arguments of influ-
ential Virginians had failed to shake his loyalty to his
flag. He was reported to have sternly informed one
Virginia senator that his friendship for that gentleman
would not survive a second suggestion of desertion.

Unable to obtain even the promise of his neutrality,
they abandoned all hope of influencing him, and set him
down as an enemy to be removed or destroyed. Then
there was a change! The intensity of secession wrath
and fury contrasted powerfully with the magnificent con-
tempt for both with which the veteran pursued his path
to duty. They exhausted the vocabulary for words
of invective, and threats of assassination became so nu-
merous that a mail which did not bring them was the
exception. I shall not soil my pages with the foul epi-
thets with which they made the city vocal.

One of their charges had some evidence in its support.
" He was untrue to the South," they said, " not because
he loved the Union, but because he hated Jefferson Davis.
They had been enemies for thirty years. The cause grew
out of General Scott's vanity, which had been wounded
by changes in his " General Regulations for the Army,"
for which he held Mr. Davis responsible while he was
connected with West Point. Mr. Davis, also, as chair-
man of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, had
felt bound to oppose, and had for several years succeeded
in postponing, the passage of the resolution which au-


thorized the President to confer upon General Scott the
brevet rank of lieutenant-general. As a cabinet officer,
he had prevented any increase of pay under the resolu-
tion, until Congress interfered by a positive declaration
that it be allowed. " It was selfish interest and wounded
vanity," they said, "and not patriotism or fidelity to
the Stars and Stripes, that bound him to the decaying
cause of the Union."

I once heard the subject of his relations with Mr.
Davis, and this charge, mentioned in his presence. It
was on the 9th of February, the day following the elec-
tion of Mr. Davis to the Presidency of the Southern

" I have no quarrel with Mr. Davis," said the veteran
chief ; " I must decline to discuss the statements to which
you refer. Possibly they may have some color of truth.
For more than thirty years he has been my persistent,
deadly enemy. Yet he never did me much harm. The
American people took excellent care that his plots against
me should not succeed. But I can give a better reason
why loyal men ought not to consort with him. He is
a false man false by nature, habit, and choice. His
patriotism consists in promoting the interests of Jeffer-
son Davis and his pets. His pets are the men that he
can use. General Taylor should have been a good judge
of Mr. Davis, for he was his father-in-law, and had excel-
lent opportunities of estimating his value. He despised
him thoroughly."

"I am amazed," he continued, warming to his sub-
ject, "that any man of judgment should hope for the
success of any cause in which Jefferson Davis is a leader.
There is contamination in his touch. If secession was
the ' holiest cause that tongue or sword of mortal ever
lost or gained,' he would ruin it ! He will bear a great


amount of watching. My friends in Congress learned
that he had arranged for a veto of the resolution which
had passed both Houses, giving me the pay and allow-
ances of a lieutenant-general, according to their inten-
tion, of which his machinations had deprived me for
three years. Against his opposition, they then incor-
porated the resolution as an amendment into the Mili-
tary Appropriation Bill, which he could not afford to
veto. He was chairman of the Military Committee;
they had to appoint a committee of their own number
to watch the amendment from its adoption until it was
written into the engrossed bill to prevent its being lost !
He is not a cheap Judas. I do not think he would have
sold the Saviour for thirty shillings ; but for the succes-
sorship of Pontius Pilate, he would have betrayed Christ
and the apostles and the whole Christian Church !"

In his intercourse with Northern men, about the time
of Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, General Scott expressed
his opinions without any apparent reserve. He had no
sympathy with the abolitionists ; his opinions were de-
cidedly pro-slavery. Long after others had abandoned
all hope of a peaceful settlement, he citing to the hope
that a great Union party might be formed on the basis
of the "Crittenden Resolutions," which would bring
back the seceded states, and prevent war. If war be-
came inevitable, he declared it would be long, bloody,
and expensive. The North would prevail, because it
was the stronger in numbers and resources; but it was
hopeless to attempt to subjugate the South with an
army of less than three hundred thousand men. The
assertion that the South was the superior of the North
in personal courage excited his contempt. He had led
men in battle from every state in the Union. There
was little difference in their fighting qualities. Why


should there be ? They were of the same race and ori-
gin. Even the immigrants were principally of the same
descent. If the Southern men had more dash, the North-
ern had better staying qualities.

He spoke of himself with equal freedom. " His day,"
he said, " had passed. Age and pain had exhausted him.
He had not for many months been able to walk without
assistance, or to move without pain. The general com-
manding an army must be able to lead as well as to
direct it. Successful generals, from Alexander to Napo-
leon, with few exceptions, had been young men. Desaix
and Hoche, the youngest marshals of Napoleon, had
been his most efficient generals."

Twice, in my presence, General Scott spoke in compli-
mentary terms of Colonel Robert E. Lee. One of these
occasions was previous to the day of the inauguration,
immediately after Colonel Lee arrived in Washington
from Texas, and about the first of March. He " knew
him thoroughly. He was an accomplished soldier, equal
to any position to the command of the army." He
spoke of the opinions of Colonel Lee as from personal
knowledge. " He is loyal to the Union," he said, " from
principle as well as birth, and his education as a soldier."
He had very recent evidence that Colonel Lee was not
and never would be a secessionist.

The biographer of General Lee has very recently
made public the evidence which, I have no doubt, enabled
General Scott to speak so positively of the opinions at
that time held by Colonel Lee. He has published a
letter written by the latter from Texas' to his son in
Washington under date of January 23d, 1861, in which
secession is condemned in emphatic terms. He said:
" Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of
our Constitution never would have exhausted so much

' 7.


labor, wisdom, and forbearance in its formation, and sur-
rounded it with so many guards and securities, if it was
intended to be broken by every member of the confed-
eracy at will. It is intended for perpetual union, as
expressed in the preamble, and for the establishment of
a government, not a compact, which can only be dis-
solved by revolution or the consent of all the people in
convention assembled. It is idle to talk of secession.
Anarchy would have been established, and not a govern-
ment, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and
all the other patriots of the Revolution."

Within six weeks after the 4th of March, I had occa-
sion to recall these strong expressions by General Scott,
of his confidence in the loyalty of Colonel Lee. Instead
of waiting for the paymaster to make his rounds, the
officers of the army and navy, who resigned to take
service with the Confederacy, secured an arrangement
with their departments by which they were paid, to the
date of their resignations, by treasury-warrants. I be-
lieve it was General Spinner, the treasurer, who suggest-
ed that, as these gentlemen were going South, we should
pay them by drafts on the stolen assistant-treasuries in
the seceded states. As the warrants passed my office, I
marked them for such drafts when I had the necessary

On one of the dark days which afterwards shrouded
the capital, when these officers were deserting their flag
and resigning their commissions by scores being care-
ful to collect the last dollar of their pay one of these
warrants, payable to a member of the family of Colonel
Lee, was brought to me for signature. It was on the
20th day of April, three days after the secession of Vir-
ginia. I marked it, " Pay by draft on Richmond," as
there was more government money there than in the


treasury at Washington. Though we knew the rebels
had seized it, we thought it would serve for the payment
of rebel claims. My innocent note made trouble. Several
of the officer's friends called to assure me that I was do-
ing himself and his family great injustice; that they
were all loyal; that he resigned because he could not
fight his native state but he would never fight against
the Union. Then it was that I heard the report that it
was not Colonel Lee who was to resign ; it was General
Scott, and Colonel Lee was to be his successor in the
command of the Union army. I was inflexible. I would
not change the order except upon the written pledge of
the officer not to enter the Confederate service. It is
unnecessary to add that the pledge was not given.

At the time I was being urged to pay this claim, the
resignation of Colonel Lee was in the hands of General
Scott. " It has cost me a struggle," he wrote, " to
separate from superiors and comrades who have been so
kind and considerate to me." Bat for the republic, to
the bounty of which he owed his education, his position,
and the greater part of his possessions, there was no
word of gratitude, obligation, or regret. " Save in de-
fence of my native state," he said, "I never desire
again to draw my sword." His intent and purpose did
not correspond to his desire.

Three days later, in the state house in Richmond, he
received from Governor Letcher the appointment of
"Commander of all the military and naval forces of
Virginia," as he declared, with an approving conscience,
there pledging himself to her service, and asserting that,
"except in her behalf, he would never again draw his
sword" On the 10th of May he accepted the command
of " all the forces of the Confederate States in Virginia."
Twice he led an invading army to meet disaster and de-


feat north of the Potomac ; and if the republic was not
destroyed and a slave-ocracy erected upon its ruins, it
was not because he failed to labor diligently to that end
from the date last named until rebellion was driven by
loyal hands to its unlamented grave.

No loyal American desires to abate or diminish by
one grain any credit gained by any participant in the
rebellion. He is content that the Confederacy should
rest quietly on the bloody field where it fell until it has
faded from the memory of man. It had no right nor
reason to be. It was a rebellion against the freest
government that ever existed. It was sown in con-
spiracy, nourished by patriotic blood, and perished from
exhaustion. The sooner it is forgotten, the better for those
who caused and upheld it, for the country, and mankind.

The defection of Colonel Lee has been treated by the
loyal North with exceptional charity. His conscientious-
ness in resigning his commission has not been questioned.
His admirers should have accepted the situation and not
have excited discussion by presenting his example as one
worthy of imitation by patriotic men. That discussion
inevitably raises the question, What would have happened
if Colonel Lee had followed the example of General Scott
and Major Geo. H. Thomas, and continued loyal to the
Union ?

For more than two centuries the Lees had been the
most influential family in Virginia. It was a Lee who
gave to Washington his deserved place " First in war,
first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
By his marriage, Colonel Lee had united the wealth and
influence of the Washingtons and the Lees. He had
been made the ward of the republic ; he had been edu-
cated at its expense ; he had voluntarily enlisted in its
service. He had obtained his first, and every succeeding


commission, by pledging himself on his honor, " to bear
true faith and allegiance to the United States of Amer-
ica to serve them honestly and faithfully against all
their enemies whatsoever, and to obey the orders of the
President of the United States, and the orders of the
officers appointed over him, according to the rules and
articles of war." If between the two oceans that wash
its remotest limits there was one man more firmly than
any other bound to the service of the republic by tra-
dition, training, associations, pecuniary considerations,
and the honor of a soldier, that man was Colonel Lee.

The final verdict of history must be that Colonel Lee
had no justification for his course. A skilful casuist may
sometimes break the force of an invincible argument by
some bold assertion which, although it may be true, has
no relevancy to the subject. The only plea of justifica-

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 7 of 35)