L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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tion made by himself at the time, or his eulogists since,
was that he "could not draw his sword against Vir-
ginia." To this plea I demur, for irrelevancy. There
was no issue with Virginia, no question pending of draw-
ing swords against her or in her defence. Colonel Lee
came to Washington on the 1st of March, opposed to
secession, as is shown by his letters. A president, whose
election was admitted to have been fair and by constitu-
tional methods, was shortly afterwards inaugurated, and
became the head of the government. He was pledged
to non-interference with slavery, bound by his oath to
maintain the Union. He had made no threat, proposed
no violent measures. Virginia was still a member of
the Federal Union. At her last election the Unionists
were a powerful majority. Had Colonel Lee remained
loyal, had he thrown the weight of his family, his name,
and his influence into the scale for the Union, had he
accepted the command of the Union armies, which he


says was tendered to Mm by the President's authority,
who shall say that the balance would not have been
turned that he would not have saved the country from
war and Virginia from devastation ?

The ability of General Lee as a leader of armies was
very great. It was acquired in the service of the United
States. His character was elevated, and in many re-
spects worthy of imitation, for its foundations were laid
in the first military school of the republic. He was
not unduly elated by victory, nor depressed by defeat.
He was respected by his foes, admired by his intimates,
beloved by his soldiers. Next after his desire to win
victories was his purpose to mitigate the evils of war.
Only one unsoldierly act, and that was one of omission,
was ever mentioned to his discredit. It was that he did
not actively interfere to suppress the horrible treatment
of Union prisoners. Of that no man should be accused
except upon plenary proof. He was the pride of the
Confederacy, and the love which the Virginians bore
him surpassed their love for "Washington. Peace to his
ashes, and honor to his memory ! But it cannot be for-
gotten that his otherwise stainless life was defaced by
one gigantic error, which must not be suppressed lest
any man fall after the same example.



THE inaugural address called forth opinions as diverse
as the issues which disturbed the country. The Union-
ists in the South received it with favor. They said its
tone was pacific, and that no just complaint could be
made of the evident purpose of the author to preserve
the Union and to perform his constitutional duty of
enforcing the laws. The organs of the Douglas Democ-
racy declared that in its statesmanship it met the ex-
pectations of the country, and its effects would be salu-
tary. The Secessionists denounced it as sectional and
mischievous, and insisted that if the President meant
what he said, it was the knell and requiem of the Union,
and the death-blow of hope. The pronounced Republi-
cans were inclined to reserve their judgment. They did
not quite like his positive pledge not to interfere with
slavery ; but, on the other hand, with a strong tendency
to conciliate, it was decided in its condemnation of seces-
sion and in its purpose to preserve the Union. The fact
was that none of the parties appreciated the dignity and
power of the document, nor the ability and sound sense
of its author. Read by the light of subsequent events,
it proved to be one of the most able state papers of its
generation, and fully equal to the great demands of the

The announcement of the names of the cabinet officers
for the moment diverted the public attention from other
subjects. They were obviously selected upon the novel,


and it was feared dangerous, principle of placing the
government in the hands of those members of the suc-
cessful party most in favor with the people, as shown
by their strength in the nominating convention. Upon
this principle Mr. Seward had no competitor for the De-
partment of State. Mr. Chase was selected for the
Treasury, Mr. Cameron for the War Department, and
Mr. Bates for the Attorney-Generalship. The President
desired that the slave-holding states should have a more
decided representative of their interests than Mr. Bates,
and places were offered to distinguished statesmen of Vir-
ginia and North Carolina. Upon their declination the
vacancies remaining were filled by Montgomery Blair,
of Maryland, who had considerable strength in the nom-
inating convention, Caleb B. Smith, a moderate Repub-
lican from Indiana, and Mr. Welles, of Connecticut, a
very conservative representative of New England.

In the construction of his cabinet Mr. Lincoln had ob-
viously determined to secure strength at the sacrifice of
unity. It was scarcely to be expected that the views of
Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase, or Mr. Cameron and Mr.
Bates, could be harmonized. On the other hand, the
Cabinet comprised some of the strongest men of the
party, who would administer their several departments,
each in his own way, perhaps, but with force and energy.
One question was settled by the announcement of their
names : there would be no more concessions to slavery !

My own awakening to the proximity of war occurred
on the evening of March 3d. I had been the secretary,
and Governor Chase the chairman, of the caucus of Re-
publican members of the Peace Conference. We oc-
cupied adjacent apartments at the Rugby ; we were
thrown together almost daily, and I had acquired a high
opinion of the abilities of the Ohio statesman. On the


evening in question, he called at my rooms, and in his
peculiarly concise manner said : " I have consented to
accept the Treasury under Mr. Lincoln. I wish to have
you take one of its bureaus."

I thanked him, but said it was impossible for me to
accept the offer. I was dependent upon my profession,
I had a young family to educate, and I could not afford
to accept office upon so small a salary.

""We are living at a time when such considerations
have no weight," he said. " Within a few weeks men of
your age and health will have no choice. You will be
compelled to enter the service of the government. You
are worth more in the Treasury than you can be in the
field ; therefore it is your duty to go into the Treasury."

" Is it possible," I asked, " that you think we are on
the verge of war ? that we are to bloodshed ?"

" There is no more doubt of it, in my opinion," he said,
" than there is of your existence. There is only one way
to avoid it. It is that suggested by General Scott, to
say to the seceded states, ' Wayward sisters, depart in
peace !' Would New England consent to that ?"

" No," I answered, " not to the diminution of the
Union by one square inch ! But I cannot take in the
possibility, the suggestion of war, with all its conse-
quences. I must think over what you tell me. I can-
not leave Vermont it is the home of my fathers."

The words of Governor Chase were a shock as well as
a surprise to me. Except our brief experience in dis-
tant Mexico, the existing generation knew nothing of
war. We had all assumed that the good sense of Con-
gress would discover some way of avoiding war of ar-
ranging the controversy without disunion or final sepa-
ration. This conviction of Mr. Chase confounded me.
But I persisted that family duties and professional busi-


ness forbade my acceptance of any office except the col-
lectorship of my own district, for which I then informed
him I should be an applicant.

I returned to my Vermont home and my law office.
After the confirmation of the Cabinet, for nearly three
weeks there was a lull in the public excitement, and ne-
gotiations on the part of the seceded states were again
attempted. On the 22d of March I was summoned to
Washington. I met Governor Chase, who informed me
that he had appointed a collector for the district of Ver-
mont, and, as I thought, with very little consideration
for my claims. He again pressed me to accept an ap-
pointment in the Treasury, which I was again compelled
to decline. On my way home I passed the night at the
Astor House, in New York city, and at breakfast, on the
morning of March 26th, read in the newspapers the an-
nouncement of my confirmation as Register of the Treas-
ury, to which office I had been appointed on the day

On reaching my home I found a letter from Secretary
Chase, asking me to accept the office of register, at
least for the time, and to return to Washington as soon
as I could make arrangements for an absence of a few
weeks from my business. I set about these arrange-
ments, and for nearly three weeks was actively occupied
with them.

On the 14th of April there was a whispered rumor,
which found speedy confirmation. The first gun of trea-
son had been fired against Fort Sumter. Next we heard
that Sumter had fallen. The first effect of this informa-
tion on the public mind was stupefying, as when a deadly
blow is struck across the temples. It was nearly two
days before the reaction began. Then it swept every-
thing before it. In a moment, in the twinkling of an


eye, as if at the call of a trumpet, the united voice of the
loyal North denounced the treason and invoked judg-
ment on the traitors. I have some notes of the begin-
ning of the uprising of a great people made at the time.
I will transcribe a few of them :

" Monday, April 15th, at 9 A.M., I left Burlington for
Washington. Yesterday the news of the surrender of Fort
Sumter to the rebels by Major Anderson swept through
New England. The indignation is indescribable. With
it came the answer of the President to the delegates
from Virginia, that he should not depart from the prin-
ciples of his inaugural address. Crowds were collected
at all the stations on the railroads, even at the small
country towns, thirsting for news. At Rutland we had
the Troy morning papers, with the proclamation for an
extra session of Congress on the 4th of July, and the
President's call for seventy-five thousand men for the re-
capture of the Southern forts and the defence of the
country. We had an hour at Troy. The crowds in-
creased in numbers and exultation. A mass-meeting is
called for to-night to arrange for enlistments. Leading
citizens say that there is only one party now the party
of the Union. Gen. Wool heads the call. Passed
through great crowds at every station on the railroad,
and reached the Astor House at ten o'clock in the even-
ing. City Hall Square is packed with an orderly crowd,
which has made a demonstration against the New York
Herald, and compelled it to display the Union flag. No
expressions against the Union or the President are per-

There was little sleep that night in the lower part of
the city. Cheers for President Lincoln and the Union,
and patriotic songs rang through the streets. A despatch
from Governor Fairbanks requested me to ascertain


when the First Regiment of Vermont Volunteers would
be accepted. I was unable to get any decent seat in the
train until the following evening, and the cars then were
crowded. I reached Washington at daybreak on Wednes-
day, April 17th. The enthusiasm pervaded Philadelphia,
but was not apparent in Baltimore, nor visible in Wash-

If the experiences of that journey could be adequately
represented on paper, they would serve as an instructive
lesson to all who in future may harbor the thought of
trifling with the Union, or showing any want of respect
to the national flag. Men may come and men may go,
but the love of Americans for the Stars and Stripes will
abide forever. Never before had the flag seemed to
me half so glorious. I left my home with no thought
but that of returning to it as soon as I had performed
any temporary service which I might be able to render
to the Secretary. When I reached Washington I was
willing to take any place in which I could render the
best service to my country.



I HAP an invitation to breakfast with Secretary Chase
at the Rugby House. He had so many friends who
"waited on their office according to their order," and
who pursued him even to the breakfast-room, that he
only had time for a few words with me. " Your com-
mission," he said, " is in the hands of Mr. Harrington
(the First Assistant Secretary). 1 wish you. would get
it, take the oath, and assume possession of your office
this morning. Whatever may happen, I must have
some Republicans near me upon whom I can rely."

Mr. Harrington directed me to one of the district
judges, before whom I could take the oath of office. A
clerk, who he said was well known to the judge, ac-
companied to identify me. We found " His Honor " not
in a judicial temper, and evidently much tossed about
in his mind. " He transacted his business in court," he
said, "and not at his private residence." He declined
to recognize my attendant. He did not know " why he
should be annoyed by Republican office-seekers. He
should not inconvenience himself to accommodate them;
his court was held at the City Hall ; it opened at eleven

" I am here," I remarked, " at this early hour, at the
special request of the Secretary of the Treasury. I am
assured that you have often administered oaths upon
the identification of the clerk sent here with me. Being


myself a lawyer, I can recognize an unsound excuse for
the non-performance of a judicial duty. I respectfully
ask you to administer the oath, or, in plain terms, and
not by inference, decline to do so."

He snatched the commission from my hand, mutter-
ing, in an undertone, something about " committal " and
" for disrespect," scrawled his name upon the paper, and
flung it at me in a contemptuous manner. " You have
certified to what is not true," I said. " If this manner
of administering an official oath suits you, I think your
certificate will answer my purpose."

It was, I think, his last judicial act. He " went South "
the next day, and I saw him no more. 1 refer to this
incident because it illustrates the sullen anger of the
Secessionists who at that time swarmed in the streets of

My predecessor in office received me courteously, and
introduced me to the clerks and employes in the bureau.
He had prepared for the change, and delivered the office
to me in excellent working order. He soon after took
his departure, offering his services should I, at any time,
have occasion to need them.

My first discovery in office was that its atmosphere
was one which I could not breathe, and to which I could
never become accustomed. It was as fatal to personal
independence as carbonic-acid gas to animal life. The
clerks approached the presence of the head-officer as if
he were a superior being. I never could tolerate the
sight of a person who came up to me " washing his hands
with invisible soap in imperceptible water." The change
of a cringing, grovelling carriage in the presence of supe-
riors was my first official decision. It had been attend-
ed with petty tyranny over inferiors.

There were but slight indications that Washington,


would take any part in the answer which I knew would
be returned from the North to the call of the President
for seventy-live thousand men. One or two volunteer
companies had tendered their services, and the War De-
partment had accepted them. But every one seemed
to be waiting to see what Virginia would do. If Vir-
ginia seceded, the prevailing opinion seemed to be that
the cause of the Union was hopeless. I did not like the
atmosphere nor the surroundings. My first day of offi-
cial life was neither cheerful nor satisfactory.

The first papers presented for my signature, on the
morning of April 18th, were certificates for the fraction
of the month's salary claimed by two clerks who had
resigned to take office under the Confederacy at Mont-
gomery, Alabama. My chief clerk said that my cer-
tificates were necessary to enable them to draw their

"Why should they draw their money?" I asked.
" Does not a deserter always forfeit any pay otherwise
due him ?"

He did not know, he said. It had been the custom
in all the bureaus. My predecessor had always signed
the certificates. He supposed I would not wish to change
the practice.

I said the matter would require consideration. From
the effect produced by this observation, one would have
supposed desertion to be a virtue rather than an offence.
The story of the " outrage " flew on the wings of the wind.
The injured clerks demanded an interview. They were
filled with indignation. Had they not a right to resign ?
Could they do otherwise than follow the fortunes of their
states? The practice of paying up to the date of the
acceptance was universal. This refusal deprived them
of their earned wages, etc.


I made an end of the subject by the remark that, mor-
ally, I could see no distinction between their cases and
that of a soldier who deserts his flag ; that I had neither
love nor respect for traitors or deserters, and that, with
my present views, I should not sign those nor any simi-
lar certificates without the special order of the secre-

I had scarcely disposed of these gentlemen before I
received a request to attend at the office of Assistant
Secretary Harrington, at two o'clock on the same day.
It was a meeting of the chiefs of the bureaus of the
Treasury. There were no absentees. Mr. Harrington
said that the secretary would like to have our views
concerning the defence of the Treasury, if an attack
should be made upon it. I think General Francis E.
Spinner, whom I then met for the first time, made the
first answer.

" I am for defending the Treasury," he said; "but first
I would put it into a condition to be defended. The
building needs cleaning out. I prefer to take my seces-
sion clear, unadulterated, from the outside. We should
know whom we can depend upon. The doubtful and
uncertain should be excluded from the building. I do
not wish to have men around me who require watching."

These views met with universal assent. In less time
than is required to write the account it was agreed that
the clerks and messengers of all the bureaus should be
called together at four o'clock, and the number of those
ascertained who would unite in the defence of the Treas-

" I will have my say !" said one, as the indications of
adjournment became pressing. " My military education
was neglected. It consisted in blowing the fife one day
at a June training. Why may we not have an officer


from the War Department to teach us at least the drill
of the awkward squad ?"

"Your question, I think, justifies me in giving you
information of one fact," said Mr. Harrington, address-
ing the meeting. " It was arranged that Captains Shi-
ras and Franklin, from the War Department, should or-
ganize the Treasury regiment, when the secretary de-
cided first to consult you. You will find the appearance
of the Treasury changed in the morning. There will be
no want of arms or instructors."

We returned to our offices. I can only speak of what
took place in my own.. To insure that all should be
notified, I called the clerks into my room, and gave the
notices in person. There was a flutter of excitement,
followed by several applications for leave of absence.
None were granted. At five o'clock each employe of
the office had the opportunity to sign the following pa-
per : " I will defend the Treasury, under the orders of
the officer in charge of it, against all its enemies, to the
best of my ability."

This was not a complicated pledge, but it was not re-
ceived with enthusiasm. In fact, it reminded me of the
reception of an invitation mentioned by St. Luke, for
"They all, with one consent, began to make excuse."
I do not know that any of them had bought a piece of
ground, or five yoke of oxen, or had married a wife, but
one had a sick wife, another was surrounded by Seces-
sionist neighbors, who would make his life a burden if
he openly joined any Union organization; there was a
perfect epidemic of heart and nervous diseases, and one
belonged to a family in which palpitation of the heart
was hereditary, and always brought on by any sudden
shock. I assured them that I sincerely regretted their
unfortunate situations, but I could not see that it was


important to the government whether it was deprived
of their services by cowardice or misfortune ; it was the
loss of the services in defence of the Treasury which was

It remained for an old Southerner to put them to
shame. He had been in the office almost half a century ;
he belonged to an old Carolina family. He had been
appointed when very young, and was put in charge of
surrendered ship's registers, in the basement of the
Treasury, where scarcely any one ever had occasion to
go, and where he had been for so long a time that con-
nections with his family and friends had long since ceased
to exist. " I never fired a gun in my life," he said. " I
could not hit the side of a barn, and I have no doubt that
I am a coward. But as long as the star-spangled ban-
ner waves, I have something to live for. If I am too old
to be of any other use, I can at least act as a powder-
monkey, and my body will stop a Secession bullet with
the best of you." He seized the pen, and the name first
signed to the paper was that of fronds Lowndes.

His example was followed by all except two or three.
They were directed to report for further orders at nine
o'clock on the following morning.

On the six-o'clock train between five and six hundred
Pennsylvanians arrived, the first volunteers for the de-
fence of the capital. " There is a rumor that the Vir-
ginia Convention has passed the ordinance of secession !
All the cars and locomotives have been sent to Kichmond.
The government should have seized them ten days ago.
Commodore Paulding, from Norfolk, reports no disturb-
ance there, and that he has two ships in position to pro-
tect the government property. These reports are unsat-
isfactory. If Virginia has seceded, a long war seems to
me inevitable." Such was my note of that day.



No account of the isolation of Washington has yet
been written. It began on Friday, April 19, and ended
on the Thursday following. It was unpredicted, and to
many as alarming as eclipses formerly were to super-
stitious peoples.

On Friday morning the Treasury seemed singularly
metamorphosed. Armed men guarded its entrances,
and excluded all but officers and employes. Stacks of
rifles and boxes of cartridges occupied the halls ; busy
men were fitting huge beams into the openings, and pil-
ing sand-bags into exposed places. Barricades, from
floor to ceiling, closed the way to the vaults, and the
sharp notes of the bugle rang out at intervals. Captains
Franklin and Shiras had opened an enlistment office, and
were forming the Treasury regiment, and recruits in
squads were already being drilled in all the unoccupied

Applications to the register for leaves of absence
were numerous. The epidemic of nervous diseases was
on the increase. I granted them freely. I did not ex-
pect the applicants would return, and I was not disap-

Colonel Lane, of Kansas, and Cassius M. Clay, of Ken-
tucky, each formed volunteer companies from strangers
temporarily in the city, which were accepted as guards
of the Executive Mansion. Squads of these companies
were under instruction, and were being drilled in the


vacant lots and broad streets in the vicinity of the White
House and the Treasury.

The first news received from the outside was that the
company of regulars at Harper's Ferry had sent as many
of the arms as they could place on the train to Wash-
ington, and had burned the remainder about fourteen
thousand stands. The Virginians had organized a force
to capture the armory as soon as the ordinance of seces-
sion had been adopted by the Virginia Convention.

At noon another rumor convulsed the city. It was
said that the Seventh New York Regiment had been cut
to pieces by a mob in the streets of Baltimore. I knew
that regiment had not yet left New York. But some

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 8 of 35)