Hay and Nico in the Library

One last post devoted to my favorite secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, and then I’ll move onto other topics!

The secretaries spent years compiling an official history of the Lincoln administration:

Abraham Lincoln: A History – volume I
Abraham Lincoln: A History – volume II

In addition, John Hay’s diaries provided more details of life in the Executive Mansion – he and Nicolay complained about Mary’s conspiracies and Tad’s bad behaviour, while discussing Lincoln’s ever-changing moods.

The Life and Letters of John Hay – volume I
The Life and Letters of John Hay – volume II

After the war, both became diplomats, and Hay would eventually rise to Lincoln moulded these men, and stayed with them in experience and memory their entire lives.  Just a few weeks before he died in 1905, Hay wrote,

I dreamed last night that I was in Washington and that I went to the White House to report to the President who turned out to be Mr. Lincoln. He was very kind and considerate, and sympathetic about my illness. He said there was little work of importance on hand. He gave me two unimportant letters to answer. I was pleased that this slight order was within my power to obey. I was not in the least surprised at Lincoln’s presence in the White House. But the whole impression of the dream was one of overpowering melancholy.

I’ve added all of these to the Library.

War Is Hell, but Kissing is Great

I found this absolutely delightful anecdote in John F. Marszalek’s Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order – a biography which looks pretty damn great based on a quick flip through.

“Some time after Grant was elected President I went to call on him at the White House. I had been struck with the number and speed of his horses, and with the delight it seemed to give him to be in their company. So I said to him, ‘General, fine horses seem to have become a fad with you.’

“‘Well, Sherman,’ said he, “we all must have our fads these days. It seems to have become the fashionable thing. I have all my life been intensely fond of good horseflesh. In my youth I hadn’t the means to indulge this fancy. Later in life I had not the time. Now, when for the first time I have both the money and the leisure, I am indulging it and enjoying it to the full.’

“‘Well, general,’ said I, ‘I suppose I’ll have to be getting a fad myself I never have had one, and if I have one now I don’t know it. Let me see — let me see: what shall it be? I have it! You may drive your fast horses, and I will kiss all the pretty girls. Ha! ha! that shall be my fad.'”

Sherman is always thought of as The Destroyer, so it was hilarious to read about this later-years campaign, which by all accounts, he undertook with as much gusto as the destruction of the South.

The anecdote and many stolen-kiss followups can be found in this free online book (added to the Library), which sure seems to be a must-read for Sherman buffs like me, born 150 years too late to snare a kiss from the old rascal in person.

via Full text of “Life and deeds of General Sherman, including the story of his great march to the sea ..”.

Free Book: Atlanta, by Jacob Dolson Cox

I went looking for this book after another rewatching of the Ken Burns series. Cox’s writing is used throughout, and for good reason; he was a thoughtful, observant, and effective reporter of the events surrounding him.  Sadly, the four versions available for free have plenty of OCR mistakes (“Richmond” seems to be unreadable to every scanner in North America), but is worth checking out for descriptions like this.

[Sherman’s] nervous and restless temperament, with a tendency to irritability, might have raised a doubt whether he would be successful in guiding and directing men of the capacity of his principal subordinates ; but experience showed that he had the rare faculty of beconiing more equable imder great responsibilities and in scenes of great excitement. At such times his eccentricities disappeared, his grasp of the situation was firm and clear, his judgment was cool and based upon sound military theory as well as upon quick practical judgment, and no momentary complication or unexpected event could move him from the purposes he had based on full previous study of contingencies. His mind seemed never so clear, his confidence never so strong, his spirit never so inspiring, and his temper never so amiable as in the crisis of some fierce struggle like that of the day when McPherson fell in front of Atlanta.

If you want to read this without the digital errors, there is a version for sale that features actual scans of the original pages.

Atlanta : Jacob Dolson Cox : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.

Free Book: Intimate Character Sketches of Abraham Lincoln

Some of the quotes from the Lincoln article I posted originate in this book. I haven’t posted any free e-books in a while, so the timing is right to link to this one.

I particularly loved the sensitivity of this anecdote. Lincoln’s hands have been an historical fascination since his election. I imagine his gentle touch resonated:

When he had finished you may be sure there was no more joking or bantering. I know that for myself, I was so impressed with the poem that I felt more like crying than talking ; but as he turned to go upstairs, I said, ‘Mr. Lincoln, who wrote that? ‘ He turned and came back to where I was sitting and said: ‘ Miss Newhall, I am ashamed to say I don’t know, but if you like it I will write it off for you before I go to bed tonight and leave it for you on the table where you can get it when you have breakfast.’

It was the intention of the lawyers to leave earlier than we had planned. I was sitting at breakfast, eating by candle light, and I recall very distinctly I was eating pancakes and was in the act of cutting one, holding it with my fork while I used the knife, when I was conscious of some motion behind me, and a great big hand took hold of my left hand, or rather covering it on the table, and with his right hand around over my other shoulder, he laid down a piece of paper just in front of my plate. Before I could realize who or what it was, Mr. Lincoln moved toward the door, saying ‘ Goodbye, my dear.’ That was the last time I ever saw him.

Intimate character sketches of Abraham Lincoln.

General Sherman is a Hog!

In yesterday’s post on Bunny Breckinridge, I mentioned his great-grandpa’s fury at Sherman’s whiskey-based neglect. It’s a great story, and I’ve copy-pasted a version here. It’s taken from the memoirs of John S. Wise, son of the Virginia governor Henry A. Wise. Through him Wise Jr. had apparently told him by Joe Johnston – the other General in the room during the negotiations.

” You know how fond of his liquor Breckinridge was?” added General Johnston, as he went on with his story.

“Well, nearly everything to drink had been absorbed. For several days, Breckinridge had found it difficult, if not impossible, to procure liquor. He showed the effect of his enforced abstinence. He was rather dull and heavy that morning. Somebody in Danville had given him a plug of very fine chewing tobacco, and he chewed vigorously while we were awaiting Sherman’s coming. After a while, the latter arrived. He bustled in with a pair of saddlebags over his arm, and apologized for being late. He placed the saddlebags carefully upon a chair. Introductions followed, and for a while General Sherman made himself exceedingly agreeable. Finally, some one suggested that we had better take up the matter in hand.

“Yes,” said Sherman, “but, gentlemen, it occurred to me that perhaps you were not overstocked with liquor, and I procured some medical stores on my way over. Will you join me before we begin work ?

General Johnston said he watched the expression of Breckinridge at this announcement, and it was beatific. Tossing his quid into the fire, he rinsed his mouth, and when the bottle and the glass were passed to him, he poured out a tremendous drink, which he swallowed with great satisfaction. With an air of content, he stroked his mustache and took a fresh chew of tobacco.

Then they settled down to business, and Breckinridge never shone more brilliantly than he did in the discussions which followed. He seemed to have at his tongue’s
end every rule and maxim of international and constitutional law, and of the laws of war, international wars, civil wars, and wars of rebellion. In fact, he was so resourceful, cogent, persuasive, learned, that, at one stage of the proceedings, General Sherman, when confronted by the authority, but not convinced by the eloquence or learning of Breckinridge, pushed back his chair and exclaimed: “See here, gentlemen, who is doing this surrendering anyhow? If this thing goes on, you ll have me sending a letter of apology to Jeff Davis.”

Afterward, when they were Hearing the close of the conference, Sherman sat for some time absorbed in deep thought. Then he arose, went to the saddlebags, and fumbled for the bottle. Breckinridge saw the movement. Again he took his quid from his mouth and tossed it into the fireplace. His eye brightened, and he gave every evidence of intense interest in what Sherman seemed about to do.

The latter, preoccupied, perhaps unconscious of his action, poured out some liquor, shoved the bottle back into the saddle-pocket, walked to the window, and stood there, looking out abstractedly, while he sipped his grog.

From pleasant hope and expectation the expression on Breckinridge s face changed successively to uncertainty, disgust, and deep depression. At last his hand sought the plug of tobacco, and, with an injured, sorrowful look, he cut off another chew. Upon this he ruminated during the remainder of the interview, taking little part in what was said.

After silent reflections at the window, General Sherman bustled back, gathered up his papers, and said: “These terms are too generous, but I must hurry away before you make me sign a capitulation. I will submit them to the authorities at Washington, and let you hear how they are received.” With that he bade the assembled officers adieu, took his saddlebags upon his arm, and went off as he had come.

General Johnston took occasion, as they left the house and were drawing on their gloves, to ask General Breckinridge how he had been impressed by Sherman.

“Sherman is a bright man, and a man of great force,” replied Breckinridge, speaking with deliberation, “but,” raising his voice and with a look of great intensity, ” General Johnston, General Sherman is a hog. Yes, sir, a hog. Did you see him take that drink by himself?”

General Johnston tried to assure General Breckinridge that General Sherman was a royal good fellow, but the most absent-minded man in the world. He told him that the failure to offer him a drink was the highest compliment that could have been paid to the masterly arguments with which he had pressed the Union commander to that state of abstraction.

“Ah!” protested the big Kentuckian, half sighing, half grieving, ” no Kentucky gentleman would ever have taken away that bottle. He knew we needed it, and needed it badly.”

The story was well told, and I did not make it public until after General Johnston s death. On one occasion, being intimate with General Sherman, I repeated it to him. Laughing heartily, he said: “I don t remember it. But if Joe Johnston told it, it s so. Those fellows hustled me so that day, I was sorry for the drink I did give them,” and with that sally he broke out into fresh laughter.


A True Story

I’m filing this under “memoirs”, regardless of the fact that it’s a Twain piece. Despite the huge coincidence at the crux of it, huge coincidences weren’t unusual in the war, and anyways it certainly feels real. You almost feel as though you’re sitting on the porch with Aunt Rachael as she tells it.

“Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?”

She stopped quaking. She paused, and there was a moment of silence. She turned her face over her shoulder toward me, and said, without even a smile in her voice: –

“Misto C –, is you in ‘arnest?”

It surprised me a good deal; and it sobered my manner and my speech, too. I said: –

“Why, I thought – that is, I meant – why, you can’t have had any trouble. I’ve never heard you sigh, and never seen your eye when there wasn’t a laugh in it.”

She faced fairly around, now, and was full of earnestness.

“Has I had any trouble? Misto C –, I’s gwyne to tell you, den I leave it to you…


One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry

I tried a search for “best Civil War memoirs” (listing “Grant” and “Watkins” as qualifiers for quality), and one Amazon list suggested John H. Worsham’s narrative. Found it on DocSouth, and a quick flip through reveals some very entertaining anecdotes, and a sense of irreverence amidst the hard marching and the terrible battles.

We went to bed that night in regular military order, had a camp guard, lights out by taps, etc. Some of the boys, during the day, had purchased whistles, tin horns, and other noisy things, and as soon as lights were put out, the fun commenced: One blew a horn, another in a distant part of the building answered on a whistle. This went on for a few minutes. When the officers commanded silence, no attention was paid to them. When the officers said to the sergeant, “Arrest those men,” the sergeant would strike a light, and go where he thought the noise originated; but each man looked so innocent that he could not tell who it was. By this time, another would blow. Soon there were four sergeants, running here and there, trying to catch the delinquents. This was kept up until the perpetrators became tired, not one being detected.


The Telegraph: A Series of Wires

Another fine Disunion piece, this one on the importance of the telegraph in disseminating war news to the nation. There is plenty of documentation of Lincoln’s time spent in the Telegraph Office, but I hadn’t realised the genesis nor the explanation for this habit. We have McClellan to thank for the many anecdotes relayed (ahem – little telegraph joke there) by the office’s staff. I’ve listed two more Library “holdings” below as examples.

Perhaps the most consequential adoption of the telegraph was in journalism. In the late 1840s, the establishment of the New York Associated Press made it possible for member newspapers to share the costs of the new technology in order to gather news. By the early 1850s, content from the A.P. comprised at least two columns of every major daily newspaper, and many readers considered this “telegraphic news” to be the most compelling and urgent part of the paper.

By 1860 the A.P. was distributing its news not just in New York but around the country, and this practice began to transform the very meaning of news. Local papers now had the capacity to report national events to their readers in a timely manner, so that “the news” gradually came to connote not just events, but events happening at almost that very moment. Prior to the telegraph, the distribution of news was regulated by the speed of the mail, but now news was potentially both instantaneous and simultaneous.

The immediacy of the news fed a public frenzy for the latest information. Circulation of New York papers rose by more than 40 percent during the war, and in other areas of the nation by as much as 63 percent. During a major battle, editors could expect to sell up to five times as many copies of their papers. While newspaper reporting remained highly competitive throughout the war, the A.P. came to dominate wire news, and this also served the interests of the Administration. The A.P. had regular access to the president and the War Department, and was given exclusive bulletins and announcements to disseminate to the papers. In exchange, the A.P. gave the administration a way to reach the public in a manner that could be carefully controlled and rapidly disseminated.

The Disunion article can be found here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/news-of-the-wired/?ref=opinion%2F%3Fsmid%3Dfb-disunion

The free books are:
Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, by David Homer Bates – http://www.archive.org/details/lincolnintelegr01bategoog. This one is promising! A quick search for “Tad” (there was a great anecdote about Tad Lincoln and a bottle of the Telegraph Office’s ink) reveals a fair number of hits, and there are some facsimiles of Lincoln’s handwritten messages in the HTML version.

A similar, yet much shorter, book is available here: http://www.archive.org/details/glimpseofuniteds00wils – William Bender Wilson’s A Glimpse of the United States Military Telegraph Corps. There are a few, less consequential, personal anecdotes about Lincoln. Still, any time with Lincoln is well spent.

Canada – Rogue State

Well, while we could never really be considered any cog in an Axis of Evil, Canada did offer harbour (complete with extraneous “u”) to Confederate agents during the war years. http://www.cfhi.net/WilmingtonsWartimeCanadianConnection.phpthe site I mentioned yesterday details some of the efforts of the Confederate Secret Service, who coordinated cross-border activities during the conflict, including the St. Albans’ Raid and the attempt to burn down New York City.

I’ve added yet another e-book to the Library, this one written by one of the New York conspirators, and goes into great detail on the planning and (failed) execution of this and other raids.

Confederate Operations in Canada and New York

Frank Thompson

A two-for-one posting: An interesting article that mentioned a memoir which I’ve added to the Library. A Canadian girl disguised herself as “Frank Thompson”, and joined the Union Army. Given this description from the article, the memoirs will be quite the Victorian potboiler:

How did Emma and 400 other male impersonators that served in the Union Army pass inspection? Since neither a physical examination nor proof of identity were required, it was easy to fool recruiters whose sole concern was putting warm bodies in uniform…

The beardless private was a model soldier, whose courage and devotion to duty earned an appointment as regimental mail carrier in March 1862. Next to food nothing mattered more to the foot soldier than letters from home. Emma took her responsibility seriously and did such a first-rate job that she was promoted to brigade postmaster.

But Emma did not want to spend the war playing post office. Itching for more action, she jumped at the chance to join the Secret Service.

Unsexed: or, The Female soldier. The thrilling adventures, experiences and escapes of a woman, as nurse, spy and scout, in hospitals, camps and battle-fields