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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

President Abraham Lincoln’s Security & Assassination

From: abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org


Abraham Lincoln had a fatalistic notion of many things – especially concerning his own security. Journalist William A. Croffut recalled that President Lincoln “was always exposed to personal attack. There were at least two doorkeepers to pass before getting to this room, but they did not consider it necessary to be vigilant after office hours, and I often walked into the While House unchallenged and went straight up to the private secretary’s room adjoining his own, without seeing any person whatever. And it was no uncommon thing for him to go alone out of the house at almost any hour of the day or night, and walk across the lawn to the War Department for a consultation or to seek some news.”1 Historian Charles Bracelen Flood wrote: “The White House could be entered by almost anybody, and on one occasion a man named Francis Xavier who proved to be harmless got in to see Lincoln and announced that he had been elected president in 1856.”2

White House Guard William Crook recalled: “I am quite sure that neither he nor Mrs. Lincoln worried about the possibility of the President being assassinated. Certainly if Mrs. Lincoln worried about the possibility of such an occurrence she did not show it. And the President exercised the calm philosophy of a stoic in this particular. He believed that if anybody was bad enough to kill him there was nothing on earth to prevent it.”3 Presidential aide William O. Stoddard wrote about “the constant attempts, in letters, to influence the mind of Mr. Lincoln by threats of violence. There is no doubt that his friends were affected by these communications, if he was not, and, if we were at times indifferent to the manifest possibilities of the case, some epistle betraying more of malignity than usual was sure to awaken us. Not all of these letters, by any means, came from professed rebels; there was no want of variety in the avowed causes for hatred.”4 Adjutant General Joseph Holt commented: “When his friends spoke to him on the subject and urged him to take great precautions he used to answer them by means of an illustration drawn from his early life and experience in the Western country. ‘What is the use’ he would say ‘of putting up the bars when the fence is down all around?’5

President Lincoln spoke of the threats on his life with artist Francis B. Carpenter in March 1864 as Carpenter prepared his painting of the Emancipation Proclamation. “A late number of the New York “Tribune” had contained an account from a correspondent within the Rebel lines, of an elaborate conspiracy, matured in Richmond, to abduct, or assassinate — if the first was not found practicable — the person of the President. A secret organization, composed, it was stated, of five hundred or a thousand men, had solemnly sworn to accomplish the deed. Mr. Lincoln had not seen or heard of this account, and at his request, I gave him the details. Upon the conclusion, he smiled incredulously, and said: ‘Well, even if true, I do not see what the Rebels would gain by killing or getting possession of me. I am but a single individual, and it would not help their cause or make the least difference in the progress of the war. Everything would go right on just the same. Soon after I was nominated at Chicago, I began to receive letters threatening my life. The first one or two made me a little uncomfortable, but I came at length to look for a regular instalment of this kind of correspondence in every week’s mail, and up to inauguration day I was in constant receipt of such letters. It is no uncommon thing to receive them now; but they have ceased to give me any apprehension.’ I expressed some surprise at this, but he replied in his peculiar way, ‘Oh, there is nothing like getting used to things!’”6

Those around President Lincoln did not share his fatalism or his disregard for security risks. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton thought Mr. Lincoln took too many risks. U.S. District Marshal Ward Hill Lamon occasionally slept outside the President’s bedroom door. Biographer Carl Sandburg noted: “The two men who most often warned Lincoln about his personal safety were Stanton and Lamon. To Stanton, Lincoln’s response usually was serious, though in the earlier years of the cavalry escort and the posted sentinels the President had protested with sarcasm. To Lamon he had laughing retorts most often, though in their latest exchange he had for the first time offered the point that he would have no chance under any conditions against a would-be killer ‘if he is ready to give his life for mine. The envelope on which he had written ‘Assassination,’ wherein Lincoln filed threat letters numbered eighty items…when the painter Matthew Wilson was doing his portrait. John W. Forney wrote of Seward standing behind Lincoln’s chair as Lincoln sat for the artist and as he opened a note saying, ‘Here is another of these letters,’ after reading it pointing to a pigeonhole: ‘In that place I have filed eighty just such things as this. I know I am in danger; but I am not going to worry over threats like these.’ Then, wrote Forney, he ‘resumed his usual animation’ and the interested painter studied his face.”7

Secretary of State William H. Seward was less concerned dismissed threats of assassination in a letter to Paris diplomat John Bigelow: “Assassination is not an American practice or habit, and one so vicious and so desperate cannot be engrafted into our political system. This conviction of mine has steadily gained strength since the Civil War began. Every day’s experience confirms it. The President, during the heated season, occupies a country house near the Soldiers’ Home, two or three miles from the city. He goes to and fro from that place on horseback, night and morning, unguarded. I go there unattended at all hours, by daylight and moonlight, by starlight and without any light…”8 There was at least one assassination attempt on President Lincoln during his daily commute in which a bullet pierced his top hat. President Lincoln told Ward Hill Lamon: “’Last night, about 11 o’clock, I went out to the Soldier’s Home alone, riding Old Abe, as you call him [a horse he delighted in riding], and when I arrived at the foot of the hill on the road leading to the entrance of the Home grounds, I was jogging along at a slow gait, immersed in deep thought, contemplating what was next to happen in the unsettled state of affairs, when suddenly I was aroused — I may say the arousement lifted me out of my saddle as well as out of my wits — by the report of a rifle, and seemingly the gunner was not fifty yards from where my contemplations ended and my accelerated transit began. My erratic namesake, with little warning, gave proof of decided dissatisfaction at the racket, and with one reckless bound he unceremoniously separated me from my eight-dollar plug-hat, with which I parted company without any assent, expressed or implied, upon my part. At a break-neck speed we soon arrived in a haven of safety. Meanwhile I was left in doubt whether death was more desirable from being thrown from a runaway federal horse, or as the tragic result of a rifle-ball fired by a disloyal bushwacker in the middle of the night.”

One of the sources of concern were President Lincoln’s trips at all times of the day and night from the White House to the nearby War Department, where the telegraph office was located. White House staffer Thomas Pendel recalled: “On one dark Sunday, to the best of my recollection, in the month of December, Mr. Lincoln started with me over to the old War Department. He had lately been very much worried about affairs of state, and seemed this day to be lost in thought. We went in the east door, and then had to climb a stairway. The steps were not exactly winding, but had a couple of landings, and led to Secretary Stanton’s door. On the way from the White House to the old War Department were a great many large, fine trees which were boxed, and I had often thought how easy it would be for a man to secrete himself behind one of them, wait for the President to pass that way, then jump out and kill him before the guard could prevent, though he might be ever so watchful. When we reached Secretary Stanton’s office I stayed outside the door while Mr. Lincoln went in to see him. He remained a long time. When he was ready to return and came out of the door, I was by his side in a minute. We had walked down to the first landing, about half-way down the stairs, when we met a man coming up. He was thick-set, and wore a gray suit of clothes. The man scrutinized Mr. Lincoln very closely, and I had my eye on him all the time. The President did something very unusual for him – he looked at the man very steadily, as if trying to fix his features on his memory. Before the man reached the upper landing he turned and took another look at the President, and again Mr. Lincoln and I both looked at him. After we got out of the building, where ther
e was no one near us, the President said to me, ‘Last night I received a letter from New York stating that there would be a man here who would attempt to take my life. In that letter was a description of the man who said to be anxious to kill me. His size and the kind of clothes he would wear when he would make the attempt were carefully described. The man we just passed agreed exactly with the description given in that letter.”9

Just beyond the War Department was an annex called the Winder Building where General Henry W. Halleck had his office. Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “One foggy night in the spring of 1863, being at the White House, Lincoln asked me if I would not walk over to General Halleck’s headquarters with him; as we passed out of the family part of the house, the President turned back and from a number of walking sticks in a corner selected a heavy one, shod and tipped with historic iron bolts from some ship, I believe. He never used a cane in walking, and as he took this he said, dropping his voice to a serio-comic and confidential whisper, “Mother”—he nearly always called his wife “Mother”—”has got a notion into her head that I shall be assassinated, and to please her I take a cane when I go over to the War Department nights—when I don’t forget it.”

Crossing the street beyond the department building, the slouching figure of a man near the Winder building attracted my notice and I scarcely paid any attention to the President’s chat…When we returned, an hour or two later, I was positively scared by the shadows made by the trees…. The President noticed this, perhaps, for when we had reached the house in safety, he said, “Now own up that I scared you by putting plots and assassinations into your head, when we went out.” I confessed I was worried and that I should not have thought of danger if he had not mentioned it. He laughed and said that that was human nature. Then he added more seriously:
“I long ago made up my mind that if anybody wants to kill me, he will do it. If I wore a shirt of mail and kept myself surrounded by a body-guard, it would be all the same. There are a thousand ways of getting at a man if it is desired that he should be killed. Besides, in this case, it seems to me, the man who would come after me (Vice-President Hamlin) would be just as objectionable to my enemies—if I have any.”10

He made similar comments to journalist Charles G. Halpine: “ Now, as to political assassination,’ he said, ‘do you think the Richmond people would like to have Hannibal Hamlin here any better than myself? In that one alternative, I have an insurance on my life worth half the prairie land df Illinois. And beside,’ — this more gravely, — ‘ if there were such a plot, and they wanted to get at me, no vigilance could keep them out. We are so mixed up in our affairs, that — no matter what the system established — a conspiracy to assassinate, if such there were, could easily obtain a pass to see me for any one or more of its instruments.”

“To betray fear of this, by placing guards or so forth, would only be to put the idea into then beads, and perhaps lead to the very result it was intended to prevent. As to the crazy folks, Major, why I must only take my chances, — the worst crazy people at present,’*! fear, being some of my own too zealous adherents. That there may be such dangers as you and many others have suggested to me, is quite possible; but I guess it would n’t improve things any to publish that we were afraid of them in advance.’
“Upon another occasion I remember his coming over one evening after dinner, to General Halleck’s private quarters, to protest—half jocularly, half in earnest—against a small detachment of cavalry which had been detailed without his request, and partly against his will, by the lamented General Wadsworth, as a guard for his carriage in going to and returning from the Soldiers’ Home. The burden of his complaint was that he and Mrs. Lincoln ‘could n’t hear themselves talk,’ for the clatter of their sabres and spurs; and that, as many of them appeared new hands and very awkward, he was more afraid of being shot by the accidental discharge of one of their carbines.or revolvers, than of any attempt upon his life or for his capture by the roving squads of Jeb Stuart’s cavalry^ then hovering all round the exterior works of the city.”11

“A cavalry guard was once placed at the gates of the White House for a while,” wrote Carpenter, “and he said, privately, that he worried until he got rid of it.’ While the President’s family were at their summer-house, near Washington, he rode into town of a morning, or out at night, attended by a mounted escort; but if he returned to town for a while after dark, he rode in unguarded, and often alone, in his open carriage. On more than one occasion the writer has gone through the streets of Washington at a late hour of the night with the President, without escort, or even the company of a servant, walking all of the way, going and returning.

Considering the many open and secret threats to take his life, it is not surprising that Mr. Lincoln had many thoughts about his coming to a sudden and violent end. He once said that he felt the force of the expression, “To take one’s life in his hand;” but that he would not like to face death suddenly. He said that he thought himself a great coward physically, and was sure that he would make a poor soldier, for, unless there was something inspiriting in the excitement of a battle, he was sure that he would drop his gun and run, at the first symptom of danger. That was said sportively, and he added, “Moral cowardice is something which I think I never had.”12

A special source of concern were Mr. Lincoln’s trips to the Soldiers’ Home where he usually spent the night in the summer and early fall. Sergeant Smith Stimmel recalled: “During the summer and fall [Mrs. Lincoln] often rode out with him from their summer home, and on other occasions. When the weather was a little chilly, the President wore a man’s gray shawl over his shoulders, and as they got into their carriage I have often seen her adjust the shawl about his shoulders in an affectionate manner.”13 Sometimes, however, President Lincoln went alone – by horse or by carriage. Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “He goes and comes attended by an escort of a cavalry company which was raised in this city for the purpose, and the escort also stands guard at the premises during the night. But to my unsophisticated judgment nothing seems easier than a sudden cavalry raid from the Maryland side of the fortifications, past the few small forts, to seize the President of the United States, lug him from his ‘chased couch,’ and carry him off as a hostage worth having.”14 Ward Hill Lamon wrote in his memoirs of President Lincoln’s disregard for his personal safety:

It would seem that he was always prepared for the inevitable, and singularly indifferent as to his personal safety. He was then still suffering from his terrible domestic affliction, the death of his favorite son Willie. He doubtless at times acted an unnatural part in his endeavors to banish from his memory the disturbing recollections of his lost idol. I often recur with mingled feelings of admiration and sadness to the wonderful simplicity and perfect faith exemplified in his narration of the hazardous experience above described. He said: “I am determined to borrow no trouble. I believe in the right, and that it will ultimately prevail; and I believe it is the inalienable right of man, unimpaired even by this dreadful distraction of our country, to be happy or miserable at his own election, and I for one make choice of the former alternative.”

“Yes,” said I, “but it is a devil of a poor protection against a shot-gun in time of war; for that fellow on the road-side last night was just such a philosopher as yourself, although acting from a different standpoint. He exercised one of his supposed inalienable rights to make himself happy and the country miserable by attempting to kill you; and unless you are more careful and discreet, and will be governed by wiser counsels than you derive from your own obstinate persistency in recklessness, in less than a week you ‘ll have neither inalienable nor any other rights, and we shall have no Lincoln. The time, I fear, may not be far distant when this republic will be minus a pretty respectable President.”

It was impossible, however, to induce him to forego these lonely and dangerous journeys between the Executive Mansion and the Soldiers’ Home. A stranger to fear, he often eluded our vigilance; and before his absence could be noted he would be well on his way to his summer residence, alone, and many times at night.

Another occasion when the vigilance and anxiety of his friends were exercised will appear in the following extract from a memorandum written by Robert Lamon, who was deputy marshal of the District of Columbia at the time:

In the early part of the night my brother came to me and asked me to join him in the search for Mr. Lincoln. He was greatly disturbed. We drove rapidly to the Soldiers’ Home, and as we neared the entrance to the grounds we met a carriage. Behind it we could see in the darkness a man on horseback. My brother, who seemed unusually suspicious, commanded the party to halt. His order was instantly obeyed. “Who are you?” he demanded, in the same peremptory tone. A voice from within the carriage responded, “Why do you ask?” The speakers recognized each other. The one in the carriage was Secretary Stanton, and the man behind it was one of his orderlies. “Where is Mr. Lincoln?” asked Stanton. “I have been to the Soldiers’ Home and he is not there. I am exceedingly uneasy about him. He is not at the White House?” “No,” said my brother, “he is not there. I have looked for him everywhere.” We hurried back to the city. Arriving at the White House before Mr. Stanton, we found Mr. Lincoln walking across the lawn. My brother went with him to the War Department, and from there took him to his [Lamon’s] house, where Mr. Lincoln slept that night and the three or four nights following, Mrs. Lincoln being at that time in New York.
(Signed) Robt. Lamon.

My anxiety about Mr. Lincoln that evening grew out of a report of an alarming character made to me by one of my detectives. Stanton had threatening news also, and was therefore excited about Mr. Lincoln’s safety. He told me that he never had so great a scare in his life as he had that night. The brusque Secretary thought the deputy marshal and I were assassins. The incident provoked much merriment among the parties concerned, no one enjoying the serio-comic part of it more than Mr. Lincoln himself.

Meanwhile the conspirators, becoming alarmed for their own safety, observed a stricter caution. . Their movements were embarrassed by the escort of cavalry which Mr. Lincoln was finally induced to accept, after ‘prolonged importunities by those who had certain knowledge of the dangers to which he was exposed. Lost opportunities, baffled hopes, exasperating defeats, served however only to heighten the deadly determination of the plotters; and so matters drifted on until the day of Mr. Lincoln’s second inauguration. A tragedy was planned for that day which has no parallel in the history of criminal audacity, if considered as nothing more than a crime intended.15

Lt. Colonel Thomas Chamberlin reported on his military service at the Soldier’s Home: “The President was also not an infrequent visitor in the late afternoon hours, and endeared himself to his guards by his genial, kind ways. He was not long in placing the officers in his two companies at their ease in his presence, and Captains Derickson and Crozier were shortly on a footing of such marked friendship with him that they were often summoned to dinner or breakfast at the presidential board. Captain Derickson, in particular, advanced so far in the President’s confidence and esteem that in Mrs. Lincoln’s absence he frequently spent the night at his cottage, sleeping in the same bed with him, and – it is said – making use of his Excellency’s night-shirt! Thus began an intimacy which continued unbroken until the following spring, when Captain Derickson was appointed provost marshal of the Nineteenth Pennsylvania District, with head-quarters in Meadville.”16 The President did not always cooperate with his assigned security detail. Harry M. Kieffer recalled frequently seeing the President “enter his carriage before the hour appointed for his morning departure for the White House, and drive away in haste, as if to escape from the irksome escort of a dozen cavalrymen, whose duty it was to guard his carriage between our camp and the city. Then when the escort rode up to the door, some ten or fifteen minutes later, and found that the carriage had already gone, wasn’t there a clattering of hoofs and a rattling of scabbards as they dashed out past the gate and down the road to overtake the great and good President….”17

In early September 1862 Company K arrived at the Soldier’s Home from Pennsylvania. Company K was commanded by Captain David V. Derickson, a Meadville businessman and Republican leader whose son also served under him in the presidential guard unit. Historian David Herbert Donald wrote that President Lincoln “found the Pennsylvania soldiers delightful and enjoyed visiting their camp and talking them. In the fall of 1862, their presence was especially reassuring.”18 That was especially true given the presence of the Confederate Army of North Virginia in Maryland during September. “The company was assigned to the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home with order to protect the president and his family. Lincoln had always resisted being surrounded by bodyguards, but with Lee in the vicinity there was room for debate,” wrote Lincoln chronicler David von Drehle, who noted that the bodyguard detail also provided a social diversion for Tad Lincoln and his father. Von Drehle wrote that “when Company K arrived on the grounds in the early fall, [Tad] made the soldiers’ camp his own. Several of the young Pennsylvanians welcomed him as a kid brother and mascot. He rode his pony to daily drill, fell in line at chow time for plates of beans, and drafted soldiers to join him on adventures.”19 Historian Matthew Pinsker wrote: “The Pennsylvania infantrymen sent to the Soldiers’ Home were fresh recruits only just then arriving from their training camp in Harrisburg. They were products of President Lincoln’s July call for 300,000 additional troops. Governor Andrew G. Curtin had been one of the first loyal state executives to respond to that request. An ardent unionist, Curtin believed that the northern governors needed to work closer together to support the Federal war effort. The governor endorsed new financial bounties for the latest recruits and authorized the raising of two special ‘Bucktail Brigades’ as a way to encourage compliance with the presidential order. The specially designated regiments had distinctive deer fur or ‘bucktails’ that were attacked to the men’s hats.”20

Twenty-six years later, Captain Derickson recalled: “The next morning after our arrival, the President sent a messenger with a note to my quarters, stating that he would like to see the Captain of the Guard at his residence. I immediately reported. After an informal introduction and handshaking, he asked me if I would have any objection riding with him to the city. I replied that it would give me much pleasure to do so, when he invited me to take a seat into his carriage. On our way to the city, he made numerous inquiries, as to my name, where I came from, what regiment I belonged to, etc. I told him my name and place of residence. He replied, ‘Oh, I already know about you. We appointed you one of the internal revenue assessors a few days ago.’ He inquired how I got into military service, and I explained my situation to him. He told me how it came that my appointment as assessor was so long delayed.

“When entered the city, Mr. Lincoln said he would call at General Halleck’s headquarters and get what news he had received from the Army during the night. I informed him that General Cullum, chief aide to General Halleck, was raised in Meadville and that I knew him when I was a boy. He replied,’ Then we must see both gentlemen.’ When the carriage stopped, he requested me to remain seated, and said he would bring the gentlemen down to see me, the office being on the second floor. In a short time the President came down, followed by the other gentlemen. When he introduced them to me, General Cullum recognized and seemed pleased to see me. In General Halleck I thought I had discovered a kind of quizzical look, as much as to say, ‘Isn’t this rather a big joke to ask the Commander-in-Chief of the Army [sic] down to the street to be introduced to a country captain?’

“On arriving at the White House the President invited me into the executive chamber, where I spent a half-hour very pleasantly. During that time he explained to me all the situation of both armies, and read the official telegrams that have been received during the night from the different headquarters of the Army. I was much pleased with my interview with the President. I returned in the carriage to my camp quarters.”

Supposing that the invitation to ride to the city with the President was as much to give him the opportunity to look over and interview the new captain as for any other purpose, I did not report [to regular duty] the next morning. During day I was informed that it was the desire of the President that I should breakfast with him and accompany him to the White House every morning, and return with him in the evening. This duty I entered upon with much pleasure, and was on hand in good time next morning; and I continued to perform this duty until we moved to the White House in November. It was Mr. Lincoln’s custom, on account of the pressure of business, to breakfast before the other members of the family were up; and I usually entered his room at half-past six or seven o’clock in the morning, where I often found him reading the Bible or some work on the art of war. On my entering, he would read aloud and offer comments of his own as he read.

I usually went down to the city at 4 o’clock and returned with the President at 5. He often carried a small portfolio containing papers relating to the business of the day, and spent many hours on them in the evening. Frequently on our way home, he discussed points that seemed to trouble him.

I found Mr. Lincoln to be one of the most kind-hearted, pleasant gentlemen that I had ever met. He never spoke unkindly of any one and always spoke of the rebels ‘as those southern gentlemen.’”21

The friendship between the President and the army captain raised eyebrows. Virginia Woodbury Fox, wife of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox, wrote in her diary: “Tish says, ‘there is a Bucktail soldier here devoted to the President, drives with him, and when Mrs. L. is not home, sleeps with him.’ What stuff!” Derickson’s son recalled visiting the First Family shortly after the Gettsyburg speech – when the President was sick with varioloid: “Little Tad sent for me to come to the White House to see him, his father and he both being somewhat indisposed, it was the time the President was reported to have small pox. I spent two or three hours with them that afternoon, very pleasantly, in referring to the [recent runaway horse] accident and congratulating the President on his escape. He said that he had been in several runaways and was never frightened by horses, but about the worse scared he ever was, was when he was a young man, he had been hauling wood with a yoke of steers and going through the woods with an empty wagon, sitting on the hounds with his legs hanging down on either side; something frightened the steers, they started to run and every time the wheels would strike the root of a tree he would bound up in the air; he held on the best he could; they finally got out into an open field where he got them stopped. He also told me about Colonel [Elmer] Ellsworth and how he tried to have him not go into the service at that time but could not prevail on him to wait a while. He said Ellsworth read law in his office and was the first officer killed in Virginia, he got a field glass and pointed out to the house in Alexandria in which he was killed. He also related several other stories which I cannot now recall.”22

Historian Matthew Pinsker wrote: “The question of how effective Company K was in their role as presidential guard is a difficult one to resolve. The soldiers were not bodyguards. Their presence was designed more for intimidation and for possible protection in the event of an organized cavalry raid than for security against assassination or kidnapping. Still, the men seemed to take their jobs seriously, and they occasionally performed an important police function.”23

Another army company took over the presidential security detail in late 1863. “The Union Light Guard, otherwise known as the Seventh Independent Company of Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, was organized by Governor David Tod, of Ohio, during the months of November and December, 1863, for special service, the nature of which was not disclosed to the members of the company until some time after it was mustered into the service.” Corporal Robert Wesley McBride remembered:

On arrival at Washington they reported to the Secretary of War, and were first assigned to barracks located a few squares southwest of the War Department. The members of the company then learned for the -first time that the special service for which they were enlisted was to act as a bodyguard or mounted escort for President Lincoln. Later, barracks were built for the company in what has since been known as the “White Lot,” then called the Treasury Park. The barracks were directly south of the Treasury Department and opposite E street. The stables in which the company horses were kept were on the north side of E street, adjacent to Fifteenth street, and occupied a part of the ground now occupied by the Albaugh Opera House. A part of the company was assigned to duty at the White House, while others were detailed to various points in and around Washington, a large number being sent to the Virginia side of the river, and scattered among the forts constituting the defenses of Washington, from a point opposite Georgetown to a point below Alexandria.

During the summer months President Lincoln spent his nights at the Soldiers’ Home, near Washington, and the company escorted him from the White House to the home and returning.
The company continued in the service after the assassination of President Lincoln until September 9, 1865, when it was mustered out at Washington, D. C, by H. C. Strong, First Lieutenant Veteran Reserve Corps.

It is a long step from the President of the United States to a corporal of cavalry, and yet when the President is Abraham Lincoln, and the corporal happens to be a member of his bodyguard, he may in after years have memories of the President worth treasuring. He may not have seen much of the President; he may not have any memories of Cabinet meetings, of the preparation of state papers, or social or state functions, but he may have seen enough of the man to supply him with memories of many things that will bear telling.

To those familiar with the city of Washington during the time of the Civil War it was not surprising that Lincoln was assassinated. The surprising thing to them was that it was so long delayed. It is probable that the only man in Washington who, if he thought upon the subject at all, did not think that Mr. Lincoln was in constant and imminent danger, was Mr. Lincoln himself. The city was filled with Southern sympathizers, and could easily be entered by men coming from beyond the rebel lines. The feeling against Mr. Lincoln as the chosen leader of those battling for the maintenance of the Union was, of course, intensely bitter. Even in the North he was constantly abused and villified, characterized as a tyrant and monster, while articles appeared daily in many of the newspapers the tendency of which was to incite to his murder. It is said that it was with reluctance, and only upon the urgent solicitation of the great War Secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, and others, that he consented to have a guard stationed at the White House and a company of cavalry assigned as his mounted escort.
A company of infantry from one of Pennsylvania’s famous regiments of “Bucktails” was camped in the grounds just south of the White House, and a daily detail from its ranks was posted in front of the House, one on each side of the great portico, the beats of the sentinels beginning on each side of the entrance and running east and west about as far as the east and west sides of the main building. Posted thus, they were more ornamental than useful. They were not allowed to challenge or stop any person who sought to enter the White House, and its doors opened then as freely to visitors as they do to-day.

A company from a New York regiment of cavalry, known as “Scott’s Nine Hundred,” was his original cavalry escort, but in 1863 Governor David Tod, of Ohio, tendered the services of a picked company of cavalry from that State. His offer was accepted, and in December of 1863 the company, 108 men strong, reached Washington. The company was known as the “Union Light Guard,” or “Seventh Independent Squadron of Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.” From that time until it was mustered out of service, on the 9th day of September, 1865, it was the mounted escort or bodyguard of Abraham Lincoln and of his successor in office.

It was quartered in barracks in what is now known as the White Lot, but which was then known as the Treasury Park. In those days the White House grounds proper only extended south to a line running east and west from the south end of the Treasury Department building to Seventeenth street. It was bounded on the south by a stone wall three or four feet in height, the top of the wall being on a level with the White House grounds. South of that, and extending to the old canal, which ran immediately north of the then unfinished Washington monument, was the Treasury Park, a great commons with a few small scattering trees and a halfmile race track. The barracks were south of the Treasury Department, on the west side of Fifteenth street, facing D and E streets. Their horses were stabled on the grounds now occupied by Albaugh’s Opera House, and were picketed and groomed on Fifteenth street.

It was while serving as a member of this company that I had many opportunities to see Mr. Lincoln. The utter inadequacy of the measures taken for his protection will be understood in some measure when I describe how I first saw him.

It was after midnight of a January night in 1864. The approaches to the White House and the great portico on its front were lighted by flickering gas jets, for that was before the days of electric lighting. The two great iron gates which guarded the driveways from Pennsylvania avenue were open, but on each side of each gate was a mounted cavalryman, the detail from the Union Light Guard. Dismounted and lounging against the stone supports of the portico was the cavalry corporal of the guard, his horse being picketed in the rear of the house. (On that particular evening I happened to be the corporal of the guard.) The two “Bucktails” were pacing their beats. From the end of the beat of the sentinel on the east side a walk ran to the Treasury Department, and just north of this path stood the White House stables, inside a square-trimmed hedge of boxwood, probably two and one-half or three feet high. From the end of the beat of the sentinel on the west side a path paved with brick ran westward to the old War Department, a dingy-looking old brick building of the dry goods box style of architecture, occupying a part of the north end of the ground now covered by the magnificent State and War Department building. South of it, fronting on Seventeenth street, and separated from the War Department a short distance, was another old-time brick structure, resembling it in architectural ugliness, and occupied by the Navy Department. The space between the White House and War Department contained a number of great forest trees, making a beautiful little park in daylight; but at night, lighted only by the wavering beams of a solitary gas jet, it was a place of shadows and gloom. The path to the War Department ran along the south end of this little park, under the shadow of the trees. Just south of the path was a brick wall, probably five or six feet in height, easily scaled, enclosing what was then called the White House gardens. Lights shone in only a few of the windows of the White House.

The front door opened, and a tall, rather slender, angular looking man came out alone. He wore a long black frock coat, and a silk hat of the peculiar narrow, high, straight style then in vogue. The hat had apparently either seen its best days or had been badly cared for, as it had lost its shine, and the nap was standing on end in many patches. The long coat and the high hat made him seem taller and more slender than he really was.

Closing the door, he clasped his hands behind his back, and with head bent forward, walked slowly toward the front of the portico. At this the cavalry corporal became suddenly alert, came to attention, drew his saber, and brought it to a carry; for, thanks to the illustrated papers (Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie), he had recognized in the gaunt figure approaching the President and commander-in-chief of the army, to whom all military courtesy was due.

The President came slowly forward until he reached the steps, and there stopped. For several minutes he stood, seemingly in deep thought, and apparently giving no heed to his surroundings. The opportunity to observe him closely was improved, for he had stopped where one of the gas lights shone full upon him. He looked careworn and weary. His features, as well as his form, were rugged and angular, and there were lines in his face that do not appear in his portraits. His hat was set back far enough to show a high, broad forehead. His nose and ears were large, his cheek bones prominent, his jaws square, his cheeks slightly sunken, his mouth large, and his lips full and rather prominent. His eyes were bent downward and could not be distinctly seen. His face, around his mouth and a portion of his cheeks, was smoothly shaven, but his chin and jaws were covered with closely-trimmed dark-colored whiskers.

He came down the steps, and, without appearing to notice, gravely lifted his hat in recognition of the salute given, and turned toward the War Department. With similar gravity he acknowledged the salute of the infantryman as he passed him. While the infantryman at once resumed his beat, both he and the cavalryman anxiously watched the tall figure as it passed into the shadows of the great trees, and I know of one of them whose anxiety was only relieved when Mr. Lincoln was seen to enter the War Department building. In about half an hour he came back, still alone. This, while the first, was only one of many similar occurrences, for, as I then learned, it was his frequent and almost nightly practice thus to visit the War Department before going to bed, that he might have the latest news from the front. It was also his daily practice to make an early morning visit to the department. I never saw him attended at any of these times. He always went and came alone. I think, however, that late in the fall of 1864 a member of the police force in plain clothes attended him whenever he left the White House.

From the description I have given of the surroundings, it can be seen how easy it would have been for an assassin to have killed him while he was on one of these solitary visits to the War Department, and how little actual protection was given him by the guards as they were posted. The evidence on the trial of the conspirators showed that they knew of his habit of visiting the War Department, and that they had at one time planned to abduct him, by seizing him on a dark night, while in the shadows of the park, lifting him over the brick wall that bordered the south side of the pathway, and hurrying him across the Treasury Park to a vacant house belonging to a rebel sympathizer, where he could be kept concealed in the cellar until he could be taken across the Potomac in a boat. The plan was practicable, and I have never understood why it was abandoned.

The next morning I witnessed an interesting scene. Mr. Lincoln came out and started toward the department, apparently absorbed in thought. The infantry sentinel presented arms as he approached, but Mr. Lincoln walked by without returning the salute. The soldier remained standing at a present arms. When Mr. Lincoln had passed him nearly or quite two rods, he suddenly stopped, turned clear around, lifted his hat and bowed. His manner was significant of his kindly nature. It was that of one gentleman apologizing to another for an unintentional slight. Mr. Lincoln was not a military man, yet his position made him the commander-in-chief of the army and entitled him to military honors. He understood that the duty of an officer to return a salute was as imperative as the duty of the soldier to give it. The humblest private in the ranks is entitled to have his salute returned, and a failure to return it is an affront and a breach of military courtesy. When Mr. Lincoln realized that he had failed to recognize the salute at the proper time he was not content merely to return it, but in his manner of returning it tendered an ample apology. I asked the soldier why he continued standing at a present [arms] after the President had passed him so far. He explained that such occurrences were common; when Mr. Lincoln was absorbed in thought he frequently passed the sentry without returning the salute, but never failed to remember before he had gone very far, and invariably stopped, when he did remember, and returned it.

We soon learned to know from Mr. Lincoln’s manner, as he returned from the War Department, whether the news from the front was good or otherwise. If good, he came back with head erect and arms swinging. His countenance was bright, and he usually smiled as he acknowledged the salute. If the news from the front was not encouraging, we could read it in his manner. His countenance was clouded, and he frequently walked with bowed head and hands clasped behind his back. One night there was an alarm of fire. The White House stables were burning. Those of us who were early on the ground saw a tall and hatless man come running from the direction of the White House. When he reached the boxwood hedge that served as an enclosure to the stables he sprang over it like a deer. As he approached the stable he inquired if the horses had been taken out. On learning that they had not, he asked impatiently why they had not, and with his own hands burst open the stable door. A glance within showed that the whole interior of the stable was in flames, and that the rescue of the horses was impossible. Notwithstanding this, he would apparently have rushed in had not those standing around caught and restrained him. It suddenly occurred to some one that possibly the stables had been fired for the purpose of bringing him out of the White House and giving an opportunity to assassinate him. Captain Bennett, of the Union Light Guard, and some others immediately hurried him into the White House, while, by Captain Bennett’s orders, with a detail of the men of our company, I took charge of the entrance, remaining there on duty for several hours.

After posting the sentinels, I went inside. Mr. Lincoln, with others, was standing in the East room, looking at the still burning stable. He was weeping. Little “Tad,” his youngest son, explained his father’s emotion. His son Willie had died a short time before. He was his father’s favorite, and the stable contained a pony that had belonged to the dead boy. The thought of his dead child had come to his mind as soon as he learned the stables were on fire, and he had rushed out to try to save the pony from the flames.

The presidential receptions offered another opportunity for the assassin. The recent tragic death of President McKinley shows that it was indeed a real danger. With feeling running so high, it speaks well for the American character that some fanatic did not take advantage of the license afforded by the presidential receptions to assassinate him as President McKinley was assassinated.
At those receptions Mr. Lincoln, like other Presidents, would stand for hours shaking the hands of all who came. For hours a constant stream of mixed humanity passed him. The clerk, the mechanic and the laborer from the streets would elbow the millionaire or the high official, as they crowded through, and the President greeted all with the same courtesy.

During a public reception at the White House, on an evening in March of 1864, while standing near the entrance watching the crowds as they came, I noticed two officers come in quietly and join the throng passing around to the right to reach the President. One wore a close-cropped brownish colored mustache and beard that covered his entire face. His uniform showed the slight purplish tinge taken on by the military uniform in those days when it had seen much service in the field. His shoulder straps were those of a major-general. The other, who followed him closely, also wore a full beard, which, as I remember it, was darker than that of his companion, and was not trimmed. His shoulder straps were those of a brigadier-general. Some one asked: “Who are they?” Most of those present were familiar with the general officers of the Army of the Potomac, but these were strangers. Suddenly some one whispered: “That looks like the picture of Grant in Harper’s Weekly,” and then the word went round that it was General Grant, with General [John] Rawlings, his chief of staff. General Grant had just been nominated and confirmed as lieutenant-general, and had come East to receive his commission and take command of the armies. This was his first visit to the White House during the war, and his first meeting with Mr. Lincoln. I had the privilege of seeing them meet. Mr. Lincoln recognized General Grant before he reached him, and, contrary to his usual custom, stepped forward to greet him. He was much taller than General Grant, and when he clasped his hand his head bent downward as he looked into General Grant’s eyes. I could not hear what they said. The crush became terrific, as the crowd tried to get near enough to witness the meeting. With other members of my company, I assisted in clearing the way for General Grant to escape from the crush. Placing him and Secretary of State William H. Seward in the center, we formed a sort of football wedge, and thus forced our way through the crowd and across the East room. On the east side of the East room was a sofa, on which Mr. Seward and General Grant climbed. A little speech from Mr. Seward and a little energetic pushing by the guard started the throng past General Grant, who shook hands with them as they passed.

Mr. Lincoln spent the summer of 1864 at the Soldiers’ Home, going out from the city in the evening and returning in the morning. A detachment of the guard accompanied him as his escort and remained at the Soldiers’ Home over night. Occasionally Mr. Lincoln would go among the men and chat familiarly with them.

Mr. Lincoln’s manner on such occasions was that of one having a genuine, kindly interest in the members of the company and a wish to learn how matters looked from their point of view. There was nothing patronizing about it, nor anything savoring of condescension or superciliousness. My first impression on seeing Mr. Lincoln was that he was ungainly, awkward and ugly. Memory recalls him as being rugged, strong, plain and kind.

One beautiful spring morning in 1864, as the President returned from his morning visit to the War Department, he found a group of school children playing on the north portico of the White House. The news from the front had evidently been satisfactory and the President was bright and cheerful. He stopped, called the children around him and for several minutes talked pleasantly with them, looked at their books, questioned them about their studies and said pleasant, quaint and humorous things. His manner was not that of condescension, but rather of comradeship. The children crowded round him as if he had been their elder brother.

When Mr. Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address I had the privilege of standing within twenty feet of him. His voice was singularly clear and penetrating. It had a sort of metallic ring. His enunciation was perfect. There was an immense crowd of people surrounding the east front of the Capitol, but it seemed as if his voice would reach the entire audience. It had rained a great deal during the forenoon, and clouds overcast the sky as the presidential party and the Senate came out on the east portico. While the ceremonies were in progress the clouds suddenly parted, and, although it was about midday, Venus was seen clearly shining in the blue sky. The attention of the immense throng was directed to it. The superstitious ones, and some who were not so superstitious, as they listened to that wonderful address, were impressed with the thought that the appearance of the star might be an omen of the hoped-for peace, of which Mr. Lincoln spoke with such wistful pathos.

General Lee surrendered to General Grant on the 9th day of April, 1865. The word reached the War Department and was given out on Monday, the 10th day of April. At that time I was on detached duty in the adjutant-general’s office, our rooms being in the Thompson building, on the west side of Seventeenth street, opposite the Corcoran Art Gallery. The day was warm and the windows were open. We heard a shout, followed immediately by cheering. We looked from the open window toward the War Department and saw evidence of great excitement. A voice rang out: “Lee has surrendered.” I know of no language sufficient to describe the scene that followed. In every direction the shout could be heard, “Lee has surrendered.” Men yelled, screamed, shouted, cheered, laughed and wept. No one thought of doing business. A crowd gathered in front of the War Department. A band appeared from somewhere and commenced playing patriotic airs. In response to calls, Secretary Stanton, Adjutant-General Townsend, Vice President Andrew Johnson, Preston King, Montgomery Blair and others made speeches. That of Andrew Johnson was bitter and vindictive. One expression I can never forget. It was: “And what shall be done with the leaders of the rebel host? I know what I would do if I were President. I would arrest them as traitors; I would try them as traitors, and, by the Eternal, I would hang them as traitors.” His manner and his language impressed me the more because of its contrast with the temperate manner and language of President Lincoln.

Some one in the crowd shouted: “To the White House!” The crowd surged in that direction and began calling for the President. He appeared at an upper window, just west of the portico. His appearance was the signal for cheering that continued for many minutes, with shouts of “Speech! Speech!” He raised his hand and the crowd stilled.

He said: “My friends, you want a speech, but I can not make one at this time. Undue importance might be given to what I should say. I must take time to think. If you will come here to-morrow evening I will have something to say to you. There is one thing I will do, however. You have a band with you. There is one piece of music I have always liked. Heretofore it has not seemed the proper thing to use it in the North; but now, by virtue of my prerogative as President and commander-in-chief of the army and navy, I declare it contraband of war and our lawful prize. I ask the band to play ‘Dixie.'” Again the crowd went wild, and for probably the first time after the fall of Fort Sumter the tune of “Dixie” was greeted with cheers from Union throats.

It was evident he was acting on the impulse of the moment when he called upon the band to play the Southern air. The act was significant and characteristic. It illustrated forcibly one of the differences between the character of Mr. Lincoln and that of Andrew Johnson. Mr. Johnson’s first thought was of vengeance. Mr. Lincoln’s first thought was evidently one of peace and reconciliation, and of how best to heal the wounds of war. Thenceforth the North and South were one, and his impulsive acceptance of the music of the South was a tender of the olive branch.

The next evening the President, according to his promise, made that which proved to be his last public speech. This speech, which is doubtless familiar to all, shows that even in that moment of victory Mr. Lincoln had in mind the smarting wounds of both victor and vanquished, and was already grappling the problem of reconciliation. On Friday night of that week he was shot.24

Robert McBride wrote: “During the time the Union Light Guard was on duty at the White House, Mr. Lincoln’s family consisted of himself, Mrs. Lincoln, and his two sons, Robert and Thomas—familiarly known as “Tad.” Robert was away most of the time in college, as we were told. Tad, however, was very much in evidence. He was a very bright boy, about eleven or twelve years of age, with a keen sense of humor and brimming with mischief. Because of some defect in his vocal organs he could not articulate distinctly. That he could on occasion make himself understood, however, was demonstrated at one of our Sunday morning inspections. Tad was present, dressed in the uniform of an officer, and accompanied Captain Bennett during inspection with the gravity of a veteran. Inspection over, Captain Bennett took position in front of the company to deliver his usual scolding. Tad stood by his side. The Captain proceeded to criticise sharply the condition of the quarters. He described the manner in which they should be kept and said: “The condition of the quarters is disgraceful. Instead of being kept as they should be kept, they look like.” At this point Tad’s shrill voice rang out, completing the sentence in a manner more pungent than elegant and quite unprintable. The effect was ludicrous. The sternness of the Captain’s face relaxed in a broad smile, as he turned on his heel, while the company, regardless of discipline, burst into unrebuked laughter.”

Sitting quietly on horseback for two hours on a cold night is, to say the least, disagreeable. To afford a little relief for the mounted sentinels at the gates, the corporal of the guard was given a police whistle which he blew at intervals of half an hour, at which signal the sentinels would change places, one from each gate starting at the signal, meeting and passing in front of the house. As soon as they had taken their new positions the other two would change in like manner. Tad soon noticed this and one evening came to me and asked to see my whistle. I handed it to him, and he turned and ran with it into the house. In a few minutes he appeared at a second story window, opened it and blew the whistle. The men at the gates, supposing the signal was given by me, changed places in the usual way. The change was no sooner effected than Tad again blew the whistle, and the men again changed places. He kept this up for at least half an hour, to the bewilderment of the sentinels, who, however, enjoyed the change of program and the additional exercise. Presently Tad emerged from the front door carrying the whistle in one hand and a bowl of something in the other hand, which with a mischievous grin he handed to me, evidently as a peace offering. The bowl was filled with Roman punch. A state dinner was being given to the representatives of foreign countries, and Tad had levied on the refreshments for my benefit. This was the beginning of my personal acquaintance with Tad Lincoln, as well as with Roman punch.

In the summer of 1864 a delegation of the chiefs of the Plains Indians, Sioux, Cheyennes and Arapahoes, visited Washington. My recollection is that Red Cloud, Spotted Tail and Crazy Horse were among the number. They were presented to the President one afternoon on the south portico of the White House. Besides the President, there were present several members of the Cabinet, a few prominent army officers, and other more or less distinguished personages. Mrs. Lincoln and several other ladies were also present. The chiefs wore their war bonnets and were in full Indian regalia. They looked dignified and picturesque. The papers had published announcements of the ceremony, and a large crowd of people had gathered in front of the portico to witness it, and to have a good look at live, fighting Indians. Several of the chiefs made short speeches, which were repeated by the interpreter, and Mr. Lincoln responded. I can recall nothing of the speeches except that Mr. Lincoln’s was terse and pointed. This was the first time I had heard him make a speech, and I noted the peculiar quality of his voice, especially its clearness and its carrying power. When the ceremony was over the dignity suddenly fell away from the Indians, when several of them came down the steps of the portico and became beggars. Holding out their war bonnets bedecked with eagle feathers, they, through their interpreter, asked for money. I do not now remember what was assigned as the reason for this, but I saw many persons throw money into the bonnets.

While spending his nights at the Soldiers’ Home, Mr. Lincoln would occasionally leave the house late at night and take long and solitary walks. Lieutenant Ashmun (now Dr. G. C. Ashmun, of Cleveland, Ohio), the only surviving commissioned officer of our company, has furnished me with the following statement concerning one of these occasions.25

Lieutenant Ashmun recalled: “In the autumn of 1864—the year of Mr. Lincoln’s second election—the escort was cautioned repeatedly to be extremely vigilant, not only on the trips to and from the Old Soldiers’ Home, but to be prepared for any disturbance during the night in the vicinity of the Home. The whole company was kept under arms with horses saddled. One beautiful Indian summer night, about 12 o’clock, during the period of intense anxiety, as I was returning across the grounds from a visit to one of our pickets, who had fired at something, I saw a man walking alone and leisurely across the path I was taking, and as I came near him I saw it was Mr. Lincoln. At an earlier hour I would have kept from speaking, but, prompted by anxiety, I said, ‘Mr. President, isn’t it rather risky to be out here at this hour?’ He answered, ‘Oh, I guess not—I couldn’t rest and thought I’d take a walk.’ He was quite a distance outside the line of infantry guards about the house where the family was staying. He turned back after I spoke to him, and I passed on to where the escort was camped.”26

As long as his military detail was around, President Lincoln was relatively well guarded – at least on trips by horse or carriage around the city. Lincoln chronicler Anthony Pitch wrote: “It was obvious that he felt hamstrung and confined when the cavalry guard accompanied him, but at no time did he countermand the orders of their superiors to protect him.”27 Rather than altering his behavior to accommodate security concerns, Mr. Lincoln expected the security details to accommodate themselves to his routine and sometimes spontaneous behavior. Soldiers became part of the scenery that surrounded him. Soldier Robert W. Bride first saw President Lincoln in January 1864 as he emerged from the White House: “He came down the steps, and, without appearing to notice, gravely lifted his hat in recognition of the salute given and turned toward the War Department.”28

The presidential election of 1864 and the approaching end of the Civil War in 1865 exacerbated negative feelings and vitriolic commentary toward President Lincoln – in both the North and South. One Copperhead editor, of the LaCrosse Wisconsin Democrat, editorialized: “If Abraham Lincoln should be re-elected for another term of four years of such wretched administration, we hope that a bold hand will be found to plunge the dagger into the Tyrant’s heart for the public welfare.”29 Illinois politician Shelby M. Cullom recalled: “There had been constant rumors throughout his first term that he was in danger of some such outrage, but as the war drew to a close, with the natural bitter and resentful feelings in the South, these rumors seemed to increase. I told him what I had heard, and urged him to be careful. It did not seem to concern him much, and the substance of his reply was that he must take his changes; that he could not live in an iron box, as he expressed it, and do his duty as President of the United States.”30

There were repeated threats to the President’s security and warnings about possible plots. Missouri Congressman James Rollins remembered: “During the winter of 1864-65, as I now remember the time, a gentleman came to Washington, named Colonel Lane, who was one of my constituents, and resided in Montgomery Co., Missouri. I had known him in Missouri. He was a number of times at my rooms in Washington, and told me he had been operating with the United States detective force on the Mississippi river, he having an official connection therewith. I knew nothing to the prejudice of Colonel Lane. He had been recommended to the Government by such respectable and patriotic gentlemen as James O. Broadhead, Samuel S. Glover and Judge S. M. Breckenridge, as I now recall. On an occasion, when at my room, in giving me an account of his war experiences in running up and down the Mississippi river on steamboats, he told me at one time he had left the boat and gone out into the State of Mississippi, where he had remained some time; that whilst there he had heard a plan discussed by a number of young and warlike gentlemen as to how the President of the United States might be disposed of. He got in, so to speak, with these young fellows; he was anxious to find out more about it, and was one of them for a number of days. The plan agreed upon was to obtain a box about six or seven inches square, containing an explosive material, and which on being opened would explode, and most probably destroy the person who held it in his hand. He told me he had seen this box, and held it in his own hands; that the purpose and design was to send it to Washington directed to Mr. Lincoln, and place it in the Presidential Mansion, where he would most likely get and open it. To me this was a most extraordinary and infamous disclosure; it arrested my serious thought and attention. I could hardly credit it, and yet could see no motive for such a fabrication. I asked Colonel Lane if he was serious in what he said. He said he was, and had only related to me what he had witnessed with his own eyes. I said to him at once: ‘Colonel Lane, if the facts you relate to me are true you should not lose a moment in communicating the facts to the President. Will you go up with me, call upon the President, and make the same statement to him?’ Certainly, he said, he would go up, as he wished to tell President Lincoln precisely what he had told me. I then said to him:
‘Come to my room in the morning, in Twelfth street, when I will have a hack ready, when we will drive up to the White House.’ He was a little late putting in an appearance next morning, but I waited for him, and as soon as he arrived we mounted into the hack, and drove off to the President’s office. It so happened there were great numbers of visitors who had preceded us, and were occupying the reception-room. I sent in my card, but so many others were in advance of me, I failed to obtain an audience that morning. We remained until one o’clock, when the messenger announced that the President would see no more visitors that day, and those present were dismissed. Colonel Lane and myself drove back to my room, intending to ask an audience at another time. This, I think, was on Saturday, and, as near as I can now remember, in the month of December or January in the year 1864-65. When I parted with Colonel Lane it was not his intention to leave Washington for several days; but he received a telegram that evening, as he informed me in a letter, calling him to Wheeling, West Va., and which compelled him to leave in the evening train. I did not see him again during that session of Congress, which terminated on the 4th of March, 1865, the day of the second inauguration of Mr. Lincoln as President. A few ‘days thereafter, having business at the White House, I called upon Mr. Lincoln again, when I happened to find him alone, and seemingly in a very cheerful humor. He received me very cordially, as was his habit, and after dispatching the business which called me to see him, I ventured to tell him precisely what I had learned from Lane, and as I have stated it above. I observed he listened to what I had to say very attentively, and when I had finished my story, I said in an apologetic tone- ‘Mr. President, nothing but a sense of duty and the interest I feel in you and the country would have prompted me to have mentioned a matter of this kind to you. I have simply told you the tale as it was told to me.’ He thanked me kindly for what I had told him, and said he appreciated the good feeling and friendship which prompted it; but, treating the whole matter jocularly, he said: ‘I don’t pay much attention to such things. I have received quite a number of threatening letters since I have been President, and nobody has killed me yet, and the truth is, I give very little consideration to such things.’ I told him the little I knew of Lane, and said to him: ‘Now, I hardly see why a man should get up a story of this sort unless there was some foundation for it. I believe he has witnessed what he relates.’ Upon rising to take leave I said, pleasantly: ‘Mr. President, I feel relieved in having unburdened myself in telling you what I have. I have acted from a sense of duty; and now, let me add, if you should come into your office one of those mornings and find sitting upon your table a wooden box about six inches square, I beg of you not to open it; let some one else attend to that; but if you attempt to open it, and the nation lose its President, I want it understood I have cleared my skirts.’ He again thanked me and laughed very heartily, and said, ‘Now, I will tell you—I promise you if I find any boxes on my table directed to me, I won’t open them.’ Pausing a moment just as I was taking my leave of him, the smile which had just lighted up his face departed, and a certain melancholy expression, which I had often seen him wear, took its place, and he said seriously, and in language he evidently felt, ‘Rollins, I don’t see what on God’s earth any man would wish to kill me for, for there is not a human being living to whom I would not extend a favor, and make them happy if it was in my power to do so.’ It occurred to me, on leaving him, the conversation I had had with him had left quite an impression on his mind. This occurred, according to my best recollection, in January, 1865.” Rollins added: “Before the close of the session of Congress, I was several times in the office of the President, to see him on business, and on one occasion, when I was about leaving the room, he said to me, in a jocular manner: ‘Well, Rollins, I have not received my box yet.’ I responded, ‘I am gratified to hear it,’ but again warned him not to open any box of the kind left upon his table, and I left the room.”31

One incident at the beginning of April 1865 was particularly dangerous for the President’s safety. Historian Richard Wightman Fox wrote of President Lincoln: “After returning to City Point from Petersburg on April 3rd, he replied to a fretful cable from secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who had pleaded with him to cancel the Petersburg excursion. Stanton feared the trip might trigger a ‘disaster to yourself’ as an individual and also a devastating blow to the nation’s ‘political head.’ Stanton knew from experience that his only hope for getting through to Lincoln on this subject of protecting himself was to appeal not to his fears but to his ‘republican’ convictions – in this case, to the distinction between private and public office. Lincoln could freely manage his private self, on this logic, but as a public figure he belonged to the body politic.”32

Still, President Lincoln decided to make an even more dangerous trip to the fallen Confederate capital of Richmond with his son Tad on April 4, the day after it has been occupied by Union troops. Naval officer John S. Barnes recalled: “Although General [Godfrey] Weitzel had been in possession of Richmond since early morning or late the evening before, not a sign of it was in evidence, not a soldier was to be seen, and the street along the riverside in which we were, at first free from people, became densely thronged, and every moment became more and more packed with them. With one of my officers, the surgeon, I pushed my way through the crowd endeavoring to reach the side of the President, whose tall form and high beaver hat towered above the crowd. In vain I struggled to get nearer to him. In some way they had learned that the man in the high hat was President Lincoln, and the constantly increasing crowd, particularly the negroes, became frantic with excitement.” Barnes wrote that “the situation was very alarming to me. I saw that they were pushed, hustled, and elbowed along without any regard to their persons, while I was packed closely, and simply drifted along in their general direction. This state of things lasted a half hour or more, The day was very warm, and as we progressed the street became thick with dust and smoke from the smoldering ruins about us. At last when the conditions had become almost unendurable, a cavalryman was found standing at a street corner, and word was sent by him to the nearest post that President Lincoln wished for assistance. He galloped off and in a few minutes a small squadron of mounted men made its appearance.”33 Lincoln later told Dr. Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church that Lincoln often attended: “Why, Doctor, I walked alone on the street, and anyone could have shot me from a second-story window.”34

President Lincoln’s attitudes toward Reconstruction particularly upset actor John Wilkes Booth, who listened nearby as President Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address at the Capitol on March 4, 1865 and again on April 11 at the White House as President Lincoln delivered his last public address from the second floor window. Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame wrote: “By killing Lincoln, Booth…hoped, not unreasonably, that he would achieve lasting renown for doing something truly memorable. A schoolmate recalled that as an adolescent he ‘always said ‘he would make his name remembered by succeeding generations.”’ ‘I must have fame! Fame!’ he reportedly exclaimed. In 1864 he declared: “What a glorious opportunity there is for a man to immortalize himself by killing Lincoln?”’ A week before the assassination, he remarked to a friend: ‘What an excellent chance I had to kill the President, if I had wished, on inauguration day’”35 What were Booth’s connections with the Confederacy are less clear. Historian Edward Steers maintained that “Confederate officials…were closely involved with Booth from the outset of his plot to remove Lincoln as president and commander in chief of the military. Confederate agents who worked for Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary of State, provided key contacts to Booth along with financial assistance to help carry out his operation.”36 Booth organized a group to kill not only President Lincoln but also Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and Secretary of State William H. Seward on the same night.

With the fall of the Confederacy at Appomatox Court House on April 9, 1865, noted historian Allen C. Guelzo: “Somewhere in the confusion of the surrender celebrations and the hectic gaeity of the theatre, the security net Lamon and Stanton had drawn around Lincoln fell down. Lamon was in Richmond on government business, and John Parker, the District of Columbia policeman Stanton had detailed to guard the president, sauntered casually away from the door of the box to get a better view of the play. At approximately 10:00 PM….John Wilkes Booth slipped up a stairway to the outer door of the president box. He was stopped there by someone, possibly by Lincoln’s footman, Charles Forbes, but Booth merely showed him his card and assured him that the president, who was known to be fond of actors, had asked to see him.”37

Clara Harris, the daughter of New York Senator Ira Harris, who went to the theater with her fiancé, Major Henry Rathbone, and the Lincolns, recalled: “We four composed the party that evening. They drove to our door in the gayest spirits; chatting on our way – and the President was received with the greatest enthusiasm.”

They say we were watched by the assassins; ay, as we alighted from the carriage. Oh, how could any one be so cruel as to strike that kind, dear, honest face! And when I think fiend barring himself in alone with us, my blood runs cold. My dress is saturated with blood; my hands and face were covered. You may imagine what a scene! And so, all through that dreadful night, when we stood by that dying bed. Poor Mrs. Lincoln was and is almost crazy.
Henry narrowly escaped with his life. The knife struck at his heart with all the force of a practiced and powerful arm; he fortunately parried the blow, and received a wound in his arm, extending along the bone, from the elbow nearly to the shoulder. He concealed it for some time, but was finally carried home in swoom; the loss of blood has been so great from an artery and veins severed. He is now getting quite well, but cannot as yet use his arm…38

White guard John Parker was late to work that day and dame to Ford’s Theater late – where he was absent from his post outside the presidential box. White House staffer Charles Forbes, who accompanied Mr. Lincoln to Ford’s Theater on the night of his assassination, remembered: “I was the personal attendant of the last President Lincoln from shortly after his first inauguration up to the time when he fell by the assassin’s bullet….Tad had given me the picture in the afternoon [of April 14, 1865), and I still had it in my pocket when Mrs. Lincoln and her guests were ready to start for the theatre. The President was engaged, and told them to go ahead and send the carriage back for him. I accompanied them to the theatre and returned in the carriage for the President. When the last visitor had departed and I had helped him on with his great coat, I remembered the picture and said, ‘Mr. President, Tad gave me a photograph this afternoon, and I wish you would your name at the bottom of it.’

Lincoln was assassinated just after character Asa Trenchard said: “Don’t’ know the manners of good society, eh? Wal, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal – you sockdologizing old man-trap!”39 Orchestra leader William Withers recalled: “Laura Keene was on in Our American Cousin, and I had written a song for her to sing that night. When she left it out I was mad. We had no cue, and the music was thrown out of fear. So I hurried round on the stage on my left to see what it was done for. I was just giving the stage manager a piece of my mind when Spangler, the scene shifter, came forward to the gas box and took hold of the handle with which they turn the gas out. Knowing he had no business there, I pushed him away, and saying, ‘Get out of here! Go back to where you belong!’ I closed the box and sat on the lid. I sat there a minute talking, then started down the stairs to my place.

“That minute I heard the pistol shot and ran back. Wilkes Booth was rushing madly across the stage toward me, brandishing a knife and shouting, “out of the way!’ He ran to the gas box, but was unable to turn out the gas for some reason, and jumped aside against me. He must have thought I struck him, for he made two savage passes at me with his knife cutting me both times – once on the shoulder and once under the arm. I fell, and he sprang to the door and was gone. I was the first man arrested, and told them the assassin was Wilkes Booth. I knew him intimately, and we had played billiards the very night before. I also knew Mr. Lincoln pretty well, for I had taught little Taddy how to play the drum, and he used to drum for the guards.”40

After Booth jumped to the stage and escaped out the back of the theater, noted Booth biographer Michael W. Kauffman, actress “Laura Keene tried to restore order. Stepping up to the footlights, the actress called, ‘Order, gentlemen!’ But her words were swallowed up in the din of a thousand voices. Jim Maddox thought she was asking for water, and he ran to the green room to get some. When he returned with four tumblers and a pitcher, Miss Keene had disappeared into the crowd.”41 Lincoln scholar Lowell H. Harrison wrote: “Dr. Charles A. Leale, a twenty-three-year-old army surgeon, was the first person to enter the box. He was closely followed by Dr. Albert F. A. King, a local physician, and William Kent, a government employee. Rathbone saw Lt. Alexander M. Crawford in the crowd and asked him to prevent others from entering the packed box. But William H. Flood, acting ensign of the steamer Primrose, who as a boy had known Lincoln in Illinois and who had talked with him that afternoon, scrambled up into the box from the stage with the help of Miss Harris. He was soon followed by Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, an army surgeon in Georgetown, who responded to the cries for a doctor and was lifted from the stage by members of the audience.

When Leale arrived in the box, Mrs. Lincoln cried: “Oh, Doctor, what you can for my poor husband! Is he dead? Can he recover?” Lincoln Scholar Harry Read wrote: “Assuring her he would do ‘all which was in my power to do,’ Leale began a hurried examination: ‘He was almost dead, his eyes were closed, he was paralised [sic]. I placed my finger on his right radial pulse, but could find no movement of the artery. His breathing was exceedingly stertorous, there being long intervals between each inspiration and he was in a most profoundly comatosed condition.’ With the assistance of two men, Leale stretched the President on the floor of the box. Recalling the flashing dagger [he had seen earlier], Leale assumed the presence of a stab wound ‘in the subclavian artery or some of its branches.’ Leale directed another man to cut away Lincoln’s coat and shirt from the suspected area. Finding no wound on the upper torso, Leale examined Lincoln’s eyes and saw evidence of brain damage. Passing the fanned fingers of both hands through the dark hair, Leale found a blood clot and the entry hole of the deringer ball behind the left ear.”42

Lowell Harrison wrote: “Leale thought that the president had been stabbed; but after Lincoln was stretched out on the floor, he saw evidence of brain damage by examining the eyes Finding only a faint pulse, Leale and others applied artificial respiration and stimulated the heart. The heart action improved and the president breathed independently. But Leale saw the recovery was impossible. ‘His wound is mortal,’ the young doctor said. ‘It wis impossible for him to recover.’ Miss Laura Keene, one of the leads in Our American Cousin, appeared with a pitcher of water. According to some reports, she sat on the floor and cradled Lincoln’s head in her lap.43 Booth biographer Michael W. Kauffman wrote: “Dr. Charles Taft quickly took in the situation. From the look of things, a couple of soldiers were preparing to carry the president back to the White House. Taft didn’t think Lincoln could survive such a trip, even a carriage. He announced that he was an army surgeon, and in his professional opinion, the president should be taken someplace close by – perhaps the nearest house.”44 The mortally wounded president was taken across the street to the three-story home of William A. Petersen, where he was laid out in a rear bedroom. A Petersen boarder had urged: “Bring him in here, bring him in here.”45

Ford’s Theater owner John Ford was out of town, but his brother arrived on the scene. Booth biographer Michael W. Kauffman wrote: “In the middle of all the turmoil, James R. ‘Dick’ Ford arrived to hind his place of business under siege. Ford was the treasurer of his brother’s theater, but had spent the day in Baltimore looking after the Holliday Street Theatre. He returned just in time to see a crowd of men carrying the president across the street. By then, a swarm of bystanders had begun making threats against the theater. Bent on revenge, they blamed the building for what had happened there. Many were still inside, vandalizing the place and carrying off decorations for souvenirs. There was nothing Ford could do but watch in despair. Afraid even to identify himself, he walked through the crowd, staying until soldiers forced everyone out.”46

Lincoln scholar Lowell H. Harrison wrote:“Mary Lincoln came across the street with Miss Harris and Major Rathbone, whose severe wound had been bleeding profusely for some twenty minutes. When he fainted in the hallway of the Petersen house, Miss Harris probably saved his life by tying a handkerchief tightly over the wound and stanching the flow of blood. The doctor who examined him after he was carried to the Harris home said that if the wound had been one-third of an inch to the side, Rathbone would have bled to death in five minutes.”47 Harrison wrote: “Mrs. Lincoln rushed into the room where her husband lay and fell to her knees by his bedside, sobbing and pleading with him to speak to her. The doctors persuaded her to go to the parlor so they could examine the president to see if there were any other wounds. There her son Robert, Mrs. Elizabeth Dixon, and the Reverend Phineas D. Gurley attempted to soothe and comfort her. From time to time she would become alarmed and rush into the bedroom.”48 Anthony Pitch wrote: “Surgeon General Joseph Barnes sat near the head of the bed, sometimes exposing the brawny chest as he placed his ear over Lincoln’s heart. He put his finder over the carotid artery to keep track fo the pulse. The beat flagged, at times registering no movement at all in the artery. Inhalations become long and guttural.”49

President Lincoln lingered through the night. “Dr. Taft marveled at Lincoln’s resilience,” wrote Pitch. “The surgeons agreed that most victims would have died within two hours of such injuries, yet the president appeared to be surviving the night. Lincoln held special memories for Taft, who had been in charge fo the church Street Hospital on Ha Street when the chief executive had visited numerous times to bring comfort and good cheer to the casualties of combat, while the first lady distributed flowers.”50

Cabinet members, Lincoln aides, and other dignitaries quickly gathered at the bedside. When Robert Todd Lincoln arrived at the Petersen house, noted Carl Sandburg, “Dr. Stone gravely and tenderly tells Robert the worst: there is no hope. He chokes. The tears run down his face.”51 According to Horatio Nelson Taft, whose son Dr. Charles Taft was in attendance at the Petersen House, Mrs. Lincoln “went in frequently to see the President with Doct Gurley (The family Pastor) who had been sent for about 3 O’clock. She was not in the room when he died. Robert Lincoln was there and Dr Gurley, the two private Secretaries of President Nicolay Hay. Upon one occasion when Mrs L went in and saw her husband she fainted and was carried out insensible. It was thought best for her not to be there when he died. Dr. Gurley prayed by the bedside of the President when he first arrived (at 3 o’clock). Then went into the room where Mrs Lincoln was and prayed with her, and remained with her most of the time, accompanying her and supporting her into the room of the dying President when she visited it.” He recalled that “For the last half hour before the death, the utmost stillness had prevailed in the room, not a word, not a whisper was heard. The President of the United States dying, surrounded by his Cabinet and many of the first men in the Nation standing like statues around the bed presented a scene for an artist seldom equaled for solemn grandeur.”52 When President Lincoln finally expired, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton intoned.

Meanwhile, an investigation and search for Lincoln’s assassin began. Private James Tanner took dictation for Secretary Stanton that night at the Petersen House as Stanton issued a stream of orders. Tanner finished transcribing his notes shortly before President Lincoln died “and passed back into the room where the president lay. There were gathered all those whose names I have mentioned and many others – about twenty-or twenty-five in all, I should judge. The bed had been pulled out from the corner and owing to the stature of Mr. Lincoln, he lay diagonally on his back. He had been utterly unconscious from the instant the bullet plowed into his brain. His stertorous breathing subsided a couple of minutes after seven o’clock. From then to the end only the gentle rise and fall of his bosom gave indication that life remained.

The surgeon general was near the head of the bed, sometimes sitting on the edge thereof, his finger on the pulse of the dying man. Occasionally he put his ear down to catch the lessening beats of heart. Mr. Lincoln’s pastor. The Reverend Doctor Gurley, stood a little to the left of the bed. Mr. Stanton sat in a chair near the foot on the left, where the pictures place Andrew Johnson. I stood quite near the head of the bed and from that position had full view of Mr. Stanton across the president’s body. At my right Robert Lincoln sobbed on the shoulder of Charles Sumner.
Stanton’s gaze was fixed intently on the countenance of his dying chief. He had, as I said, been a man of steel throughout the night but as I looked at his face across the corner of the bed and saw the twiching of the muscles I knew that it was only by a powerful effort that he restrained himself.
The first indication that the dreaded end had come was at twenty-two minutes past seven when the surgeon general gently crossed the pulseless hands of Lincoln across the motionless breast and rose to his feet.”53

Booth biographer Michael W. Kauffman wrote: “The Reverend Dr. Gurley cleared his throat and stepped up to the bed, saying, ‘Let us pray.’ As the minister began his prayer, James Tanner quietly reached into his pocket for a pencil. In his haste, he broke off the point. The prayer went unrecorded.”54 Kauffman noted: “It was not until after the Cabinet left that a detail of six men took charge of the remains, placing them in a rough wooden coffin and carrying them back out the narrow hallway and down the winding steps. An ambulance waited in front of the house. As the body was loaded into it, the crowd closed in for a final glimpse of their martyred leader. Then they embarked on a slow, mournful, rain-drenched procession to the White House.55

President Lincoln’s optimism for America’s and his future made have led him to a reckless visit to the theater that Friday night, argued Lincoln biographer Richard Carwardine. “From his knowledge of the stage Lincoln would have known that in classic tragedy the victims are imprisoned by circumstances of their own creating which render morally impossible their own escape. Innumerable historians have implicitly adopted just that fatalistic mode in telling and retelling the events of Lincoln’s last Good Friday, alert to the chronic and incorrigible laxness over his personal safety; to his desire not to be cut off from the public by an imperial guard; to his deafness to the pleas of Stanton and Hill Lamon (his usual bodyguard, but absent that day) not to go out that night – an occasion made the more dangerous by its being generally known that he and Grant would share the state box.”56

Mr. Lincoln’s fatalism, however, was reflected his response to long-time friend Hannah Armstrong when she worried about his safety in February 1861: “Hannah, if they kill me, I shall never die another death.”57 Still, he hoped for the best, telling his stepmother who raised the subject of possible assassination about the same time: “No, no, Mama, they will not do that. Trust in the Lord and all will be well. We will see each other again.”58

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Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 71 (Joseph Holt, April 2, 1874).
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Anthony S. Pitch, “They Have Killed Papa Dead!”, p. 29.
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The Lincoln Memorial: Album-immortelles, pp. 498-502.
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John S. Barnes, “With Lincoln from Washington to Richmond in 1865,” Appleton’s Magazine, May 1907, pp. 747-748.
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Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 814.
John Y. Simon, Harold Holzer, and Dawn Vogel, editors, Lincoln Revisited, p. 313.
Allen C. Guelzo, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction, pp. 481-482.
Timothy S. Good, We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eyewitness Accounts, pp. 69-71.
Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, p. 7.
William A. Croffut, An American Procession 1855-1914: A Personal Chronicle of Famous Men, pp. 122-123.
Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, p. 11.
Harry Read, “‘A Hand to Hold While Dying’ Dr. Charles A. Leale at Lincoln’s side,” Lincoln Herald, Spring 1977, p. 23
Lowell H. Harrison, Lincoln of Kentucky, pp. 4-5
Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, p. 14
Paul Finkelman and Martin J. Hershock, editors, The Political Lincoln, p. 34.
Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, p. 33.
Lowell H. Harrison, Lincoln of Kentucky, p. 7.
Lowell H. Harrison, Lincoln of Kentucky, p. 6.
Anthony S. Pitch, “They Have Killed Papa Dead!”, p. 151.
Anthony S. Pitch, “They Have Killed Papa Dead!”, p. 147.
Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Volume IV, p. 289.
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http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?mtaft:2:./temp/~ammem_GU2F::
William Barton, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 479.
Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, p. 79.
Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, p. 240.
Richard C. Carwardine, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, pp. 315-316.
Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 17.
Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln, p. 137 (Letter from Augustus H. Chapman to William H. Herndon, October 8, 1865).

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