Page images

of the armies of the United States. His appointment to this office, by the President, was an expression of the popular confidence in his devotion to the national cause, and his transcendent ability as a military man. In presenting him with his commission, Mr. Lincoln took occasion to say: "The expression of the nation's approbation of what you have already done, and its reliance on you for what remains to do, in the existing struggle, is now presented with this commission, constituting you Lieutenant-general of the armies of the United States." The modest General made a fitting response: "I feel the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving on me; and I know that, if they are met, it will be due to those armies, and above all to the favor of that Providence which leads both nations and men. Fit officer with fit superior! Two simpler-hearted, truer men than President Lincoln and Lieutenant-general Grant, have not been produced by the republic; and, in their hands, unweakened by selfish ambition, and entirely consecrated to the work of saving the country, the cause of nationality, freedom, and humanity was destined to a glorious triumph. The victories of both had been victories of character. Not brilliant gifts, but a noble spirit had made the President a mighty man. Neither the courage of

the brute nor the dash of the cavalier had made General Grant a great soldier; but a devoted purpose and a will of iron had crowned him with the name and enrobed him with the prestige of the greatest general living.

An incident occurred on the 18th of April, 1864, which forcibly illustrated the progress, not only of events, but of ideas. A grand fair, for the benefit of the United States Sanitary Commission, the original and leading charity established to mitigate the immediate horrors of war, was held in Baltimore; and one of the attractions was the presence and the voice of President Lincoln. Three years had introduced and confirmed great changes. Three years before this occasion, he was obliged to pass through the city in the night, to escape assassination. Three years before, the Massachusetts Sixth, hastening to the protection of Washington, had left some of

[ocr errors]

their members dead in the streets. Three years before, the whole city was seething with treason. Now, gold was pouring into the treasury of the great charity which had been established to aid the soldiers of the Union; and the President was welcomed to the city with grateful gladness.

There was a large crowd, and, in the anxiety to get a glimpse of Mr. Lincoln and to hear his voice, great confusion ; but enough of his remarks have been preserved to give an idea of their drift and spirit. "Calling it to mind that we are in Baltimore," said he, "we cannot fail to note that the world moves. Looking upon the many people I see assembled here, to serve as they best may the soldiers of the Union, it occurs to me that three years ago those soldiers could not pass through Baltimore. I would say, blessings upon the men who have wrought these changes, and the women who have assisted them!" These allusions to the changes in Baltimore were heartily applauded by the Baltimoreans; and, when he proceeded to the mention of changes which had been wrought upon the institution of slavery, the applause was still more hearty and enthusiastic. Maryland had practically abolished the institution; and the President thanked her for what she had done and what she was doing.

A month or two later, the President attended another fair of the Sanitary Commission at Philadelphia. Of course, these movements were not entered upon to gratify a love of excitement or a desire for display, but to manifest his friendliness to the beneficent purposes of the commission. Here a grand supper was given; and, in response to a toast, Mr. Lincoln made a brief speech. Opening with an allusion to the terrors and burdens of war, he spoke of the two great associations which had done so much to relieve the soldier, in the field and in the hospital, and paid a grateful tribute to the ministry of woman in the great work of alleviating the suffering of the army. Speaking of the generous outpouring of means for sustaining these charities, he said: "They are voluntary contributions, giving proof that the national resources are not at all exhausted, and that the national patriotism will sustain us

[ocr errors]

through all." Here, as always and everywhere, the war was uppermost in his mind. "It is a pertinent question," said he, "When is the war to end? I do not wish to name a day when it will end, lest the end should not come at the given time. We accepted the war, and did not begin it. We accepted it for an object, and, when that object is accomplished, the war will end; and I hope to God it will never end until that object is accomplished. We are going through with our task, so far as I am concerned, if it takes us three years longer. I have not been in the habit of making predictions, but I am almost tempted now to hazard one. It is, that Grant is this evening in a position, with Meade and Hancock of Pennsylvania, whence he can never be dislodged by the enemy, until Richmond is taken." Events that wait to be recounted verified the President's prediction.

A fair for the benefit of the soldiers, held at the Patent Office, in Washington, called out Mr. Lincoln as an interested visitor; and he was not permitted to retire without giving a word to those in attendance. "In this extraordinary war,' said he, “extraordinary developments have manifested themselves, such as have not been seen in former wars; and among these manifestations nothing has been more remarkable than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their families. And the chief agents in these fairs are the women of America. I am not accustomed to the use of language of eulogy; I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that if all that has been said by orators and poets, since the creation of the world, in praise of women, were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying, God bless the women of America!"

The government was pledged to the protection of its black soldiers. The President felt that the matter involved many difficulties, for the government was not always able to protect them. When these soldiers were shown no quarter in battle, or when, as prisoners, they were killed or enslaved by the infuriated and unscrupulous foe, he who could not prevent his

[ocr errors]

white soldiers from starving to death in rebel prisons, could hardly protect the colored soldiers from the indignities which rebel policy and rebel spite inflicted upon them. But he did what he could. As early as July 30th, 1863, he issued an order declaring that: "The government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers; and, if the enemy shall sell or enslave any one, because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy's prisoners in our possession." Proceeding, he definitely ordered, "that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier should (shall) be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy, or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier should (shall) be placed at hard labor on the public works, and continued at such labor until the other should (shall) be released, or receive such treatment as was (is, or may be) due to a prisoner of war." This matter of retaliation was brought up during Mr. Lincoln's speech at the Baltimore Fair, to which allusion has been made in this chapter. He had just heard the rumor of the massacre of black soldiers and white officers at Fort Pillow. His mind was full of the horrible event; and, as his custom was, he spoke of that which interested him most. The public thought the government was not doing its whole duty in this matter. For the measure which put the black man into the war, he declared himself responsible to the American people, the future historian, and, above all, to God; and he declared that the black soldier ought to have, and should have, the same protection given to the white soldier. His closing words


"It is an error to say that the government is not acting in this matter. The government has no direct evidence to confirm the reports in existence relative to this massacre, but I believe the facts in relation to it to be as stated. When the government does know the facts from official sources, and they prove to substantiate the reports, retribution will be surely given. What is reported, I think, will make a clear case. If it is not true, then all such stories are to be considered as false. If proved to be true, when the matter shall be thoroughly examined, what

shape is to be given to the retribution? Can we take the man who was captured at Vicksburg, and shoot him for the victim of this massacre ? If it should happen that it was the act of only one man, what course is to be pursued then? It is a matter requiring careful examination and deliberation; and, if it shall be substantiated by sufficient evidence, all may rest assured that retribution will be had."

And now we leave these minor matters, for the consideration of great and decisive events, concerning alike the life of Mr. Lincoln and the life of the nation.

« PreviousContinue »