Chapter One: "What Stuff!"
Virginia Woodbury Fox, the wife of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox, traveled in high sociopolitical circles and kept a detailed diary noted for its specificity and impartiality from 1856 to 1876. She was a close Lincoln confidant, and her diary has become a much quoted source found throughout Lincoln literature. The Library of Congress files contain literally hundreds of her comments and references to them. Yet one of her notes has been overlooked, until very recently. It is an entry dated November 16, 1862: "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!"
"Tish" was Letitia McKean, a player in Washington''s fashionable society and the daughter of an admiral. It is unknown how she came by her information, but hearsay is likely. Should it be dismissed as such?
The Bucktail soldier was David V. Derickson. He was five-feet-nine-inches tall, with intense eyes, a strong nose, and thick black hair, and was from a socially prominent family in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He was a captain in the army. He was born on April 9, 1818. (He was nine years younger than Lincoln.) The military was well-known to the Derickson clan. The captain''s father was himself an officer, Capt. Samuel Derickson of the 137th Regiment Pennsylvania Militia (1787-1827). His middle brother, George, was killed in 1854 in the Mexican War. The youngest, Richard, held an array of state military posts, rising to become brigadier general of the state volunteers in 1849, and eventually signing up with Pennsylvania''s Erie Regiment as a private in the Civil War.
A scattered record offers some clues to the nature of the Lincoln-Derickson relationship, and attests that McKean''s rumor was more than mere hearsay. Margaret Leech''s 1941 Pulitzer Prize-winning Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865, includes one mention of Derickson on page 303:
[Lincoln] grew to like the Bucktails, especially Company K, with whose captain he became so friendly that he invited him to share his bed on autumn nights when Mrs. Lincoln was away from home. When the question arose about a guard at the White House on the family''s return to town, the President especially requested that Company K continue on duty. The congenial captain was presently transferred to another command, but the soldiers remained with the President throughout the war.
Ms. Leech never identified this "congenial captain," and she cryptically left the fellow almost as soon as she introduced him; all in a mere three sentences. Perhaps it was the off-handed manner in which it was presented or because she never named the captain that the incident comes across as unremarkable. Or maybe it was the suggestion that because the captain was transferred, he was no longer in the picture.
Leech''s bibliography references a rare and scholarly book that discusses Derickson in far more detail: History of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, Second Regiment, Bucktail Brigade. Published in 1895, it was written by Lt. Col. Thomas Chamberlin, immediate commanding officer to Capt. Derickson in Washington.
Every detail about Chamberlin points to his legitimacy as a historian. As he wrote in the preface to his book:
Nothing has been set down here without careful authentication and, where the memory of witnesses has clashed in respect to any important incident, everything possible has been done to reconcile disagreements and reach an actual fact....And if [my] book, which is truly a labor of love, have [sic] no other merit, it is at least, or aims to be, a faithful presentation of the truth. (italics in the original)
Chamberlin had graduated with high honors from Lewisburg College, his hometown school, in 1858 and had then gone on to graduate studies in both law and philosophy in Germany. When war came, he elected to serve as company captain in the Pennsylvania Reserves. He was wounded twice in combat, including at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, which turned out to be the finish of his military career. It also left him partially disabled for the duration of his life, until 1917.
A sizable contingent of the Bucktail Survivors read Chamberlin''s history of the regiment. They congratulated him and even gave him an award for the quality and accuracy of his reporting.
Chapter 4 of his book discusses Lincoln and Derickson:
To him [Chamberlin] was immediately entrusted the care of companies at the Soldier''s Home, and up to the 22nd of October he visited them each day, inspecting the camp and guards and exercising the men in all the more important company and battalion movements. Here he several times witnessed the arrival of the President, who, after the onerous duties of the day at the White House, was driven to his summer retreat in an open carriage, accompanied by an insignificant detail of cavalry from "Scotts'' Nine Hundred." Here, too, he frequently met little Thomas Lincoln, vulgarly known as "Tad," who spent much of his time in the camp, in which he seemed to have a weighty sense of proprietorship.
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 marshall of the Nineteenth Pennsylvania District, with head-quarters in Meadville.
With two independent mentions of Mrs. Lincoln''s absences, and Derickson''s bed-sharing, the matter clearly deserves scrutiny. The implications of Mary Lincoln''s absence, for starters, are perhaps different from what one might suppose. The Lincolns presumably had little if any sex for ten years, due to severe physical damage (probably vaginal tearing) that Mary had sustained while giving birth to Tad, with his especially large head, damage that made later sexual intercourse painful. As she herself confided to a friend, "My disease is of a womanly nature." Nor had the Lincolns shared the same bedroom for years; his many nighttime visits from friends and colleagues to discuss politics far into the night had long since caused Mary to want her own bedroom. Thus the importance of her absence during Derickson''s nighttime visits rested squarely on not wanting her to be present as a witness.
According to Lincoln Day By Day: A Chronology 1809-1865, Mrs. Lincoln left for New York and Boston on October 25, 1862, returning on November 27. Virginia Fox''s diary entry falls within this window. Before and after these dates, it is difficult to be certain of Mrs. Lincoln''s sleeping arrangements. And yet -- as is no surprise -- the nature of sexual attraction is such that its appetite is inclined to be whetted rather than blocked by impossible time slots and other barriers that would challenge or stand in its way.
The Lincoln-Derickson relationship had been discussed separately in 1895 in Ida M. Tarbell''s popular and widely read The Life of Abraham Lincoln, originally a series of pieces written for McClure''s magazine. Tarbell had discovered a four-thousand word memoir by Captain D. V. Derickson, published in the May 12, 1888, edition of the Meadville (Pennsylvania) Tribune-Republican, titled ABRAHAM LINCOLN''S BODYGUARD. The article left the distinct impression that Lincoln''s attraction to him began practically at first sight. Their first encounter at the Soldier''s Home on September 8, 1862, is described in several paragraphs by Tarbell, quoting Derickson at length, but cutting certain of his passages (restored here, in bold):
"The next morning after our arrival," says Mr. Derickson, "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 to 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 we 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