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Why, sir, did you dare to leave your position in the rear and attack the enemy in the front? Who gave you orders to charge? Are you aware that you spoiled a fine chance for my men to unload their muskets, and to rid the road of a set of infernal scoundrels who are violating the truce between two nations?' Well, sir,' was my respectful reply to my good friend Andy, all I have to say in self-defense is, that you must not accuse me of courage; I make no pretensions to it; I am not a fighting man; I am simply Doctor Reyburn, of New Orleans; and if I have shown any thing like pluck on this occasion, you must attribute it to the infernal Mexican who was afraid to allow me the use of his good horse, and who put upon me an old cavalry charger, without giving me notice in advance that he would be sure to respond to the first bugle call or rouse at the first tap of a drum.'” You may imagine, for I can not describe, the effect of this story told by the genial, generous, frank-hearted Southerner, himself punctuating his points by his own laughter, and therefore awakening the merriment of all who heard him.
[March 3, 1872.]
“ Most history is false, save in name and dates, while a good novel is generally a truthful picture of real life, false only in names and dates." I often think of this sensible remark of a veteran statesman, now in Europe, as I glance into the pages of some of the numberless volumes born during and since the rebellion. Many of their writers seem to have no other object than to make gods of their favorites and devils of their adversaries. Perhaps there can be no true philosophy of that tragic interval. Passion and prejudice have given way before judicial impartiality and tranquil reflection. Carlyle's "French Revolution” of 1793, one of the most remarkable of that strange man's productions, as wonderful for its flashes of individual character as for its accuracy in describing events, was made up from personal investigation and from a careful review of the journals of the day. It inspired Dickens's “Tale of Two Cities,” one of the most grotesque and thrilling of all his creations. Exactly such a mind is required to give us a faithful picture of the inner life of the rebellion. There are several collections of the newspapers of both sides, one that was preserved for some years in the National Library, and, I think, one or two in New York and Boston. Add to these the letters of private soldiers to their families at home, thousands of which are laid away for reference. But who will distill the essence from this mass of material? Who will digest the endless collection? It should be a patriotic and laborious man, a student like Carlyle, blessed with a pleasant style, large sympathies, and a strict and conscientious sense of justice. The incidents of the war, set forth in these private letters of the soldiers and narrated in the newspapers, would make up not only what would be the best of all histories, but reading as absorbing as any romance.
One of these incidents occurs to me as I write. While I was Secretary of the Senate there was hardly an hour during any day that I was not called upon to help somebody who had friends or kindred in the army, or had business in the Departments, or was anxious to get some poor fellow out of the Old Capitol Prison.
These constant appeals were incessant demands upon the time of a very busy man, but the labor was a labor of love, and I am glad to remember that I never undertook it reluctantly. One day a very energetic lady called on me to take her to the President, and aid her to get a private soldier pardoned who had been sentenced to death for desertion, and was to be shot the very next morning. We were much pressed in the Senate, and she had to wait a long time before I could
THE PARDON SIGNED.
accompany her to the White House. It was late in the afternoon when we got there, and yet the Cabinet was still in session. I sent my name in to Mr. Lincoln, and he came out evidently in profound thought, and full of some great subject. I stated the object of our call, and, leaving the lady in one of the ante-chambers, returned to the Senate, which had not yet adjourned. The case made a deep impression on me, but I forgot it in the excitement of the debate and the work of my office, until, perhaps, near ten o'clock that night, when my female friend came rushing into my room, radiant with delight, the pardon in her hand. “I have been up there ever since," she said. “The Cabinet adjourned, and I sat waiting for the President to come out and tell me the fate of my poor soldier, whose case I placed in his hands after you left; but I waited in vain—there was no Mr. Lincoln. So I thought I would go up to the door of his Cabinet chamber and knock. I did so, and, as there was no answer, I opened it and passed in, and there was the worn President asleep, with his head on the table resting on his arms, and my boy's pardon signed by his side. I quietly waked him, blessed him for his good deed, and came here to tell you the glorious news. You have helped me to save a human life.”
This is the material, if not for solemn history, at least for those better lessons which speak to us from the lives of the just
and the pure.
[March 10, 1872.]
CONGRESSIONAL debates and Departmental reports, too often dreary enough, are not without a large leaven of romance and humor. Time and patience are required, however, to winnow
the wheat from these piles of dust. It is almost like digging for gold or searching for jewels-you must endure much before you reach the precious deposits. The records of our former wars by land and sea, of the Treasury, State, Interior, Postal, and Law Departments, conceal an infinite variety of material, now utterly forgotten, and almost entirely unknown. As you pass through the lofty spaces of the Capitol, or the dim cloisters of the executive buildings, you see aged men with busy pens bending over and filling large folios of this increasing history. If you could catch one of these veterans after hours, he would spare you a world of pains by gossiping through the avenues of his experience, not a few of which are full of the flowers and fragrance of a cultivated life. William L. Marcy used to be such a man, as, with snuff-box in hand, he sat crosslegged in his place as War Minister under Polk, and Foreign Secretary under Pierce. Robert J. Walker, vastly like that delicious literary canary, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, of Boston, would crowd his talk with the pictures of the people he had known. James Buchanan was no mean delineator of the characters of the past. Mr. Seward loved to philosophize, or rather dogmatize, by the hour. Doubtless General Spinner, the United States Treasurer, could tell you a thousand stories about the romance of the Greenbacks. The beloved First Auditor, Thomas L. Smith, who died recently after half a century's honest service, wrote and spoke of departed leaders with rare facility; Admiral Joseph Smith is a treasure-house of sea-legends; Quartermaster-General Meigs will relate what would fill a volume of his work on the extension of the Capitol, and his relations to the rebellion; General David Hunter will take you back to the primitive days of Washington City, and repeople many of the old houses on Capitol Hill. The other day I called on Commodore Daniel Ammen, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation and Detail, and asked him to tell me about the celebrated mutiny on board the California steamer, the Ocean Queen, in May, of
A MUTINY SUBDUED.
1864. This event, though of a recent date, has been literally sponged from the slate of the general memory, though still preserved among the records of the navy. A contingent of over 200 men, most of them “roughs ” who had served in the army, and had volunteered for naval service on the Pacific coast, were shipped for their destination on board the Ocean Queen, in charge of Commodore Ammen and a subordinate officer. There were over a thousand other passengers, including many women and children. Justice Field, of the United States Su. preme Court, was among the cabin passengers. The vessel itself was commanded by a fine old seaman, Captain Tinklepaugh. On the first day out the new recruits began to show dissatisfaction with their accommodations and food, and it was soon evident that, under the counsel of two or three desperate leaders, they were preparing to seize and rifle the steamer and the passengers. The Captain proposed to run into one of the nearest ports and get rid of the dangerous conspirators, but this was resisted by Commodore Ammen, who had the turbulent men in charge. He quietly reasoned with them, and assured them that, as he was responsible for their good conduct, he would see to their proper comfort, but that if they resorted to violence they would be severely punished. He was so cool and kind as he made this statement, that they did not think him in earnest, and proceeded with their plans. Their chief, Kelley, was a young fellow of six feet four inches, very athletic and determined. When the first demonstration was made Commodore Ammen was in a distant part of the vessel, and on hearing the noise proceeded to the scene of action. There he found Captain Tinklepaugh in the hands of Kelley, who was surrounded by the other mutineers, all evidently under his orders, and ready to proceed to the worst extremities. The crisis had come, and Ammen, seeing that prompt action was necessary to save the steamer and perhaps the lives of the female passengers, drew his revolver and shot Kelley dead on the spot. One of his im