- Historic Sites
Lincoln And The Telegrapher
April 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 3
On June 14, 1863, information of the extensive movement of the Confederate army toward Maryland and Pennsylvania was received. This proved to be an attempt to transfer the battleground of the war from southern to northern soil, and culminated in the great Battle of Gettysburg. From the beginning of this movement until the recrossing of the Potomac by General Lee, with all that remained of his army, Mr. Lincoln spent much of his life in the War Department telegraph office. During this time General Hooker was relieved from the command of the army, and General Meade was made his successor.
On July 12, upon receiving a message from General Meade explaining somewhat in detail the movements of his army, and of the enemy as far as he could ascertain them, [Mr. Lincoln] called me to a large map hanging near my desk, which he frequently consulted, and pointed out that it seemed to him that the enemy were surely being driven to cross the river, instead of being prevented from doing so. General Meade’s message closed with these words: “It is my intention to attack the enemy to-morrow, unless something intervenes to prevent it; for delay will strengthen the enemy and will not increase my force.” Calling me again to the map, and pointing out the position of the various portions of the army as he understood them, and reading General Meade’s message over again, [Mr. Lincoln] paced the room, wringing his hands and saying: “They will be ready to fight a magnificent battle when there is no enemy there to fight.” His apprehensions were proved to be justifiable; for the next morning, when the attack was proposed to be made, the enemy had indeed escaped across the river. …
On the seventh of the following August, while I was alone in my office, Mr. Lincoln came in, bringing a long message which he had written with his own hand, addressed to Governor Seymour of New York, who, you may remember, was opposed to the war. He sat down at a desk and carefully reviewed it, so that I might see that it was properly transmitted. He explained to me something of the occasion of it, a special messenger having come over from New York with a long argument urging, among other things, that the draft should be suspended until the Supreme Court had decided as to the constitutionality of the draft law; and he told me a funny story about a Boston minister who had been drafted, and the criticism he made upon that method of recruiting the army.
Perhaps as popular a story as any that have been attributed to Lincoln is that referring to an alleged delegation who appealed to him to remove General Grant from command because of his indulgence of strong drink. The story has it that, after listening to the appeal, the President inquired if any of them could tell him where General Grant got his whisky; “because,” he is reported to have said, “if I could find out I would send a barrel of it to each of the other Generals.” 1 heard a gentleman inquire of him soon after this story became current whether it was true. He replied: “That would have been very good if I had said it; but I reckon it was charged to me to give it currency.” He said the origin of that story was in King George’s time. Bitter complaint had been made to the King that General Wolfe, then operating against Quebec, was mad. “Mad, is he?” said the King. “Then I wish he’d bite some of my other Generals.”
I wish to make special and grateful mention of the deep and genuine sympathy which Mr. Lincoln manifested for the soldiers in the field. He did not fail to realize the necessity for the exercise of strict discipline, and yet no soldier boy was ever executed for sleeping on his post or other like offenses, when Lincoln could prevent it. I think f have known him to come over to our offices himself, alone, at least half a dozen times, in the night, with a message of reprieve for some poor fellow who was under the sentence of death which nothing but the President’s power could stay, and his solicitude would not allow him to intrust his message to an orderly or other messenger, when a human life depended upon his direct action, and execution might take place unless the official stay was hurried to its destination.