Long Blade, Short Scabbard

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In late March, 1865, Abraham Lincoln spent a few days at City Point, Virginia, aboard the Malvern , a captured blockade runner with rather cramped quarters, which Admiral David D. Porter had converted into his flagship. One little problem that arose is described in reminiscences that Porter published twenty years later:

I offered the President my bed, but he positively declined it, and elected to sleep in a small state-room outside of the cabin, occupied by my secretary. It was the smallest kind of a room, six feet long by four and a half feet wide—a small room for the President of the United States to be domesticated in, but Mr. Lincoln was pleased with it. He told me, at parting, that the few days he had spent on board the Malvern were among the pleasantest in his life. When the President retired for his first night on board, he put his shoes and socks outside the stateroom door. I am sorry to say the President’s socks had holes in them; but they were washed and darned, his boots cleaned, and the whole placed at his door. When he came to breakfast he remarked:

“A miracle happened to me last night. When I went to bed I had two large holes in my socks, and this morning there are no holes in them. That never happened to me before; it must be a miracle!”

“How did you sleep?” I inquired.

“I slept well,” he answered, “but you can’t put a long blade into a short scabbard. I was too long for that berth.” Then I remembered he was over six feet four inches, while the berth was only six feet.

That day, while we were out of the ship, all the carpenters were put to work; the state-room was taken down and increased in size to eight feet by six and a half feet. The mattress was widened to suit a berth of four feet width, and the entire state-room remodeled.

Nothing was said to the President about the change in his quarters when he went to bed, but next morning he came out smiling, and said: “A greater miracle than ever happened last night; I shrank six inches in length and about a foot sideways.” He enjoyed it hugely, but I do think if I had given him two fence-rails to sleep on he would not have found fault.