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The Power Of A Woman
A persistent soldier’s wife induces Grant to save her husband from the firing squad
October 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 6
Grant gave him a lecture of unusual severity—scored him unmercifully—told him he richly deserved a thousand deaths, for one such act often led to the deaths of thousands of innocent men—told him he could stand by and witness his execution without a single emotion of pity for him—but concluded it all by telling him that out of sorrow for his wife, who had proven herself so true and so good a woman, he would give him one chance for his life. He would not pardon him, nor in any way release him from the verdict pronounced against him, except to delay the day of his execution. He would order him to be restored to the ranks of the company from which he had deserted, subject to further orders in the matter. He told him plainly he would be under daily and hourly surveillance, and upon the first dereliction of duty in any way, he would order him to be shot within twenty-four hours. After breakfast the husband was returned to the front, and the wife placed on the ten o’clock forenoon mailboat for Washington City. I made inquiries about the soldier for a while afterwards; then lost all track of him. He probably served out his enlistment; and may be drawing a fat pension.
On Christmas eve, 1864, I was restless, discontented and homesick. On going to my tent about ten o’clock P.M. , I sat for an hour brooding over the pleasures of past anniversaries and the gloominess of the present. Filling my pocket with cigars I walked to the Adjutant’s tent, where a light was still burning, and found Col. Bowers stretched out in a large camp-chair in front of the fire, and wearing a subdued, downcast countenance. To my inquiries as to what was the matter, he replied that he had been thinking of his mother, his home, and the difference between his present cheerless surroundings, and those of happier times.
We had chatted but a few minutes when Gen. Rawlins entered and wanted to know if we had not heard the bugle blow “taps,” and “lights out,” and whether he should be obliged to put us under arrest for such flagrant violation of army regulations? We turned the tables on him by inquiring why he was wandering about camp at that time of night? He made his excuses similar to those of Col. Bowers. Within five minutes we heard the tread of some one else approaching, and Gen. Grant walked in. We all greeted him with a burst of laughter, and requested honest confession. He went over the same string of sentimental expressions. But conversation soon took a wide and pleasant range, and we talked for more than an hour about everything uppermost in our minds, excepting war; and until all my cigars had been consumed.
Asking us to keep our seats a few minutes, Grant went to his tent and returned with an unopened box of large, excellent cigars which some one had just sent him from New York. We smoked one or two, each, from this box, when it was agreed that we ought to be in bed. The general insisted on our taking one more smoke before breaking up. Instead of lighting mine I put it in my pocket, and said I would smoke it the next Christmas Eve in memory of that one. I had to take another, however, and smoke them.
One year from that night we were all in Washington City. Remembering my promise I drove out to Gen. Grant’s home, and timed my arrival so exactly that I met him in the hall, on his way from the diningroom to the library. I was ushered into the latter, where the general commenced pushing papers about on the table, set cigars and matches within reach, and invited me to take a cigar. I pulled one slowly and deliberately out of my pocket as if to light it.
He stared at me a moment and asked me if I was afraid of the quality of his. I replied by asking if he remembered where we were one year ago that night. “Yes, at City Point.” “Don’t you remember that I pocketed one of your cigars then, promising to smoke it in memoriam ?” A smile lighted up his face. “Yes, but you have not saved that cigar till now?” “This is the identical cigar, general, and I am here to fulfill my promise.” “Oh well, if you have kept it so long, smoke out of the box tonight, and save it another year.” I complied, saved it another year, and all the succeeding years, from that to this. It lies in my house, safely incased in glass, a sentimental reminder of those days so long past, and where I hope it will continue to lie, till I too have joined “the bivouac of the dead.” Bowers, Rawlins and Grant have gone to “fame’s eternal camping ground.”