Part 5 out of 5
a map which was stretched on a frame behind him. "There! On the
Rappahannock, where it is joined by the Rapidan. . . . Near the hamlet of
Chancellorsville. . . . Battle was joined two days ago, and so far it has
been indecisive. Tonight we should know the result. That was the news you
came here to-night about, Mr. President?"
Lincoln nodded. "I am desperately anxious. I needn't conceal that from you,
"So am I. I wish to God I had more confidence in General Hooker. I never
liked that appointment, Mr. President. I should have preferred Meade or
Reynolds. Hooker is a blustering thick-headed fellow, good enough, maybe,
for a division or even a corps, but not for an army."
"I visited him three weeks back," said Lincoln, "and I'm bound to say he
has marvellously pulled round the Army of the Potomac. There's a new spirit
in their ranks. You're unjust to Joe Hooker, Mr. Stanton. He's a fine
organiser, and he'll fight--he's eager to fight, which McClellan and
Burnside never were."
"But what on earth is the good of being willing to fight if you're going to
lose? He hasn't the brains to command. And he's opposed by Lee and Jackson.
Do you realise the surpassing ability of those two men? We have no generals
fit to hold a candle to them."
"We've a bigger and a better army. I'm not going to be depressed, Mr.
Stanton. Joe has two men to every one of Lee's, he's safe over the
Rappahannock, and I reckon he will make a road to Richmond. I've seen his
troops, and they are fairly bursting to get at the enemy. I insist on being
hopeful. What's the last news from the Mississippi?"
"Nothing new. Grant has got to Port Gibson and has his base at Grand Gulf.
He now proposes to cut loose and make for Vicksburg. So far he has done
well, but the risk is terrific. Still, I am inclined to think you were
right about that man. He has capacity."
"Grant stops still and saws wood," said Lincoln "He don't talk a great
deal, but he fights. I can't help feeling hopeful to-night, for it seems to
me we have the enemy in a fix. You've heard me talk of the shrinking
quadrilateral, which is the rebel States, as I see the proposition."
"Often," said the other drily.
"I never could get McClellan rightly to understand it. I look on the
Confederacy as a quadrilateral of which at present we hold two sides--the
east and the south--the salt-water sides. The north side is Virginia, the
west side the line of the Mississippi. If Grant and Farragut between them
can win the control of the Father of Waters, we've got the west side. Then
it's the business of the Armies on the Mississippi to press east and the
Army of the Potomac to press south. It may take a time, but if we keep a
stiff upper lip we're bound to have the rebels whipped. I reckon they're
whipped already in spite of Lee. I've heard of a turtle that an old nigger
man decapitated. Next day he was amusing himself poking sticks at it and
the turtle was snapping back. His master comes along and says to him, 'Why,
Pomp, I thought that turtle was dead.' 'Well, he am dead, massa,' says
Pompey, 'but the critter don't know enough ter be sensible ob it.' I reckon
the Confederacy's dead, but Jeff Davis don't know enough to be sensible of
A young man in uniform came hurriedly through the private secretary's door
and handed the Secretary for War a telegram. He stood at attention, and the
President observed that his face was pale. Stanton read the message, but
gave no sign of its contents. He turned to the map behind him and traced a
line on it with his forefinger.
"Any more news?" he asked the messenger.
"Nothing official, sir," was the answer. "But there is a report that
General Jackson has been killed in the moment of victory."
The officer withdrew and Stanton turned to the President. Lincoln's face
was terrible in its strain, for the words "in the moment of victory" had
rung the knell of his hopes.
When Stanton spoke his voice was controlled and level. "Unlike your
turtle," he said, "the Confederacy is suddenly and terribly alive. Lee has
whipped Hooker to blazes. We have lost more than fifteen thousand men.
To-day we are back on the north side of the Rappahannock."
Lincoln was on his feet and for a moment the bronze mask of his face was
distorted by suffering.
"My God!" he cried. "What will the country say? What will the country say?"
"It matters little what the country says. The point is what will the
country suffer. In a fortnight Lee will be in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Your quadrilateral will not shrink, it will extend. In a month we shall be
fighting to hold Washington and Baltimore, aye, and Philadelphia."
The bitterness of the words seemed to calm Lincoln. He was walking up and
down the floor, with his hands clasped behind his back, and his expression
was once again one of patient humility
"I take all the blame," he said. "You have done nobly, Mr. Stanton, and all
the mistakes are mine. I reckon I am about the poorest effigy of a War
President that ever cursed an unhappy country."
The other did not reply. He was an honest man who did not deal in smooth
"I'd resign to-morrow," Lincoln went on. "No railsplitter ever laid down
his axe at the end of a hard day so gladly as I would lay down my office.
But I've got to be sure first that my successor will keep faith with this
nation. I've got to find a man who will keep the right course."
"Which is?" Stanton asked.
"To fight it out to the very end. To the last drop of blood and the last
cent. There can be no going back. If I surrendered my post to any
successor, though he were an archangel from heaven, who would weaken on
that great purpose, I should deserve to be execrated as the betrayer of my
Into Stanton's sour face there came a sudden gleam which made it almost
"Mr. President," he said, "I have often differed from you. I have used
great freedom in criticism of your acts, and I take leave to think that I
have been generally in the right. You know that I am no flatterer. But I
tell you, sir, from my inmost heart that you are the only man to lead the
people, because you are the only man whose courage never fails. God knows
how you manage it. I am of the bull-dog type and hold on because I do not
know how to let go. Most of my work I do in utter hopelessness. But you,
sir, you never come within a mile of despair. The blacker the clouds get
the more confident you are that there is sunlight behind them. I carp and
cavil at you, but I also take off my hat to you, for you are by far the
greatest of us."
Lincoln's face broke into a slow smile, which made the eyes seem curiously
"I thank you, my old friend," he said. "I don't admit I have your courage,
for I haven't half of it. But if a man feels that he is only a pipe for
Omnipotence to sound through, he is not so apt to worry. Besides, these
last weeks God has been very good to me and I've been given a kind of
assurance. I know the country will grumble a bit about my ways of doing
things, but will follow me in the end. I know that we shall win a clean
victory. Jordan has been a hard road to travel, but I feel that in spite of
all our frailties we'll be dumped on the right side of that stream. After
that . . ."
"After that," said Stanton, with something like enthusiasm in his voice,
"you'll be the first President of a truly united America, with a power and
prestige the greatest since Washington."
Lincoln's gaze had left the other's face and was fixed on the blue dusk now
gathering in the window.
"I don't know about that," he said. "When the war's over, I think I'll go
Two years passed and once again it was spring in Washington--about
half-past ten of the evening of the 14th of April--Good Friday--the first
Eastertide of peace. The streets had been illuminated for victory, and the
gas jets were still blazing, while a young moon, climbing the sky, was
dimming their murky yellow with its cold pure light. Tenth Street was
packed from end to end by a silent mob. As a sponge cleans a slate, so
exhilaration had been wiped off their souls. On the porch of Ford's Theatre
some gaudy posters advertised Tom Taylor's comedy, Our American Cousin,
and the steps were littered with paper and orange peel and torn fragments
of women's clothes, for the exit of the audience had been hasty. Lights
still blazed in the building, for there was nobody to put them out. In
front on the side-walk was a cordon of soldiers.
Stanton elbowed his way through the throng to the little house, Mr.
Peterson's, across the street. The messenger from the War Department had
poured wild news into his ear,--wholesale murder, everybody--the
President--Seward--Grant. Incredulous he had hurried forth and the sight of
that huge still crowd woke fear in him. The guards at Mr. Peterson's door
recognised him and he was admitted. As he crossed the threshold he saw
ominous dark stains.
A kitchen candle burned below the hat-rack in the narrow hall, and showed
further stains on the oilcloth. From a room on the left hand came the sound
of women weeping.
The door at the end of the passage was ajar. It opened on a bare little
place, once perhaps the surgery of some doctor in small practice, but now a
bedroom. A door gave at the farther side on a tiny verandah, and this and
the one window were wide open. An oil lamp stood on a table by the bed and
revealed a crowd of people. A man lay on the camp-bed, lying aslant for he
was too long for it. A sheet covered his lower limbs, but his breast and
shoulders had been bared. The head was nearest to the entrance, propped on
an outjutting bolster.
A man was leaving whom Stanton recognised as Dr. Stone, the Lincoln family
physician. The doctor answered his unspoken question. "Dying," he said.
"Through the brain. The bullet is now below the left eye. He may live for a
few hours--scarcely the night."
Stanton moved to the foot of the bed like one in a dream. He saw that
Barnes, the Surgeon-General, sat on a deal chair on the left side, holding
the dying man's hand. Dr. Gurley, the minister, sat beside the bed. He
noted Sumner and Welles and General Halleck and Governor Dennison, and back
in the gloom the young Robert Lincoln. But he observed them only as he
would have observed figures in a picture. They were but shadows; the living
man was he who was struggling on the bed with death.
Lincoln's great arms and chest were naked, and Stanton, who had thought of
him as meagre and shrunken, was amazed at their sinewy strength. He
remembered that he had once heard of him as a village Hercules. The
President was unconscious, but some tortured nerve made him moan like an
animal in pain. It was a strange sound to hear from one who had been wont
to suffer with tight lips. To Stanton it heightened the spectral unreality
of the scene. He seemed to be looking at a death in a stage tragedy.
The trivial voice of Welles broke the silence. He had to give voice to the
emotion which choked him.
"His dream has come true," he said--"the dream he told us about at the
Cabinet this morning. His ship is nearing the dark shore. He thought it
signified good news from Sherman."
Stanton did not reply. To save his life he could not have uttered a word.
Then Gurley, the minister, spoke, very gently, for he was a simple man
"He has looked so tired for so long. He will have rest now, the deep rest
of the people of God. . . . He has died for us all. . . . To-day nineteen
hundred years ago the Son of Man gave His life for the world. . . . The
President has followed in his Master's steps."
Sumner was repeating softly to himself, like a litany, that sentence from
the second Inaugural--"With malice toward none, with charity for all."
But Stanton was in no mood for words. He was looking at the figure on the
bed, the great chest heaving with the laboured but regular breath, and
living again the years of colleagueship and conflict. He had been Loyal to
him: yes, thank God he had been loyal. He had quarrelled, thwarted,
criticised, but he had never failed him in a crisis. He had held up his
hands as Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses. . .
The Secretary for War was not in the habit of underrating his own talents
and achievements. But in that moment they seemed less than nothing.
Humility shook him like a passion. Till his dying day his one boast must be
that he had served that figure on the camp-bed. It had been his high
fortune to have his lot cast in the vicinity of supreme genius. With awe he
realised that he was looking upon the passing of the very great. . . .
There had never been such a man. There could never be such an one again. So
patient and enduring, so wise in all great matters, so potent to inspire a
multitude, so secure in his own soul. . . . Fools would chatter about his
being a son of the people and his career a triumph of the average man.
Average! Great God, he was a ruler of princes, a master, a compeller of
men. . . . He could imagine what noble nonsense Sumner would talk. . . . He
looked with disfavor at the classic face of the Bostonian.
But Sumner for once seemed to share his feelings. He, too, was looking with
reverent eyes towards the bed, and as he caught Stanton's gaze he whispered
words which the Secretary for War did not condemn: "The beauty of Israel is
slain upon thy high places."
The night hours crawled on with an intolerable slowness. Some of the
watchers sat, but Stanton remained rigid at the bed-foot. He had not been
well of late and had been ordered a long rest by his doctor, but he was not
conscious of fatigue. He would not have left his post for a king's ransom,
for he felt himself communing with the dying, sharing the last stage in his
journey as he had shared all the rough marches. His proud spirit found a
certain solace in the abasement of its humbleness.
A little before six the morning light began to pale the lamps. The window
showed a square of grey cloudy sky, and outside on the porch there was a
drip of rain. The faces revealed by the cold dawn were as haggard and
yellow as that of the dying man. Wafts of the outer air began to freshen
the stuffiness of the little room.
The city was waking up. There came the sound of far-away carts and horses,
and a boy in the lane behind the house began to whistle, and then to sing.
"When I was young," he sang--
"When I was young I used to wait
At Magea'n table 'n' hand de plate
An' pais de bottie when he was dry,
An' brush away de blue-tailed fly."
"It's his song," Stanton said to himself, and with the air came a rush of
strange feelings. He remembered a thousand things, which before had been
only a background of which he had been scarcely conscious. The constant
kindliness, the gentle healing sympathy, the homely humour which he once
thought had irritated but which he now knew had soothed him. . . . This
man had been twined round the roots of every heart. All night he had been
in an ecstasy of admiration, but now that was forgotten in a yearning love.
The President had been part of his being, closer to him than wife or child.
The boy sang--
"But I can't forget, until I die
Ole Massa an' de blue-tailed fly."
Stanton's eyes filled with hot tears. He had not wept since his daughter died.
The breathing from the bed was growing faint. Suddenly the Surgeon-General
held up his hand. He felt the heart and shook his head. "Fetch your
mother," he said to Robert Lincoln. The minister had dropped on his knees
by the bedside and was praying.
"The President is dead," said the Surgeon-General, and at the words it
seemed that every head in the room was bowed on the breast.
Stanton took a step forward with a strange appealing motion of the arms. It
was noted by more than one that his pale face was transfigured.
"Yesterday he was America's," he cried. "Our very own. Now he is all the
world's. . . . Now he belongs to the ages."
Mr. Francis Hamilton, an honorary attache of the British Embassy, stood on
the steps of the Capitol watching the procession which bore the President's
body from the White House to lie in state in the great Rotunda. He was a
young man of some thirty summers, who after a distinguished Oxford career
was preparing himself with a certain solemnity for the House of Commons. He
sought to be an authority on Foreign affairs, and with this aim was making
a tour among the legations. Two years before he had come to Washington,
intending to remain for six months, and somewhat to his own surprise had
stayed on, declining to follow his kinsman Lord Lyons to Constantinople.
Himself a staunch follower of Mr. Disraeli, and an abhorrer of Whiggery in
all its forms, he yet found in America's struggle that which appealed both
to his brain and his heart. He was a believer, he told himself, in the
Great State and an opponent of parochialism; so, unlike most of his friends
at home, his sympathies were engaged for the Union. Moreover he seemed to
detect in the protagonists a Roman simplicity pleasing to a good classic.
Mr. Hamilton was sombrely but fashionably dressed and wore a gold eyeglass
on a black ribbon, because he fancied that a monocle adroitly used was a
formidable weapon in debate. He had neat small sidewhiskers, and a pleasant
observant eye. With him were young Major Endicott from Boston and the
eminent Mr. Russell Lowell, who, as Longfellow's successor in the Smith
Professorship and one of the editors of The North American Review, was a
great figure in cultivated circles. Both were acquaintances made by Mr.
Hamilton on a recent visit to Harvard. He found it agreeable to have a few
friends with whom he could have scholarly talk.
The three watched the procession winding through the mourning streets.
Every house was draped in funeral black, the passing bell tolled from every
church, and the minute-guns boomed at the City Hall and on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Hamilton regarded the cortege at first with a critical eye. The events
of the past week had wrought in him a great expectation, which he feared
would be disappointed. It needed a long tradition to do fitting honour to
the man who had gone. Had America such a tradition? he asked himself. . . .
The coloured troops marching at the head of the line pleased him. That was
a happy thought. He liked, too, the business-like cavalry and infantry, and
the battered field-pieces. . . . He saw his Chief among the foreign
Ministers, bearing a face of portentous solemnity. . . . But he liked best
the Illinois and Kentucky delegates; he thought the dead President would
have liked them too.
Major Endicott was pointing out the chief figures. There's Grant . . . and
Stanton, looking more cantankerous than ever. They say he's brokenhearted."
But Mr. Hamilton had no eye for celebrities. He was thinking rather of
those plain mourners from the west, and of the poorest house in Washington
decked with black. This is a true national sorrow, he thought. He had been
brought up as a boy from Eton to see Wellington's funeral, and the sight
had not impressed him like this. For the recent months had awakened odd
emotions in his orderly and somewhat cynical soul. He had discovered a
The three bared their heads as the long line filed by. Mr. Lowell said
nothing. Now and then he pulled at his moustaches as if to hide some
emotion which clamoured for expression. The mourners passed into the
Capitol, while the bells still tolled and the guns boomed. The cavalry
escort formed up on guard; from below came the sound of sharp commands.
Mr. Hamilton was shaken out of the admirable detachment which he had
cultivated. He wanted to sit down and sob like a child. Some brightness had
died in the air, some great thing had gone for ever from the world and left
it empty. He found himself regarding the brilliant career which he had
planned for himself with a sudden disfavour. It was only second-rate after
all, that glittering old world of courts and legislatures and embassies.
For a moment he had had a glimpse of the firstrate, and it had shivered his
pretty palaces. He wanted now something which he did not think he would
The three turned to leave, and at last Mr. Lowell spoke.
"There goes," he said, "the first American!"
Mr. Hamilton heard the words as he was brushing delicately with his sleeve
a slight berufflement of his silk hat.
"I dare say you are right, Professor," he said. "But I think it is also the
last of the Kings."