Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865
THE NEW ATLANTIC SERIAL
BY MARGARET LEECH
REVEILLE IN WASHINGTON
BY MARGARET LEECH
The story of our National Capital in its greatest ordeal
FIVE years ago Margaret Leech began the writing of a book which has assumed increasing importance with the passing of time. It was her ambition to tell the day-to-day story, as vivid and authentic as human nature made it, of what happened in Washington during the five years of the Civil War. She wanted to show what Washington was like on that day in December, 1860, when General Winfield Scott limped into town to put down the sedition which was openly threatening the life of the newly elected President; what it was like on the bleak day of Lincoln’s Inauguration; what it was like when the Southerners had left but the spies and the bullies from the border States were still everywhere; what it was like when the wounded streamed in after Bull Run and Antietam; what it was like in the long months of defeat, and later when the realization slowly dawned that Union and Peace were within reach. By her integration of innumerable episodes, actual conversation, and hard, gleaming facts, Miss Leech succeeds in showing us how Americans lived and what they wore, what they ate and how they acted, and, most important of all, how their minds worked in those five crucial years when our national life was in jeopardy.
Here is the heart of a democracy, as it beats under stress. ‘The book,’ says Allan Nevins, ‘can be called a work of genuine distinction in both literary and historical senses.’
REVEILLE IN WASHINGTON: 1860-1865
BY MARGARET LEECH
THAT winter, the old General moved from the rooms he had rented from the free mulatto, Wormley, in I Street, to Cruchet’s, at Sixth and D Streets. His new quarters, situated on the ground floor, — a spacious bedroom, with a private dining room adjoining, — were convenient for a man who walked slowly and with pain; and Cruchet, a French caterer, was one of the best cooks in Washington.
In spite of his nearly seventy-five years and his increasing infirmities, the General was addicted to the pleasures of the table. Before his six-o’clock dinner, his black body servant brought out the wines and the liqueurs, setting the bottles of claret to warm before the fire. The old man had refined his palate in the best restaurants of Paris; and woodcock, English snipe, poulard, capon, and tête de veau en tortue were among the dishes he fancied. He liked, too, canvasback duck, and the hams of his native Virginia. Yet nothing, to his taste, equaled the delicacy he called ‘tarrapin.’
From his splendid prime, the General had retained, not only a discriminating palate, but the defects suitable to a proud and ambitious nature. He had always been vain, pompous, exacting, jealous, and high-tempered. Now that his sick old body could no longer support the racking of its wounds, his irascibility had dwindled to irritation, and his imperiousness to petulance. His love of flattery had grown, and he often declared that at his age compliments had become a necessity. While taking a footbath, he would call on his military secretary to remark the fairness of his limbs. In company, he spoke of the great commanders of history, and matched with theirs his own exploits at Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, at Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec. Near his desk stood his bust in marble, with shoulders bared: classical, serene, and idealized. The walls were brilliant with his portraits at various ages, from the young General Winfield Scott who had been victorious over the British in 1814 to the already aging General-in-Chief who had defeated the Mexicans in 1848. They were arresting figures, those generals on the walls; handsome, slender, heroic, with haughty eye and small, imperious mouth. Gold gleamed in spurs, in buttons and embroidery and huge epaulettes, in the handle of the sword which had been the gift of Virginia; and one portrait showed the superb cocked hat, profusely plumed, that had earned for Scott the sobriquet of ‘Fuss and Feathers.’ He stood six feet, four and a quarter inches in height, and had been wont to insist on the fraction. But, swollen and dropsical, he spoke no longer of his size. He pointed instead to the bust, to the portraits, to show what he had been.
Such was the commanding general of the Army of the United States in December of 1860, but not so did his compatriots see him. His eye had lost its fire and he could no longer sit a horse, but in huge epaulettes and yellow sash he was still his country’s hero. Europe might celebrate the genius of Napoleon; the New World had its Winfield Scott. For nearly half a century the republic had taken pride in his achievements as soldier and pacificator; and, if he now lived in a glorious military past, so did his fellow countrymen. He was the very figure to satisfy a peaceful people fond of bragging of its bygone belligerence. The General was as magnificent as a monument, and no one was troubled by the circumstance that he was nearly as useless.
Smugly aloof from the dissensions of Europe, the young nation scorned the large standing armies of the Old World. It was wary of the political danger of a large military class, and, regarding high rank as perilous to democratic liberties, looked uneasily on West Point as a breeding ground for aristocrats. Save for George Washington, Winfield Scott alone had held the rank of lieutenant-general, and in his case Congress had conferred it only by brevet. To guard its far-flung borders and fight its Indian wars, the United States maintained an army of sixteen thousand soldiers, scattered for the most part over the Pacific Coast, Utah, and the Southwest.
This small establishment offered a limited opportunity for military preferment, and in the twenty years of Scott’s command he had shown a marked partiality for advancing Southern officers. To favor gentlemen from the slave States, with their martial spirit and their ‘habit of command,’ had been as natural to the old Virginian as a daily perusal of the Richmond Enquirer. Of the six Army departments, only the Department of the East was commanded by a Northerner, General John E. Wool. The five Western departments, in which the mass of the Army was stationed, were all headed by officers of Southern birth. Scott found the ‘Southern rascals’ not only meritorious, but congenial. The only Northern aide on his staff’ was his military secretary, Lieutenant-Colonel E. D. Keyes, and the appointment had first been offered to a Virginian, Colonel Robert E. Lee. Since the nation’s political destinies had long been controlled by the statesmen of the slave States, there had been no interference with the General’s predilections. For twelve years the War Department patronage had been in Southern hands. A Southern clique ruled the Army, and many ambitious Northerners who had shown promise at West Point — Halleck, McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, Sherman, Rosecrans — had felt sufficiently discouraged to resign their commissions and return to civil life.
In spite of his sentiment for the South, General Scott was no believer in State sovereignty; he was strongly attached to the Union. The canvass of 1860 revealed a disastrous sectional division. The Democratic Party split into two factions, each of which nominated a candidate, and the success of the Republicans in November appeared to be assured. After the October elections, the cotton States began to agitate for disunion. South Carolina threatened immediate secession if the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, should be elected. In late October, General Scott wrote the President a letter containing his views. He advised Buchanan that the Southern forts should be strongly garrisoned to prevent a surprise attack. It was the advice that the General had given President Jackson during the nullification troubles in South Carolina, when Scott himself had gone to Charleston and executed his mission with firmness and diplomacy.
Scott was no longer the man he had been in 1832. His letter maundered off into arguments for peaceable disunion, and he presented the suggestion that the nation might solve its problems, not simply by splitting in half, but by dividing into four confederacies. A week after he had sent his letter, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. Four days later, South Carolina called a convention with the view of seceding from the Union. There were wild political demonstrations in the cotton States; and, as Southern trade with the North fell off and markets fell and banks called in their loans, the free States, forgetful of their recent enthusiasm for the limitation of slavery, grew despondent. Northern merchants and manufacturers, chilled by the prospect of bankruptcy, were eager to make concessions.
In December, the General was boosted into a railway car and started on his journey to Washington. It was a hardship for him to travel; he had been ill in bed; but the President had sent for him, and like a good soldier he was ready to do his duty. The dirty, rattling cars wound slowly down through Maryland, and, leaning on the arm of his military secretary, the General entered the nation’s capital, a town of sedition and dismay.
The North might worry over tumbling markets; in Washington there was revolution, and men feared for democratic government. A very young man of the Adams family, who was attempting that winter what he called an education in treason, observed ‘the singular spectacle of a government trying to destroy itself.’ The conspiracy for disunion was not confined to the States, but permeated the highest councils of the nation. It was unique among revolutions only in its impunity. Southern Senators and Representatives made no secret of their disloyalty to the Union. Three members of the President’s Cabinet had been deeply implicated: Howell Cobb of Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury; John B. Floyd of Virginia, Secretary of War; and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior. Clerks in the government departments sported secession cockades on their coats, and loudly over their whiskey at Willard’s bar vowed that Lincoln should never be inaugurated.
Uneasily in the Presidential chair sat James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, like a nervous gentleman on a runaway horse, longing for the ride to be over. A commonplace politician of nearly seventy, he was conscientious, evasive, and irresolute. He was a staunch Democrat; Southerners were his friends and closest political associates. He had belatedly become aware that his allegiance might carry him into presiding over the disruption of his country. General Scott’s repeated advice to strengthen the Southern forts had no more effect on him than on his secessionist War Secretary, Mr. Floyd. Mr. Buchanan was not oblivious of the problem of the forts. In conference with his divided Cabinet, he was considering little else than the question of the policy to be pursued in Charleston harbor. Major Robert Anderson, stationed with a small garrison at Fort Moultrie, was appealing to the government to take a stand; if it was intended to hold the forts, Anderson begged for reënforcements. Dreading a collision, the President felt obliged to follow a policy so noncommittal that it produced the impression of being no policy at all. However dull cars might be at the North, Mr. Buchanan had heard the roar of the deluge, and to the induction into office of his successor, Mr. Lincoln, he was looking forward with the keenest anticipation.
The General had made the journey to Washington for a consultation with the President. It was evident that he would be obliged to remain. Scott was no Republican, but, baffled by Mr. Buchanan and cold-shouldered by Mr. Floyd, he wished to God that Mr. Lincoln were in office. For Army headquarters, space was presently found in Winder’s Building in Seventeenth Street, opposite the small brick structure of the War Department, and the General-in-Chief took up his duties at the divided and jeopardized seat of Federal Government.
It was as a symbol that the capital was valued; it had no other importance. Built to order at the dawn of the century, it gave after sixty years the impression of having been just begun. ‘As in 1800 and 1850, so in I860,’ wrote Henry Adams, ‘the same rude colony was camped in the same forest, with the same unfinished Greek temples for workrooms, and sloughs for roads.’ European travelers, doing their tour of the United States, looked superciliously on Washington. They were accustomed to capitals which were the rooted cent res of the cultural and commercial life of their nations. Washington was merely a place for the government. It was an idea set in a wilderness.
All too typical of the young republic, the town was pretentious and unfulfilled. It had been ambitiously laid out over an area extending from the Potomac and the Eastern Branch or Anacostia River as far as Rock Creek on the west and Boundary Street — later to be known as Florida Avenue — on the north. Vast sums, by the standards of the day, had been spent on the public buildings, but they were widely spaced, unrelated, and, for the most part, incomplete. The very grandioseness of the capital’s conception called forth ridicule, and the oftenquoted tribute, ‘a city of magnificent distances,’ had become a favorite jibe.
The vaunted buildings of Washington were the Capitol, the General Post Office, the Patent Office, the Treasury, the Executive Mansion, and the Smithsonian Institution; and, despite the distances, the tour could be made in a forenoon. First in importance was the classic Capitol, with its historical paintings and statuary and its Library of Congress; above all, with its great marble Extension, progressing toward completion after nearly ten years of work. In the two new wings, only recently occupied by the legislators, visitors now might gaze on the splendid Senate Chamber and the ornate red and gold Hall of Representatives. There was no doubt that the interior decorations were gorgeous, though Americans thought them gaudy and foreign; but on the outside, imagination was needed to envision an imposing architectural effect. The original dome had been removed, and only the base of the new cast-iron dome, topped by scaffolding and a towering crane, surmounted the old sandstone building in the centre. At either end, the glittering marble wings stretched bare and unfinished, devoid even of steps. Of the hundred Corinthian columns needed for the completion of the porticoes, only three had been crowned by their capitals and set in place. Columns and capitals, blocks of marble, keystones, carvings, lumber, and iron plates lay strewn about the grounds, which were further defaced by workmen’s sheds and depots for coal and wood. Visitors lingered on the east portico to admire the colossal statues, especially Persico’s Columbus, with his ball; and all paused to stare at the Greenough statue of Washington which sat, godlike amid the litter, in the eastern park. Modeled on the Roman conception of Jupiter Tonans, the figure of the Father of his Country was naked to the waist, with his limbs swathed in draperies; and even Philp’s guidebook was constrained to remark that Washington was ‘scarcely recognizable, in this garb, to his countrymen.’
Diagonally across from each other, at Seventh and F Streets, were the marble palaces of the Post Office and the Patent Office. The latter, which was not quite finished, contained a display of models and curiosities, and provided space for the entire business of the Department of the Interior. On Fifteenth Street, the Treasury Department occupied an immense edifice, the Extension of which was still under construction. Next door, on the future site of the north end of the Treasury, was the little brick State Department. It attracted no more attention than did the Army and Navy Departments, which were installed in similar old-fashioned houses on the western side of the Executive Mansion, whose wooded lawn extended to the four department buildings.
By travelers from overseas, the mansion itself was dismissed as an ordinary country house, wanting in either taste or splendor; but it was an object of deep interest to Americans, who roved through the spacious public rooms, admiring the large mirrors, the flowered carpets, and the sparkling chandeliers. At either end the mansion straggled out into low sheds, which were used for household purposes, and the extension on the west was surmounted by a conservatory which communicated with the first floor. With its outbuildings, greenhouses, fruit trees, and flower and kitchen gardens, the place had an appearance of prosperous untidiness, like that of a Southern plantation house. In front of the mansion there was an iron fence with large gateways, and another fence enclosed the grounds on the south; but the lawns were traversed by interior paths between the departments, and that which crossed the north side of the house was freely used by the public. In the circle before the north portico stood a statue of Thomas Jefferson in bronze, a material which was thought to have imparted a Negroid appearance to the statesman’s features. On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, the bronze equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson embellished Lafayette Square. It was the work of Clark Mills, a talented young plasterer from South Carolina.
The great disadvantage of the President’s House was its unhealthy situation near the Potomac flats, which were held responsible for the prevalence of malaria in Washington during the summer and autumn months. At the foot of the President’s Park, as the unkempt tract south of the mansion was called, there was an unsavory marsh which had formerly been an outlet for sewage. This bordered on the opening of the town’s great nuisance, the old city canal, formerly an inland waterway between the Potomac and the Eastern Branch, but now fallen into disuse, save as a receptacle for sewage and offal. To reach the Mall and the southwest section of Washington, it was necessary to cross this unsightly and odorous channel, which was spanned at intervals by high iron bridges.
In the half-developed park of the Mall arose the red, fantastic towers of the Smithsonian Institution, surrounded by prettily planted grounds which, like those of the Capitol and the White House, had been planned by the famous horticulturist, Andrew J. Downing. Its large library and museum of natural history were considered well worth visiting. West of Fifteenth Street and directly south of the Executive Mansion, though separated from it by the wide mouth of the canal, stood a truncated shaft, intended to commemorate the Father of his Country. Here sentimental patriots might wander among the stone carvings which lay piled on the ground, and meditate on the ingratitude which had suffered the subscriptions to lapse.
These were the sights of the Federal Metropolis — six scattered buildings, a few dubious statues, and one third of an obelisk — and, barring an inspection of the government greenhouses, or a drive to the Navy Yard, the Arsenal, or the Observatory, there was nothing more to be seen within the city limits.
Northwest from Capitol Hill ran the city’s main thoroughfare, Pennsylvania Avenue — ‘the’ Avenue. It had been conceived as a broad and imposing boulevard, along which the Capitol should confront the Executive Mansion, but the great bulk of the Treasury had necessitated a bend in the Avenue, and from the Capitol the vista now terminated, not in the White House, but in the red brick barn which President Buchanan had erected in the grounds. Devoid of fine buildings, the wide, neglected street wore an air of desolation. Its thin cobble pavement had been broken up by faulty drainage and the traffic of the heavy omnibuses which plied between the Capitol and Georgetown. In dry weather, the ruts and hollows were iron traps, covered with thick dust. Rain turned the roadbed into a channel of mud, underlaid by areas of treacherous gravel. The south or 4 wrong’ side of the Avenue was lined with dingy buildings, and its only place of popular resort was the Centre Market, an agglomeration of sheds and shacks which backed on the open sewer of the canal. The restaurants and the shops and the big hotels were all on the north side, where the brick sidewalk constituted the town’s promenade.
The hotels were a recent development. Two of them were situated on opposite sides of Sixth Street: the National, a huge caravansary, and the marblefronted pile of Brown’s, later known as the Metropolitan. Because of their convenience to the Capitol, these houses were much patronized by members of Congress, especially by Southerners. The slaves of the planter-politicians loitered on the sidewalk of the Avenue, while their masters, in broad-brimmed hats, conferred in the corridors, or called for bourbon and juleps in the bars. At the time of Mr. Buchanan’s inauguration, the National had suffered an eclipse, because of an outbreak of an intestinal malady among its guests. The new President was one of the many who became ill, and his nephew died of the National Hotel disease. In extreme proSouthern circles, the epidemic was declared to have been the result of a Republican plot to poison the leaders of the Democratic Party; but most people accepted the explanation that it had been caused by sewer gas, and after a brief closure for repairs the National had regained its former popularity.
The most famous of all the hotels in the city was Willard’s at Fourteenth Street. Its reputation had been made under the efficient management of the Willard brothers, who hailed from Vermont; and, enlarged and redecorated, Willard’s had become the great meeting place of Washington. Much of the business of government was said to be done in its passages and its bar. From eight to eleven in the morning — for Washingtonians were not early risers — a procession of celebrities might be observed passing to the breakfast table. The huge breakfast, which included such items as fried oysters, steak and onions, blancmange, and pâté de foie gras, was succeeded by a gargantuan midday dinner; by another dinner at five o’clock; by a robust tea at seven-thirty; and finally by supper at nine. Englishmen, themselves no inconsiderable feeders, were appalled by the meals that the American guests, ladies as well as gentlemen, were able to consume.
The British visitors hated Willard’s. Its very architecture offended them. Accustomed to snug inns with private parlors, they could find no decent seclusion in this rambling, uncomfortable barracks. American hotel life was gregarious, and a peaceful withdrawal from an atmosphere of ‘heat, noise, dust, smoke, expectoration ‘ was the last thing that the natives appeared to be seeking. Yet, when the secretaries at the British Legation had finished their work, it was to Willard’s bar that they ran. There was life in the masculine voices that clamored in the blue cigar smoke; and the youngsters had formed ‘the pernicious local habit of swallowing cocktails.’ Lord Lyons, the red-faced British Minister, wrote that Washington was a dreadful place for young men; it had no clubs and no good restaurants, no permanent theatre or opera. There were, however, saloons in profusion, and a suitable complement of brothels; while, behind discreetly curtained windows on the Avenue, gentlemen were able to while away an evening at faro, without any serious interference from the Washington police.
The city’s business — in contrast to that of Federal Government, which required a setting of porticoed immensity — seemed all to be done in a small way. Ugly blocks of offices had been hastily run up as a speculation. Shabby boardinghouses, little grocery shops, petty attorneys’ offices and mean restaurants and saloons served the fifteen hundred clerks who were employed in the departments. The clerks were too poorly paid and, in the unceasing scramble for appointment, too insecure to bring their families with them; and, since so many bachelors in single rooms required a large number of individual fires, they were also responsible for the unusual quantity of woodyards, which plied an untidy trade in almost every other square.
It was a Southern town, without the picturesqueness, but with the indolence, the disorder, and the want of sanitation. Its lounging Negroes startled Northern visitors with the reminder that slaves were held in the capital. Hucksters abounded. Fish and oyster peddlers cried their wares and tooted their horns on the corners. Flocks of geese waddled on the Avenue, and hogs, of every size and color, roamed at large, making their muddy wallows on Capitol Hill and in Judiciary Square. People emptied slops and refuse in the gutters, and threw dead domestic animals into the canal. Most of the population still depended on the questionable water supply afforded by wells and by springs in the hills behind the city. Privies, in the absence of adequate sewage disposal, were plentiful in yards and dirty alleys, and every day the carts of night soil trundled out to the commons ten blocks north of the White House.
From its close association with the government, Washington derived the peculiarity of its seasonal character. It was a winter resort. After the quiet drowse of a long, unhealthy summer, the town awakened each autumn to prepare for the opening of Congress. The dismal railway depot welcomed travelers from North and West. The wharves were busy with the Southerners, arriving by steamer from Aquia Creek. In the train of the legislators followed office seekers, claimants, lobbyists and delegations, inventors and reporters. Minstrel shows came, and opera companies; and famous stars, Joe Jefferson and Charlotte Cushman, Edwin Forrest and Edwin Booth, played at the dingy old Washington Theatre at C and Eleventh Streets. There was a stealthy invasion of pickpockets, confidence men, and vagrants. By the end of November, the town was lively. The desolate Avenue hummed with hacks, with the elaborate carriages of the legations and the blooded horses of the Southerners. Shops furbished their windows. Hotels and boardinghouses filled up, and so did the E Street Infirmary, the poorhouse, and the county jail.
Such was the capital of the United States in December of 1860, the sprawling and unfulfilled embodiment of a vision of national grandeur. It was a mere ambitious beginner, a baby among capitals. Its defects were those of youth and energy and inexperience. Yet people were ready to fancy it mouldering and abandoned, a relic of an optimistic moment of history when men had essayed an experiment called democracy. Dissolution was heavy in the air; and even the rising monuments of the republic wore the image of ruin and decay.
The presence of the old General was reassuring to the worried residents of Washington: to those who were used to living in the capital, who depended on their jobs in it, owned property in it, saw it hopefully, not as it was, but as it might grow to be, and even cherished, some of them, the ideal of a permanent Union of the States. As Scott limped to Winder’s Building from his low coupé, the passers-by lined up, removed their hats, and cried, ‘God bless you, General.’
The President’s habits, like those of Washington, were simple. As though he had not recently returned from the court circles of England, where he had served as United States Minister, Mr. Buchanan walked every day for an hour on Pennsylvania Avenue, affably greeting his acquaintances. In summer, for the sake of his health, he accepted the use of a modest stone cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, but he did not otherwise use his coach and horses a dozen times a year. On Saturday afternoons, when Scala’s Marine Band played in the President’s Park, he mingled with the populace on the lawn. He invited friends to sit for a neighborly afternoon at the Executive Mansion, and often at small dinners carved the roast himself. He always wore a big standing collar with a starched white choker, like a poultice around his neck.
Buchanan was a bachelor. His niece, who had been with him in London, presided over the Executive Mansion. Though youthful, Miss Harriet Lane had poise and social experience, and she was vastly admired. Lace berthas became the fashion because she wore them, a revenue cutter was given her name, and a new song, ‘Listen to the Mocking Bird,’ was dedicated to her. Tactful, correct, and violet-eyed, Miss Lane had strict ideas of etiquette. Dinner guests at the mansion were formally presented before moving to the dining room. In spite of the French cooking and the nutty old Madeira, the President’s parties were stiff. Mr. Buchanan was anecdotal, but cold. Miss Lane’s ‘gracious chill’ added the last austerity to appointments which were considered far from lavish. No flowers ornamented the dinner table; there were no bouquets at the covers. Indeed, there were so few flowers in the house that a stand of potted plants and a small palm rose conspicuously out of a circular divan in the Blue Room.
Yet the President was not niggardly. To pay his household expenses he was obliged to supplement his salary of $25,000 by drawing on his private purse. Washington society, however, was growing increasingly competitive in extravagant entertainment, and its leaders were immensely rich. William M. Gwin, the pro-slavery Senator from California, was believed to be spending $75,000 a year on the maintenance of his mansion at Nineteenth and I Streets; and two Cabinet members lived on the same scale — Mr. Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, and Mr. Aaron Brown of Tennessee, who was Postmaster-General during the first years of the administration. One of the wealthiest Washington residents was the banker, Mr. W. W. Corcoran. His palatial residence on H Street contained an art gallery whose treasures were destined for the public in the building which he was erecting at Seventeenth Street and the Avenue. Mr. Corcoran was famous for his hospitality and his Johannisberg.
In an unimproved section, I Street west of New Jersey Avenue, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the popular Democratic leader of the free States, had built one of the finest houses in the capital. Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky and Senator Henry M. Rice of Minnesota built on adjoining lots, and the three new houses were known as Minnesota Row. Douglas had made his residence, with its elegantly furnished parlors and steam-heated greenhouse, a suitable background for the loveliness of his young bride, who had been Adele Cutts, a famous Washington belle. With her favorite japonicas in her hair and in huge bouquets, Mrs. Douglas gave many levees, which were thronged by the fashionable company of the capital. The pressure of their social engagements was quite exhausting to the ladies of Washington. To prepare herself for the evening, after a strenuous day, pretty Mrs. Clement C. Clay was refreshed by charges from an electrical apparatus, operated by her capable maid, for whom the Senator from Alabama had paid $1600.
The social season opened with unwonted earliness in the autumn of 1860, for in October Mr. Buchanan was host to Baron Renfrew, the name assumed in his travels by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.
This ‘peachy-cheeked, beardless boy’ was already a model for diplomats. At a reception he immediately removed his gloves when he saw that the President wore none. On observing that Mr. Buchanan shook hands with those who were presented, the Prince hastened to shake hands, too. Conducted on the revenue cutter, Harriet Lane, to the ruinous house at Mount Vernon, he stood uncovered before George Washington’s tomb, and obligingly planted a small tree in its vicinity. Mr. Buchanan was able to write the Queen that her son had made an excellent impression on ‘a sensitive and discriminating people.’
The cloud of the Presidential election hung heavy over the capital. Out on Minnesota Row were domiciled two of the candidates: Douglas, standard-bearer of the Northern Democrats, and Breckinridge, who was the choice of the South. Though the people of the District wanted a voice in the national decision, they were energetic in forming partisan associations. Clubs had been organized to support the leaders of both the Democratic factions, as well as the candidate of the conservatives, John Bell, and the Black Republican, Abraham Lincoln. The National Volunteers, a Democratic organization which stood for Southern rights, competed in their parades with Republican Wide-Awakes, brandishing torches. Feeling ran high, and on the night of Lincoln’s election a mob attacked the local Republican wigwam, and partially wrecked the building before being dispersed by the police.
From Charleston, waving with palmetto banners instead of the Stars and Stripes, there were echoes of artillery and cheers and calls to arms. Already the Federal courts were suspended in South Carolina. The Senators from that State did not come to the Capitol in December. On either side of the splendid new Senate Chamber, the extremists of North and South were drawn in hostile ranks. There was no hope of compromise with boisterous, swaggering Toombs of Georgia, or his truculent colleague, Iverson; with insolent Slidell of Louisiana, or Judah P. Benjamin, with his purring, musical voice and his lawyer’s subtleties; with sick, defiant Clay of Georgia, or Wigfall of Texas, with his fierce, scarred face. Most influential among them was a cold, fastidious man, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. He was a graduate of West Point, who had served with distinction in Mexico and had been Secretary of War during the Pierce administration. In his military bearing and romantic conceptions of honor, he symbolized the Southern ideal which had produced this revolution. Such men would listen to no appeals to patriotism. 4 You can not save this Union by making Fourth of July speeches,’ sneered Senator Wigfall. 4 Whipped syllabub is not the remedy for the patient. You have got to come down to your work, and you have got to do something practical.’
On the other side of the Senate Chamber sat men who were no less unyielding, the men who had grown strong with the rise of the young Republican Party; men who denied State sovereignty, hated slavery, and loved power. No concessions to the South would come from bluff Ben Wade, or from Zach Chandler, who thought the Union would be the better for a little blood-letting; from Hale of New Hampshire, Fessenden of Maine, Trumbull of Illinois, or Grimes of Iowa; from Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, or the cultured crusader, Sumner, who could be surprisingly vulgar in the passion of controversy. The leader of the Republican Party, William H. Seward of New York, was a different person altogether. He was bland and mysterious and equivocating. He had made no public declaration of his views, and the radical Republicans were beginning to draw away from him because he was supposed to be in favor of conciliating the South.
A few days before Christmas, the President attended a fashionable wedding. As he wearily sat in the parlor, breathing the fragrance of unseasonable roses and lilies, he was startled by a hubbub in the hall. He asked Mrs. Roger Pryor, wife of the disunionist Congressman from Virginia, whether the house was on fire. She might imaginatively have answered, Yes. The shouts were those of rejoicing over a telegram announcing the secession of South Carolina. The President called for his carriage.
Congress received the expected news calmly, but there was contention at the War and Navy Departments, where voices angrily resounded long after the offices were closed. As the brief afternoon darkened in a drizzle of rain, the tidings reached the hotels. It was the late dinner hour, and dining rooms and corridors were shaken with excitement, as men with the blue cockades of the secessionists brushed jubilantly past those who wore the colors of the Union. One man thought that there was as much treason talked in Washington as in Charleston. That evening Southern leaders, after celebrating in the parlor of Senator Jefferson Davis, went to call at the Executive Mansion. Mrs. Davis preceded them, hastening impetuously ahead to share the good news with the President.
Across the joyous emblems of Christmas fell the shadow of the palmetto and the rattlesnake. In hopes of stimulating the lagging holiday trade, the small shops dressed their windows and inserted their notices in the newspapers. Gifts were enticingly suggested for every variety of taste: shaving cases and motto coffeecups and albums; glove boxes, odor stands and tête-à-tête tea sets; backgammon boards and battledores and wax dolls with moving eyes. Gautier was ready to take orders for Christmas cakes, both pound and fruit. Madame Delarue announced a shipment of full-dress bonnets and Jouvin’s gloves, just received from Paris. Some of the advertisements sounded a timely note: ‘Readers, the Union is in danger, but by buying your holiday presents at Lammond’s, you may save it.’ After Christmas there were new alarms in the capital, and Galt, the jeweler, marked down his watches and silverware to ‘ panic prices.’
Fears for the security of Washington had sharpened with secessionist agitation in Maryland and Virginia. On the floor of the Senate, Iverson of Georgia had suggested that Washington might be the capital of the Southern Confederacy. On Christmas Day, the Richmond Examiner had boldly called for Maryland men to join with Virginians in seizing the Capitol. There were persistent rumors of a secret secessionist organization in Washington, which was plotting to capture the city and the public archives and assume control of the Government. Senator Seward, who was no alarmist, wrote the President-elect in late December that such a conspiracy was forming, and that it had its accomplices in the public councils. So great was the anxiety for the Capitol building that guards were placed at its main entrances, and the cellar was searched nightly for explosives.
At this same time, there was a fresh crisis in South Carolina. As though the Union were a precious substance, held in delicate equilibrium, Mr. Buchanan had been fearful of making the slightest movement. Ironically, he was thrown off balance by the act of a Southern sympathizer, committed on behalf of the Federal authority. Major Anderson, who commanded the United States forts in Charleston harbor, was a Kentuckian with a stern sense of duty. Fearing an attack on his untenable position at Fort Moultrie, he dismantled it, and transferred the little garrison to Fort Sumter, which commanded the harbor. South Carolina interpreted Anderson’s move as an act of aggression. It immediately assumed the proportions of a vexing incident, and Mr. Buchanan was aghast at the news of it.
Three South Carolina commissioners, arrived in Washington to treat with the government like envoys of a foreign power, pressed Mr. Buchanan hard, telling him that his personal honor was involved. The President dodged and hedged and pleaded for time. Before making any important decision, he told them, he always said his prayers. The interview was succeeded by a demand that United States troops should be entirely withdrawn from Charleston harbor. Buchanan would have yielded to the influence of his Southern friends, had it not been for the recent shift in the sentiment of his Cabinet. Cobb had gone, to lead the secession movement in Georgia, and the Virginia disunionist, Floyd, would soon be forced to resign. Men of Union sympathies were in the ascendancy in the President’s council, and they persuaded him to an assertion of authority. At last he wrote the palmetto commissioners that the United States garrison would remain where it was, and he granted permission to General Scott to reënforce Fort Sumter. The President’s decision cut short the social activities of the commissioners, who had rented a fine house as a suitable ambassadorial background. They had been cordially welcomed by the chivalry, but on the night before their departure the police were called out to prevent a tin-pan serenade which less fashionable elements in Washington were proposing to offer to the gentlemen from South Carolina.
During the days of painful suspense, when the attention of the country was fixed on the conclaves at the Executive Mansion, Mr. Buchanan had received a call from Benjamin F. Butler, a Breckinridge Democrat from Massachusetts. In the President’s office they sat face to face, but not eye to eye, for Butler, like the President, had a startling squint. He was a stout, crafty-looking, forceful little man, and he had his own plan for solving the country’s predicament. He advised Mr. Buchanan to have the South Carolina commissioners arrested and tried for treason before the Supreme Court, the judgment of which would determine the rights of secession. Mr. Buchanan, blanching at the very mention of such bold action, could only reply that it would lead to great agitation.
Ben Butler heard from Southern men in Washington that the North would never fight, but he told them that it would, and he would fight with it. He was a brigadier-general of militia in Massachusetts, which had several enthusiastic organizations of citizen soldiers. He was hopeful that the nation might find some remedy, but, after he had taken tea with Senator Davis, he saw that war was inevitable.
Mr. Buchanan later protested that during this period his mood had been serene, and that he had ‘not lost an hour’s sleep or a single meal.’ Unsympathetic observers, on the other hand, described him as a broken old man, who did nothing but cry and pray. The first picture seems nearly as exaggerated as the second. He had ordered a day of national prayer and humiliation, and was preparing a special message to Congress which reflected his despair at the progress of revolution. At Charlestown, the palmetto banner waved over Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, as well as the United States arsenal and other government property. The fever of secession was spreading through the cotton States. There were scandalous irregularities in the disunionist administration of the War and Interior departments, while the Treasury was in a state that threatened financial ruin to the country.
The old politician from Pennsylvania was timid, not treacherous. In ordinary times he might have retired with honor at the close of his term. He had been caught in the glare of a crucial moment of history. Even his Southern friends, to whom he had conceded so much, had turned against him. At a dinner party at Mr. Corcoran’s, General Scott witnessed the passionate outbursts of Senator Toombs and Senator Benjamin, who cursed the President, along with Major Anderson and the Union. In the end, his sundered country was united only in the opinion that Mr. Buchanan was a coward and a fool. Sinking heavily into a chair in Scott’s headquarters, he exclaimed, ‘The office of President of the United States is not fit for a gentleman to hold!’
With the New Year, the temper of the North was growing increasingly conciliatory. In answer, the news of secession came, like hammer Strokes, from the cotton States. Mississippi was the first to follow the lead of South Carolina. Florida and Alabama hurried close behind; then Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The seceded States seized United States property within their borders — forts, arsenals, customhouses, revenue cutters. The government made no effort to reclaim them, and its passivity was matched by that of the free States. Their people were so apathetic that there was no great indignation when South Carolina guns fired on the Union flag and drove off the Star of the West, carrying reënforcements to Fort Sumter. Late in January, however, there was a sign that Northerners were discouraged and leaderless, rather than indifferent to the fate of their country. John A. Dix, a reactionary Democrat from New York, who had been appointed Secretary of the Treasury, was incensed by the continued seizure of revenue cutters in Sout hern ports. He telegraphed a revenue official at New Orleans, ‘If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.’ The words sounded like a trumpet call from the timorous silence of Washington, and the North applauded the government official who had dared to speak out for the nation.
In the Senate, Mr. Seward of New York had made his long-awaited speech. He was the idol of the masses of the Republicans. Before the nomination of the Westerner, Lincoln, it had been taken for granted that he would be the Republican candidate for President. He was gentlemanly, subtle, and smiling, but not quite elegant or effete; there was too much of western New York for that. He was brilliant and cynical, but not quite a polished trifier; he was too much the man of the party machine, the intimate of the astute political manager, Thurlow Weed. In spite of his sixty years, he attracted young men by his warmth and kindness, and by the unassuming simplicity of his manner. Although his doctrine of ‘the irrepressible conflict’ between free labor and slavery had made him hated throughout the South, he was considered a man without convictions, a Jesuit and an opportunist; he was the affectionate friend of Jefferson Davis; and not Mr. Buchanan himself was more earnest in the cause of propitiating the slave States.
Seward’s policy was one of temporizing and conceding, of delaying hostilities until the Republicans should have time to organize in March. Working outside the government, he had established a network of secret alliances which extended deep into the slaveholding States. He was informed of the proceedings of Buchanan’s Cabinet by one of its members, who, save for a talent for intrigue and a strong sentiment for the Union, was Mr. Seward’s antithesis. This was Edwin M. Stanton, a domineering, crossgrained Washington lawyer, able but without national reputation, who had been given the office of Attorney-General in December. To prevent suspicion, Stanton’s reports to Seward were always made through a third man, and, except for one chance encounter in F Street, they did not meet during the Buchanan administration.
When, on January 12, Seward arose in the crowded Senate Chamber, he seemed the only tranquil person there. As he had already publicly pronounced that all would be right in sixty days, he was believed to have developed some clever, guarded plan; and before this slender, slouching figure, in a gray frock coat, Northerners and Southerners sat hushed and tense. No expectation of eloquence moved them, for Seward was an indifferent speaker. He delivered his carefully prepared addresses in a perfunctory way, and his husky voice had been weakened by excessive cigar smoking and the use of snuff. But he represented the new administration and the unknown quantity at Springfield. Optimistic and debonair, he represented hope. In a time of chaos, it was reassuring that a man could know so much and still smile.
Seward’s affability was impenetrable; it had covered many thoughts. He had smiled when Southern ladies refused to meet him, and when hot-headed young Senators from the slave States had ignored his greeting. He had smiled after he had lost the Republican nomination for President, the crowning ambition of his career. Too much had been expected of one adroit politician. His vague and conciliatory phrases antagonized radical Republicans and disunionists alike. Events were moving with an inexorable speed. As States seceded, their delegates withdrew from Senate and House. Representatives, for the most part, left quietly, but in the Senate there were oratorical ebullitions of defiance and farewell.
The dawn of 1861 had cheered General Scott by bringing him into a close relation with the government. He had promptly been called into consultation by Holt, under whose control the War Department had ceased its favors to the revolutionary Senators and Representatives. After the unhappy expedition of the Star of the West, the reënforcement of Fort Sumter was held in abeyance. Major Anderson was as solicitous as the administration to avoid any act which might precipitate hostilities; and the secessionist leaders, to gain time for their political and military preparations, exercised a restraining influence on the South Carolina hotheads. An informal truce was arranged, not only in the case of Sumter, but also of Fort Pickens in Pensacola Harbor, which by Scott’s orders had been occupied by United States troops. These and two forts at the southern tip of Florida, whose garrisons Scott strengthened, were the only property which the government held in the then seceded States. Small detachments of soldiers were also sent to a few military points in the border slave States, including Fort Washington, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, across from Mount Vernon. Although the fort, fallen into rust and rot, was useless for defense, it was vulnerable to occupation by a hostile force. Its entire garrison, before a company of marines was sent there from the Washington barracks, consisted of one old Irish pensioner, and General Scott said that it might easily have been taken by a bottle of whiskey.
After the problem of the forts, the most pressing question before the General-in-Chief was the maintenance of order in the capital. It was feared that an uprising might occur during the count of the electoral vote in February, and there were convincing rumors that March 4 would be the occasion for a seditious outbreak.
Early in January, in his special message to Congress, the President felt it necessary to mention that the capital would be adequately protected at the coming inauguration. General Scott was working in coöperation with Senator James B. Grimes of Iowa and Congressman Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois, who composed an investigating committee appointed by Congress. These gentlemen appealed to the New York chief of police, and detectives in long beards and slouched hats, chewing tobacco and damning Yankees, went to work in Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, and Alexandria. Scott had called in an Army officer, Charles P. Stone, who had served under the General in Mexico; and, after Stone had outlined an acceptable plan for the defense of the capital, he was assigned to the duty of organizing and drilling the District militia. He entered energetically on his work, for after several months’ residence in Washington he had become convinced that two thirds of the population would sustain the government in defending it. The four existing organizations of citizen soldiers, three in Washington and one in Georgetown, were already supplied with arms. The Georgetown company, though it contained some dubious members, seemed in the main welldisposed; while the Washington Light Infantry and the National Guard Battalion were old and dependable establishments.
The third and most fashionable militia organization in Washington, the National Rifles, was a hothed of disloyalty. It was commanded by Captain F. B. Schaeffer, an employee of the Department of the Interior, who had formerly been a lieutenant in the United States Artillery. Schaeffer had more than a hundred men, mostly Marylanders, on his company’s rolls, and they were remarkably well armed and drilled. Colonel Stone was surprised to find that, in addition to rifles and ammunition, they possessed a supply of sabres and revolvers and two mountain howitzers, with harness and carriages, all drawn from the United States Arsenal. When he complimented Schaeffer on the excellence of the company’s drill, the militia captain remarked that he supposed he should soon have to lead his men to the Maryland frontier, to keep the Yankees from coming down to coerce the South.
Through a detective who enlisted in the company, Stone obtained reports on the new recruits, many of whom were avowed secessionists. He ordered Schaeffer to deposit in the armory the howitzers and other unsuitable armament, and the order was obeyed. Eventually the captain resigned, taking the élite of his men with him to serve in the South.
General Scott was too old a soldier to place full reliance on citizens in emergency. Aware that undisciplined men could not be trusted to hold their fire under a shower of stones and brickbats, he had felt it indispensable to order some regulars and especially some flying artillery to the city. Only eight companies could be spared from the Army to safeguard Washington. Three were brought from Kansas, and one from Plattsburg, New York; there were two companies that had been driven out of arsenals in Louisiana and Georgia; and two were taken from West Point.
Although Mr. Buchanan had been forced to yield to the representations of Scott and Holt, the idea of calling in soldiers filled him with perturbation. Washington was the most unmilitary of capitals. Apart from the handful of marines at the barracks, its only uniforms were those worn by a few naval officers and the doddering old generals at the War Department bureaus.
In late January there was an especial reason for the government to appear pacific and benign. With the defeat of plans for compromise in Congress, Virginia, most influential of the border States, was initiating a Peace Conference, to be held in Washington on February 4. The slave States of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Missouri, and Delaware accepted Virginia’s invitation. If, in conference with the delegates of the free States, they could work out some amicable adjustment, it was hoped that the secession fever might abate, and the cotton States be persuaded to return to the Union. In readiness for the emissaries of peace, Mr. Chandlee, who had the card-writing stand at Willard’s, advertised a line of cockades, ‘ suitable for all shades of political sentiment.’ The arrival of armed forces, in Mr. Buchanan’s opinion, would raise the cry of coercion, inflame the secessionists, and irritate the border slave States.
The only available quarters for troops were the barracks at the Arsenal and the militia armory on the Mall. Arrangements were made for lodging companies in the Treasury Extension, in Judiciary Square, and on E Street. New barracks and stables were hastily erected on Capitol Hill, and in a lot west of the War Department. Arriving a few at a time, without fanfare or music or parade, the eight companies of hardy, well-drilled regulars were a sensation in Washington, Their gear encumbered the little depot; the saddles alone made a monument of baggage. Horses of cavalry and artillery, restless after the confinement of the boxcars, kicked up their heels in the streets.
The peace delegates from the border slave States glowered under their slouched hats, and Mr. Buchanan must have winced when he took his constitutional. He might have regretted the weakness that had made him send for General Scott, for here, in every gun and plume and prancing horse, was the logical consequence of becoming involved wit h a soldier. General Scott’s adherence to the government had not passed unnoticed in the South. His mail was growing heavy with threats of assassination. An emissary sent by the President-elect to sound out his loyalty was completely reassured. The General, suffering from an attack of dysentery, received the Illinois man in bed, and declared that he would be responsible for Lincoln’s safety whenever he was ready to come to Washington. If necessary, he would plant cannon at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and blow to hell any Maryland and Virginia gentlemen who showed their heads.
Meanwhile, in mansions and hotels, the dark-skinned maids had packed their mistresses’ dresses. The bodyservants had laid out their masters’ traveling shawls. ‘We must make concessions!’ cried the North; but the steamers bound for Aquia Creek were laden with the chivalry. Through the streets rattled baggage wagons, piled high with trunks and boxes. Houses were closed and dark. Broad-brimmed hats and blooded horses disappeared from Pennsylvania Avenue. The Toombses’ coachman ran away, and the Senator and his sober wife had to drive in a hired hack. Jefferson Davis left behind his tiny Japanese dog, ‘to be reclaimed when convenient,’ The Sardinian minister begged Mrs. Clement Clay not to weep, since it was but a revolution. A régime had ended in Washington.
The town was filling up with new arrivals. Baltimore plug-uglies, secessionist rowdies who were the allies of the Washington gangs, were filtering into the city. The atmosphere was tense with foreboding. Men scowled and muttered in the hotel lobbies, and groups stood whispering on the street corners. A young artist, Thomas Nast, who had come down to make sketches for a New York illustrated paper, would shudder at the memory of those weeks in Washington.
Early on the morning of February 13, crowds began to move up Capitol Hill. The regulars were at their posts. Horses and harness and guns were ready for an attack. At the entrances of the Capitol, soldiers turned away the general public and admitted only those who held tickets. One hundred special policemen in plain clothes mingled with the arriving spectators in the gilded corridors. Many fashionable ladies decorated the galleries of the Hall of Representatives, fluttered about the cloakrooms, and even occupied seats surrendered by gallant members on the floor of the House. It was after twelve when the doorkeeper announced the Senate, and the defeated candidate, Breckinridge, entered at its head. Without untoward incident, the tellers opened and registered the electoral votes, and Breckinridge with palefaced formality announced that Abraham Lincoln of Illinois had been elected President of the United States.
After the Senate had withdrawn, there were howls of disapproval from the floor and the galleries. Southerners cursed old Scott for a ‘free-State pimp’ and protested at the presence of his ‘janizaries’ about the Capitol. Outside, the crowd lingered on Capitol Hill. The saloons were full, and that night the city was noisy with street fights.
One crisis was safely past, but another was to come. For the inauguration, General Scott was bringing a few more regulars to the city; and every day Republicans, eager for their first chance at the spoils of Federal patronage, were arriving in Washington. Sunburnt, countrified, heavy-stepping Westerners were beginning to be familiar figures in the streets.
While preparations were being made for the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States, Abraham Lincoln was traveling eastward from Illinois. He was accompanied by his wife and three sons, and by a suite of State politicians, personal friends, relatives by marriage, secretaries, and newspaper correspondents; and he also had a military escort, of four Army officers appointed by the War Department. One was a friend, Major David Hunter, an honest, antislavery paymaster, with a dyed moustache and a dark-brown wig. Young Captain John Pope was the son of an Illinois judge, while Colonel Edwin V. Sumner was a good old white-haired cavalry officer from Massachusetts.
The militia system was represented by Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, the Zouave drillmaster. The man on whom Mr. Lincoln placed most dependence, however, was Ward Hill Lamon, a younger lawyer who had been associated with him in practice on the circuit. Lamon, a native of Virginia, resembled the chivalry in his long hair, defiant eyes, and drooping moustaches. He had brought his banjo in his baggage, and amused the party with Negro songs. Of these ‘The BlueTailed Fly,’ a buzzing ballad, was a favorite with Mr, Lincoln; and he loved to listen to many other simple tunes, both sad and comical, that Lamon sang. In addition to the banjo, Lamon carried an assortment of pistols and knives, a slingshot and brass knuckles. He was powerfully built and fearless, and he considered himself especially charged with Mr. Lincoln’s safe conduct.
The special trains, preceded by pilot engines, ran on carefully arranged schedules between the big cities where the President-elect had appointments for speeches and receptions. Past cheering miles of people, in a confusion of bonfires, parades, salutes, and handshakings, Mr. Lincoln moved to the ovation in Philadelphia. After a trip to Harrisburg on February 22, he was to proceed to Washington, where he was expected late on the following afternoon. Among the invitations with which he had been deluged, none had come from Maryland. The omission was the more conspicuous since a slow transit through the city of Baltimore, where the cars were separately drawn by horses between the depots, was unavoidable in journeying by rail to the capital from the North.
This impending passage through a disaffected community had been a source of considerable anxiety to Mr. Lincoln’s friends. The Baltimore gangs were notoriously lawless, and Maryland was boiling with secession agitation. There, as in Washington, military companies of suspect loyalty had been drilling; and threats had been heard that Mr. Lincoln would never go through Baltimore alive. The danger had been recognized in Congress by the appointment of another committee of two, on which Congressman Washburne again represented the House, while Mr. Seward was the member for the Senate. On February 21, Colonel Stone received a report from detectives he had placed in Baltimore that there was serious danger that Mr. Lincoln might be assassinated in passing through the city. Scott sent Stone posthaste to Seward, who agreed with the General’s opinion that Mr, Lincoln should change his announced traveling schedule. To persuade him to do so, he dispatched his son Frederick to Philadelphia with a warning letter, enclosing Stone’s report.
At six o’clock on the morning of the twenty-third, when the train from Philadelphia pulled into the Washington depot, the conductor might have been surprised at the sudden recovery of a sick gentleman who on the preceding night had been quietly hustled into a berth at the end of the last car. The gentleman, in a soft slouched hat, a muffler, and a short, bobtailed overcoat, descended spryly to the platform. His tall and lanky figure would have made him an oddity in any gathering, and he had a plain, dark-skinned, melancholy face, with a stiff new crop of chin whiskers. He was closely attended by two companions, one of whom was big and heavily built, with bulges under his coat in every place where a man might carry arms; while the other was a short, bearded fellow, with a wary, peasant face.
As they passed along the platform in the stream of sleepy-eyed travelers, they attracted attention from only one person in the depot, a man who had planted himself behind a pillar and was peering out with a sharp, worried expression. As the lanky stranger passed, this man seized hold of his hand. ‘Abe,’ he cried in a loud voice, ‘you can’t play that on me!’
‘ Don’t strike him,’ the stranger hastily told his escorts. ‘It is Washburne.’
The President-elect had arrived in the capital of the United States.
The warning which Frederick Seward had carried to Philadelphia had already been sounded in a report from Detective Pinkerton of an assassination plot in Baltimore. Doubly disquieted by a second alarm, Mr. Lincoln’s friends had prevailed on him to alter his published program. After his trip to Harrisburg, he had slipped secretly on the night train, accompanied only by Ward Hill Lamon and a Mr. E. J. Allen, otherwise known as Pinkerton. Frederick Seward had returned with the message that Mr. Lincoln might be early expected in Washington, and Congressman Washburne had hurried to the depot in the winter dawn. The three travelers climbed into Washburne’s carriage and drove off to Willard’s.
The original plan, that Mr. Lincoln should occupy a rented house during the pre-inauguration period, had been changed on the advice of Mr. Thurlow Weed, the political manager of New York State. In a hotel the incoming President would be accessible to the people, and Mr. Weed himself had written to Willard’s to make the reservation. The best rooms in the house were, however, occupied when Mr. Lincoln made his unexpectedly early appearance, and a New York capitalist had to be hastily dislodged from the suite connected with Parlor Number 6, a large corner apartment on the second floor, overlooking the Avenue and the grounds of the Executive Mansion.
Mr. Seward was waiting at Willard’s to receive the President-elect and congratulate him on his safe arrival. He was somewhat chagrined, Washburne thought, that he had not been up in time to go to the depot. At eight o’clock, however, the Senator and the Congressman sat down in high elation to breakfast, loading their plates with the first run of Potomac shad. Mr. Lincoln had retired to his rooms to rest. He did not share the exultation of his friends. He had yielded to the advice to change his plans, but he had not taken stock in the story that he risked assassination in Baltimore. Since his nomination, he had constantly received letters threatening his life. He believed that he was destined to suffer a violent death, had expressed the feeling that he would not return alive to Springfield; but Mr. Lincoln’s apprehensions, though they may have been quickened by the menaces of his enemies or the nervous solicitude of his friends, were the shadowy alarms of premonition and anxiety, and the prospect of actual danger left him unmoved. For the rest of his life he would regret the secret journey to Washington. It exposed him to bitter criticism from friends and enemies alike; and it seemed to many to cast reproach on a government already sufficiently dishonored. Mr. Seward would laughingly agree with the detractors, and say he had not believed in the Baltimore assassins, though General Scott had done so.
Mr. Lincoln breakfasted alone at nine in his parlor, and did not appear until eleven, when he left the hotel under the escort of Mr. Seward. Those solitary morning hours were the quietest he was ever to know in Washington. He would live thereafter at the mercy of the people, advancing eternally toward him in a jerking procession of faces.
The first duty of the President-elect was to pay his respects at the Executive Mansion. A special meeting of the Cabinet was in session when the doorkeeper handed Mr. Buchanan a startling card. ‘Uncle Abe is downstairs!’ the President cried, and hurriedly descended to the Red Room. He soon returned with the two Republicans. Mr. Lincoln was presented to the Cabinet, and paused for a few minutes’ conversation before leaving to call on General Scott. Mr. Lincoln was familiarly acquainted with Washington, where he had served a term as Congressman from Illinois, but the capital could not return the compliment. In spite of his extraordinary figure, no one glanced a second time at the ungainly Westerner as he walked with Mr. Seward through the streets.
Soon after his family’s arrival, Mr. Lincoln was informed that the delegates to the Peace Conference desired to wait on him. He appointed the hour of nine to receive them, and drove off to a seveno’clock dinner at Mr. Seward’s, where the Vice-President-elect, Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, was also present. The long parlor hall at Willard’s was lined with people when he returned, and, shaking hands on both sides, he was so interested, said the New York Herald, that he forgot to remove his shiny new silk hat.
Ex-President Tyler and the Honorable Salmon P. Chase of Ohio led the Peace delegates up the stairs to Parlor Number 6. Chase was as pompous as General Scott, and very nearly as antipathetic to slavery as Senator Sumner. Reëlected to the Senate after serving as governor of his State, he was the most prominent of the former Democrats in the Republican Party. His rumored appointment to the Cabinet would satisfy the radicals, who were disgruntled with the conciliatory Mr. Seward. He was tall, imposing, and handsome, with the noble brow of a statesman. As he stood beside Mr. Lincoln presenting the delegates, it was Chase who looked the part of President of the United States, and Chase would have been the first to think so.
Curious and prejudiced, Easterners and men from the border slave States scrutinized the phenomenon from the prairies. The long, lean, sallow frontier lawyer was a shock to people who were unused to the Western type; and his homely phrases and mispronunciations grated on Eastern ears. It was impossible that Lincoln should have inspired confidence or admiration; but some saw shrewdness, honesty, and even a natural dignity in his face. Its ugliness was partially redeemed by his eyes, though their dreamy, meditative expression did not bespeak either firmness or force. He had a pleasant, kindly smile, and was thought to be not so ill-favored and hardlooking as his pictures represented him. Chatting informally with the delegates, remembering like a good politician their claims to fame and their middle initials, Lincoln made on the whole a not unfavorable impression.
The new President had formed an inflexible determination to entertain no compromise on the extension of slavery, and to defend the Constitution, as his oath of office required. None of the multitude who, since his departure from Springfield, had casually met him or heard his speeches had been able to discern either his decision or his anxiety. In his public utterances Mr. Lincoln had depreciated the seriousness of the crisis. His placid manner, the ‘jocular freedom’ of his conversation, and his unceasing fund of anecdote gave the impression that he had but a shallow and provincial understanding of national affairs.
With the appointment of Montgomery Blair as Postmaster-General, the slate of Lincoln’s Cabinet was complete. At the head of his advisers was Mr. Seward, balanced by the radical Mr. Chase, who was to be Secretary of the Treasury. Two selections had been virtually forced on Mr. Lincoln by bargains which his managers had made at the Republican convention which had nominated him. One was Caleb B. Smith of Indiana, the Secretary of the Interior, a prosaiclooking. lisping conservative. The other was Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, whom Mr. Lincoln had with much reluctance appointed Secretary of War. Cameron was the Republican leader in his own State, but his reputation for unscrupulous political practices shed no lustre on the now Cabinet.
As a sop to New England, Mr. Lincoln had made Gideon Welles of Connecticut. his Secretary of the Navy. He was tail and ‘venerably insignificant,’ with a flowing beard and a huge white wig. Welles had been a newspaper man in Hartford and did not know the stem from the stern of a ship, but he was an industrious and capable administrator. He was also very irritable, and those who undervalued him did not know that, with a pen dipped in gall, he kept, a diary. In one respect, Welles was unique among the Cabinet members — he did not think himself a better man than the President.
The Attorney-General, Mr. Edward Bates of Missouri, had been one of Mr. Lincoln’s earliest selections. He was a former slaveholder, worthy, legalistic, and reverential of the Constitution. The choice of the Marylander, Montgomery Blair, gave Mr. Lincoln two advisers from the border skive States. Blair was courageous, and had won abolitionist acclaim by acting as counsel for the slave, Dred Scott. However, while scarcely anyone could object to polite old Mr. Bates, the pinched and vindictive Montgomery had a host of enemies.
With the notable exception of sympathy with disunion, the President’s advisers represented, like Mr. Chandlee’s cockades, all shades of political sentiment. Four members of the Cabinet - Seward, Chase, Cameron, and Bates — had been candidates for the Presidential nomination at the Republican convention, and for the first two the failure to secure it had been a rankling disappointment. It was not to be expected that these dissentient personalities should work together in harmony. Mr. Seward could foresee that it would be difficult to act as premier of the composite council. He sent in a last-minute resignation just before Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, but withdrew it in response to the President’s firm request.
In spite of the pall of the national crisis, the President’s party was not wanting in high spirits. Besides his oldest boy, Bob, a Harvard student of eighteen, it included three young men who had been law students in Mr. Lincoln’s Springfield office, and he was on warmly affectionate terms with them all. John George Nicolay, capable, Teutonic, nearly thirty, was the private secretary. John Hay, the assistant secretary, was a clever, flippant, good-looking college graduate of twenty-two. The handsome little Zouave, Ellsworth, was not much older, and he had a magnetic, boyish enthusiasm. He had worked out a plan for reforming the State militia system and bringing it. under Federal control, and he was hoping to be appointed to the chief clerkship of the War Department. Bob Lincoln had been educated at Phillips Exeter, and showed in speech and manner that he had enjoyed more advantages than his father. As a pendant to the campaign publicity for the railsplitter, Bob had been facetiously nicknamed ‘the Prince of Rails.’ Some people inevitably called him proud and affected, but he conducted himself sensibly during a prolonged ordeal of popular attention and flattery.
John Hay and Bob Lincoln were the merry, carefree members of the party. Hay made a new friend in Henry Adams, another private secretary, who would soon be going off with his father to the Court of St. James’s. In the evening Bob sometimes tarried downstairs in the smoking room, listening to the music of the harpists and enjoying a cigar with the other men. Some disunionists, on one of these occasions, induced the musicians to play ‘Dixie,’ which Secessia had adopted as its national air; but the harpists quickly followed it with ‘Hail, Columbia.’ In Parlor Number 6, Mrs. Lincoln — attended by her sister, Mrs. Ninian Edwards, her two nieces, and her cousin, Mrs. Grimsley — received a deferential throng in her stylish Springfield toilettes. The President’s Kentucky wife was arrogantly pleased with her position, fancied herself of great importance in politics, and referred in company to Mr. Seward as a ‘dirty abolition sneak.’
The threats to his own life had convinced General Scott that the inauguration was a hazardous undertaking, and he prepared to guard the incoming President. with every soldier in the city. He now had, exclusive of the marines at the Navy Yard, six hundred and fiftythree regulars at his command. He thought of Mr. Lincoln’s drive from Willard’s to the Capitol as a movement, and he planned to place a picked body of men, the sappers and miners from West Point, in the van. One battery of artillery was situated near the Treasury building and two were stationed outside the north entrance to the Capitol grounds. At this last important point, Scott himself proposed to remain during the ceremonies, and there too would be Major-General John E. Wool, the thin little old man who was the commander of the Department of the East.
On Saturday and Sunday, strangers, almost all men, were pouring into town in anticipation of the ceremonies on Monday. Baltimore plugs, tippling and shrieking their rallying cries, were but a noisy minority in the swelling influx of the Republicans. There were dignitaries among them — twenty-seven governors and ex-governors of States, and many former Senators and Congressmen — and there were also militia and civic organizations. Largest by far in number, however, were the plain men of the West — a type only recently familiar to Washington - who dodged forlornly about the city in travel-stained clothes, looking for a place to sleep. Hotel rooms were all preëmpted. The best accommodation to be had was a cot or a mattress in a parlor. The newcomers were not a spendthrift lot. Bonifaces noted that they were a cold-water army. Hack drivers and porters complained that they were given to walking and carrying their own carpetbags, reluctant to part with a quarter-dollar.
On Monday the city was early astir with unaccommodated strangers, assembling to perform their toilets at the public fountains. People began to turn out for the parade. Boys screamed the morning newspapers, and there were lithographs of Uncle Abe’s features, damp from the press. The sidewalks of the Avenue were filled from building line to curbstone. In spite of bright sunshine, it was a raw, disagreeable day. Whipped by the gusty wind, the people stood waiting, while soldiers and District militia formed in line. It was not a festive gathering. The city seemed anxious and depressed. Few buildings had been decorated in honor of the inauguration. Some houses along the route had closed shutters, and many unfriendly faces frowned from balconies and windows. The story was being whispered that, if Mr. Lincoln were inducted into office in good order, a company of Virginia horsemen intended to dash across the Long Bridge and take the President captive at the Union Ball that evening.
Among the groups of spectators on the housetops, militiamen with loaded rifles moved to their posts overlooking the Avenue. It was a little after twelve when the word to present arms was passed along the line of cavalry on Fourteenth Street and infantry on the Avenue in front of Willard’s. A band struck up ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Lincoln emerged arm in arm from the side door of the hotel and took their seats in an open barouche. In an hour, an Old Public Functionary would be free of a position which had covered him with ignominy and scorn. The Westerner at his side would be the man to trip over the obstacle of Fort Sumter, to guide, under the blows of hatred, an unruly country from which seven States had withdrawn.
Mr. Buchanan sat in silence, as the barouche rolled toward the Capitol. His withered face was pale above his white cravat. Only four years before, he had taken this drive through cheering lanes of people, moving between two pretty floats, the Goddess of Liberty on her pedestal and a full-rigged ship, manned by sailors from the Navy Yard. Now, compact and short, the inaugural procession advanced like a military expedition, fearful of attack. There was little enthusiasm on the packed sidewalks. The spectators could scarcely see the new President through the escort of dancing cavalry. Colonel Stone, riding alongside, was digging his mount with his spurs, and he thought, that he succeeded in making the militiamen’s horses so uneasy that it would have been hard for even a good shot to take aim at the occupants of the carriage.
One hundred mounted marshals, with their trappings of orange, pink, and blue, did their utmost to give the parade a garish air of holiday; but, after the disciplined ranks of the regulars and the sizable guard of militia, the civic procession looked straggling and insignificant. There were five hundred Washington Republicans in line, and a few delegations from the States. Thirtyfour girls rode in a triumphal car, and were all later kissed by Mr. Lincoln. The Star made fun of the pegged boots of the New Englanders, cracking like airguns in the pauses of the Marine Band. No other startling sounds disturbed the progress on the Avenue. The rowdies had forgathered in the liquor shops. A few drunken men tried to obstruct the march of the soldiers, and one of them shouted insults at a delegation of Republicans from Virginia and proposed three cheers for the Southern Confederacy. In the eastern park of the Capitol, a little man with red whiskers sat high in a tree and addressed the crowd with oratorical flourishes. These were, however, minor disturbances, soon silenced by the police.
The official party entered the Capitol by the north door, through a passage enclosed by a high board fence, guarded by marines. While the ceremonies took place in the Senate Chamber, and VicePresident Hamlin and a few Senators were sworn in, the multitude silently waited in the eastern park. They saw the spreading structure of the Capitol, with its unfinished dome surmounted by gaunt derricks braced with ropes of steel. The model of the statue of Armed Freedom, destined for its apex, stood in the grass among the littered and ruinous marbles. In every window of the stark new wings, two riflemen were posted; and Colonel Stone, looking from one of the windows, was satisfied that they perfectly flanked the steps. At last the door opened, and the dignitaries took their places on the platform, over the heads of the fifty armed men concealed beneath it.
Silver-haired and eloquent, Mr. Lincoln’s old friend, Senator Edward D. Baker of Oregon, stepped forward to introduce the new President. There was a faint ripple of cheers as Lincoln made his way to the rickety little table provided for his address. Burdened with his gold-headed cane and glossy silk hat, he paused in embarrassment. As he laid his cane under the table, Senator Douglas smilingly reached out his hand for the hat. All the people could see Douglas, seated at the front of the platform, holding Lincoln’s hat as a public profession of faith in a united country. In the background Senator Wigfall of Texas leaned with folded arms against the Capitol doorway, watching the inaugural scene with contempt on his fierce, scarred face.
In a resonant, high-pitched voice, trained in the open-air meetings of the West, Mr. Lincoln began to speak. While his audience stood hushed in a painful silence, a tall man with a shrewd, impassive countenance detached himself from the crowd. Like one whom much familiarity backstage has robbed of interest in the play, Mr. Thurlow Weed of Albany turned his back on Mr. Lincoln and wandered from the Capitol park. Perhaps he was too grieved to stay and see the sad-faced Westerner in the place whore he had dreamed and schemed to put a subtle, smiling man. Mr. Weed was the most skillful political manager of his day, but he had failed in his fondest ambition, which was to manipulate the nomination of Seward by the Republican Party.
As he walked north on Capitol Hill, Mr. Weed came upon two batteries of light artillery. Near one of them General Scott drooped in splendid decay. Beside the other was General Wool, prim and perpendicular, in his high, choking collar. Like Scott, he bore in his stiffening body the scars of 1812. Mr. Weed started forward. In 1812, this cynical politician had been a drummerboy. Nearly half a century before, he had seen the two old generals, one so fat and the other so thin, as dashing, buoyant young officers. He hastened to present himself to them and respect fully shake their hands.
Behind him Mr. Lincoln’s voice rang out, across the unenthusiastic multitude, across the sundered nation. ’We are not enemies, but friends. . . . Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.’ The voice ceased. There was the noise of applause. Chief Justice Taney tottered forward, a cadaver in black silk. The old régime and the new faced each other, and a Bible lay between them, gilt-clasped and bound in cinnamon velvet. Mr. Lincoln solemnly swore to defend the Constitution of the United States.
There was a thundering salute from the batteries. Mr. Weed had been deeply moved by his chance encounter with the two commanders. He did not remember De Tocqueville’s warning, that, the army of a democracy tends to become weakened by a burden of old and unfit officers. Effulgent with that sentimentality to which the corrupt are prone, he gazed with veneration on the heroes of his boyhood — and failed to see in the antique tableau on Capitol Hill a presentation of the Union’s unpreparedness for long and bloody war.
(To be continued)
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