Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses S. Grant’

The Making and the Breaking of the Legend of Robert E. Lee

August 29, 2017

In the Band’s popular song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” an ex-Confederate soldier refers to Robert E. Lee as “the very best.” It is difficult to think of another song that mentions a general by name. But Lee has always occupied a unique place in the national imagination. The ups and downs of his reputation reflect changes in key elements of Americans’ historical consciousness — how we understand race relations, the causes and consequences of the Civil War and the nature of the good society.

Born in 1807, Lee was a product of the Virginia gentry — his father a Revolutionary War hero and governor of the state, his wife the daughter of George Washington’s adopted son. Lee always prided himself on following the strict moral code of a gentleman. He managed to graduate from West Point with no disciplinary demerits, an almost impossible feat considering the complex maze of rules that governed the conduct of cadets.

While opposed to disunion, when the Civil War broke out and Virginia seceded, Lee went with his state. He won military renown for defeating (until Gettysburg) a succession of larger Union forces. Eventually, he met his match in Ulysses S. Grant and was forced to surrender his army in April 1865. At Appomattox he urged his soldiers to accept the war’s outcome and return to their homes, rejecting talk of carrying on the struggle in guerrilla fashion. He died in 1870, at the height of Reconstruction, when biracial governments had come to power throughout the South.

But, of course, what interests people who debate Lee today is his connection with slavery and his views about race. During his lifetime, Lee owned a small number of slaves. He considered himself a paternalistic master but could also impose severe punishments, especially on those who attempted to run away. Lee said almost nothing in public about the institution. His most extended comment, quoted by all biographers, came in a letter to his wife in 1856. Here he described slavery as an evil, but one that had more deleterious effects on whites than blacks. He felt that the “painful discipline” to which they were subjected benefited blacks by elevating them from barbarism to civilization and introducing them to Christianity. The end of slavery would come in God’s good time, but this might take quite a while, since to God a thousand years was just a moment. Meanwhile, the greatest danger to the “liberty” of white Southerners was the “evil course” pursued by the abolitionists, who stirred up sectional hatred. In 1860, Lee voted for John C. Breckinridge, the extreme pro-slavery candidate. (A more moderate Southerner, John Bell, carried Virginia that year.)

Lee’s code of gentlemanly conduct did not seem to apply to blacks. During the Gettysburg campaign, he did nothing to stop soldiers in his army from kidnapping free black farmers for sale into slavery. In Reconstruction, Lee made it clear that he opposed political rights for the former slaves. Referring to blacks (30 percent of Virginia’s population), he told a Congressional committee that he hoped the state could be “rid of them.” Urged to condemn the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorist violence, Lee remained silent.

By the time the Civil War ended, with the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, deeply unpopular, Lee had become the embodiment of the Southern cause. A generation later, he was a national hero. The 1890s and early 20th century witnessed the consolidation of white supremacy in the post-Reconstruction South and widespread acceptance in the North of Southern racial attitudes. A revised view of history accompanied these developments, including the triumph of what David Blight, in his influential book “Race and Reunion” (2001), calls a “reconciliationist” memory of the Civil War. The war came to be seen as a conflict in which both sides consisted of brave men fighting for noble principles — union in the case of the North, self-determination on the part of the South. This vision was reinforced by the “cult of Lincoln and Lee,” each representing the noblest features of his society, each a figure Americans of all regions could look back on with pride. The memory of Lee, this newspaper wrote in 1890, was “the possession of the American people.”

Reconciliation excised slavery from a central role in the story, and the struggle for emancipation was now seen as a minor feature of the war. The Lost Cause, a romanticized vision of the Old South and Confederacy, gained adherents throughout the country. And who symbolized the Lost Cause more fully than Lee?

This outlook was also taken up by the Southern Agrarians, a group of writers who idealized the slave South as a bastion of manly virtue in contrast to the commercialism and individualism of the industrial North. At a time when traditional values appeared to be in retreat, character trumped political outlook, and character Lee had in spades. Frank Owsley, the most prominent historian among the Agrarians, called Lee “the soldier who walked with God.” (Many early biographies directly compared Lee and Christ.) Moreover, with the influx of millions of Catholics and Jews from southern and eastern Europe alarming many Americans, Lee seemed to stand for a society where people of Anglo-Saxon stock controlled affairs.

Historians in the first decades of the 20th century offered scholarly legitimacy to this interpretation of the past, which justified the abrogation of the constitutional rights of Southern black citizens. At Columbia University, William A. Dunning and his students portrayed the granting of black suffrage during Reconstruction as a tragic mistake. The Progressive historians — Charles Beard and his disciples — taught that politics reflected the clash of class interests, not ideological differences. The Civil War, Beard wrote, should be understood as a transfer of national power from an agricultural ruling class in the South to the industrial bourgeoisie of the North; he could tell the entire story without mentioning slavery except in a footnote. In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of mostly Southern historians known as the revisionists went further, insisting that slavery was a benign institution that would have died out peacefully. A “blundering generation” of politicians had stumbled into a needless war. But the true villains, as in Lee’s 1856 letter, were the abolitionists, whose reckless agitation poisoned sectional relations. This interpretation dominated teaching throughout the country, and reached a mass audience through films like “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Klan, and “Gone With the Wind,” with its romantic depiction of slavery. The South, observers quipped, had lost the war but won the battle over its history.

As far as Lee was concerned, the culmination of these trends came in the publication in the 1930s of a four-volume biography by Douglas Southall Freeman, a Virginia-born journalist and historian. For decades, Freeman’s hagiography would be considered the definitive account of Lee’s life. Freeman warned readers that they should not search for ambiguity, complexity or inconsistency in Lee, for there was none — he was simply a paragon of virtue. Freeman displayed little interest in Lee’s relationship to slavery. The index to his four volumes contained 22 entries for “devotion to duty,” 19 for “kindness,” 53 for Lee’s celebrated horse, Traveller. But “slavery,” “slave emancipation” and “slave insurrection” together received five. Freeman observed, without offering details, that slavery in Virginia represented the system “at its best.” He ignored the postwar testimony of Lee’s former slave Wesley Norris about the brutal treatment to which he had been subjected. In 1935 Freeman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in biography.

That same year, however, W. E. B. Du Bois published “Black Reconstruction in America,” a powerful challenge to the mythologies about slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction that historians had been purveying. Du Bois identified slavery as the fundamental cause of the war and emancipation as its most profound outcome. He portrayed the abolitionists as idealistic precursors of the 20th-century struggle for racial justice, and Reconstruction as a remarkable democratic experiment — the tragedy was not that it was attempted but that it failed. Most of all, Du Bois made clear that blacks were active participants in the era’s history, not simply a problem confronting white society. Ignored at the time by mainstream scholars, “Black Reconstruction” pointed the way to an enormous change in historical interpretation, rooted in the egalitarianism of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and underpinned by the documentary record of the black experience ignored by earlier scholars. Today, Du Bois’s insights are taken for granted by most historians, although they have not fully penetrated the national culture.

Inevitably, this revised view of the Civil War era led to a reassessment of Lee, who, Du Bois wrote elsewhere, possessed physical courage but not “the moral courage to stand up for justice to the Negro.” Even Lee’s military career, previously viewed as nearly flawless, underwent critical scrutiny. In “The Marble Man” (1977), Thomas Connelly charged that “a cult of Virginia authors” had disparaged other Confederate commanders in an effort to hide Lee’s errors on the battlefield. James M. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom,” since its publication in 1988 the standard history of the Civil War, compared Lee’s single-minded focus on the war in Virginia unfavorably with Grant’s strategic grasp of the interconnections between the eastern and western theaters.

Lee’s most recent biographer, Michael Korda, does not deny his subject’s admirable qualities. But he makes clear that when it came to black Americans, Lee never changed. Lee was well informed enough to know that, as the Confederate vice president, Alexander H. Stephens, declared, slavery and “the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man” formed the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy; he chose to take up arms in defense of a slaveholders’ republic. After the war, he could not envision an alternative to white supremacy.

What Korda calls Lee’s “legend” needs to be retired. And whatever the fate of his statues and memorials, so long as the legacy of slavery continues to bedevil American society, it seems unlikely that historians will return Lee, metaphorically speaking, to his pedestal.


Charles Krauthammer: Jeff Sessions and Trump’s deeply repellent vindictiveness in the service of a pathological need to display dominance

July 28, 2017

Sessions lessons

Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

 Opinion writer July 27 at 7:51 PM

Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor, no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets, therefore he is.

Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.

Never more so than during his ongoing war on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Trump has been privately blaming Sessions for the Russia cloud. But rather than calling him in to either work it out or demand his resignation, Trump has engaged in a series of deliberate public humiliations.

Day by day, he taunts Sessions, calling him “beleaguered” and “very weak” and attacking him for everything from not firing the acting FBI director (which Trump could do himself in an instant) to not pursuing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.

What makes the spectacle so excruciating is that the wounded Sessions plods on, refusing the obvious invitation to resign his dream job, the capstone of his career. After all, he gave up his safe Senate seat to enter the service of Trump. Where does he go?

Trump relishes such a cat-and-mouse game and, by playing it so openly, reveals a deeply repellent vindictiveness in the service of a pathological need to display dominance.

Dominance is his game. Doesn’t matter if you backed him, as did Chris Christie, cast out months ago. Or if you opposed him, as did Mitt Romney, before whom Trump ostentatiously dangled the State Department, only to snatch it away, leaving Romney looking the foolish supplicant.

Yet the Sessions affair is more than just a study in character. It carries political implications. It has caused the first crack in Trump’s base. Not yet a split, mind you. The base is simply too solid for that. But amid his 35 to 40 percent core support, some are peeling off, both in Congress and in the pro-Trump commentariat.

The issue is less characterological than philosophical. As Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard put it, Sessions was the original Trumpist — before Trump. Sessions championed hard-line trade, law enforcement and immigration policy long before Trump (who criticized Romney in 2012 for being far too tough on illegal immigrants, for example) rode these ideas to the White House.

For many conservatives, Sessions’ early endorsement of Trump served as an ideological touchstone. And Sessions has remained stalwart in carrying out Trumpist policies at Justice. That Trump could, out of personal pique, treat him so rudely now suggests to those conservatives how cynically expedient was Trump’s adoption of Sessions’ ideas in the first place.

But beyond character and beyond ideology lies the most appalling aspect of the Sessions affair — reviving the idea of prosecuting Clinton.

In the 2016 campaign, there was nothing more disturbing than crowds chanting “lock her up,” often encouraged by Trump and his surrogates. After the election, however, Trump reconsidered, saying he would not pursue Clinton, who “went through a lot and suffered greatly.”

Now under siege, Trump has jettisoned magnanimity. Maybe she should be locked up after all.

This is pure misdirection. Even if every charge against Clinton were true and she got 20 years in the clink, it would change not one iota of the truth — or falsity — of the charges of collusion being made against the Trump campaign.

Moreover, in America we don’t lock up political adversaries. They do that in Turkey. They do that (and worse) in Russia. Part of American greatness is that we don’t criminalize our politics.

Last week, Trump spoke at the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. Ford was no giant. Nor did he leave a great policy legacy. But he is justly revered for his decency and honor. His great gesture was pardoning Richard Nixon, an act for which he was excoriated at the time and which cost him the 1976 election.

It was an act of political self-sacrifice, done for precisely the right reason. Nixon might indeed have committed crimes. But the spectacle of an ex-president on trial and perhaps even in jail was something Ford would not allow the country to go through.

In doing so, he vindicated the very purpose of the presidential pardon. On its face, it’s perverse. It allows one person to overturn equal justice. But the Founders understood that there are times, rare but vital, when social peace and national reconciliation require contravening ordinary justice. Ulysses S. Grant amnestied (technically: paroled) Confederate soldiers and officers at Appomattox, even allowing them to keep a horse for the planting.

In Trump World, the better angels are not in evidence.

To be sure, Trump is indeed examining the pardon power. For himself and his cronies.

Read more from Charles Krauthammer’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.



The decline and fall of Jared and Don Jr.: Nepotism often ends badly

July 17, 2017

By Jonathan Turley

The perils of nepotism have been captured in President Trump’s responses to his son and son-in-law eagerly attending a meeting that they believed was a Russian government lawyer bringing dirt on Hillary Clinton directly from the Russian government. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and short-lived campaign manager Paul Manafort were shown the door over far less scandal — yet Trump declared of his relatives that “I think many people would have held that meeting.”

He called Donald Trump Jr. a “high quality person” who did nothing wrong, or even unwise. He added in his Paris press conference, “Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard.” Now NBC News reports that a former Soviet counterintelligence officer was also in the meeting. Does the president have any choice but to continue to defend his relatives?

With his comments to date, Trump has assumed the costs directly for their actions. And that is the real cost of nepotism. It reduces the range of motion in dealing with scandals. There is no option for political triage when family is on the line.

Jared Kushner came into the government as a senior adviser and “secretary of everything” through an act of nepotism. With his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, he was given a high-ranking position based first and foremost on his familial relationship with the president. Federal bans on nepotism do not extend to the White House staff. Accordingly, Kushner’s appointment is perfectly legal. It is not however ethical or beneficial for the administration.

The term nepotism comes from the Latin root for nephew. Its origins are traced to the Middle Ages practice of Catholic popes giving high-ranking religious positions to their nephews. Nepotism became not the exception but the rule in religious appointments. It was eventually denounced as unethical and unwise. Nepotism elevates loyalty over capability. The “nephews” not only tended to do poor jobs, their scandals had a greater impact on their sponsors.

Trump does not stand out in his embrace of nepotism in the White House. John Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and others appointed relatives to high positions. Their failures often heightened the vulnerability of these presidents. Consider Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s administration reportedly employed dozens of his relatives. He then used his pardon power to benefit family members. One brother-in-law, James F. Casey, stole property from the New Orleans Customs Office but was still reappointed by Grant as collector of customs. Another brother-in-law, Abel Rathbone Corbin, was accused of involvement in a bribery scheme. Yet another brother-in-law, Frederick Dent, made money by selling insider information as an usher. Grant’s reliance on ethically challenged relatives resulted in a scandal-plagued administration that forever tarnished his legacy. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner described Grant’s administration as exhibiting “a dropsical nepotism swollen to elephantiasis.”

By Grant’s standard, Kushner’s appointment and performance in office are stellar. However, everything in nepotism is … well … relative. Kushner’s effort to use Russian diplomatic resources to create a “back channel” for communications with Moscow was as stunning as it was stupid. His meeting with with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, was equally radioactive. The bank was the subject of U.S. sanctions and Gorkov’s resume includes a degree from the Academy of the Federal Security Service, the Russian spy school.

His failure to recall the meeting with the Russian lawyer is legitimately suspect, particularly when he was copied on emails that promised damaging information directly from the Russian government to help Trump win the election.

The Russian scandal shows that the real danger is not any imminent threat of criminal charges, but the familiar grind of nepotism on an administration. When Donald Jr. got into trouble as part of his position in the Trump campaign, Trump had to give his absolute support to his “high-quality” son. At best, his son had fallen for a bait-and-switch that made his team look like colossal chumps. However, you cannot distance yourself from your own blood.

Similarly, Kushner is not some aide, like Flynn, who can be simply sent home after a short but dismal performance in office. That would make Thanksgiving dinner a tad awkward. So the president must keep him — and his failures — close.

Trump only had to look to his campaign nemesis to understand the perils of nepotism. Bill Clinton (over the advice of many) appointed his wife to head his Health Care Task Force. A federal appeals court in Association of American Physicians and Surgeons v. Clinton found that Hillary Clinton was a “de facto” officer of the White House and suggested that, if nepotism laws applied to the White House, her position would be a violation.

However, the biggest problem was that Bill Clinton gave opponents a major advantage. The failure of the First Lady would be his failure — adding to the incentive to run the project into the ground. On top of that strategic blunder, Hillary Clinton by 1994 had become highly unpopular among Republicans. Had  the president selected a neutral leader to bridge the parties, he might have had a chance to secure real reforms.

While there is no compelling basis for prosecution on the current facts, Kushner could well be in legal jeopardy over the course of the unfolding federal and congressional investigations. Nepotism can have an impact on the legal defense strategy for the White House. Counsel cannot control or confine the damage if they cannot separate the president from a targeted official. You cannot cut off a target who is bound to the president by blood or marriage. That means the administration has limited options and has to double down when called out on the relationship — as the president did in Paris. That is the cost of nepotism, and those costs are only likely to grow with time.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. 

Washington’s Willard Hotel: Elegant landmark in city and key Civil War meeting place

April 12, 2015


Early view of Pennsylvania Avenue with the City Hotel on the right (Source: Library of Congress).


The last major social event in Washington before the Civil War that included Southerners was at the Willard Hotel.

A desperate conference among representatives of 21 states attempting to avoid war took place in its meeting rooms, chaired by a former president. Abraham Lincoln, as president-elect, spent his first nine nights in Washington in the hotel, due to safety concerns. Generals such as Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and George B. McClellan stayed here. Its public rooms, restaurants and tavern were the crossroads for generations of congressmen, as well as leaders from around the globe.

The Willard Hotel was a landmark of social elegance and grace in the heart of the capital. As war ignited and blazed across the land, Washington became a city of hotels, boarding houses, brothels and travelers.

The city teemed with soldiers and merchants seeking lucrative contracts by day. At night, the city became the playground of revelers.

Yet the Willard maintained its stature and reputation as Washington’s premier hotel. One might go to the Willard simply “to see and be seen.” Only the best known or the fortunate could manage to obtain a room.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in the Atlantic Monthly: “[T]he Willard Hotel has been a central gathering place for the great, the near-great, and those who aspire to greatness. … This hotel, in fact, may be much more justly called the center of Washington and the Union than either the Capitol, the White House or the State Department.”

Hawthorne added: “You exchange nods with governors of sovereign states; you elbow illustrious men, and tread on the toes of generals; you hear statesmen and orators speaking in their familiar tones. You are mixed up with office seekers, wire pullers, inventors, artists, poets, prosers until identity is lost among them.”

Located at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, just one block from the White House and a short walk (or carriage ride) to the Capitol, the War Department and other Washington centers of government and business, the Willard was, and is, a valued home away from home for travelers.

The property, originally part of the David Burnes farm, gained its first buildings in 1816 when John Tayloe erected a row of six two-story houses. By 1818, a hotel was in operation. It became known as the City Hotel and began to serve a long list of the rich and famous. Charles Dickens, for one, stayed there in 1842.

Senators and members of Congress began to use the Willard at a time when serving as an elected representative was not considered a full-time job. Office seekers and those in search of all kinds of favors flocked to the Willard in their wake. Samuel F.B. Morse frequented the hotel to explain his telegraph and seek government money to develop it.

In 1847, Benjamin Tayloe leased the structure to Henry A. Willard (1822-1909) and his brother Edwin. Edwin left the business in 1849. He didn’t see eye to eye with his younger brother.

Another brother, Joseph Clapp Willard (1820-97) became Henry’s business partner. Joseph had recently failed to find gold during the California gold rush, and he needed work.

The brothers’ hotel prospered. By 1853, they had bought the entire row of houses from the Tayloe family and started the first of many renovations and reconstructions.

In 1858, they expanded again, buying the southwest corner of 14th and F streets from Col. James Kearney, where they built a six-story addition to the hotel. They bought a church on F Street and converted it into a meeting space known as Willard Hall.

The partners divided up their work and diligently tended to excellence in service and the comfort of their guests. Each morning, Henry Willard arose before 3, joined a staff member who had already prepared a horse-drawn carriage, and headed out for the daily stocking of food.

They visited the Potomac waterfront for fresh fish, then the markets, bakeries and butchers of the Central Market on 8th Street. Everything from fresh milk and eggs to vintage wines and freshly cut flowers arrived at the hotel before most guests were awake.

This routine continued even through the Civil War.

The quiet, business-like Joseph Willard took the role of business manager and bookkeeper. The two partners created an unsurpassed standard of excellence.

In 1859, the Willard Hotel hosted a ball in honor of the departing British ambassador, Lord Napier.

Almost 2,000 attended. Washingtonians would remember this party as the last major social event before the Civil War that included Southerners. Jefferson Davis, Sam Houston and Stephen A. Douglas were among the guests.


Lord Napier, photographed by Matthew Brady (Source: Library of Congress).

In February 1861, representatives from 21 states met at the Willard in an attempt to avert war. Former President John Tyler chaired the conference. To make the hotel hospitable to both Northerners and Southerners, the F Street entrance was reserved for Southerners. The Pennsylvania Avenue entrance served Northerners.

The day of Lincoln’s planned arrival in Washington, thousands lined Pennsylvania Avenue between the railroad station and the Willard, hoping to see the president-elect.

They would be disappointed.

Fearing for his safety, detective Alan Pinkerton, serving as a forerunner of the Secret Service, had spirited Lincoln into the hotel in the pre-dawn fog. Lincoln, his family, and several soon-to-be Cabinet members stayed nine days.

Lincoln’s first paycheck as president paid his Willard Hotel bill of $773. Visitors to the hotel can see a copy of this bill today, displayed off the hotel’s lobby.

Image result for Julia Ward Howe, photos

Famous guests included Julia Ward Howe, who later told of hearing Union soldiers singing “John Brown’s Body.” Howe decided a more dignified song was appropriate at such a momentous time and she penned “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at a desk in her Willard Hotel room — on Willard Hotel stationery.

During the Civil War, business boomed at the Willard. It was the only hotel of stature in a city crammed with people. Often the Willard hosted as many as 1,000 guests, sometimes three or four to a bed. Still, Henry Willard maintained his standards.

The 1865 edition of “The Strangers Guide to Washington” advised visitors to avoid the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, an area where “pickpockets, prostitutes and con men abound.”

To those more inclined toward refined society, the guide advised, “To see society, go to the Willard.”

After the Civil War the Willard Hotel continued as a major lodging, dining and meeting place.

Many believe the word “lobbyist” originated at the Willard. According to Washingtonians, President Ulysses S. Grant favored the lobby of the Willard as an evening locale for cigar smoking and perhaps a libation.

Ulysses S. Grant

The president used to walk over from the White House. When word got out that Grant frequented the lobby of the Willard, office seekers began to gather in hopes of “lobbying” Grant for favors.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice, in one of her many controversial (and sometimes scandalous) exploits, smoked a cigarette in the Willard’s formal dining room.

Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, Thomas A. Marshall, fretting about the Willard’s high prices, coined the phrase, “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.” He made his declaration at the hotel.

Mark Twain wrote two books at the Willard. Buffalo Bill Cody and P.T. Barnum stayed there. Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Grant, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge and Harding all stayed at the Willard. Martin Luther King wrote the “I Have a Dream” speech at the Willard Hotel.

Image result for mark twain, photos,

Mark Twain

Of course, the hotel there today is not the structure at the site during the Civil War. In a major renovation at the start of the 20th century, the building we see today went up.

The brainchild of Joseph E. Willard, designed by architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh of New York and built by George A. Fuller Co., it was declared the city’s first “skyscraper” in 1904. A 1925 expansion added 100 rooms.

By the end of World War II, the Willard had fallen on bad times. The Willard family sold the property in 1946. The hotel closed in 1968 and remained vacant for almost two decades.

Restored to its elegance and beauty, it reopened in 1986.


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President-Elect Pierce, in carriage, leaving the Willard, 1853 (Source: Library of Congress).

Hailing from Vermont, the Willard brothers were both staunchly Unionist. Joseph Willard decided to take a break from the hotel business to join the Union Army. Commissioned a captain, Joe Willard served on the staff of General Irvin McDowell. In April 1862 McDowell decided to set up temporary headquarters in Fairfax City, a staunchly Confederate town, and he sent young Captain Willard to the house of prosperous Edward R. Ford to inform the occupants they would be having unexpected company for several weeks. Willard soon met Ford’s flirtatious 23-year-old daughter, Antonia, an arresting beauty who was sophisticated beyond her years. The affable Vermonter proved no match for the wiles of this classic Southern belle. At 41 years old, he was soon madly in love with young Antonia and spent whatever time he could with her, despite the fact that he was a married man.

Joseph Willard, photographed by Matthew Brady (Source: Library of Congress).

Trouble is, Antonia was a spy, and a good one at that. She had been instrumental in alerting the Confederates to Union movements before the first Battle of Manassas. She was adept at getting Union soldiers to tell her details of their activities, which she dutifully relayed to rebel authorities. Dashing Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart had even named her his “honorary aide-de-camp.”

Arlington Ridge Sees War’s Beginning, End

April 10, 2015

By John E. Carey
First Published in The Washington Times

When did the Civil War begin and end? Most would say it began at Fort Sumter and ended at Appomattox. A less conventional view could be that the war began and ended on Arlington Ridge, in Virginia.

For the Union, the conflict existed so long as its enemy’s armies occupied national territory. The first piece of Rebel-occupied territory taken back by the Union Army was Arlington Ridge. The last encampment of the Union Army, four long years later, was on Arlington Ridge.

Although it is generally accepted that the Civil War began at Fort Sumter, it is difficult to exactly fix the start of the conflict. The insurrection didn’t happen all at once. In 1859, John Brown and a small band of followers raided and captured the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. This was a crime of individuals, not an act of statewide insurrection, and he was hanged by the state of Virginia.

On Jan. 9, 1861, Rebel gunners fired artillery rounds at the Union steamer Star of the West as she attempted to resupply Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C. The ship was forced to withdraw. A state had defied the federal government. Yet no war existed.

Despite these early acts of defiance, efforts to avert war continued. In February 1861, former President Tyler played host to a peace commission to iron out the differences between the states. Twenty-one states sent representatives to the gathering, which was held in Washington’s Willard Hotel. The commission failed to find a compromise, and disbanded. War seemed imminent, but did not yet exist.

On April 12, 1861, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of Rebel forces in Charleston, ordered Fort Sumter shelled. The fort’s commander, Maj. Robert Anderson, surrendered the garrison a few hours later.

Yet efforts were still made to keep the union, and the peace, intact.
Although most people would say war existed from April 12, 1861, the Union leadership still remained fairly calm. As tensions mounted between the federal government and the Southern states, it became apparent that Washington needed defenses against a turbulent Virginia, just across the Potomac River.

On May 23, 1861, Virginians voted to secede. Alexandria, within sight of Washington, was a hotbed of insurrection, though the farmers of the adjoining county, which included Arlington Ridge, largely favored staying in the Union.

Now, suddenly, the land just across the river was Rebel territory. When President Lincoln and his generals looked across the river, what did they see? Arlington Ridge. Cannons could easily be placed there to shell the Union capital.

Union troops crossed the river to seize Arlington Heights at dawn, May 24, 1861. A special detail commanded by Col. Ephraim Ellsworth of New York crossed on steamers to seize Alexandria. Once ashore, Ellsworth hurried to remove a Rebel flag flying from the Marshall House, an Alexandria inn owned and operated by James W. Jackson. Both men were killed in the fracas.

Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth

Ellsworth was the first Union officer killed in the war. Jackson was probably the first Confederate civilian slain.

On Arlington Ridge, Union Army pioneers immediately began clearing the land of trees. Union generals wanted this ground reinforced and held as the first line of Washington’s defenses. Fort construction began almost as soon as the trees were felled.

A low rise perhaps 800 feet above the adjoining terrain, Arlington Ridge ran from just above Alexandria to a position northward directly across the Potomac from Georgetown. The ridge included land later leveled for construction of the Pentagon and Shirley Highway. Geologists believe the ridge may have been the shoreline of the Potomac during flood stage thousands of years ago.

Now the ridge became the first line of defense for Washington. Calm in the capital was giving way to rumors, fear and uncertainty. The low-lying city had no natural defense except for the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. The city had no regular troops assigned to protect it.

Col. Charles P. Stone, the D.C. inspector general, summarized the state of military readiness of Washington: “The only regular troops near the capital of the country were 300 or 400 marines at the Barracks [at 8th & Eye streets], and three officers and fifty-three” Army ordnancemen at the Washington Arsenal. The old militia system had been abandoned (without being legally abolished), and Congress had passed no law establishing a new one.”

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1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery at Fort Richardson

Fort Richardson — One of the Forts Defending Washington DC during the Civil War

The Union leadership worked feverishly to change this. The Evening Star reported on May 24, 1861, that “a full corps of [Union] carpenters and workmen” accompanied the soldiers who crossed into Virginia. “The United States forces are now throwing up fortifications on the heights on the Virginia shore.”

A series of mutually supporting forts began to go up along Arlington Ridge. At the southern end, the fort closest to Alexandria became known as Fort Scott. At the northern end, Fort Marcy stood across the Potomac River from Georgetown.

Each fort was really a detached earthwork, which mounted heavy guns, accompanied by a small garrison and as few as 100 rounds of ammunition.

During the seven weeks following May 24, the goal was to get as many forts properly situated as practical. Each fort was only about one-half mile from its supporting position.

On July 21, 1861, the Union was again shocked when its forces suffered the humiliating defeat at Manassas, or Bull Run, as the Federals called it. Fort construction around Washington was immediately intensified. A second line of forts west of the Arlington Ridge defenses began to go up, and, for the first time, forts were planned and started to the north of the city.

In “Mr. Lincoln’s Forts,” authors Benjamin Franklin Cooling III and Walton H. Owen II report, “By 1865, the defenses [of Washington] were impressive, containing 33 named fortifications, 25 batteries, and 7 blockhouses. Field works were established at intervals of 800 or 1,000 yards, with intersecting fields of fire commanding every important approach to the city.” The fortifications included 256 smoothbore cannon, 170 rifled cannon and 60 mortars.

The construction of the forts and the accompanying military roads and constant traffic devastated the once fertile fields of Arlington. Although most of the farmers in the rural sections of what is now Arlington County had voted to stay in the Union, they paid a terrible price for their state’s secession. Buildings, livestock and supplies were often seized for military use. By 1865, the area was impoverished.

At war’s end, the armies of the Union marched north to participate in the grandest military parade in the nation’s history. On May 18, a two-day spectacle, reviewed by President Andrew Johnson, flowed through the city. Every famous Union army marched or rode down Pennsylvania Avenue. Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, George Gordon Meade, George Armstrong Custer, all rode at the head of their troops. Philip Sheridan led the cavalry. Joshua Chamberlain led his men from Maine. The victorious armies were returning home.

Joshua Chamberlain
Joshua Chamberlain

Where did this mighty force bivouac while near Washington? On Arlington Ridge. The Army of the Potomac – the designation of which would be discontinued five days after the great review, as would other regionally designated armies through the summer – mingled alongside the cruder “Westerners” of Sherman’s army. The men who had sacked Atlanta and marched to the sea camped by Grant’s more spit-and-polished troops who had chased Robert E. Lee to his end at Appomattox.

The men in blue camped on Arlington Ridge.

The last official campsite for many Union men of arms was on that ridge. Mustering-out commenced almost as soon as the parade ended.

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Grand Review of the Armies, in Washington DC, May, 1865

Thus, arguably, one could say the Civil War started and ended on Arlington Ridge, within sight of the still unfinished U.S. Capitol dome and the uncompleted Washington Monument.

* John E. Carey is a writer who lives at the foot of Arlington Ridge.

The Real Story of the Statue of Liberty

July 4, 2014

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi first pitched his design for a statue of a woman in a flowing robe with a crown and torch in the 1860s—to the khedive of Egypt



Liberty’s Torch

By Elizabeth Mitchell
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 310 pages, $27)

According to Bartholdi, Laboulaye proposed at the dinner party that France and America jointly erect a monument to America’s independence. “At least that is how Bartholdi remembered the conversation years later,” the doubting author wryly observes. Ms. Mitchell is skeptical, too, of Bartholdi’s claim that the inspiration for the statue’s location struck him the moment he entered New York Harbor and spied what is now called Liberty Island. Bartholdi “would perpetuate the legend that Bedloe’s Island was immediately his choice,” she says, even though he recorded in his diary that he scouted sites in Lower Manhattan, Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and elsewhere.

Ms. Mitchell shows that, contrary to legend, the statue was not a gift from the French government to the American government. Rather, Bartholdi raised the money from private subscriptions in both countries. The French and the Americans split the costs, with the former paying for the statue itself and the latter for the pedestal on which it stands. The federal government supplied Bedloe’s Island.

Liberty would never have gotten off the ground without Bartholdi’s fundraising prowess, Ms. Mitchell believes. Most of the money came from entertainments he organized rather than from donors who supported Franco-American friendship or the cause of liberty. In France, he displayed the head of the statue and sold tickets to go up inside it. In the U.S., he enlisted the support of the publisher Joseph Pulitzer. The newspaper magnate ran a front-page editorial, printed the names of donors and hired fundraisers to go door-to-door across the city asking for money. Bartholdi shrewdly appealed to the competitive spirits of New Yorkers by hinting that he might erect his statue in Philadelphia or Boston.

Neither the French nor the American people were enthusiastic about the statue at first. The French had just endured the Franco-Prussian War and were not in a generous frame of mind. Mark Twain spoke for many Americans when he observed: “What do we care for a statue of liberty, when we’ve got the thing itself in its wildest sublimity?”

But by the time the statue finally was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886, New Yorkers had embraced it. The mayor declared a public holiday. The bells of Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the “Marseillaise.” Wall Street workers (who did not get the day off) spontaneously created the first ticker-tape parade when they opened their windows and threw ticker tape to the cheering crowd below.

There is one lapse in “Liberty’s Torch,” and it is as colossal as the statue itself. Ms. Mitchell focuses on Bartholdi’s biography and the nuts and bolts of how the statue was engineered, built and paid for. She pays scant attention to what Liberty has come to mean to generations of Americans and to freedom-loving people world-wide. One has only to remember the makeshift Lady Liberty that was erected by protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 to grasp that the statue in New York Harbor is much more than a 15-story hunk of metal. It is a shame that a book about the Statue of Liberty tells you next to nothing about how it became the world’s most potent symbol of freedom.

Ms. Kirkpatrick, a former deputy editor of the Journal’s editorial page, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and author of “Escape From North Korea.”


Tribute: Emma Lazarus: Answering a Calling


By John Francis Carey
“I fell violently in love again…with a lady I met…last night and from whom I hope never to be separated – a poetess, a magaziness, and a Jewess, Miss Emma Lazarus, whose name you doubtless know….”

– Philosopher William James to his wife, in London, 1882

Who was Emma Lazarus?

You know her as the American poet who wrote the famous poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore….”

“The editor and poet James Russell Lowell said the poem finally gave the statue a ‘raison d’être,’ but the politicians were less enthusiastic,” wrote Caleb Crain in The New York Times on December 31, 2006, “and it wasn’t read at the ceremonial unveiling in 1886. Indeed, the poem was more or less forgotten until the 1930s, when it was resurrected for its celebration of immigrants.”

But Emma was much more than the poet writing for the Statue of Liberty. A self-taught genius, she stood up for women’s rights, the rights of Jews, and religious freedom and equality in an American society greatly influenced toward a wrong turn by European ideas.

Emma Lazarus’s story is marvelously told by Esther Schor in her new book “Emma Lazarus” (Nextbook, New York, 2006). Without this book, Emma’s wonderful story may have been nearly lost to history.

In 1867, while still in her teen years, her father found a publisher for her first book of poems, titled Poems and Translations. This marked the start of a life-long contribution to the American arts and letters.

Her work, though considered “ordinary” by some, attracted the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the leading American poets and essayists of the age. He invited her to spend a week at his home in Concord, Massachusetts, which led to a life-long correspondence. She also corresponded with and learned more about her “art” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and other literary luminaries of her day.

Colonel Higginson, who had recruited and trained the first regiment of all Black Union Volunteers in the Civil War, became a prolific writer and editor after the war.Frequently published in the Atlantic Monthly, “a magazine of literature, art, and politics,” Higginson corresponded extensively with Emily Dickinson for nearly 25 years.

He also offered critiques to Walt Whitman several times in the public forum of the printed essay. His evaluation of Whitman included this gem: “It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass,’ only that he did not burn it afterwards.”

Higginson proved to be an invaluable mentor and literary advisor to Emma Lazarus. Lazarus had a thorough knowledge of Jewish history and literature and impressed Higginson, a Boston aristocrat. She loved words and languages even more, perhaps than Higginson. She learned several languages, including German, French and Italian.

But as a teen, she did not thoroughly embrace her Jewish heritage. Moses Lazarus, Emma’s father, was a wealthy sugar refiner. Consequently, Emma lived in the very upper Middle Class world of her father, who was well educated, suave, and accepted in the best circles, clubs and parties.

Moses moved effortlessly in wealthy Christian circles, joined the exclusive Union club, and founded, together with the Vanderbilts and the Astors, the elite Knickerbocker club. While he was known to be a Jew, he was not one of THEM, the poor immigrant first-generation Jews most in proper society looked down upon.

And, as a sign that he had achieved the very pinnacle of American New York aristocracy, Moses Lazarus built a mansion (called a “summer cottage”) in Newport, Rhode Island – the summer home of all first-rate fashionable society.

As far as we know: Emma never attended a single day of school anywhere. Today we would call her “home schooled.” All her knowledge and learning occurred as a result of her father’s magnificent library and his wonderful teachings and good example.

In about 1880, the George Eliot novel, Daniel Deronda, stirred in Emma a reawakening of her latent Judaism.At that same time, about three-quarters of all the Jewish people on earth resided within the Russian Empire. In 1881, the Russian Tsar Alexander II died at the hands of an assassin. The Russians wrongly blamed the Jews; an accusation which touched off the “pogroms” or anti-ethnic rioting and killings.

The new Tsar Alexander III blamed the Jews for the riots. This exacerbated an already ugly situation. Thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed, many families were reduced to the extremes and depredations of poverty and scores of women were sexually assaulted. In 166 towns in the southwest provinces of the Russian Empire (modern day Ukraine), large numbers of men, women, and children were attacked and injured or killed. The pogroms continued for more than three years with at least the tacit approval of the authorities.

Jews began to pour out of Russia seeking a land of religious tolerance. Many soon found themselves on the doorstep of America: at New York, New York. Tens of thousands of persecuted Jews and other people seeking freedom and looking for a better way of life for their families flocked into New York’s immigrant neighborhoods. They were tired, hungry, without an ounce of fat on their jagged bones. Many were poorly educated farm laborers with calloused hands. The people of New York turned against them .

Emma Lazarus steeled herself against criticism and took up their cause. In 1882, eight years before the word “Zionism” appeared in print or in regular English usage, “Emma Lazarus became the first well-known American to publicly make the case for a Jewish state,” wrote Emma’s biographer, Esther Schor in her 2006 book, “Emma Lazarus.”

It is almost as if Emma Lazarus could see into the future Hitler’s Holocaust, the massed movement of Jews out of Europe after World War II and the creation of the State of Israel by the United Nations in 1946.

The same year that Emma adopted the cause of the por Jewish immigrants, she started thinking about a poem which would become her most famous, The New Colossus. Little did she know that this poem would one day be at the foot of the Statue of Liberty – and associated with American immigrants and the Statue of Liberty for over 100 years!

“In 1883, France insisted on giving America a large copper statue of a woman holding a torch, and America had to pay for the pedestal. It was embarrassingly hard to find the money, and Emma Lazarus, a much published and well-connected poet, was asked to contribute a poem for a fund-raiser,” wrote Caleb Crain in The New York Times on December 31, 2006.

“Her sonnet, ‘The New Colossus,’ imagined the statue — called ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ — addressing the Old World with majestic brusqueness,” wrote Mr. Crane.

By the mid 1880s, Emma became aware of discrimination even in her elite social circles. There, discrimination was practiced with subtlety and false-charm, quite unlike the open and brazen discrimination of the streets.

In 1877, the Grand Union Hotel refused a guest named Joseph Seligman a room.

Seligman, a nouveau riche German Jew, became the lightening rod for Emma’s awareness that the once tolerant American climate continued to shift toward discrimination against the Jews.

But, as the owner of the Grand Hotel, Judge Henry Hilton, explained nobody had any objection to the Sephardic elite. People like Emma Lazarus and her family, who had lived in America since before the revolution, were the refined, the “true Hebrews.” Hilton made it clear that only the dirty, greedy, German immigrants; the “Seligman Jews” were to be excluded and denied of many things because they were obviously “undesirables.”

Emma became an even my steely advocate for Jewish immigrants, women and the downtrodden in general. In hundreds of essays, poems and letters she stood up for those most considered “underfoot and of little value” the rich New Y ork society mavens.

Lazarus’ last book was a series of prose poems entitled, “By the Waters of Babylon.” It was published in 1887.

On November 19, 1887, in New York City, Emma Lazarus died at the age of 37. She had contracted cholera and suffered for the final two years of her life. But during much of that time, she catalogued and organized and annotated her many works.

Emma’s sisters published her manuscripts and previously published essays and poems which represented her life’s work: some 1,886 documents!

Her biographer Esther Schor eulogizes Emma this way: “She saw and spoke the need for a Jewish homeland when that was lunacy; she saw in the blaze of anti-Semitism a coming apocalypse… She saw and spoke to all’ more Americans encounters Judaism – it’s history, its culture, its predicaments, and its destiny – through Emma Lazarus’s writing than through that of any of her contemporaries.”

The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Andrew Bacevich: The United States no longer knows how to win wars

January 12, 2014

The United States no longer knows how to win wars, but it continues to start them.

Force employed by the United States in faraway places serves mostly to inflame further resistance….


By Andrew J. BacevichJanuary 12, 2014

The U.S. military is like the highly skilled, gadget-toting contractor who promises to give your kitchen a nifty makeover in no time whatsoever. Here’s the guy you can count on to get the job done. Just look at those references! Yet by the time he drives off months later, the kitchen’s a shambles and you’re stuck with a bill several times larger than the initial estimate. Turns out the job was more complicated than it seemed. But what say we take a crack at remodeling the master bath?

That pretty much summarizes the American experience with war since the end of the Cold War. By common consent, when it comes to skills and gadgets, U.S. forces are in a league of their own. Yet when it comes to finishing the job on schedule and on budget, their performance has been woeful.

Indeed, these days the United States absolves itself of any responsibility to finish wars that it starts. When we’ve had enough, we simply leave, pretending that when U.S. forces exit the scene, the conflict is officially over. In 2011, when the last American troops crossed from Iraq into Kuwait, President Obama proudly declared that he had made good on his campaign promise to end the Iraq war. Sometime late this year, when the U.S. terminates its combat role in Afghanistan, he will waste no time consigning that war to the past as well.

Yet the Iraq war did not end when the United States withdrew. Even with Washington striving mightily to ignore the fact, the violent ethno-sectarian struggle for Iraq triggered by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion continues. In recent days, events such as Al Qaeda’s ferocious welcome-to-the-new-year assault on the cities of Fallouja and Ramadi — roughly the equivalent of a Confederate army laying siege to Gettysburg sometime during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant — have made it impossible to pretend otherwise.

Events in Afghanistan are likely to follow a similar trajectory. No serious person thinks that the war there — launched even earlier, back in 2001 — will end just because U.S. troops are finally packing up to go home. No doubt the American public will forget Afghanistan as quickly as it forgot Iraq. Yet as with Iraq war, the struggle to determine Afghanistan’s fate will continue, its duration and outcome no less uncertain.

The truth is something few people in the national security establishment are willing to confront: Confusing capability with utility, the United States knows how to start wars but has seemingly forgotten how to conclude them. Yet concluding war on favorable terms — a concept formerly known as victory — is the object of the exercise. For the United States, victory has become a lost art. This unhappy verdict applies whether U.S. forces operate conventionally (employing high-tech “shock and awe” tactics) or unconventionally (“winning hearts and minds”).

As a consequence, instead of promoting stability — perhaps the paramount U.S. interest not only in the Islamic world but also globally — Washington’s penchant for armed intervention since the end of the Cold War, and especially since 9/11, has tended to encourage just the opposite. In effect, despite spilling much blood and expending vast amounts of treasure, U.S. military exertions have played into the hands of our adversaries, misleadingly lumped together under the rubric of “terrorists.”

How can we explain this yawning gap between intention and outcomes? Fundamentally, a pronounced infatuation with armed might has led senior civilian officials, regardless of party, and senior military leaders, regardless of service, to misunderstand and misapply the military instrument. Force is good for some things, preeminently for defending what is already yours. Not content to defend, however, the United States in recent decades has sought to use force to extend its influence, control and values.

In a world divided between haves and have-nots, between postmodern and pre-modern, and between those for whom God is dead and those for whom God remains omnipresent, expecting coercion to produce reconciliation, acceptance or submission represents the height of folly. So force employed by the United States in faraway places serves mostly to inflame further resistance, a statement that is true whether we’re talking about putting “boots on the ground” or raining down Hellfire missiles from the heavens.

What then is to be done? That which Washington is least capable of undertaking: Those charged with formulating policy must think anew. For starters, that means lowering expectations regarding the political effectiveness of war, which is demonstrably limited.

Take force off the metaphorical table to which policymakers regularly refer. Rather than categorizing violence as a preferred option, revive the tradition of treating it as a last resort. Then get serious about evaluating the potential for employing alternative forms of power, chiefly economic and cultural, to advance American interests. The result won’t be a panacea. But it won’t cost as much as open-ended war. And rather than creating new problems, this alternative approach just might solve some old ones.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Henry Villard: Preeminent Newsman, Friend in the American Civil War

August 18, 2012

Henry Villard ranks high among the many memorable newsmen of the Civil War.Insightful, energetic and an able researcher, but most of all an affable friend and companion, Villard made a living and earned his own page in American history by placing himself in the company of the most famous leaders of his time.

Henry Villard was born Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard on April 10, 1835, in Speyer, Germany. In 1852, he paid for passage to the United States. Like many immigrants, he landed in New York with almost no money and absolutely no English-language skills.

In the first years after his arrival, Villard held many jobs, several menial and some even demeaning. He was a cooper’s apprentice, a bartender, a traveling salesman of religious books, a helper in a brickyard, a lumberman and a farm laborer. He sold encyclopedias and real estate. He learned most of his English while working as a clerk in a law office. He didn’t just learn English. He mastered the language.

Henry Villard

When Villard decided to become a writer, he dedicated himself to becoming a leader of the profession. He wrote for several German-language papers, including the Volksblatt of Racine, Wis., and Neue Zeit and Staats Zeitung in New York. He covered the Pikes Peak gold rush for the Cincinnati Daily Commercial and wrote a guidebook for prospectors.

Friend of Lincoln

Villard met Abraham Lincoln during the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. He volunteered to become one of the first traveling campaign reporters, accompanying the future president and recording a memorable evening the two spent together, lost in conversation, in a storm-ravaged train depot.

Not only had they developed a mutual respect for each other, but Villard, on another occasion, also offered a buffalo robe as a gift to a shivering Lincoln. Villard had obtained the hide during a trip to Pikes Peak. With that robe, along with his charm, humor and skill as a newsman and writer, Villard made the future president a friend and confidant for life.

Villard covered the Republican convention of 1860, where he witnessed Lincoln’s nomination. After the convention, he interviewed the future president and further developed their relationship.

Villard remained in Illinois to continue writing dispatches on the man who would soon lead the nation. He wrote of “the solemnity of [Lincoln’s] mission” and that the Republican was “resolved to fulfill it fearlessly and conscientiously.”

Villard even traveled as a guest aboard the train that carried Lincoln from his home in Springfield, Ill., to Washington for the inauguration. The only correspondent on the train during the leg to Cincinnati, Villard asked for and received from the president-elect a handwritten and signed copy of a speech.

Scene of action

Even before the start of hostilities, Villard distinguished himself as perhaps America’s first syndicated writer. He signed contracts with the Cincinnati Commercial, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Herald to provide them with news.

When the Civil War began, Villard knew exactly what to do. He wanted to be at the scene of action: the front. First he traveled to Washington to assess the readiness of the Union forces. He covered the Union Army’s raid into Alexandria and felt grief when Col. Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth of the Fire Zouaves, another friend, was slain while tearing down a Confederate flag May 24, 1861.

Villard made the rounds in Washington, making friends and sources of Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Gen. Winfield Scott, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, Gen. Irvin McDowell and many others.

Upon learning that Gen. William T. Sherman made his way to the Washington office of the Associated Press each night at 9 to read the daily war news telegraphed from the front, Villard decided he had better go along to gather news. He subsequently joined Sherman every night. Sherman told Villard he loved to read the newspapers, “but he frequently objected to what the writers ‘scribbled.’ ”

“He liked nothing better than to express his mind upon the news as it came,” Villard wrote. Sherman became but one of Villard’s many well-connected sources during the war.

Despite Sherman’s renowned hatred for most newsmen, Villard developed a warm friendship and camaraderie with the general. The same Sherman who was castigated by many newspapermen as “insane,” the same Sherman who threatened to execute newsmen who revealed the movements of his forces later in the war spent hours discussing the war and its personalities with Villard. Sherman even became a frequent visitor to the Villard household after the war.

Battle at Bull Run

Villard made a name for himself by carefully crafting reports from the front lines into readable, in fact memorable, essays on the personalities and events of the war. Far from the sterile prose of some others, Villard’s work was infused with emotion.

Additionally, he completely understood the importance of timely, factual and exciting reporting. He frequently traveled 100 miles or more under arduous conditions to get his story to a telegraph line or train depot for transmission to editors at home.

Villard accompanied the Union Army into the field for its first major engagement, the Battle of Bull Run. The night before the battle, Villard wrote: “Not a sound is heard except the measured tread of the sentinels. … For we are on the eve of a great battle — perhaps the battle that is to make the bloodiest picture in the Book of Time.”

During the battle, Villard came under fire for the first time. He sought out McDowell, the army commander, but a staff officer told the reporter: “You won’t find him. All is chaos in front. Our troops are breaking and running!”

Villard then witnessed the disorder firsthand as he rushed back to Washington after the battle to file his report. He was appalled at the Confederate victory and the melee the soldiers in blue made as they ran from the field.

Future presidents

Traveling to the Western theater, Villard covered Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman and Don Carlos Buell and their battles there. Arriving just after the capture of Fort Donelson, Tenn., Villard wrote, “Mournful was the sight of long rows of fresh graves containing the killed on both sides.”

After the fall of Nashville, Lincoln appointed Sen. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee as the military governor of that occupied state. Villard met with and studied Johnson, concluding that he “had too violent a temper and was too much addicted to the common Southern habit of free indulgence in strong drink.”

Johnson would later inhabit the White House — one of three men to rise to that position who knew Henry Villard.

While covering Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland, Villard became acquainted with James A. Garfield, the army chief of staff, who “looked like a distinguished personage.”

‘Bloody evidence’

After Shiloh, Villard wrote of his approach to the field. “The battle was speedily raging with great violence. From one end of the line to the other, the combat lasted for hours, with hardly a lull in the deafening discharge of small arms and guns.

“There was bloody evidence in every direction that the slaughter had been great,” the reporter wrote when he saw the carnage at Shiloh. “Neither the one side nor the other had removed its dead, and there they were, blue and gray, in their starkness, lying here singly and there literally in rows and heaps. I passed more than a thousand of them. It was morbid … and many lay as though they had consciously stretched themselves out to sleep. But here were also many exceptions, with features repulsively distorted by pain and hatred.”

A fatal feud

Villard’s close association with the Army made him a witness to the horrors of battle. However, he also saw everyday life and experienced the agony of waiting, the boredom of camp life and other aspects of the Army on the march. His writings brought home to readers the realities of the war.

Villard witnessed one of the more unusual events of the war: two Union generals engaged in a feud that ended in murder.

While eating breakfast on Sept. 30, 1862, at the Galt House, the best hotel in Louisville, Ky., Villard witnessed the argument and its aftermath firsthand.

It seems Gen. William “Bull” Nelson had summarily dismissed a subordinate, Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president). Yet Davis was returned to active duty by higher authority.

On that morning, Davis encountered Nelson, demanding an apology. Nelson, a giant of a man, could be heard calling Davis an “insolent puppy” before slapping him. Davis withdrew, only to return with a pistol. Seconds later, Nelson lay wounded. To Villard, Nelson looked like “a dying lion.” Nelson did die 10 minutes later, and the great reporter had another story.

Audacity and guile

Back in the East, Villard met and accompanied Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside as he led the Army of the Potomac south toward Fredericksburg. Villard never had a high regard for Burnside. He had interviewed Burnside before the First Battle of Bull Run and then encountered the fleeing, terrified general after that battle.

The Union debacle at Fredericksburg saddened and sickened Villard. He directly blamed Burnside’s inadequate leadership for the tremendous Union casualties.

After the battle, as was Villard’s habit, he started toward Washington to deliver his views on the battle to the newspapers he served. However, Burnside had instructed men in the rear, including his police force under Provost Marshal General Marsena Patrick, to prevent stragglers, reporters and all other men from getting to Washington before an official Army report of the action could be made.

Out of sight of Union sentries, Villard bribed fishermen and riverboat captains to get him and his story to Washington. Because of his audacity and guile, Villard became the first newsman in the nation’s capital with an eyewitness account of the battle.

Sen. Henry Wilson of Massachusetts recognized Villard in the dining room of Willard’s Hotel and heard about the battle. He returned later to tell Villard that President Lincoln would appreciate a visit and report from his old friend.

Villard felt it a duty to inform the president of what he saw and thought. He became one of the first civilians to deliver to Lincoln a report on the mess at Fredericksburg. Villard remembered the president concluding their meeting by saying, “I hope it is not as bad as all that, Henry.”

Life of accomplishment

During the Civil War, Villard contributed to numerous papers, including the New York Herald, the New York Tribune and the Chicago Tribune.

He suffered from malaria and other severe ailments from about 1863. He had his first stroke at 37. Despite all this, he served valiantly as a reporter in the field, often sharing the conditions and rations of the soldiers.

After the war, Villard became a famous business tycoon and entrepreneur. He made and lost at least two fortunes while underwriting railroads, steamship companies and other ventures.

He knew Thomas Edison and invested in Edison’s electricity projects. He wooed investors as well as immigrants from Europe. He also became a philanthropist and supporter of human rights initiatives. Villard Hall at the University of Oregon still stands, and Villard’s human rights work led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

A memorial to war correspondents stands at the top of South Mountain, not far from the field at Antietam. Henry Villard’s name is there among the names of the luminaries of Civil War journalism. The American immigrant, business tycoon, railroad man, entrepreneur and philanthropist surely would be proud of this lasting tribute.

• John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page of The Washington Times.
Newsman Villard eyewitness to history – Washington Times


Henry Villard in His Own Words

The first joint debate between Douglas and Lincoln which I attended (the second in the series of seven) took place on the afternoon of August 27, 1858, at Freeport, Illinois. It was the great event of the day, and attracted an immense concourse of people from all parts of the state. Douglas spoke first for an hour, followed by Lincoln for an hour and a half; upon which the former closed in another half hour. The Democratic spokesman commanded a strong, sonorous voice, a rapid, vigorous utterance, a telling play of countenance, impressive gestures, and all the other arts of the practiced speaker. As far as all external conditions were concerned, there was nothing in favor of Lincoln. He had a lean, lank, indescribably gawky figure, an odd-featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face. He used singularly awkward, almost absurd up-and-down and sidewise movements of his body to give emphasis to his arguments. His voice was naturally good, but he frequently raised it to an unnatural pitch. Yet the unprejudiced mind felt at once that, while there was on the one side a skillful dialectician and debater arguing a wrong and weak cause, there was on the other a thoroughly earnest and truthful man, inspired by sound convictions in consonance with the true spirit of American institutions. There was nothing in all Douglas’s powerful effort that appealed to the higher instincts of human nature, while Lincoln always touched sympathetic chords. Lincoln’s speech excited and sustained the enthusiasm of his audience to the end. When he had finished, two stalwart young farmers rushed on the platform, and, in spite of his remonstrances, seized and put him on their shoulders and carried him in that uncomfortable posture for a considerable distance. It was really a ludicrous sight to see the grotesque figure holding frantically to the heads of his supporters, with his legs dangling from their shoulders, and his pantaloons pulled up so as to expose his underwear almost to his knees. Douglas made dexterous use of this incident in his next speech, expressing sincere regret that, against his wish, he had used up his old friend Lincoln so completely that he had to be carried off the stage. Lincoln retaliated by saying at the first opportunity that he had known Judge Douglas long and well, but there was nevertheless one thing he could not say of him, and that was that the Judge always told the truth.

I was introduced to Lincoln at Freeport, and met him frequently afterwards in the course of the campaign. I must say frankly that, although I found him most approachable, good-natured, and full of wit and humor, I could not take a real personal liking to the man, owing to an inborn weakness for which he was even then notorious and so remained during his great public career. He was inordinately fond of jokes, anecdotes, and stories. He loved to hear them, and still more to tell them himself out of the inexhaustible supply provided by his good memory and his fertile fancy. There would have been no harm in this but for the fact that, the coarser the joke, the lower the anecdote, and the more risky the story, the more he enjoyed them, especially when they were of his own invention. He possessed, moreover, a singular ingenuity in bringing about occasions in conversation for indulgences of this kind. I have to confess, too, that aside from the prejudice against him which I felt on this account, I shared the belief of a good many independent thinkers at the time, including prominent leaders of the Republican party, that, with regard to separating more effectively the anti-slavery Northern from the pro-slavery Southern wing of the Democracy, it would have been better if the reelection of Douglas had not been opposed.

The party warfare was hotly continued in all parts of the state from early summer till election day in November. Besides the seven joint debates, both Douglas and Lincoln spoke scores of times separately, and numerous other speakers from Illinois and other states contributed incessantly to the agitation. The two leaders visited almost every county in the state. I heard four of the joint debates, and six other speeches by Lincoln and eight by his competitor. Of course, the later efforts became substantial repetitions of the preceding ones, and to listen to them grew more and more tiresome to me. As I had seen something of political campaigns before, this one did not exercise the full charm of novelty upon me. Still, even if I had been a far more callous observer, I could not have helped being struck with the efficient party organizations, the skillful tactics of the managers, the remarkable feats of popular oratory, and the earnestness and enthusiasm of the audiences I witnessed. It was a most instructive object-lesson in practical party politics, and filled me with admiration for the Anglo-American method of working out popular destiny.

In other respects, my experiences were not altogether agreeable. It was a very hot summer, and I was obliged to travel almost continuously. Illinois had then only about a million and a half of inhabitants, poorly constructed railroads, and bad country roads, over which latter I had to journey quite as much as over the former. The taverns in town and country, as a rule, were wretched; and, as I moved about with the candidates and their followers and encountered crowds everywhere, I fared miserably in many places. Especially in the southern part of the state, then known as “Egypt” and mostly inhabited by settlers from the Southern states, food and lodging were nearly always simply abominable. I still vividly remember the day of semi-starvation, and the night with half-a-dozen room-mates, I passed at Jonesboro’, where the third joint debate took place.

I saw more of Illinois than I have since seen of any other state in the Union, and I acquired a thorough faith, based on the immeasurable fertility of her prairies, in the great growth that she has since attained. I also formed many valuable acquaintances, a number of which have continued to this day. It was then that I first saw my lifelong friend Horace White, who accompanied Mr. Lincoln as the representative of the Chicago Tribune, and R. R. Hitt, the official stenographer of the Republican candidate. He was one of the most skilled shorthand writers in the country, and his success as such led in due time to his appointment as reporter of the United States Supreme Court. This position he resigned for a successful career as diplomat and Congressman.

I firmly believe that, if Stephen A. Douglas had lived, he would have had a brilliant national career. Freed by the Southern rebellion from all identification with pro-slavery interests, the road would have been open to the highest fame and position for which his unusual talents qualified him. As I took final leave of him and Lincoln, doubtless neither of them had any idea that within two years they would be rivals again in the Presidential race. I had it from Lincoln’s own lips that the United States Senatorship was the greatest political height he at the time expected to climb. He was full of doubt, too, of his ability to secure the majority of the Legislature against Douglas. These confidences he imparted to me on a special occasion which I must not omit to mention in detail before leaving this subject.

He and I met accidentally, about nine o’clock on a hot, sultry evening, at a flag railroad station about twenty miles west of Springfield, on my return from a great meeting at Petersburg in Menard County. He had been driven to the station in a buggy and left there alone. I was already there. The train that we intended to take for Springfield was about due. After vainly waiting for half an hour for its arrival, a thunderstorm compelled us to take refuge in an empty freight car standing on a side track, there being no buildings of any sort at the station. We squatted down on the floor of the car and fell to talking on all sorts of subjects. It was then and there he told me that, when he was clerking in a country store, his highest political ambition was to be a member of the state Legislature. “Since then, of course,” he said laughingly, “I have grown some, but my friends got me into THIS business [meaning the canvass]. I did not consider myself qualified for the United States Senate, and it took me a long time to persuade myself that I was. Now, to be sure,” he continued, with another of his peculiar laughs, “I am convinced that I am good enough for it; but, in spite of it all, I am saying to myself every day: ‘It is too big a thing for you; you will never get it.’ Mary [his wife] insists, however, that I am going to be Senator and President of the United States, too.” These last words he followed with a roar of laughter, with his arms around his knees, and shaking all over with mirth at his wife’s ambition. “Just think,” he exclaimed, “of such a sucker as me as President!”

He then fell to asking questions regarding my antecedents, and expressed some surprise at my fluent use of English after so short a residence in the United States. Next he wanted to know whether it was true that most of the educated people in Germany were “infidels.” I answered that they were not openly professed infidels, but such a conclusion might be drawn from the fact that most of them were not church-goers. “I do not wonder at that,” he rejoined; “my own inclination is that way.” I ventured to give expression to my own disbelief in the doctrine of the Christian Church relative to the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, and immortality. This led him to put other questions to me to draw me out. He did not commit himself, but I received the impression that he was of my own way of thinking. It was no surprise to me, therefore, to find in the writings of his biographers Ward Hill Lamon and W. H. Herndon that I had correctly understood him. Our talk continued till half-past ten, when the belated train arrived. I cherish this accidental rencontre as one of my most precious recollections, since my companion of that night has become one of the greatest figures in history.

I went from Jonesboro’ to Chicago, and remained there till after the election. I considered the outcome so uncertain that I did not venture any predictions in my correspondence. Douglas himself, I knew, was much in doubt; Lincoln and his friends were very confident, and therefore bitterly disappointed by the result.


[In 1859 Mr. Villard went as correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial to Colorado to report upon the newly discovered gold regions. On his return journey over the plains, which was made in a two-horse wagon, there occurred the meeting described by him as follows:–]

About thirty miles from St. Joseph an extraordinary incident occurred. A buggy with two occupants was coming toward us over the open prairie. As it approached, I thought I recognized one of them, and, sure enough, it turned out to be no less a person than Abraham Lincoln! I stopped the wagon, called him by name, and jumped off to shake hands. He did not recognize me with my full beard and pioneer’s costume. When I said, “Don’t you know me?” and gave my name, he looked at me, most amazed, and then burst out laughing. “Why, good gracious! you look like a real Pike’s Peaker.” His surprise at this unexpected meeting was as great as mine. He was on a lecturing tour through Kansas. It was a cold morning, and the wind blew cuttingly from the northwest. He was shivering in the open buggy, without even a roof over it, in a short overcoat, and without any covering for his legs. I offered him one of my buffalo robes, which he gratefully accepted. He undertook, of course, to return it to me, but I never saw it again. After ten minutes’ chat, we separated. The next time I saw him he was the Republican candidate for the Presidency.


[In the last days of November, 1860, the Associated Press sent Mr. Villard to Springfield, Illinois, to report current events at that place by telegraph, until the departure of Mr. Lincoln for Washington. This duty brought Mr. Villard into daily relations with the President-elect, who gave him a most friendly welcome and bade him ask for information at any time he wished it.]

Mr. Lincoln soon found, after his election, that his modest two-story frame dwelling was altogether inadequate for the throng of local callers and of visitors from a distance, and, accordingly, he gladly availed himself of the offer of the use of the governor’s room in the Capitol building. On my arrival, he had already commenced spending a good part of each day in it. He appeared daily, except Sundays, between nine and ten o’clock, and held a reception till noon, to which all comers were admitted, without even the formality of first sending in cards. Whoever chose to call received the same hearty greeting. At noon, he went home to dinner and reappeared at about two. Then his correspondence was given proper attention, and visitors of distinction were seen by special appointment at either the State House or the hotel. Occasionally, but very rarely, he passed some time in his law office. In the evening, old friends called at his home for the exchange of news and political views. At times, when important news was expected, he would go to the telegraph or newspaper offices after supper, and stay there till late. Altogether, probably no other president-elect was so approachable to everybody, at least during the first weeks of my stay. But he found in the end, as was to be expected, that this popular practice involved a good deal of fatigue, and that he needed more time for himself; and the hours he gave up to the public were gradually restricted.

I was present almost daily for more or less time during his morning reception. I generally remained a silent listener, as I could get at him at other hours when I was in need of information. It was a most interesting study to watch the manner of his intercourse with callers. As a rule, he showed remarkable tact in dealing with each of them, whether they were rough-looking Sangamon County farmers still addressing him familiarly as “Abe,” sleek and pert commercial travelers, staid merchants, sharp politicians, or preachers, lawyers, or other professional men. He showed a very quick and shrewd perception of and adaptation to individual characteristics and peculiarities. He never evaded a proper question, or failed to give a fit answer. He was ever ready for an argument, which always had an original flavor, and, as a rule, he got the better in the discussion. There was, however, one limitation to the freedom of his talks with his visitors. A great many of them naturally tried to draw him out as to his future policy as President regarding the secession movement in the South, but he would not commit himself. The most remarkable and attractive feature of those daily “levees,” however, was his constant indulgence of his story-telling propensity. Of course, all the visitors had heard of it and were eager for the privilege of listening to a practical illustration of his preeminence in that line. He knew this, and took special delight in meeting their wishes. he never was at a loss for a story or an anecdote to explain a meaning or enforce a point, the aptness of which was always perfect. His supply was apparently inexhaustible, and the stories sounded so real that it was hard to determine whether he repeated what he had heard from others, or had invented himself.

None of his hearers enjoyed the wit–and wit was an unfailing ingredient–of his stories half as much as he did himself. It was a joy indeed to see the effect upon him. A high-pitched laughter lighted up his otherwise melancholy countenance with thorough merriment. His body shook all over with gleeful emotion, and when he felt particularly good over his performance, he followed his habit of drawing his knees, with his arms around them, up to his very face, as I had seen him do in 1858. I am sorry to state that he often allowed himself altogether too much license in the concoction of the stories. he seemed to be bent upon making his hit by fair means or foul. In other word, he never hesitated to tell a coarse or even outright nasty story, if it served his purpose. All his personal friends could bear testimony on this point. It was a notorious fact that this fondness for low talk clung to him even in the White House. More than once I heard him “with malice aforethought” get off purposely some repulsive fiction in order to rid himself of an uncomfortable caller. Again and again I felt disgust and humiliation that such a person should have been called upon to direct the destinies of a great nation in the direst period of its history. Yet his achievements during the next few years proved him to be one of the great leaders of mankind in adversity, in whom low leanings only set off more strikingly his better qualities. At the time of which I speak, I could not have persuaded myself that the man might possibly possess true greatness of mind and nobility of heart. I do not wish to convey the idea, however, that he was mainly given to trivialities and vulgarities in his conversation; for, in spite of his frequent outbreaks of low humor, his was really a very sober and serious nature, and even inclined to gloominess to such an extent that all his biographers have attributed a strongly melancholic disposition to him.

I often availed myself of his authorization to come to him at any time for information. There were two questions in which the public, of course, felt the deepest interest, and upon which I was expected to supply light, namely, the composition of his Cabinet, and his views upon the secession movement that was daily growing in extent and strength. As to the former, he gave me to understand early, by indirection, that, as everybody expected, William H. Seward and S.P. Chase, his competitors for the presidential nomination, would be among his constitutional advisers. It was hardly possible for him not to recognize them, and he steadily turned a deaf ear to the remonstrances that were made against them as “extreme men” by leading politicians from the Border States, particularly from Kentucky and Missouri. As to the remaining members of his Cabinet, they were definitely selected much later, and after a protracted and wearisome tussle with the delegations of various states that came to Springfield to urge the claims of their “favorite sons.” I shall refer again to this subject.

No one who heard him talk upon the other question could fail to discover his “other side,” and to be impressed with his deep earnestness, his anxious contemplation of public affairs, and his thorough sense of the extraordinary responsibilities that were coming upon him. He never refused to talk with me about secession, but generally evaded answers to specific interrogatories, and confined himself to generalization. I was present at a number of conversations which he had with leading public men upon the same subject, when he showed the same reserve. He did not hesitate to say that the Union ought to, and in his opinion would, be preserved, and to go into long arguments in support of the proposition, based upon the history of the republic, the homogeneity of the population, the natural features of the country, such as the common coast, the rivers and mountains, that compelled political and commercial unity. But he could not be got to say what he would do in the face of Southern secession, except that as President he should be sworn to maintain the Constitution of the United States, and that he was therefore bound to fulfill that duty. He met in the same general way the frequent questions whether he should consider it his duty to resort to coercion by force of arms against the states engaged in attempts to secede. In connection therewith I understood him, however, several times to express doubts as to the practicability of holding the slave states in the Union by main force, if they were all determined to break it up. He was often embarrassed by efforts of radical anti-slavery men to get something out of him in encouragement of their hopes that the crisis would result in the abolition of slavery. He did not respond as they wished, and made it clear that he did not desire to be considered an “abolitionist,” and that he still held the opinion that property in slaves was entitled to protection under the Constitution, and that its owners could not be deprived of it without due compensation. Consciously or unconsciously, he, like everybody else, must have been influenced in his views by current events. As political passion in the South rose higher and higher, and actual defiance of Federal authority by deeds of violence occurred almost daily after his election, culminating in the formal secession of seven states and the establishment of the Southern Confederacy under Jefferson Davis at Montgomery, Alabama, the belief, which he doubtless had originally, that by a conciliatory course as President he could pacify the rebellious states, must have become shaken. Still, I think I interpret his views up to the time of his departure for Washington correctly in saying that he had not lost faith in the preservation of peace between the North and the South, and he certainly did not dream that his principal duty would be to raise great armies and fleets, and the means to maintain them, for the suppression of the most determined and sanguinary rebellion, in defense of slavery, that our planet ever witnessed.

The Jacksonian “doctrine” that “to the victors belong the spoils” was still so universally the creed of all politicians, that it was taken for granted there would be a change not only in all the principal, but also in all the minor, Federal offices. It was also expected that the other time-honored party practice of a division of executive patronage among the several states would be carried out. Accordingly there appeared deputations from all the Northern and Border States at Springfield to put in their respective claims for recognition. Some of them came not only once, but several times. From a number of states several delegations turned up, representing rival factions in the Republican ranks, each pretending to be the rightful claimant. Almost every state presented candidates for the Cabinet and for the principal diplomatic and departmental offices. The hotel was the principal haunt of the place-hunters. The tricks, the intrigues, and the manoeuvres that were practiced by them in pursuit of their aims came nearly all within the range of my observation, as it was my duty to furnish the earliest possible news of their success or failure. As a rule, the various sets of spoilsmen were very willing to take me into their confidence, but it was not always easy to distinguish what was true in their communications from what they wished me to say to the press purely in furtherance of their interests. Among the political visitors the most prominent I met were: Simon Cameron, S.P. Chase, Thurlow Weed, Lyman Trumbull, N.B. Judd, Richard J. Oglesby, Francis P. Blair, Sr. and Jr., B. Gratz Brown, William Dennison, D.C. Carter of Ohio, Henry J. Winter, and Oliver P. Morton. Thurlow Weed was by far the most interesting figure and the most astute operator among them all.

From what I have said, it will be understood that the President-elect had a hard time of it with the office-seekers. But as he himself was a thorough believer in the doctrine of rotation in office, he felt it his duty to submit to this tribulation. The Cabinet appointments, other than those already named, were especially troublesome to him. There was an intense struggle between Indiana and Illinois, most embarrassing inasmuch as there were several candidates from his own state, all intimate personal friends. Then came the bitter contest between the Border States of Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, and the Pennsylvania cabals pro and contra Simon Cameron. Amidst all his perplexities, Lincoln displayed a good deal of patience and shrewdness in dealing with these personal problems. His never-failing stories helped many times to heal wounded feelings and mitigate disappointments. But he gradually showed the wear and tear of these continuous visitations, and finally looked so careworn as to excite one’s compassion.


During the month of January, 1861, there appeared in Springfield one W. S. Wood, a former hotel manager and organizer of pleasure excursions, I believe, from the interior of New York state, who, on the recommendation of Thurlow Weed, was to take charge of all the arrangements for the journey of the President-elect to Washington. He was a man of comely appearance, greatly impressed with the importance of his mission, and inclined to assume airs of consequence and condescension. As he showed a disposition to ignore me, I made a direct appeal to Mr. Lincoln, who instructed him that I was to be one of the presidential party. In fact, I was the only member of the press forming part of it as far as Cincinnati, although Messrs. Nicolay and Hay, for some unexplained reason, fail to mention me in naming the members of the party.

The start on the memorable journey was made shortly after eight o’clock on the morning of Monday, February 11. It was a clear, crisp winter day. Only about one hundred people, mostly personal friends, were assembled at the station to shake hands for the last time with their distinguished townsman. It was not strange that he yielded to the sad feelings which must have moved him at the thought of what lay behind and what was before him, and gave them utterance in a pathetic formal farewell to the gathering crowd, as follows:–

“My Friends,–No one not in my position can appreciate the sadness I feel at this parting. To this people I owe all that I am. Here I have lived more than a quarter of a century; here my children were born, and here one of them lies buried. I know not how soon I shall see you again. A duty devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and in the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support; and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain. Again I bid you all an affectionate farewell.”

I reproduce this here, as but for me it would not have been preserved in the exact form in which it was delivered. It was entirely extemporized, and, knowing this, I prevailed on Mr. Lincoln, immediately after starting, to write it out for me on a “pad.” I sent it over the wires from the first telegraph station. I kept the pencil manuscript for some time, but, unfortunately, lost it in my wanderings in the course of the civil war.

Our traveling companions at the start were (besides Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their three sons) W.S. Wood; J.G. Nicolay and John Hay; two old personal friends of Mr. Lincoln, Judge David Davis of Bloomington, afterwards Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and N.B. Judd of Chicago, who had the promise of the Secretaryship of the Interior; Dr. W. S. Wallace, a brother-in-law; Lockwood Todd, a relative of Mrs. Lincoln, who was employed on several important political missions during the next few months; and Ward Hill Lamon, a lawyer of Bloomington, who afterwards became United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, and as such a sort of major-domo at the White House, and finally the author of a biography of Abraham Lincoln. For describing him in this as an infidel Lamon was much and unjustly attacked. He brought a banjo along, and amused us with negro songs. There was also a military escort, consisting of Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner, the white-haired commander of a cavalry regiment of the regular army, and of Major David Hunter, Captain John Pope, and Captain Hazard of the same service. Colonel Sumner, Major Hunter, and Captain Pope became well-known commanding generals during the war. Another “military” character, a sort of pet of Mr. Lincoln, was Colonel E. E. Ellsworth, who, though a mere youth, of small but broad figure, curly black head, and handsome features, had achieved considerable local notoriety as a captain of a crack “Zouave” militia company in Chicago. He was one of the first victims of the civil war, being shot by a rebel while raising the United States flag at Alexandria Virginia.

The party had a special train, composed at first only of an ordinary passenger car,–there were no parlor or drawing-room or sleeping cars in those days,–a baggage-car, and engine. The first day’s journey took us from the capital of Illinois to that of Indiana. Until we reached the boundary of the latter state, the demonstrations along the route were insignificant, except at Decatur, where a great crowd, headed by Richard J. Oglesby, then a hotel-keeper, but subsequently a general in the war, Governor, and United States Senator, greeted the future Chief Magistrate, who delivered another farewell speech. At the boundary, the train was boarded by a large delegation of leading Indianians, including Schuyler Colfax, Henry S. Lane, Caleb B. Smith, and Thomas H. Nelson. At Lafayette, a great crowd awaited our coming, and the President-elect had to appear and speak to them. At Indianapolis, where the first day’s journey ended, he was formally welcomed by Governor Oliver P. Morton, and replied to him at length. His speech was remarkable for the first public intimation that he should consider it his duty as President to retake the properties of the United States, including the forts unlawfully seized by the rebellious states, and otherwise reestablish the authority of the Federal Government.

The next stage of the journey was from Indianapolis to Cincinnati; the third, from Cincinnati to Columbus; the fourth, from Columbus to Pittsburgh; the fifth, from Pittsburgh to Cleveland; the sixth, from Cleveland to Buffalo, where a rest was taken over Sunday. The eighth day the journey was continued as far as Albany, and on the following day we reached New York. Everywhere there were formal welcomes by the state or municipal authorities and by great crowds of people, with brass bands, and public and private receptions. In different localities pleasant variations were offered in the way of serenades, torchlight processions, and gala theatrical performances. Altogether, the President had every reason to feel flattered and encouraged by the demonstrations in his honor. But the journey was a very great strain upon his physical and mental strength, and he was well-nigh worn out when he reached Buffalo. He must have spoken at least fifty times during the week. In the kindness of his heart–not from any love of adulation, for he really felt very awkward about it–he never refused to respond to a call for his appearance wherever the train stopped. While he thus satisfied the public curiosity, he disappointed, by his appearance, most of those who saw him for the first time. I could see that impression clearly written on the faces of his rustic audiences. Nor was this surprising, for they certainly saw the most unprepossessing features, the gawkiest figure, and the most awkward manners. Lincoln always had an embarrassed air, too, like a country clodhopper appearing in fashionable society, and was nearly always stiff and unhappy in his off-hand remarks. The least creditable performance en route was his attempt to say something on the question of tariff legislation in his Pittsburgh speech. What he said was really nothing but crude, ignorant twaddle, without point or meaning. It proved him to be the veriest novice in economic matters, and strengthened my doubts as to his capacity for the high office he was to fill. So poor was his talk that most of the Republican papers, while they printed it, abstained from comment.

After ten days of the wearisome sameness of the “performances” at the several halting-places, I was very sick of the “traveling show,” and I therefore asked to be relieved from my duties on reaching new York. My request was granted, and I remained behind. It turned out that I lost only the reception in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, as the journey was cut short by the incognito night run of the President from Harrisburg to Washington. This sudden move on his part created at the time considerable disappointment, even among his warmest political followers, being regarded as an evidence of unwarranted fear. But subsequent events and developments proved his course to have been a wise one.