President Lincoln Sneaks out of Capital to Visit War Front

May 5, 1862

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to “please give fair and respectful consideration to the within recommendations of Miss [Dorothea] Dix” regard appointment of women nurses at Union army hospitals.  President Lincoln also visits with Navy Lieutenant John L. Worden, who had commanded the U.S.S. Monitor in the March battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack; Worden had been wounded in that encounter.

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes:  “After tea Mrs Browning, Miss Bushnell and myself called at the Presidents.  He was out and Mrs Lincoln was sick, so we saw neither of them.  We then went to Mr Sewards and spent an very pleasantly.”  In fact, President had left town with Secretary of War Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase aboard the revenue cutter Miami – bound down the Potomac to Fortress Monroe.   Because it was a Treasury Department ship, Chase was technically in charge.  The Lincoln officials also brought along General Egbert L. Viele, an engineer.   After dinner, the Union officials poured over maps of the war front.   As Secretary of the Navy later reported the story:“In the early part of May, the President accompanied by Secretaries Chase and Stanton, took a steamer to visit Fortress Monroe and the army under McClellan, then on the York peninsula.”

While descending the Potomac the attention of the party was directed to a string of boats nearly a mile in length on the Maryland shore, some fifty miles before Washington.  Inquiry was made as to the object of such an immense collection of miscellaneous water craft.  The pilot said he believed they were put there to oppose the ‘Merrimac,’ but the little ‘Monitor’ had taken care of her.  ‘Oh!’ said the President, pointing to the boats which lined the shore, ‘that is Stanton’s navy; that is the squadron that Welles would have nothing to do with, and about which he and Stanton had the dispute.  It was finally decided, I believe, that the War Department might have a fleet of its own to fight the ‘Merrimac,’ and there it is.  We were all a little scared at that time.  Mr. Welles felt bad enough, but was not enough scared to listen to Stanton’s scheme of blockading the river; said the fleet of boats would be useless, and if used, worse than useless.’

“Stanton, who was a little disconcerted by the President’s levity, said he had believed it was best to provide for an emergency, and should the ‘Merrimac’ now attempt to come up the river, the boats which he had procured and loaded might be found to answer a useful purpose in protecting Washington.

‘Your emergency,’ said Mr. Lincoln, ‘reminds me of a circumstance which took place in Illinois.  We had on our circuit a respectable lawyer named B—, noted for a remarkable development of his breast, the glands being enormous, more protuberent that those of many females.  In a conversation which took place among the lawyers at one of the hotels, there was a discussion regarding the singular development which, in a man, was almost a deformity, and could be no possible use.  B— controverted this, and said that, supposing he were to be cast away upon an uninhabited island, with no other human being but a nursing infant, for which he would have too provide.  In such an emergency, he had no doubt Providence would furnish, through him, nourishment for the child.’  This he said, remarked the President ‘with as much apparent sincerity as Stanton showed when he urged a navy composed of canalboats to stop the ‘Merrimac.’  I think B—’s paps to nurse an infant will be as serviceable, and required about as soon, as Stanton’s fleet to fight and keep back an iron frigate.  The preparation for an anticipated emergency, which is about as likely to occur in one case as the other, is very striking.’

Mr. Chase related to me this incident, which was afterwards, at his request, repeated by the President in the presence of others, to the great annoyance of Mr. Stanton, who never enjoyed the same anecdotical humors of the President if at his expense.”

Published in: on May 5, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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