Drama when the President Attends Ford’s Theater

May 28, 1862

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning wrote in his diary: At night went to the Presidents — Found him at the War Department, and spent sometime with him there he pointing out the position of the Rebel forces about Richmond, and of our on the March after Jackson on the upper Potomac.”  President Lincoln writes General George B. McClellan:

I am very glad of Gen. F. J. Porter’s victory. Still, if it was a total rout of the enemy, I am puzzled to know why the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad was not seized. Again, as you say you have all the Railroads but the Richmond and Fredericksburg, I am puzzled to see how, lacking that, you can have any, except the scrap from Richmond to West-Point. The scrap of the Virginia Central from Richmond to Hanover Junction, without more, is simply nothing.

That the whole force of the enemy is concentrating in Richmond, I think can not be certainly known to you or me. Saxton, at Harper’s Ferry, informs us that a large force (supposed to be Jackson’s and Ewells) forced his advance from Charlestown to-day. Gen. King telegraphs us from Frederick’sburg that contrabands give certain information that fifteen thousand left Hanover Junction Monday morning to re-inforce Jackson. I am painfully impressed with the importance of the struggle before you; and I shall aid you all I can consistently with my view of due regard to all points.

Later, President arrives late to join Mrs. Lincoln for a performance by opera star Clara Louise Kellogg at Ford’s Theater.  As aide William O. Stoddard recalled the story:

There is to be a concert of music to-night, instead of a theatrical performance, at Ford’s. A prima donna will sing there, with much help. She is one of the long procession of queens of song who are great for a season and then cease to be immortal, but she is advertised as the equal of any queen who has preceded her. Mrs. Lincoln has been urged to go, and to take the President with her, and she has succeeded in obtaining his assent. Down in the Red Room, just now, she was relating to two or three of us what a task it was, in spite of the fact that he is fond of music. He is also strongly averse to a swallowtailed coat and kids, and the battle was nearly lost over the latter. She has invited quite a party to fill the President’s box, and we are not wanted there. In fact, we have so much work on hand that we shall get in a little late, at the best.

So, in the result, does the President’s entire party, for he was detained by national business, and hardly was able to keep his promise to Mrs. Lincoln. He put one of his gloves on after he left the White House, but the other will never all go on, for there is a Manassas Gap created between its thumb and forefinger, which tells of weak leather and a strong right hand.

What a dense pack there is in the theatre, and how many volunteers must recently have been paid off!

There is an immense amount of loyalty, no doubt, in this assembly, for it rises as the President enters, and gives him a round of cheers, after vigorously stamping at the first indication of his presence. He has but just seated himself when a harsh, croaking voice in the middle aisle, loud enough to be heard all over the house, exclaims:

“He hasn’t any business here! That’s all he cares for his poor soldiers!”

There was a second of angry silence. “Put him out! Put him out!” But even louder than that is the indignant declaration uttered in a wrathful accent, telling of the Rhine, as well as of common sense:

“De President has a right to hees music! He ees goot to come! He shall haf hees music! Dot ees vot I shay! He shall haf hees music!”

The somebody in the middle aisle is discovered not to be a soldier, but the discovery is made by soldiers, and they are not making any noise over it whatever. They do not hurt him. They only hoist him up bodily and carry him to the door, and, as John Bunyan says, “I saw him no more.”

The President has seemingly paid no attention to the unpleasant little incident. The orchestra took a hint from somebody and struck up a storm of patriotic music, and now, as that dies away, out walks the prima donna, and Mr. Lincoln and all the volunteers present will have their music. Whether or not he will listen to it successfully is quite another matter.

Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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