White House Stables Burn Down

February 10, 1864

For the second day in a row, President Lincoln reviews court martial cases in the morning.  Artist Francis B. Carpenter observed: “Wednesday morning was devoted to the continued examination of the court-martial cases, to the great vexation of a score of political applicants, whom I could hear impatiently pacing the floor of the hall and waiting-room. At one o’clock, however, the doors were thrown open, and the throng admitted and dismissed, as rapidly as possible. I was much amused and interested, later in the day, in a variety of characters who presented themselves. First was an elderly lady, plainly but comfortably dressed, whose son was a prisoner in Baltimore. Her story, spun out to some length, was briefly this: Her son had been serving in the Rebel army. He heard that his sister was lying dead at home, and his mother at the supposed point of death. He determined to see them, and succeeded in getting through our lines undiscovered. He found his mother better. Before he got ready o return, he became very ill himself. She said she hid him in the house until he recovered, and on his way back to his regiment he was captured. He was now anxious to take the oath, and his mother assured the President that he should henceforth “have nothing to do with the Rebels.” Mr. Lincoln sat quietly through the story, his face in half shadow. As she finished he said, with some impatience, — ” Now this is a pretty story to come to me with, isn’t it? Your son came home from fighting against his country; he was sick; you secreted him, nursed him up, and when cured, started him off again to help destroy some more of our boys. Taken prisoner, trying to get through our lines, you now want me to let him off upon his oath.” “Yes,” said the woman, not in the least disconcerted, “and I give you my word, Mr. President, he shall never have anything more to do with the Rebels — never — I was always opposed to his joining them.” “Your word,” rejoined Mr. Lincoln dryly, “what do I know about your word?” He finally took the application, and writing something upon the back of it, returned it to her with the words, “Now, I want you to understand that I have done this just to get rid of you!” “Oh,” said she, “Mr. President, I have always heard that you were such a kind-hearted man, and now I know it is true.” And so, with much apparent satisfaction, she withdrew.”

Next came a Methodist minister by the name of “G.,” claiming to be the son of the inventor of iron-clad gunboats. He had understood that the President appointed the hospital chaplains, and he greatly desired such a place. Mr. Lincoln replied rather curtly, that he could do nothing for him. “But I was told, sir, that these appointments were made by the President,” said the gentleman, very respectfully. “I will just tell you how that is,” was the answer; “when there are vacancies I appoint, not without.” The clergyman here alluded to his having left with the private secretary a war sermon which he had lately preached. Stepping out, he returned with the pamphlet, saying, as he handed it to the President, “I suppose, sir, you have little time to read anything of this kind; but I shall be very glad to leave it with you.” Upon this he bowed himself out, and the Sermon was carelessly tossed aside, never to be thought of again by Mr. Lincoln.

Subsequently the sermon fell into my hands. The only thing I remember about it was the practical application of a professional incident. The clergyman one day fell in with two soldiers fighting. One had the other down, and was severely handling him. Rebuking the men, the one underneath responded very heartily, “Plase your riverince, I am willing to give up this minute, solely out of respect for your riverince.” And so the preacher thought the South should be made to say “in regard to the Constitution.”

President Lincoln writes Edwin M. Stanton: “In January 1863, the Provost-Marshall at St. Louis, having taken the control of a certain church from one set of men and given it to another, I wrote Gen. Curtis on the subject, as follows:

“The U.S. Government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches.  When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but the churches, as such, must take care of themselves.  It will not do for the U.S. to appoint trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches.’

Some trouble remaining in this same case, I, on the 22nd. of Dec. 1863, in a letter to Mr. O.D. Filley, repeated the above language; and, among other things, added ‘I have never interfered, nor thought of interfering as to who shall or shall not preach in any church; nor have I knowingly, or believingly, tolerated any one else to so interfere by my authority.  If any one is so interfering by color of my authority, I would like to have it specifically made known to me…I will not have control of any church on any side.’

After having made these declarations in good faith, and in writing, you can conceive of may embarrassment at now having brought to me what purports to be a formal order of the War Department, bearing date Nov. 30th.  1863, giving Bishop Ames control and possession of all the Methodists churches in certain Southern Military Departments, whose pastors have not been appointed by a loyal Bishop or Bishops, and ordering the Military to aid him against any resistance which may be made to taking such possession and control.  What is to be done about it?

At night, the White House stables catch fire.  Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes: “Put crape on your hat.  Tonight at about 8:30, while Cooper was gone to his supper, the stables took fire and burned down.  The carriages & coupe alone were saved – everything else went – six horses, including the President’s, ours, and Tad’s two ponies, are ‘gone where the good horses go.’

Tad was in bitter tears at the loss of his ponies, and his heaviest grief was his recollection that one of them had belonged to Willie.

“Cooper thinks the stable must have been fired.  He had not been away from it an hour, and feels sure all was right when he left it.  Besides he says it was impossible for the fire to have caught from the gas.  Mrs. L. has discharged her coachman today, and Bob who is here suspects him of the work…”

Mr. Lincoln was particularly upset about the loss of deceased son’s Willie’s pony. According one of the army guards on duty, Smith Stimmel, he observed “the front door of the White House flew open with a jerk, and out came the President buttoning his coat around him, and said to me, “Where’s the fire, what’s burning?” I said, “It seems to be around in the vicinity of the stable.” With that he started off on a dog-trot down the steps and along the way leading to the stable. When he started to go to the fire, I thought to myself, “Old fellow, you are the man we are guarding, guess I’ll go along.” So I struck out on the double-quick and went with him, keeping close to his side; but he took such long strikes that his dog-trot was almost a dead run for me.

As soon as we got around where we could see what was burning, we saw that, sure enough, the White House stable was on fire. Quite a crowd had gathered by the time we got there, and the fire department was at work. Mr. Lincoln asked hastily if the horses had been taken out, and when told they had not, he rushed through the crowd and began to break open one of the large doors with his own hands; but the building was full of fire, and none of the horses could be saved. The ponies belonging to the little boys and the goats were all lost in the fire. It was a brick stable, and evidently had been burning for some time before it was discovered.

Another guard, Robert W. McBride, recalled: “After posting the sentinels, I went inside. Mr. Lincoln, with others, was standing in the East room, looking at the still burning stable. He was weeping. Little ‘Tad,’ his youngest son, explained his father’s emotion. His son Willie had died a short time before. He was his father’s favorite, and the stable contained a pony that had belonged to the dead boy. The thought of his dead child had come to his mind as soon as he learned the stables were on fire, and he had rushed out to try to save the pony from the flames.”

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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