"A marvelous collection of little-known accounts by people who met Lincoln. Their stories are often heartrending, and some will bring tears to the reader's eyes" William C. Harris, professor emeritus of history from North Carolina State University and author of Lincoln and the Border States
What was it like to meet our 16th President? Was he really as kind and honest as we perceive him to be today?
This astonishing new book is an inspiring and eye-opening collection of stories, anecdotes and quotes from people who sought out Lincoln for his wisdom, help or just his irresistible wit. He offered a patient ear to almost anyone who came to see him , and his compassion and understanding bettered the lives of hundreds who crossed his threshold.
From the lips of those who knew and met him, Conversations with Lincoln offers new insight into one of the most famous men in the world, and shows not just how passionate he was about the political principles he fought for, but how generous he was for his people, as well.
"This impressive collection presents vivid, detailed accounts of Abraham Lincoln from all phases of his life. Here we encounter more evidence of his generosity, his humanity, and his wisdom." Joan E. Cashin, Professor of History at Ohio State University and author of First Lady of the Confederacy
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A GIRL'S REQUEST
A determined young girl named Hannah Slater decided to pay a visit to President Lincoln one morning in early 1863. The previous year, her father had been severely wounded in the war while a captain in a New Jersey regiment, and he was now in danger of losing his desk job at the Chain Bridge commissary department due to the disfavor of a superior officer. Hannah had suggested that her father visit the president himself to plead his case, but, feeling that his troubles were too trivial to warrant an audience with the president, he refused. She thought about it all night and then resolved that, the very next day, she would take the case to the president herself, without her father's knowledge.
Bright and early the next morning I was up and dressed in my best Sunday frock, my hair carefully braided, with my prettiest hair-ribbons and hat; and leaving word that I had gone out to do an errand, I started for the White House.
The streets seemed quiet, and I wondered why. It was late in May, and the sun was high, so it did not occur to me that it was still early. I had quite a walk to the White House and when I reached there, no one seemed to be around. I went up through the great portico to the front door and rang the bell. After what seemed to me a long wait, a tall doorkeeper opened the door, and, looking much surprised to see me standing there, said bruskly,
"What do you want?"
"If you please, sir, I should like to see the President."
He looked at me in amazement. "Well," he said, "you certainly are making an early call. Don't you know the doors aren't open until nine o'clock?"
"No, sir," I replied, "I am a stranger here, and I don't know anything about your rules and regulations, and I haven't any idea what time it is."
"Well," he answered, "the President isn't even up yet, and anyway he's not receiving visitors these days. For two or three weeks he has not seen anyone except on urgent business."
"Oh!" I exclaimed, "My business is important! I must see him. My father is an Army officer and in trouble, and I must tell the President about it."
"Well," he replied, "if the President could see you, it would not be before eleven o'clock, and it's not seven yet. You would have a long wait, should he see you at all, which I think is doubtful. Do you live far from here?"
"Yes sir, I do."
"Well, which would you rather do, go home and come back, wait outdoors, or-would you like to come in?"
"If you please," I said, "I would like to come in."
"Very well," he decided, "you may go up to the second floor into the reception room; but remember, I don't believe you can see the President."
I went up as he directed and looked about the room, and out of the windows, enjoying especially the views out over the lovely grounds. By and by I began to hear stirrings above me and I decided the President must be getting up. After a long time I went across the hall and looked out of the front windows and saw crowds of people coming from every direction. At last the doors were opened, and by ten o'clock the rooms upstairs and down were packed. It was a distinguished-looking company; all the Army and Navy officers with gilt braid and buttons, and foreign diplomats in full regalia, and fashionably dressed women. And how anxious they all were to see the President! I heard one lady say:
"I have been coming here every day for three weeks hoping to see Mr. Lincoln, and have not succeeded in having an interview with him yet."
Another replied: "I have been coming every day for weeks without being able to see him. I want my son transferred from one hospital to another, and the authorities won't do it. I know if I could see President Lincoln for five minutes he would grant my request."
So one after another I heard these people telling of their daily disappointment, and I began to feel pretty hopeless. I was only a little girl; this was my first visit, and I knew I could never get up sufficient courage to come again if I failed this time. I had just about decided I had better go, when I saw the tall doorkeeper come in, looking all about for some one. There were Generals and Admirals, and all sorts of important-looking personages, and I supposed he was trying to find one of them. But suddenly I saw him beckoning to me. I looked at him questioningly, and he nodded. I went to him and he whispered,
"You may see the President now."
How can I describe my feelings? It seemed too good to be true, and yet, in spite of my happiness, I was so frightened I could scarcely move. I mustered up courage, however, to follow him. He opened a door and pushed me in: and there I was-all alone with the President.
Mr. Lincoln was sitting in an armchair in the farthest corner of the room. Seeing my timidity, he rose, and beckoning in a friendly way said: "Come this way, Sis; come this way."
His voice was so kind and gentle that all my fright left me immediately. He came in great strides to meet me, and taking me by the hand, welcomed me most cordially.
"And did you wish to see me?" he inquired.
"Yes, Mr. President," I replied, "My father is in trouble and I have come to tell you about it."
"Does your father know you have come?"
"Oh, no, Mr. President. He would not have allowed me to come if he had known anything about it. I wanted him to come, himself, to see you, but he said you were too burdened for him to trouble you, and he would not come. I stayed awake all last night thinking about his trouble and decided I would come myself. So before he was up, I slipped out of the house without his knowledge."
A kindly smile lighted President Lincoln's face and he said: "Come sit down and tell me all about it."
His sympathy made me feel at ease, and I told him all the story in detail. When I was telling him of Father's being wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg and of the necessity of the amputation of his leg, and of his and Mother's sufferings, he interrupted me.
"So your father was wounded at Fredericksburg?" he said.
"Yes, Mr. President," I answered.
He threw his head back on the chair, and as he clasped his hands before him and closed his eyes, a look of agony passed over his face. With a groan, he said: "Oh, what a terrible slaughter that was! Those dreadful days! Shall I ever forget them? No, never, never." Then recovering himself, he said: "Go on, my child, go on."
So I went on and told him all about our leaving our old home; of Father's appointment to Chain Bridge and of the indignity he had suffered; of his anxiety concerning the welfare of his big family; and how, only the day before, the Division Commander had seemed to threaten his removal.
When I was all through, the President said:
"My child, every day I am obliged to listen to many stories such as yours. How am I to know what you have told me is true?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Mr. President," I replied, "unless you are willing to take my word for it."
"That's just what I'm going to do," he said as he patted me on the shoulder. "I will thoroughly investigate this affair," and taking a notebook from his pocket, he made a memorandum of what I had told him. Then closing the book, he said: "Now, my child, you go home and tell your father not to worry any more about this. I will look into the matter myself, and I will see to it personally that no further injustice is done him. He can rest assured that he will either be retained in his present position or have a better one. It will come out all right, I can promise you."
Grasping his hand in both of mine, all I could say was: "Thank you so much, Mr. President."
"That's all right, my child, all right." And then rising he bade me good-bye with all the graciousness he would have shown some notable woman, and bowed me out.
I stood for a moment fairly dazed. How unbelievably marvelous it all seemed, and what a wonderful man our President was!
I fairly walked on air all the way home, and I could hardly wait for Father's return that evening. At last I saw him coming on his crutches, care-worn and worried. Mother met him at the door with the usual question,
"Well, Father, how have things gone today?"
"No better, Mother," he answered sadly.
Then I could restrain myself no longer and cried out, "It's all right, Father! Everything is going to be all right!"
"What's all right, child? What do you mean?"
"Well," I said, so happy that I could scarcely talk coherently, "I went to the White House today and saw the President and told him all about your trouble-"
"You went to see the President!" he interrupted, "What on earth did you do that for? I never dreamed of your doing such a thing! The President never heard of me. He doesn't know a thing about me. Why should he be troubled with my affairs?"
"Well," I replied, "you refused to go to him because you said you would not bother him with your troubles; so I went to him, myself. I told him all about it, and I have a message for you from Mr. Lincoln. He told me to tell you not to worry one bit more, that he would investigate the matter personally and you should either keep your present position or have a better one."
The expression on my father's face was a study. Bewilderment, amazement, incredulity, and joy were all mingled.
"Did I ever!" he cried. "Bless your heart!"
Gathering me in his arms he held me close, struggling to keep back the tears that were threatening.
The President kept his word. He did just what he said he would. In a few days, when the General made his next visit to the station, he was as courteous as he could be to Father.
"Good morning, Captain," he said, and came to Father's desk to transact business with him for the first time.
And after that, in all their relations, there was never the slightest shadow of unpleasantness.
I never saw the President to speak to him again. Within two years he was dead, and our hearts grieved as if he had been one of our own. But down through the years I have had this memory of the big-hearted, sympathetic man, burdened by affairs of state, beset by hundreds of people, as he sat patiently, unhurriedly, listening to the story of a little girl.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A Girl's Request
Chapter One: Back in Illinois
Chapter Two: Observing the President
Chapter Three: Kindness Personified
Chapter Four: "The Boy Shall Be Pardoned"
Chapter Five: Lincoln and the Soldiers
Postscript: A Legacy for All
A Note on Sources
About the Author