Six Months at the White House/LXXIV
"Good morning, Abe!" was the greeting addressed to the President, as we sat together in his office one morning,—he absorbed at his desk, and I with my pencil. I looked up in astonishment at the unaccustomed familiarity.
"Why, Dennis," returned Mr. Lincoln, "is this you?"
"Yes, Abe," was the rejoinder; "I made up my mind I must come down and see you once while you were President, anyhow. So here I am, all the way from Sangamon."
Sitting down, side by side, it would have been difficult for one unfamiliar with democratic institutions to tell, by the appearance or conversation, which was the President and which the back-countryman, save that from time to time I overheard the man addressed as "Dennis" refer to family trials and hardships, and intimate that one object of his journey so far, was to see if his old friend "could not do something for one of his boys?"
The response to this was: "Now, Dennis, sit down and write out what you want, so that I can have it before me, and I will see what can be done."
I have always supposed that this was "Dennis Hanks," the early companion and friend of Mr. Lincoln; but my attention at the time being diverted, the matter passed out of my mind, and I neglected subsequently to inquire.
About this period—it may have been the following evening—the house was thrown into an uproar by a performance of little "Tad's." I was sitting in Mr. Nicolay's room, about ten o'clock when Robert Lincoln came in with a flushed face. "Well," said he, "I have just had a great row with the President of the United States!"
"What?" said I.
"Yes," he replied, "and very good cause there is for it, too. Do you know," he continued, "'Tad' went over to the War Department to-day, and Stanton, for the fun of the thing,—putting him a peg above the 'little corporal' of the French Government,—commissioned him 'lieutenant.' On the strength of this, what does 'Tad' do but go off and order a quantity of muskets sent to the house! Tonight he had the audacity to discharge the guard, and he then mustered all the gardeners and servants, gave them the guns, drilled them, and put them on duty in their place. I found it out an hour ago," continued Robert, "and thinking it a great shame, as the men had been hard at work all day, I went to father with it; but instead of punishing 'Tad,' as I think he ought, he evidently looks upon it as a good joke, and won't do anything about it!"
"Tad," however, presently went to bed, and then the men were quietly discharged. And so it happened that the presidential mansion was unguarded one night, at least, during the war!
The second week in July the whole country, and Washington in particular, was thrown into a fever of anxiety by the rebel raid upon that city under Early and Breckinridge. The night of Sunday, the 10th, I have always believed the city might have been captured had the enemy followed up his advantage. The defences were weak, and there were comparatively but few troops in the city or vicinity. All day Monday the excitement was at the highest pitch. At the White House the cannonading at Fort Stevens was distinctly heard throughout the day. During Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, the President visited the forts and outworks, part of the time accompanied by Mrs. Lincoln. While at Fort Stevens on Monday, both were imprudently exposed,—rifle-balls coming, in several instances, alarmingly near!
The almost defenceless condition of the city was the occasion of much censure. Some blamed General Halleck; others General Augur, the commander of the Department; others the Secretary of War; and still others the President.
Subsequently the rebel force returned to Richmond almost unharmed. I saw no one who appeared to take this more to heart than Mrs. Lincoln, who was inclined to lay the responsibility at the door of the Secretary of War.
Two or three weeks later, when tranquillity was perfectly restored, it was said that Stanton called upon the President and Mrs. Lincoln one evening at the "Soldiers' Home." In the course of conversation the Secretary said, playfully, "Mrs. Lincoln, I intend to have a full-length portrait of you painted, standing on the ramparts at Fort Stevens overlooking the fight!"
"That is very well," returned Mrs. Lincoln, very promptly; "and I can assure you of one thing, Mr. Secretary, if I had had a few ladies with me the Rebels would not have been permitted to get away as they did!"