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Gettysburg Address ... easy question? maybe
03-13-2018, 12:16 PM
Post: #33
RE: Gettysburg Address ... easy question? maybe
(12-14-2017 11:26 PM)ELCore Wrote:  In Recollected Words, the Fehrenbachers note that Gen. Sickle's recall of Lincoln's words (supposedly on July 5, 1863) was published in a newspaper on February 12, 1911 — almost 46 years after the fact. And that one James Rusling of Gen. Sickles staff published a very different account of Lincoln's words, in 1895. That is, there is more than a little doubt about what Lincoln may or may not have said to Sickles about Gettysburg.

The next time I saw Mr. Lincoln was on Sunday, July 5, 1863 – the Sunday after the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg – and it happened on this wise: Gettysburg was fought on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. In the great conflict of Thursday, July 2 – (held by many to have been the real battle of Gettysburg, because of the heavy fighting and tremendous Confederate losses, which sapped the life of Lee’s army) – General Daniel E. Sickles, of N. Y. commanding the Third Corps, had lost his right leg, and on the Sunday following (July 5) arrived in Washington, D.C., with his leg amputated above the knee. He was taken to a private dwelling on F Street, nearly opposite the Ebbitt House; and here I found him in a front room on the first floor, resting on a hospital stretcher, when I called to see him, about 3 P.M. I was then a Lieutenant Colonel on his staff, and naturally anxious to see my chief.

We had not been talking long, when his orderly announced his Excellency the President; and immediately afterward Mr. Lincoln walked into the room, accompanied by his son “Tad,” then a lad of perhaps ten or twelve years. He was staying out at the Soldier’s Home; but, having learned of General Sickles’s arrival in Washington, rode in on horseback to call on him, with a squad of cavalry as escort. They shook hands cordially, but pathetically; and it was easy to see that they both held each other in high esteem. They were both born politicians. They both loved the Union sincerely and heartily. And Sickles had already shown such high qualities, both as statesman and soldier, that Lincoln had been quick to perceive his weight and value in the great struggle then shaking the nation. Besides Sickles was a War Democrat, astute and able; and Mr. Lincoln was too shrewd a Republican to pass any of these by in those perilous war days.

Greetings over, Mr. Lincoln dropped into a chair, and, crossing his prodigious arms and legs, soon fell to questioning Sickles, as to all the phases of the combat at Gettysburg. He asked first, of course, as to General Sickles’s own ghastly wound; when and how it happened, and how he was getting on, and encouraged him; then passed next to our great casualties there, and how the wounded were being cared for; and finally came to the magnitude and significance of the victory there, and what General Meade proposed to do with it.

Sickles, recumbent on his stretcher, with a cigar between his fingers, puffing it leisurely, answered Mr. Lincoln in detail, but warily, as became so astute a man and soldier; and discussed the great battle and its probable consequences with a lucidity and ability remarkable in his condition then – enfeebled and exhausted as he was by the shock and danger of such a wound and amputation. Occasionally he would wince with pain, and call sharply to his orderly to wet his fevered stump with water. But he never dropped his cigar, nor lost the thread of narrative, nor missed the point of their discussion. His intellect certainly seemed as strong and astute as ever; and in an acquaintance with him of now over thirty-five years I never saw it work more accurately and keenly. He certainly got his side of the story of Gettysburg well into the President’s mind and heart that Sunday afternoon; and this doubtless stood him in good stead afterward, when Meade proposed to court-martial him for fighting so magnificently, if unskillfully ( which remains to be proved), on that bloody and historic July 2d.

“No,” replied Honest Old Abe: “no, we can’t do that. General Sickles may have erred; we are all liable to! But at any rate he fought superbly! He gave his leg – his life almost – for the Union! And now there is glory enough to go around for all.”

When Mr. Lincoln’s inquiries seemed ended General Sickles, after a puff or two of his cigar in silence, resumed the conversation substantially as follows:

“Well, Mr. President, I beg pardon, but what did you think about Gettysburg? What was your opinion of things while we were campaigning and fighting up there?”

“Oh,” replied Mr. Lincoln, I didn’t think much about it. I was not much concerned about you!”

“You were not?” rejoined Sickles, as if amazed. “Why, we heard that you Washington folds were a good deal excited, and you certainly had good cause to be. For it was ‘nip and tuck’ with us a good deal of the time!”

“Yes, I know that. And I suppose some of us were a little ‘rattled.’ Indeed, some of the Cabinet talked of Washington’s being captured, and ordered a gunboat or two here, and even went so far as to send some government archives abroad, and wanted me to go, too, but I refused. Stanton and Welles, I believe, were both ‘stampeded’ somewhat, and Seward, I reckon, too. But I said: ‘No, gentlemen, we are all right and we are going to win at Gettysburg;’ and we did, right handsomely. No, General Sickles, I had no fears of Gettysburg!”

“Why not, Mr. President? How was that? Pretty much everybody down here, we hear, was more or less panicky.”

“Yes, I expect, and a good many more than will own up now. But actually General Sickles, I had no fears of Gettysburg and if you really want to know I will tell you why. Of course, I don’t want you and Colonel Rusling here to say anything about this – at least not now. People might laugh if it got out, you know. But the fact is, in the very pinch of the campaign there, I went to my room one day and got down on my knees, and prayed Almighty God for victory at Gettysburg. I told Him that this was His country, and the war was His war, but that we really couldn’t stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. And then and there I made a solemn vow with my Maker, that if He would stand by you boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him.

“And after thus wrestling with the Almighty in prayer, I don’t know how it was, and it is not for me to explain, but, somehow or other, a sweet comfort crept into my soul, that God Almighty had taken the whole business there into His own hands, and we were bound to win at Gettysburg! And He did stand by you boys at Gettysburg, and now I will stand by Him. No, General Sickles, I had no fears of Gettysburg, and that is the why!”

Mr. Lincoln said all this with great solemnity and impressiveness, almost as Moses might have spoken when he came down from Sinai. When he had concluded there was a pause in the conversation, that nobody seemed disposed to break. Mr. Lincoln especially seemed to be communing the Infinite One again. The first to speak was General Sickles, who, between the puffs of his cigar, presently resumed, as follows:

“Well, Mr. President, what are you thinking about Vicksburg, nowadays? How are things getting along down there?”

“Oh,” answered Mr. Lincoln, very gravely, “I don’t quite know. Grant is still pegging away down there. As we used to say out in Illinois, I think he ‘will make a spoon or spoil a horn’ he gets through. Some of our folks think him slow and want me to remove him. But, to tell the truth, I kind of like U. S. Grant. He doesn’t worry and bother me. He isn’t shrieking for reinforcements all the time. He takes what troops we can safely give him, considering our big job all around – and we have a pretty big job in this war – and does the best he can with what he has got, and doesn’t grumble and scold all the while. Yes, I confess, I like General Grant – U. S. Grant – ‘Uncle Sam Grant!’ [dwelling humorously on this last name.] There is a great deal to him, first and last. And, Heaven helping me, unless something happens more than I see now. I mean to stand by Grant a good while yet.

“So, then, you have no fears about Vicksburg either, Mr. President?” added General Sickles.

“Well, no; I can’t say that I have,” replied Mr. Lincoln, very soberly: “the fact is – I have been praying to Almighty God for Vicksburg also. I have wrestled with Him, and told Him how much we need the Mississippi, and how it ought to flow unvexed to the sea, and how that great valley ought to be forever free, and I reckon He understands the whole business down there, ‘from A to Izzard.’ I have done the very best I could to help General Grant along, and all the rest of our generals, though some of them don’t think so, and now it is kind of borne in on me that somehow or other we are going to win at Vicksburg too. I can’t tell how soon. But I believe we will. For this will save the Mississippi and bisect the Confederacy; and be in line with God’s laws besides. And if Grant only does this thing down there – I don’t care much how, so he does it right – why, Grant is my man and I am his the rest of this war!”

Of course, Mr. Lincoln did not then know that Vicksburg had already fallen, on July 4, and that a United States gunboat was then speeding its way up the Mississippi to Cairo with the glorious news that was soon to thrill the country and the civilized world through and through. Gettysburg and Vicksburg! Our great twin Union victories! What were they not to us in that fateful summer of 1863? And what would have happened to the American Republic had both gone the other way? Of course, I do not pretend to say that Abraham Lincoln’s faith and prayers saved Gettysburg and Vicksburg. But they certainly did not do the Union any harm. And to him his serene confidence in victory there, because of these was a comfort and joy most beautiful to behold, on that memorable July 5, 1863.

I never saw Mr. Lincoln again. In November, 1863, while serving at General Meade’s headquarters (Army of the Potomac), I was suddenly ordered West to Tennessee (Department of the Cumberland) by Secretary Stanton; and I was still there in 1865, when Mr. Lincoln was assassinated.

[Laurie, I added the following for you regarding how well we can depend on people’s accounts of what has actually been said by Lincoln.]

But this conversation made a deep impression upon me, and seems worthy to be recorded here. Clearly it settles the questio vexata of his religious faith forever. Perhaps it should be added that I made notes of it shortly afterward, and have often told it since, and now give it here as literally as possible – much of it ipsissima verba (meaning “the precise words”).

-- James F. Rusling, “Men and Things I Saw in Civil War Days” (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1899), pages 12 - 17.

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
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RE: Gettysburg Address ... easy question? maybe - David Lockmiller - 03-13-2018 12:16 PM

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