Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version
"On To Richmond!"
It has been truly said that the Americans are an unmilitary but an intensely warlike
nation. Seward's belief that a war fury would sweep the country at the first cannon shot
was amply justified. Both North and South appeared to rise as one man, crying fiercely to
be led to battle.
The immediate effect on Washington had not been foreseen. That historic clash at
Baltimore between the city's mob and the Sixth Massachusetts en route to the capital, was
followed by an outburst of secession feeling in Maryland; by an attempt to isolate
Washington from the North. Railway tracks were torn up; telegraph wires were cut.
During several days Lincoln was entirely ignorant of what the North was doing. Was
there an efficient general response to his call for troops? Or was precious time being
squandered in preparation? Was it conceivable that the war fury was only talk? Looking
forth from the White House, he was a prisoner of the horizon; an impenetrable mystery, it
shut the capital in a ring of silence all but intolerable. Washington assumed the air of a
beleaguered city. General Scott hastily drew in the small forces which the government
had maintained in Maryland and Virginia. Government employees and loyal
Washingtonians were armed and began to drill. The White House became a barracks.
"Jim Lane," writes delightful John Hay in his diary, which is always cool, rippling,
sunny, no matter how acute the crisis, "Jim Lane marshalled his Kansas warriors today at
Williard's; tonight (they are in) the East Room." Hay's humor brightens the tragic
hour. He felt it his duty to report to Lincoln a "yarn" that had been told to him by some
charming women who had insisted on an interview; they had heard from "a dashing
Virginian" that inside forty-eight hours something would happen which would ring
through the world. The ladies thought this meant the capture or assassination of the
President. "Lincoln quietly grinned." But Hay who plainly enjoyed the episode, charming
women and all, had got himself into trouble. He had to do "some very dexterous lying to
calm the awakened fears of Mrs. Lincoln in regard to the assassination suspicion." Militia
were quartered in the Capitol, and Pennsylvania Avenue was a drill ground. At the
President's reception, the distinguished politician C. C. Clay, "wore with a sublimely
unconscious air three pistols and an 'Arkansas toothpick,' and looked like an admirable
vignette to twenty-five cents' worth of yellow covered romance."
But Hay's levity was all of the surface. Beneath it was intense anxiety. General Scott
reported that the Virginia militia, concentrating about Washington, were a formidable
menace, though he thought he was strong enough to hold out until relief should come. As
the days passed and nothing appeared upon that inscrutable horizon while the telegraph
remained silent, Lincoln became moodily distressed. One afternoon, "the business of the
day being over, the executive office deserted, after walking the floor alone in silent
thought for nearly a half-hour, he stopped and gazed long and wistfully out of the
window down the Potomac in the direction of the expected ships (bringing soldiers from
New York); and unconscious of other presence in the room, at length broke out with
irrepressible anguish in the repeated exclamation, 'Why don't they come! Why don't they
His unhappiness flashed into words while he was visiting those Massachusetts soldiers
who had been wounded on their way to Washington. "I don't believe there is any North. .