In all seasons of exigency, it becomes a nation carefully to scrutinize its line of conduct, humbly to approach the Throne of Grace, and meekly to implore forgiveness, wisdom, and guidance.For reasons known only to Him, it has been decreed that this country should be the scene of unparalleled outrage, and this nation the monumental sufferer of the Nineteenth Century. With a heavy heart, but an undiminished confidence in our cause, I approach the performance of a duty rendered imperative by my sense of weakness before [the] almighty, and of justice to the people.‘It is necessary that I should tell you that the first Virginia campaign under Lieut. Gen. Grant, in whom I have every confidence, and in whose courage and fidelity the people do well to honor, is virtually closed. He has conducted his great enterprise with discreet ability. He has crippled their strength and defeated their plans.In view, however, of the situation in Virginia, the disaster at Red River, the delay at Charleston, and the general state of the country, I, Abraham Lincoln, do hereby recommend that Thursday, the 26th day of May, A.D., 1864, be solemnly set apart throughout these United States as a day of fasting humiliation and prayer.Deeming furthermore that the present condition of public affairs present as an extraordinary occasion, and in view of the pending expiration of the service of (100,000) one hundred thousand of our troops, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power vested in me by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth the citizens of the United States, between the ages of (18) eighteen and (45) forty-five years, to the aggregate number of (400,000) four hundred thousand, in order to suppress the exiting rebellious combinations, and to cause the due execution of the laws…. 12
President Lincoln’s reconsideration of that portion of the order which called for arrest of the editors probably was taken upon the advice of Dix, who had the case in hand from the start. The early arrest he promised may have been accomplished a few hours after the forgery appeared, although it was not until two days later that the New York Tribune heard a suspect was in Fort Lafayette. On Saturday morning, May 21, the Tribune said it ‘understood’ that Joseph Howard ‘one of the editors’ of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, had been arrested.The Tribune ‘understood’ correctly. Howard, city editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, was in a cell at Fort Lafayette, the confessed forger of the proclamation. Also in Fort Lafayette was a reporter for the Eagle, Francis A. Mallison, who admitted he participated in the hoax. Mallison was arrested by two detectives on Saturday morning, May 21, while on his way to a precinct house to report for the army draft.”15
The undersigned Editors and publishers of a portion of the daily press of the City of New York respectfully represent that the leading daily Journals of this City sustain very extended telegraphic news arrangements under an organization established in 1848 & known as the N[ew] York Associated Press which is controlled by its members acting through an executive committee a general Agent in this city & Assistant agents immediately responsible to the association at every important news centre throughout this country & Europe. Under the above named organization the rule has always been to transmit by telegraph all intelligence to the Office of the General Agent in this City & by him the same is properly prepared for publication & then written out by manifold process on tissue Paper & a copy of the same is sent simultaneously in sealed envelopes to each of the editors who are entitled to receive the same. From foregoing statement of facts your excellency will readily perceive that an ingenious rogue knowing the manner in which the editors were supplied with much of their telegraphic news could by selecting his time & opportunity easily impose upon editors or compositors the most wicked & fraudulent reports. On Wednesday morning at about three oclock a messenger who well counterfeited the regular messenger of the Associated Press presented himself at all save one of the editorial rooms of the Papers connected with the Associated Press and delivered to the foreman in the absence of the night editors sealed envelopes containing manifold Paper similar in all respects to that used by the association upon which was written a fraudulent Proclamation purporting to be signed by your excellency and countersigned by the honorable Secy of State. The very late hour at which the fraud was perpetrated left no time for consideration as to the authenticity or genuineness of the document & the copy in most of the offices was at once cut up into small pieces and given into the hands of the compositors & in two cases the fraud was not discovered or suspected even till after the whole morning edition of the Papers were printed off & distributed. The undersigned beg to state to your excellency that the fraud which succeeded with the world and the Journal of Commerce was one which from the circumstances attending it & the practices of the Associated Press was extremely natural and very liable to have succeeded in any daily newspaper establishment in this city & inasmuch as in the judgement of the undersigned the editors and proprietors of the Journal of Commerce & the world were innocent of any knowledge of wrong in the publication of the fraudulent document and also in view of the fact that the suspension by your excellencys orders of two Papers last evening has had the effect to awaken editors & publishers and news Agents telegraph Companies etc to the propriety of increased vigilance in their several duties the undersigned respectfully request that your excellency will be pleased to rescind the order under which the World and the Journal of Commerce were suppressed”18
Whereas, there has been wickedly and traitorously printed and published this morning, in the “New York World” and New York ‘Journal of Commerce‘ newspapers printed and published in the city of New York,—a false and spurious proclamation, purporting to be signed by the President, and to be countersigned by the Secretary of State, which publication is of a treasonable nature, designed to give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, and to the rebels now at war against the Government, and their aiders and abettors: you are therefore hereby commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison in any fort or military prison in you r command, the editors, proprietors and published of the aforesaid newspapers, and all such persons as, after public notice has been given of the falsehood of said publication, print and publish the same, with intent to give aid and comfort to the enemy;—and you will hold the persons so arrested, in close custody, until they can be brought to trial before a military commission, for their offense. You will also take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the ‘New York World‘ and ‘Journal of Commerce,’ and hold the same until further order, and prevent any further publication therefrom.20
In the autumn of 1862 I chanced to be associated with Mr. Lincoln in a transaction which, though innocent and commonplace in itself, was blown by rumor and surmise into a revolting and deplorable scandal. A conjectural life, although mean, misshapen, and very small at its birth, grew at length into a tempest of defamation, whose last echoes were not heard until its noble victim had yielded his life to a form of assassination only a trifle more deadly.Mr. Lincoln was painted as the prime mover in a scene of fiendish levity more atrocious than the world had ever witnessed since human nature was shamed and degraded by the capers of Nero and Commodus. I refer to what is known as the Antietam song-singing; and I propose to show that the popular construction put upon that incident was wholly destitute of truth.Mr. Lincoln persistently declined to read the harsh comments of the newspaper press and the fierce mouthings of platform orators; and under his advice I as persistently refuted to make any public statement concerning that ill-judged affair. He believed with Sir Walter Scott, that, if a cause of action is good, it needs no vindication from the actor’s motives; if bad, it can derive none. When I suggested to him that the slander ought to be refused,—that a word form him would silence his defamers,—Mr. Lincoln replied with great earnestness: ‘No, Hill; There has already been too much said about this falsehood. Let the thing alone. If I have not established character enough to give the lie to this charge, I can only say that I am mistaken in my own estimate of myself. In politics, every man must skin his own skunk. These fellows are welcome to the hide of this one. Its body has already given forth its unsavory odor.’The newspapers and the stump-speakers went on ‘stuffing the ears of men with false reports’ until the fall of 1864, when I showed Mr. Lincoln a letter, of which the following is a copy. It is far sample of hundreds of letters received by me about that time, the Antietam incident being then discussed with increased virulence and new accessions of false coloring.
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 10, 1864.WARD H. LAMON:
Dear Sir,—Enclosed is an extract from the New York ‘World‘ of Sept. 9, 1864:—-‘ONE OF MR. LINCOLN’S JOKES.—The second verse of our campaign song published on this page was probably suggested by an incident which occurred on the battle-field of Antietam a few days after the fight. While the President was driving over the field in an ambulance, accompanied by Marshal Lamon, General McClellan, and another officer, heavy details of men were engaged in the task of burying the dead. The ambulance had just reached the neighborhood of the old stone bridge, where the dead were piled highest, when Mr. Lincoln, suddenly slapping Marshal Lamon on the knee, exclaimed: ‘Com, Lamon, give us that song about Picayune Butler: McClellan has never heard it.’ ‘Not now, if you please,’ said General McClellan, with a shudder; ‘I would prefer to hear it some other place and time.”This story has been repeated in the New York ‘World‘ almost daily for the last three months. Until now it would have been useless to demand its authority. By this article it limits the inquiry to three persons as its authority,—Marshal Lamon, another officer, and General McClellan. That is a damaging story, if believed, cannot be disputed. That it is believed by some, or that they pretend to believe it, is evident by the accompanying verse from the doggerel, in which allusion is made to it:—‘Abe may crack his jolly jokes
O’er bloody fields of stricken battle,
While yet the ebbing life-tide smokes
From men that die like butchered cattle;
He, ere yet the guns grow cold,
To pimps and pets may crack his stories,’ etc.I wish to ask you, sir, in behalf of others as well as myself, whether any such occurrence took place; or if it did not take place, please to state who that ‘other officer’ was, if there was any such, in the ambulance in which the President ‘was driving over the field [of Antietam] whilst details of men were engaged in the task of burying the dead.’ You will confer a great favor by an immediate reply.Most respectfully your obedient servant,
A. J. PERKINS.Along with the above I submitted to Mr. Lincoln my own draft of what I conceived to be a suitable reply. The brutal directness and falsity of the ‘World‘s’ charge, and the still more brutal and insulting character of the doggerel with which it was garnished, impelled me to season my reply to Mr. Perkin’s letter with a large infusion of ‘vinegar and gall.’ After carefully reading both letters, Mr. Lincoln shook his head. ‘No, Lamon,’ said he, ‘I would not publish this reply; it is too belligerent in tone for so grave a matter. There is a heap of cussedness’ mixed up with your usual amiability, and you are at times too fond of a fight. If you were, I would simply state the facts as they were. I would give the statement as you have here, without the pepper and salt. Let me try my hand at it.’ He then took up a pen and wrote the following. It was to be copied by me and forwarded to Mr. Perkins as my refutation of the slander.The President has known me intimately for nearly twenty years, and has often heard me sing little ditties. The battle of Antietam was fought on the 17th day of September, 1862. On the first day of October, just two weeks after the battle, the President, with some others including myself, started from Washington to visit the Army, reaching Harper’s Ferry at noon of that day. In a short while General McClellan came from his headquarters near the battle-ground, joined the President, and with him reviewed the troops at Bolivar Heights that afternoon, and at night returned to his headquarters, leaving the President at Harper’s Ferry. On the morning of the second the President, with General Sumner, reviewed the troops respectively at Loudon Heights and Maryland Heights, and at about noon started to General McClellan’s headquarters, reaching there only in time to see every little before night. On the morning of the third all started on a review of the third corps and the cavalry, in the vicinity of the Antietam battle-ground. After getting through with General McClellan he and the President left their horses to be led, and went into an ambulance or ambulances to go to General Fitz John Porter’s corps, which was two or three miles distant. I am not sure whether the President and General McClellan were in the same ambulance, or in different ones; but myself and some others were in the same with the President. On the way, and on no part of the battleground, and on what suggestions I do not remember, the President asked me to sing the little sad song that follows, which he had often heard me sing, and had always seemed to like very much. I sang it. After it was over, some one of the party (I do not think it was the President) asked me to sing something else; and I sang two or three little comic things, of which ‘Picayune Butler’ was one. Porter’s corps was reached and reviewed; then the battle-ground was passed over, and the most noted parts examined; then, in succession, the cavalry and Franklin’s corps were reviewed, and the President and party returned to General McClellan’s headquarters at the end of a very hard, hot, and dusty day’s work. Next day, the 4th, the President and General McClellan visited such of the wounded as still remained in the vicinity, including the now lamented General [Israel B.] Richardson; then proceeded to and examined the South-Mountain battleground, at which point they parted,—General McClellan returning to his camp, and the President returning to Washington, seeing, on the way, General [George L. Hartsuff], who lay wounded at Frederick.This is the whole story of the singing and its surroundings. Neither General McClellan nor any one else made any objections to the singing; the place was not on the battlefield; the time was sixteen days after the battle; no dead body was seen during the whole time the President was absent from Washington, nor even a grave that had not been rained on since it was made.This perfectly truthful statement was written by Mr. Lincoln about the 12th of September, 1864, less than two years after the occurrence of the events therein described. It was done slowly, and with great deliberation and care. The statement, however, was never made public. Mr. Lincoln said to me: ‘You know, Hill, that this is the truth and the whole truth about that affair; but I dislike to appear as an apologist for an act of my own which I know was right. Keep this paper, and we will see about it.’ The momentous and all-engrossing events of the war caused the Antietam episode to be forgotten by the President for a time; the statement was not given to the press, but has remained in my possession until this day.
Mark how simple the explanation is! Mr. Lincoln did not ask me to sing ‘Picayune Butler.’ No song was sung on the battlefield. The singing occurred on the way from Burnside’s corps to Fitz John Porter’s corps, some distance from the battle-ground, and sixteen days after the battle. Moreover, Mr. Lincoln had said to me, ‘Lamon, sing one of your little sad songs,’—and thereby hangs a tale which is well worth the telling, as it illustrates a striking phase of Mr. Lincoln’s character which has never been fully revealed.I knew well what Mr. Lincoln meant by ‘the little sad songs.’ The sentiment that prompted him to call for such a song had its history, and one of deep and touching interest to me. One ‘little sad song’—a simple ballad entitled ‘Twenty Years Ago’—was, above all others, his favorite. He had no special fondness for operatic music; he loved simple ballads and ditties, such as the common people sing, whether of the comic or pathetic kind; but no one in the list touched his great heart as did the song of ‘Twenty Years Ago.’ Many a time, in the old days of our familiar friendship on the Illinois circuit, and often at the White House when he and I were alone, have I seen him in tears while I was rendering, in my poor way, that homely melody. The late Judge David Davis, the Hon. Leonard Swett, and Judge Corydon Beckwith were equally partial to the same ballad. Often have I seen those great men overcome by the peculiar charm they seemed to find in the sentiment and melody of that simple song. The following verses seemed to affect Mr. Lincoln more deeply than any of the others:—I’ve wandered to the village, Tom; I’ve sat beneath the tree
Upon the schoolhouse play-ground, that sheltered you and me:
But none were left to greet me, Tom, and few were left to know
Who played with us upon the green, some twenty years ago.Near by the spring, upon the elm you know I cut your name,
Your sweetheart’s just beneath it, Tom; and you did mine the same.
Some heartless wretch has peeled the bark,—’t was dying sure but slow,
Just as she died whose name you cut, some twenty years ago.My lids have long been dry, Tom, but tears came to my eyes;
I thought of her I loved so well, those early broken ties:
I visited the old churchyard, and took some flowers to strew
Upon the graves of those we loved, some twenty years ago.This is the song Mr. Lincoln called for, and the one I sang to him in the vicinity of Antietam. He was at the time weary and sad. As I well knew it would, the song only deepened his sadness. I then did what I had done many times before: I startled him from his melancholy by striking up a comic air, singing also a snatch from ‘Picayune butler,’ which broke the spell of ‘the little sad song,’ and restored somewhat his accustomed easy humor. It was not the first time I had pushed hilarity—simulated though it was—to an extreme for his sake. I had often recalled him from a pit of melancholy into which he was prone to descend, by a jest, a comic song, or a provoking sally of a startling kind; and Mr. Lincoln always thanked me afterward for my well-timed rudeness ‘of kind intent.'”‘36
- Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 31.
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 291.
- Frank Abial Flower, Edwin McMasters Stanton, p. 212-213.
- Ernest A. McKay, New York in the Civil War, p. 248.
- Augustus Maverick, Henry J. Raymond and the New York Press for Thirty Years, p. 320.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 347-349.
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 292.
- Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 32-33.
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 295.
- Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 68.
- Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 69.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Sydney H. Gay et al. to Abraham Lincoln1, May 19, 1864).
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 294.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 347-348 (May 18, 1864).
- George Milton Fort, Abraham Lincoln and the Fifth Column, p. 221.
- Frank Abial Flower, Edwin McMasters Stanton, p. 212-213.
- Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 69.
- David M. Black, The King of Fifth Avenue, p. 243.
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 299-300 (The World, May 23, 1864).
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 300 (The World, May 23, 1864).
- Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 36-37.
- Allan Nevins, editor, Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865: George Templeton Strong, p. 451 (May 23, 1864).
- Stephen W. Sears, editor, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 599 (Letter from Manton M. Marble to George B. McClellan, September 12, 1864).
- Stephen W. Sears, editor, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 599 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Manton M. Marble, September 17, 1864).
- Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 136.
- Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 112.
- Sidney David Brummer, Political History of New York State During the Period of the Civil War, p. 421 (New York World, September 12, 1864).
- Jean H. Baker, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography, p. 203 (New York World, September 22, 1864).
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 307.
- Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, p. 144-148.
- John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, p. 318-319.
- Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 100-101.
- Stephen W. Sears, editor, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 624 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Manton M. Marble, November 28, 1864).
- Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 455.
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 289.
- Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 116-117.
- Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 116-117.
- Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 24-25.
- Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 118.
- Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, p. 886.
Samuel L. M. Barlow
Henry Ward Beecher
David Davis (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
David Davis (Mr. Lincoln’s White House)
John A. Dix
Ward Hill Lamon (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Ward Hill Lamon (Mr. Lincoln’s White House)
Mary Todd Lincoln (Mr. Lincoln’s White House)
George B. McClellan
George B. McClellan (Mr. Lincoln’s White House)