His personal touch with Gettysburg, by telegraph, mail, courier and by a throng of associations, made it a place of great realities to him. Just after the battle there, a woman had come to his office, the doorman saying she had been “crying and taking on” for several days trying to see the President. Her husband and three sons were in the army. On part of her husband’s pay she had lived for a time, till money from him stopped coming. She was hard put to scrape a living and needed one of her boys to help.
The President listened to her, standing at a fireplace, hands behind him, head bowed, motionless. The woman finished her plea. Slowly and almost as if talking to himself alone the words came and only those words: “I have two, and you have none.” He crossed the room, wrote an order for the military discharge of one of her sons. On a special sheet of paper he wrote full and detailed instructions where to go and what to say in order to get her boy back.
In a few days the doorman told the President the same woman was again on hand crying and taking on. “Let her in,” was the word. She had found doors opening to her and officials ready to help on seeing the President’s written words she carried. She had located her boy’s camp, regiment, company. She had found him, yes, wounded at Gettysburg, dying in a hospital, and had followed him to the grave. And, she begged, would the President now give her the next one of her boys?
As before he stood at the fireplace, hands behind him, head bent low, motionless. Slowly and almost as if talking to himself alone the words came and as before only those words: “I have two, and you have none.” He crossed the room to his desk and began writing. As though nothing else was to do she followed, stood by his chair as he wrote, put her hand on the President’s head, smoothed his thick and disorderly hair with motherly fingers. He signed an order giving her the next of her boys, stood up, put the priceless paper in her hand as he choked out the one word, “There!” and with long quick steps was gone from the room with her sobs and cries of thanks in his ears.
Thus the Kentuckian, James Speed, gathered the incident and told it. By many strange ways Gettysburg was to Lincoln a fact in crimson mist.