“Not Returning the Salute of the Sentinel”
On the afternoon of October 22d, information reached me of a move ment up the Potomac in the vicinity of Poolsville. Accompanied by a fellow correspondent I hastened to McClellan s headquarters. We found President Lincoln seated in the anteroom.
I had met him on several occasions, and he was well acquainted with my friend. He greeted us cordially, but sat down quickly, rested his head upon his hand, and seemed to be unusually agitated. His eyes were sunken, his countenance haggard, his whole demeanour that of one who was in trouble.
” Will you please step in here, Mr. President,” said an orderly from an adjoining room, from whence came the click of the telegraph. He soon came out, with his hands clasped upon his breast, his head bowed, his body bent as if he were carrying a great burden. He took no notice of any one, but, with downcast eyes and faltering steps, passed into the street and towards the Executive mansion.
” We have met with a sad disaster. Fifteen hundred men lost, and Colonel Baker killed,” said General Marcy.
It was that which had overwhelmed the President. Colonel Baker was his personal friend. They had long been intimately acquainted. In speaking of that event afterwards, Mr. Lincoln said that it smote him like a whirlwind in a desert. Few men have been appointed of God to bear such burdens as were laid upon President Lincoln. A distracted country, a people at war, all the foundations of society broken up ; the cares, trials, and perplexities which came every day without cessation, disaster upon disaster, the loss of those he loved, — Ellsworth, Baker, and his own darling Willie.
Quoted in “The boys of ’61; or, Four years of fighting”,by Coffin, Charles Carleton, p. 31
War correspondent Charles Carlton Coffin recalled how President Lincoln learned of the death of his friend Edward D. Baker at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff on October 21, 1861:
The Army of the Potomac was in camp on Arlington Heights, and at Alexandria McClellan was having his weekly reviews. There was much parade but no action. ‘All quiet on the Potomac,’ sent nightly by the correspondents to their papers, had become a by-word. The afternoon was lovely – a rare October day. I learned early in the day that something was going on up the Potomac near Edwards’ Ferry, by the troops under General [Nathaniel Banks]. What was going on no one knew, even at McClellan’s head-quarters. It was near sunset when, accompanied by a fellow-correspondent, I went once more to ascertain what was taking place. We entered the anteroom and sent our cards to General McClellan. While waiting, President Lincoln came in, recognized us, reached out his hand, spoke of the beauty of the afternoon, while waiting for the return of the young lieutenant who had gone to announce his arrival. The lines were deeper in the President’s face than when I saw him in his own home, the cheeks were more sunken. They were lines of care and anxiety. For eighteen months he had borne a burden such as has fallen upon few men – a burden as weighty as that which rested upon the great law-giver of Israel.
‘Please to walk this way,’ said the lieutenant.
We could hear the click of the telegraph in the adjoining room, and low conversation between the President and General McClellan, succeeded by silence, excepting the click-click of the instrument, which went on with its tale of disaster.
Five minutes passed, and then Mr. Lincoln, unattended, with bowed head, and tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks, his face pale and wan, his heart heaving with emotion, passed through the room. He almost fell as he stepped into the street, and we sprang involuntarily from our seats to render assistance, but he did not fall. With both hands pressed upon his heart he walked down the street, not returning the salute of the sentinel pacing his beat before the door.
General McClellan came a moment later. ‘I have not much news to give you,’ he said. ‘There has been a movement of troops across the Potomac at Edwards’ Ferry, under General Stone, and Colonel Baker is reported killed. That is about all I can give you.”2
2 Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time, pp. 170-172.
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April 22, 2016 at 23:10
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