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Tom Strong, Lincoln's Scout By Alfred Bishop Mason Characters: 16529

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Our War with Mexico-Kit Carson and His Lawyer, Abe Lincoln-Tom Goes to Lincoln's Inauguration-S. F. B. Morse, Inventor of the Telegraph-Tom Back in Washington.

In 1846, Mr. Strong, long enough out of Yale to have begun business and to have married, had heard his country's call and had helped her fight her unjust war with Mexico. General Grant, who saw his first fighting in this war and who fought well, says of it in his Memoirs that it was "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation."

Much more important things were happening here then than the Mexican War. In 1846 Elias Howe invented the sewing-machine. In 1847 Robert Hoe invented the rotary printing press. Great inventions like these are the real milestones of the path of progress.

Mr. Strong served as a private in the ranks throughout the war. He refused a commission offered him for gallantry in action because he knew he did not know enough then to command men. It is a rare man who knows that he does not know. His regiment was mustered out of service at the end of the war in New Orleans. The young soldier decided to go home by way of St. Louis because of his memories of that old town in the days when he had followed Fremont. He went again to the Planters' Hotel and there by lucky accident he met again the famous frontiersman Kit Carson. Carson was away from the plains he loved because of a lawsuit. A sharp speculator was trying to take away from him some land he had bought years ago near the town, which the growth of the town had now made quite valuable. Carson was heartily glad to see his "Tom-boy" once more. He insisted upon his staying several days, took him to court to hear the trial, and introduced him to his lawyer, a tall, gaunt, slab-sided, slouching, plain person from the neighboring State of Illinois. Everybody who knew him called him "Abe." His last name was Lincoln.

"I'd heard so much of Abe Lincoln," said Carson, "that when this speculator who's trying to do me hired all the big lawyers in St. Louis, I just went over to Springfield, Illinois, to get Abe. When I saw him I rather hesitated about hiring such a looking skeesicks, but when I came to talk with him, he did the hesitating. I asked him what he'd charge for defending a land-suit in St. Louis. He told me. I sez: 'All right. You're hired. You're my lawyer.'

"'Wait a bit,' sez he.

"'What for?' sez I. 'I'll pay what you said.'

"'That ain't all,' sez he. 'Before I take your money, Kit, I've got to know your side of the case is the right side.'

"'What difference does that make to a lawyer?' sez I.

"'It makes a heap o' difference to this lawyer,' sez he. 'You've got to prove your case to me before I'll try to prove it to the court. If you ain't in the right, Abe Lincoln won't be your lawyer.'

"Darned if he didn't make me prove I was in the right, too, before he'd touch my money. No wonder they call him 'Honest Abe.'"

It took Lincoln a couple of days to win Kit Carson's suit. During those two days young Strong saw much of him and came to admire the sterling qualities of the man. Lincoln, too, liked this young college-bred fellow from the East, unaffected, well-mannered, friendly, and gay. There was the beginning of a friendship between the Westerner and the Easterner. Thereafter they wrote each other occasionally. When Lincoln served his one brief term in Congress, Mr. Strong spent a week with him in Washington and asked him (but in vain) to visit him in New York.

So, when this new giant came out of the West and Illinois gave her greatest son to the country, as its President, Mr. Strong went to Washington to see him inaugurated and took with him his boy Tom, as his father had taken him in 1829 to Andrew Jackson's inauguration.

Washington was still a great shabby village, not much more attractive March 4, 1861, than it was March 4, 1829. The crowds at the two inaugurations were much alike. In both cases the favorite son of the West had won at the polls. In both cases the West swamped Washington. But in 1829 there was jubilant victory in the air. In 1861 there was somber anxiety. Seven Southern States had "seceded" and had formed another government. Other States were upon the brink of secession. Was the great democratic experiment of the world about to end in failure? Would there be civil war? What was this unknown man out of the West going to do? Could he do anything?

Mr. Strong and Tom, with a few thousand other people, went to the reception at the White House on the afternoon of March fourth. President Lincoln was laboriously shaking hands with everybody in the long line. Almost every one of them seemed to be asking him for something. He was weary long before Tom and his father reached him, but his face brightened as he saw them. A boy always meant a great deal to Abraham Lincoln. "There may be so much in a boy," he used to say. He greeted the two warmly.

"Howdy, Strong? Glad to see you. This your boy? Howdy, sonny?"

Tom did not enjoy being called "sonny" much more than he had enjoyed being called "bub," but he was glad to have this big man with a woman's smile call him anything. He wrung the President's offered hand, stammered something shyly, and was passing on with his father, when Lincoln said:

"Hold on a minute, Strong. You haven't asked me for anything."

"I've nothing to ask for, Mr. President. I'm not here to beg for an office."

"Good gracious! You're the only man in Washington of that kind, I believe. Come to see me tomorrow morning, will you?"

"Most gladly, sir."

The impatient man behind them pushed them on. They heard him begin to plead: "Say, Abe, you know I carried Mattoon for you; I'd like to be Minister to England."

Boys and girls always appealed to the President's heart. When there were talks of vital import in his office, little Tad Lincoln often sat upon his father's knee. At a White House reception, Charles A. Dana once put his little girl in a corner, whence she saw the show. The father tells the story. When the reception was over, he said to Lincoln: "'I have a little girl here who wants to shake hands with you.' He went over to her and took her up and kissed her and talked to her. She will never forget it if she lives to be a thousand years old."

* * *

The next morning Tom followed his father into a room on the second floor of the White House. Lincoln sat at a flat-topped desk, piled high with papers. He was in his shirt-sleeves, with shabby black trousers, coarse stockings, and worn slippers. He stretched out his long legs, swung his long arms behind his head, and came straight to the point.

"Strong, I'm going to need you. Your country is going to need you. I want you to go straight home and fix up your business affairs so you can come whenever I call you. Will you do it?"

"Yes, sir."

President and citizen rose and shook hands upon it. The citizen was about to go when Tom, with his heart in his mouth, but with a fine resolve in his heart, suddenly said:

"Oh, Father! Oh, Mr. President--"

Then he stopped short, too shy to speak, but Lincoln stooped down to him, patted his young head and said with infinite kindness in his tone:

"What is it, Tom? Tell me."

"Oh, Mr. President, I'm only a boy, but can't I do something for my country, right now? Can't I stay here? Father will let me, won't you, Father?"

Mr. Strong shook his head. The boy's face fell. It brightened again when Lincoln told him:

"When I send for your father, I'll send for you, Tom."

With that promise ringing in his ears, Tom went home to New York City. Home was a fine brick house at the northeast corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. The house was a twin brother of those that still stand on the north side of Washington Square. Tom had been born in it. Not long after his birth, his parents had given a notable dinner in it to a notable man. Tom had been present at the dinner, and he remembered nothing about it. As he was at the table but a few minutes, in the arms of his nurse, and less than a year old, it is not surprising that he did not remember it. His proud young mother had exhibited him to a group of money magnates, gathered at Mr. Strong's shining mahogany table for dinne

r, at the fashionable hour of three P.M., to see another young thing, almost as young as Tom. This other young thing was the telegraph, just invented by Samuel F. B. Morse, at the University of the City of New York, which then filled half of the eastern boundary of Washington Square.

* * *

While Tom waited in the old brick house and played in Washington Square, history was making itself. Pope Walker, first Secretary of War of the Confederate States, sitting in his office at the Alabama Statehouse at Montgomery, the first Confederate capital, said: "It is time to sprinkle some blood in the face of the people." So he telegraphed the fateful order to fire on Fort Sumter, held by United States troops in Charleston harbor. Sumter fell. Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. Virginia, the famous Old Dominion, "the Mother of Presidents"-Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were Virginians-seceded. The war between the States began.

Mr. Strong found in his mail one day this letter:

"The Executive Mansion,

Washington, April 17, 1861.

Sir:

The President bids me say that he would like to have you come to Washington at once and bring your son Tom with you.

Respectfully,

John Hay,

Assistant Private Secretary."

Tom and his father started at once, as the President bade them. At Jersey City, they found the train they had expected to take had been pre-empted by the Sixth Massachusetts, a crack militia regiment of the Old Bay State, which was hurrying to Washington in the hope of getting there before the rebels did. The cars were crammed with soldiers. A sentry stood at every door. No civilian need apply for passage. However, a civilian with a letter from Lincoln's secretary bidding him also hurry to Washington was in a class by himself. With the help of an officer, the father and son ran the blockade of bayonets and started southward, the only civilians upon the train. It was packed to suffocation with soldiers. Mr. Strong sat with the regimental officers, but he let Tom roam at will from car to car. How the boy enjoyed it. The shining gun-barrels fascinated him. He joined a group of merry men, who hailed him with a shout:

"Here's the youngest recruit of all."

"Are you really going to shoot rebels?" asked Tom.

"If we must," said Jack Saltonstall, breaking the silence the question brought, "but I hope it won't come to that."

"The war will be over in three months," Gordon Abbott prophesied.

"Pooh, it will never begin,-and I'm sorry for that," said Jim Casey, "I'd like to have some real fighting."

Within about three hours, Jim Casey was to see fighting and was to die for his country. The beginning of bloodshed in our Civil War was in the streets of Baltimore on April 19, 1861, just eighty-six years to a day from the beginning of bloodshed in our Revolution on Lexington Common. Massachusetts and British blood in 1775; Massachusetts and Maryland blood in 1861.

When the long train stopped at the wooden car-shed which was then the Baltimore station, the regiment left the cars, fell into line and started to march the mile or so of cobblestone streets to the other station where the train for Washington awaited it. The line of march was through as bad a slum as an American city could then show. Grog-shops swarmed in it and about every grog-shop swarmed the toughs of Baltimore. They were known locally as "plug-uglies." Like the New York "Bowery boys" of that time, they affected a sort of uniform, black dress trousers thrust into boot-tops and red flannel shirts. Far too poor to own slaves themselves, they had gathered here to fight the slave-owners' battles, to keep the Massachusetts troops from "polluting the soil of Maryland," as their leaders put it, really to keep them from saving Washington.

A roar of jeers and taunts and insults hailed the head of the marching column. Tom was startled by it. He turned to his father. The two were walking side by side, in the center of the column, between two companies of the militia. He found his father had already turned to him.

"Keep close to me, Tom," said Mr. Strong.

The storm of words that beat upon them increased. At the next corner, stones took the place of words. The mob surged alongside the soldiers, swearing, stoning, striking, finally stabbing and shooting. The Sixth Massachusetts showed admirable self-restraint, which the "plug-uglies" thought was cowardice. They pressed closer. With a mighty rush, five thousand rioters broke the line of the thousand troops. The latter were forced into small groups, many of them without an officer. Each group had to act for itself. Tom and his father found themselves part of a tiny force of about twenty men, beset upon every side by desperadoes now mad with liquor and with the lust of killing. Jack Saltonstall took command by common consent. Calmly he faced hundreds of rioters.

"Forward, march!"

As he uttered the words, he pitched forward, shot through the chest. A giant "plug-ugly" bellowed with triumph over his successful shot, yelled "kill 'em all!" and led the mob upon them. But Mr. Strong had snatched Saltonstall's gun as it fell from his nerveless hands, had leveled and aimed it, and had shouted "fire!" to willing ears. A score of guns rang out. The mob-leader whirled about and dropped. Half-a-dozen other "plug-uglies" lay about him. This section of the mob broke and ran. Some of them fired as they ran, and Jim Casey's life went out of him.

"Take this gun, Tom," said Mr. Strong.

The boy took it, reloading it as he marched, while his sturdy father lifted the wounded Saltonstall from the stony street and staggered forward with the body in his arms. Casey and two other men were dead. Their bodies had to be left to the fury of the mob. Saltonstall lived to fight to the end. As the survivors of the twenty pressed forward, the mob behind followed them up. Bullets whizzed unpleasantly near. Twice, at Mr. Strong's command, the men faced about and fired a volley. In both these volleys, Tom's gun played its part. He had hunted before, but never such big game as men. The joy of battle possessed him. Since it was apparently a case of "kill or be killed," he shot to kill. Whether he did kill, he never knew. The two volleys checked two threatening rushes of the rioters and enabled Mr. Strong to bring what was left of the gallant little band safely to the railroad station. An hour later the Sixth Massachusetts was in Washington. During that hour Tom had been violently sick upon the train. He was new to this trade of man-killing.

At Washington, once vacant spaces were soon filled with camps. Soldiers poured in on every train. Orderlies were galloping about. Artillery surrounded the Capitol. And from its dome Tom saw a Confederate flag, the Stars-and-Bars, flying defiantly in nearby Alexandria.

Those were dark days. There were Confederate forces within a few miles of the White House. Sumter surrendered April 15th. Virginia seceded on the 17th. Harper's Ferry fell into Southern hands on the 18th. The Sixth Massachusetts had fought its way through Baltimore on the 19th. Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in our army on the 20th and left Arlington for Richmond, taking with him a long train of army and navy officers whose loyal support, now lost forever, had seemed a national necessity. Lincoln spent many an hour in his private office, searching with a telescope the reaches of the Potomac, over which the troop-laden transports were expected. Once, when he thought he was alone, John Hay heard him call out "with irrepressible anguish": "Why don't they come? Why don't they come?" In public he gave no sign of the anxiety that was eating up his heart. He had the nerve to jest about it. The Sixth Massachusetts, the Seventh New York, and a Rhode Island detachment had all hurried to save Washington from the capture that threatened. When the Massachusetts men won the race and marched proudly by the White House, Lincoln said to some of their officers: "I begin to believe there is no North. The Seventh Regiment is a myth. Rhode Island is another. You are the only real thing." They were very real, those men of Massachusetts, and they were the vanguard of the real army that was to be.

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