David D. Porter

“This was a Step from the Sublime”

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There were three little kittens running about the hut in which the telegraph-office was situated. Mr. Lincoln picked them all up and put them on his little chart on the table. This was a step from the sublime, it is true, but it showed the feelings of the man at a moment when the fate of a nation was hanging in the scales. He could find time to look at God’s creatures and be solicitous for their comfort.

“There,” he said, “you poor, little, miserable creatures, what brought you into this camp of warriors? Where is your mother?”

“The mother is dead,” said the colonel.

“Then she can’t grieve for them as many a poor mother is grieving for the sons who have fallen in battle, and who will still grieve if this surrender does not take place without bloodshed. Ah, kitties, thank God you are cats, and can’t understand this terrible strife that is going on. There, now, go, my little friends,” he continued, wiping the dirt from their eyes with his handkerchief; “that is all I can do for you. Colonel, get them some milk, and don’t let them starve; there is too much starvation going on in this land anyhow; mitigate it when we can,”

Quoted in David D. Porter, Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886), p. 286.

“You Can’t Put a Long Blade into a Short Scabbard”

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I offered the President my bed, but he positively declined it, and elected to sleep in a small state-room outside of the cabin, occupied by my secretary. It was the smallest kind of a room, six feet long by four and a half feet wide — a small room for the President of the United States to be domesticated in, but Mr. Lincoln was pleased with it. He told me, at parting, that the few days he had spent on board the Malvern were among the pleasantest in his life.

When the President retired for his first night on board, he put his shoes and socks outside the state-room door. I am sorry to say the President’s socks had holes in them ; but they were washed and darned, his boots cleaned, and the whole placed at his door.

When he came to breakfast he remarked:

“A miracle happened to me last night. When I went to bed I had two large holes in my socks, and this morning there are no holes in them. That never happened to me before; it must be a miracle!”

“How did you sleep?” I inquired.

“I slept well,”  he answered,  “but you can’t put a long blade into a short scabbard. I was too long for that berth.” Then I remembered he was over six feet four inches, while the berth was only six feet.

That day, while we were out of the ship, all the carpenters were put to work; the state-room was taken down and increased in size to eight feet by six and a half feet. The mattress was widened to suit a berth of four feet width, and the entire state-room remodeled.

Nothing was said to the President about the change in his quarters when he went to bed, but next morning he came out smiling, and said: “A greater miracle than ever happened last night; I shrank six inches in length and about a foot sideways. I got somebody else’s big pillow, and slept in a better bed than I did on the Eiver Queen, though not half as lively.” He enjoyed it hugely, but I do think if I had given him two fence-rails to sleep on he would not have found fault. That was Abraham Lincoln in all things relating to his own comfort. He would never permit people to put themselves out for him under any circumstances.

Quoted in David D. Porter, Incidentsand Anecdotes of the Civil War (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886), pp. 284–85.

“But it is Well to be Humble”

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When the channel was reported clear of torpedoes (a large number of which were taken up), I proceeded up to Richmond in the Malvern, with President Lincoln on board the River Queen, and a heavy feeling of responsibility on my mind, notwithstanding the great care that had been taken to clear the river.

Every vessel that got through the obstructions wished to be the first one up, and pushed ahead with all steam ; but they grounded, one after another, the Malvern passing them all, until she also took the ground. Not to be delayed, I took the President in my barge, and, with a tug ahead with a file of marines on board, we continued on up to the city.

There was a large bridge across the James about a mile below the landing, and under this a party in a small steamer were caught and held by the current, with no prospect of release without assistance. These people begged me to extricate them from their perilous position, so I ordered the tug to cast off and help them, leaving us in the barge to go on alone.

Here we were in a solitary boat, after having set out with a number of vessels flying flags at every mast-head, hoping to enter the conquered capital in a manner befitting the rank of the President of the United States, with a further intention of firing a national salute in honor of the happy result.

I remember the President’s remarks on the occasion. ”Admiral, this brings to my mind a fellow who once came to me to ask for an appointment as minister abroad. Finding he could not get that, he came down to some more modest position. Finally he asked to be made a tide-waiter. When he saw he could not get that, he asked me for an old pair of trousers. But it is well to be humble.”

Quoted in David D. Porter, Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886), p. 294