William H. Crook

“Tell the Folks he Got Away from Me.”

Posted on Updated on

Although I reported early at the White House. on the morning after our return from City Point, I found the President already at his desk. He was looking over his mail, but as I came in he looked up, and said, pleasantly:

“Good-morning, Crook. How do you feel?”

I answered: “First-rate, Mr. President. How are you?”

“I am well, but rather tired,” he said.

Then I noticed that he did, indeed, look tired. His worn face made me understand, more clearly than I had done before, what a strain the experiences at Petersburg and Richmond had been. Now that the excitement was over, the reaction allowed it to be seen.

I was on duty near the President all that day. We settled back into the usual routine. It seemed odd to go on as if nothing had happened; the trip had been such a great event. It was a particularly busy day. Correspondence had been held for Mr. Lincoln’s attention during the seventeen days of absence; besides that, his ofifice was thronged with visitors. Some of them had come to congratulate him on the successful outcome of the war; others had come to advise him what course to pursue toward the conquered Confederacy; still others wanted appointments. One gentleman, who was bold enough to ask aloud what everybody was asking privately, said,

“Mr. President, what will you do with Jeff Davis when he is caught?”

Mr. Lincoln sat up straight and crossed his legs, as he always did when he was going to tell a story.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “that reminds me” — at the familiar words every one settled back and waited for the story — “that reminds me of an incident which occurred in a little town in Illinois where I once practised law. One morning I was on my way to the office, when I saw a boy standing on the street comer crying. I felt sorry for the woebegone little fellow. So I stopped and questioned him as to the cause of his grief. He looked into my face, the tears running down his cheeks, and said: ‘Mister, do you see that coon?’ — pointing to a very poor specimen of the coon family which glared at us from the end of the string. ‘Well, sir, that coon has given me a heap of trouble. He has nearly gnawed the string in two — I just wish he would finish it. Then I could go home and say he had got away.'”

Everybody laughed. They all knew quite well what the President would like to do with Jeff Davis — when Jeff Davis was caught.

Quoted in “Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, Body-Guard to President Lincoln”, by William H. Crook, Margarita Spalding Gerry (Editor)(New  York  and  London:  Harper  &  Brothers,  1910),  p. 60.