Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

By William O. Stoddard; Michael Burlingame | Go to book overview

The Echoes of the Proclamation

There is a kind of paper used as a detective by the chemists, which will turn of one color when dipped in an alkali, and of another when soaked with an acid. There is probably no kind of paper which would reveal the character of the specters which are making this place populous this rainy morning. The President has gone up the river to have a chat with the Army of the Potomac. He has paid it several visits heretofore, in its other camps, but never one upon which such mighty political and military results must surely hinge. All the possibilities which he has gone to confront or prepare for are trooping into and out of this northeast room. The entire White House, without him in it, is only a shell, a sort of perfunctory headquarters, from which the life has departed.

The city of Washington is still only a frontier post, in spite of the victory on the Antietam; but people who come here from the North seem to labor under the delusion that it is right in the middle of the United States. They might understand the matter a little better after a thoughtful inspection of the fortifications, especially those upon the Virginia side. No castle of these modern times is at all like the castles people used to set up before cannon were constructed to pitch a heavy shell seven miles and have it burst on striking. The walls of the White House seem to be here, where you can touch them and look through their windows; but that is only an appearance. They are really far away and they are not white. Their precise tint depends upon that of the mud they are built or building of, and their windows have eyes of iron staring through them and watching for the very possible approach of a Confederate assailing party. This is only the old, the haunted part of the castle of the Presidents, and now that Mr. Lincoln is in the camps, we and the ghosts have all the eastern wing of it to ourselves, at least for to-day. It has temporarily lost its charm for most other visitors. It loses it as they cross the portico and learn at the door that there is no dictator here.

-96-

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