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

By William O. Stoddard; Michael Burlingame | Go to book overview
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My Dear General--I have decided to comply with your request, and to furnish for The Citizen a few brief sketches of life in the White House, as it was in the memorable days when I had my green-covered desk in the historical Northeast Room. Many of your readers are doubtless already familiar with much that I may say or describe; but, if you will permit me, I will write only for those who have never visited Washington, or explored the Mecca of American political devotions.

After a not very long residence in Illinois, it was my fortune in 1861 to receive from President Lincoln an appointment to a subordinate position on his personal staff. I obtained permission to serve out my term as a private soldier in the "three months' service," during which time I was only occasionally at the White House, and it was not until after that that I was ordered there for permanent duty.

On reporting, I was assigned to the room aforesaid, in companionship with the versatile and brilliant Hay, and remained until late in the summer of 1864.1 During that time my duties were as diversified as they well could be, including all that belong to a "secretary," and many others that led me into the various military departments. Among other things, during nearly all that time, the private correspondence of the President was almost exclusively in my charge. You will see from this that it is almost impossible for me to write for you aught that could be of historical value. Much that I know came to me in such a way that it cannot be recorded. If, however, a few gossipy sheets can be of any value to you, here they are.

It seems to me that I am writing of events that occurred centuries ago. Those terrible four years are like a dream. I remember talking with Ellsworth the day before he was murdered.2 I remember seeing the President standing by his coffin. I remember the panic-rout from Bull Run, the fearful night when the record of Ball's Bluff came in, and Mr. Lincoln

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