Abraham Lincoln and 3 stray kittens

kholland

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Retired Moderator
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Feb 13, 2011
Location
Howard County, Maryland
An excellent example of President Abraham Lincoln's tenderness occurred near the end of the Civil War. Abraham and his family had been invited to visit General Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters at City Point, Virginia. The trip took place in late March of 1865 about three weeks before the assassination.

During his visit to City Point, the president happened to be in the telegraph hut on the day that Grant's army began the final advance of the Civil War. In the hut the president came upon three tiny kittens. They appeared to be lost and were wandering around and meowing. Abraham picked up one of the kittens and asked, "Where is your mother?" A person standing nearby said, "The mother is dead." The president continued to pet the little kitten and said, "Then she can't grieve as many a poor mother is grieving for a son lost in battle." Abraham picked up the other two kittens and now had all three in his lap. He stroked their fur and quietly told them, "Kitties, thank God you are cats, and can't understand this terrible strife that is going on." The Chief Executive continued, "Poor little creatures, don't cry; you'll be taken good care of." He looked toward Colonel Bowers of Grant's staff and said, "Colonel, I hope you will see that these poor little motherless waifs are given plenty of milk and treated kindly." Bowers promised that he would tell the cook to take good care of them.

Colonel Horace Porter watched the president and recalled, "He would wipe their eyes tenderly with his handkerchief, stroke their smooth coats, and listen to them purring their gratitude to him." Quite a sight it was, thought Porter, "at an army headquarters, upon the eve of a great military crisis in the nation's history, to see the hand which had affixed the signature to the Emancipation Proclamation and had signed the commissions....from the general-in-chief to the lowest lieutenant, tenderly caressing three stray kittens."

Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The War Years
 

KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
I've also read in several biographies about how one time, while riding the circuit with some other lawyers, Lincoln fell behind for a short time because he'd found two baby birds that had fallen from their nest, and he picked them up and searched out the nest.

Another time, he and his lawyer companions passed a pig who was stuck in a fence and howling. They kept on going, but Lincoln eventually turned back, rode back, rescued the pig, and later rejoined his companions. He told them he wouldn't have been able to sleep that night, haunted by the memory of the beast's pitiful sounds.
 

Paul Windels

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Jan 31, 2014
Location
Scarsdale, NY
One of the many remarkable aspects of Lincoln's character was that he was so deeply humane on the one hand and yet was able to prosecute the war with such determination. He felt deep pain at the death toll of the War, but had the extraordinary strength to carry on through that pain until he had achieved a decisive resolution of the slavery issue. This internal struggle is what makes his Second Inaugural so much more compelling than the mere force of its words -- glorious as they are -- and brings out the full magnanimity of its immortal conclusion.
 

KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
We recall reading that at age seven Lincoln shot and killed a wild turkey. He never hunted again.
I'm struck by the similarity between him and Ulysses Grant in this regard. It's well-known that Grant hated the sight of blood, and that was one of the reasons he so hated his father's tannery. What might be less well known is that when he was down on the Mexican border, right before the Mexican War started, some buddies thought it would be fun to hunt some of the wild turkeys that were plentiful in the area. Grant went out with them, but as the turkeys flushed out of the brush, he was so caught up in admiring the birds that he couldn't bring himself to shoot them! Grant was also known to not eat poultry since it showed too much blood, and even beef he wouldn't eat until it was cooked to a hard crisp that most of us would find inedible. (For that reason, I'm convinced that if the cigars hadn't have gotten him first, all that charred meat he ate in his lifetime would have eventually killed him with cancer of one sort or another.)

I suppose a cynic would say that it was all fine for Grant to hate the sight of blood, since he had a million poor blokes to carry out his orders and draw and shed the blood for him. A real cynic might even compare "Grant the Butcher" to, say, those Nazi concentration camp guards who went home at night and read bedtime stories to their children. My response would be that we have absolutely not one shred of evidence that Grant was ever -- not on a single occasion, ever -- personally cruel to anyone. The worst thing I think you could say about him is that he evidently had an exceptionally compartmentalized brain -- tenderness quarantined on one side; cold, strategic calculation on the other. But had our leading general not had such a brain, the war would have dragged out even longer than it did. As it was, a big part of his reasoning as he planned out his moves was: What will help end this war the most quickly? As Lincoln was shown pleading in a scene in the Lincoln movie, "Shall we stop this bleeding?"
 
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KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
My response would be that we have absolutely not one shred of evidence that Grant was ever -- not on a single occasion, ever -- personally cruel to anyone. The worst thing I think you could say about him is that he evidently had an exceptionally compartmentalized brain -- tenderness quarantined on one side; cold, strategic calculation on the other. But had our leading general not had such a brain, the war would have dragged out even longer than it did. As it was, a big part of his reasoning as he planned out his moves was: What will help end this war the most quickly? As Lincoln was shown pleading in a scene in the Lincoln movie, "Shall we stop this bleeding?"
Oy, I need to correct myself. There was the horrible "General Orders No. 11," expelling Jews from his military region. I either forgot about this or didn't know about it yet when I wrote this post. Mea culpa.

Later, as President, Grant did more to advance Jewish interests than any President before him -- he'd obviously repented of his sin -- but he was too embarrassed to ever bring it up in public again and, thus, never publicly apologized for it.

There's that hero's clay feet, for sure!
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

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Aug 8, 2011
Location
Gettysburg area
Recently I saw posted on-line this photograph of several of Grant’s staff members taken at City Point on April 12, 1865, a few weeks after President Lincoln's visit there. The kitten in the soldier's lap appears older than the three "tiny kittens" that Lincoln saw in March. It made me wonder whether the kitten here might be one of them, a little more grown up and with an adoptive mother cat sitting at the soldiers' feet. I guess we'll never know.

Close-up of Grant's staff w kitties.jpg



Here’s the full picture from the Library of Congress website and the link, so you can zoom in to view the high-resolution TIFF image: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cwpb.02959/?co=civwar

Grant's staff at City Point.jpg

Just out of curiosity, does anyone know if either Colonel Bowers or Colonel Horace Porter, the two officers mentioned in the story by Carl Sandburg that @kholland quoted in the original post, is in this picture? It's only conjecture on my part, but based on Sandburg's account, they might have been most interested in knowing how the kittens fared and possibly thought of including them in a photograph.
 
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yankeeblue

Private
Joined
Jul 24, 2018
After looking it over, I don't think Horace Porter is in the photograph. The only one who seems to resemble Horace Porter is standing fifth from the left. However, he's wearing 2nd Lieutenant rank, and Horace Porter was either a Major or Lt. Col. by this time.
I think the cats in the photo are rather adorable. But then, I'm a cat person.
 

5fish

Captain
Joined
Aug 26, 2007
Location
Central Florida
Lincoln loves cats ...

Lincoln, who decided to leave his dog Fido home in Springfield, Ill., when he was elected president, was given an unexpected gift of two kittens from Secretary of State William Seward.

The president doted on the cats, which he named Tabby and Dixie, so much that he once fed Tabby from the table during a formal dinner at the White House.


When Lincoln’s embarrassed wife later observed that the action was “shameful in front of their guests,” the president replied, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”

...


Lincoln had a special affinity for stray cats and was known to bring them home on occasion. Mrs. Lincoln even referred to cats as her husband’s “hobby.”

When she was visiting her father and stepmother in Kentucky, for example, Mary wrote in a letter to her husband that their son Eddy had taken up “your hobby” by adopting a stray kitten.

...

President Abraham Lincoln “possessed extraordinary kindness of heart when his feelings could be reached,” wrote Treasury official Mansell B. Field in his memoirs. “He was fond of dumb animals, especially cats. I have seen him fondle one for an hour. Helplessness and suffering touched him when they appealed directly to his senses, or when you could penetrate through his intelligence to them.”

http://www.presidentialpetmuseum.com/pets/abraham-lincoln-cats/
 
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