"There is Something Else There...," Walt Whitman on President Lincoln

John Hartwell

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#1
Throughout the war, Walt Whitman kept notebooks, describing all aspects of his ceaseless labors attending the sick and wounded in Washington's hospitals. On occasion, he writes more fully of other things. He speaks of President Lincoln many times. One such is during the hot summer of 1863:

"Aug. 12.—I see the President almost every day, as I happen to live where he passes to or from his lodgings out of town. He never sleeps at the White House during the hot season, but has quarters at a healthy location, some three miles north of the city, the Soldiers' Home, a United States military establishment. I saw him this morning about 8 1/2 coming in to business, riding on Vermont avenue, near L street. The sight is a significant one, (and different enough from how and where I first saw him). He always has a company of twenty-five or thirty cavalry, with sabres drawn, and held upright over their shoulders. The party makes no great show in uniforms or horses. Mr. Lincoln, on the saddle, generally rides a good-sized easy-going gray horse, is dress'd in plain black, somewhat rusty and dusty; wears a black stiff hat, and looks about as ordinary in attire, &c., as the commonest man. A Lieutenant, with yellow straps, rides at his left, and following behind, two by two, come the cavalry men in their yellow-striped jackets. They are generally going at a slow trot, as that is the pace set them by the One they wait upon. The sabres and accoutrements clank, and the entirely unornamental cortege as it trots towards Lafayette square, arouses no sensation, only some curious stranger stops and gazes. I see very plainly ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S dark brown face, with the deep cut lines, the eyes, &c., always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression. We have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones.
"Sometimes the President goes and comes in an open barouche. The cavalry always accompany him, with drawn sabres. Often I notice as he goes out evenings—and sometimes in the morning, when he returns early—he turns off and halts at the large and handsome residence of the Secretary of War, on K street, and holds conference there. If in his barouche, I can see from my window he does not alight, but sits in the vehicle, and Mr. Stanton comes out to attend him. Sometimes one of his sons, a boy of ten or twelve, accompanies him, riding at his right on a pony.
"Earlier in the summer I occasionally saw the President and his wife, toward the latter part of the afternoon, out in a barouche, on a pleasure ride through the city. Mrs. Lincoln was dress'd in complete black, with a long crape veil. The equipage is of the plainest kind, only two horses, and they nothing extra. They pass'd me once very close, and I saw the President in the face fully, as they were moving slow, and his look, though abstracted, happen'd to be directed steadily in my eye. He bow'd and smiled, but far beneath his smile I noticed well the expression I have alluded to. None of the artists or pictures have caught the deep, though subtle and indirect expression of this man's face. There is something else there. One of the great portrait painters of two or three centuries ago is needed."

Published 1876, in Memoranda During the War.
 

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John Hartwell

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#3
In a footnote to the same volume, Whitman describes “the first time I saw Abraham Lincoln”

“I shall not easily forget the first time I saw Abraham Lincoln. It must have been about the 18th or 19th of February, 1861. It was rather a pleasant spring afternoon, in New York city, as Lincoln arrived there from the West to stop a few hours and then pass on to Washington, to prepare for his inauguration. I saw him in Broadway, near the site of the present Post-office. He had come down, I think, from Canal street, to stop at the Astor House. The broad spaces, sidewalks, and street in the neighborhood, and for some distance, were crowded with solid masses of people, many thousands. The omnibuses and other vehicles had been all turn'd off, leaving an unusual hush in that busy part of the city. Presently two or three shabby hack barouches made their way with some difficulty through the crowd, and drew up at the Astor House entrance. A tall figure step'd out of the centre of these barouches, paus'd leisurely on the sidewalk, look'd up at the dark granite walls and looming architecture of the grand old hotel -- then, after a relieving stretch of arms and legs, turn'd round for over a minute to slowly and good-humoredly scan the appearance of the vast and silent crowds -- and so, with very moderate pace, and accompanied by a few unknown-looking persons, ascended the portico steps.
“The figure, the look, the gait, are distinctly impress'd upon me yet; the unusual and uncouth height, the dress of complete black, the stovepipe hat push'd back on the head, the dark-brown complexion, the seam'd and wrinkled yet canny-looking face, the black, bushy head of hair, the disproportionately long neck, and the hands held behind as he stood observing the people. All was comparative and ominous silence. The new comer look'd with curiosity upon that immense sea of faces, and the sea of faces return'd the look with similar curiosity. In both there was a dash of something almost comical. Yet there was much anxiety in certain quarters. Cautious persons had fear'd that there would be some outbreak, some mark'd indignity or insult to the President elect his passage through the city, for he possess'd no personal popularity in New York, and not much political. No such outbreak or insult, however, occurr'd. Only the silence of the crowd was very significant to those who were accustom'd to the usual demonstrations of New York in wild, tumultuous hurrahs -- the deafening tumults of welcome, and the thunder-shouts of pack'd myriads along the whole line of Broadway, receiving Hungarian Kossuth or Filibuster Walker.”
Walt Whitman often remarked on that "something else there" in Lincoln's unhandsome visage. In a New York Times article in 1872, he observed:

"No good Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
"—Probably the reader has seen physiognomies (often old farmers, sea-captains, and such) that, behind their homeliness, or even ugliness, held superior points so subtle, yet so palpable, defying the lines of art, making the real life of their faces almost as impossible to depict as a wild perfume or fruit-taste, or a passionate tone of the living voice.....and such was Lincoln's face, the peculiar color, the lines of it, the eyes, mouth, expression, &c. Of technical beauty it had nothing—but to the eye of a great artist it furnished a rare study, a feast and fascination.......The current portraits are all failures—most of them caricatures."

Two years later, he suggested:

"But of Abraham Lincoln, ... four sorts of genius - four mighty and primal hands will be needed to the complete limning of his future portrait - the eyes and brains and finger touch of Plutarch and Aeschylus and Michel Angelo, assisted by Rabelais." [The addition of Rabelais is, I think, brilliant.]
 
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unionblue

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#4
Throughout the war, Walt Whitman kept notebooks, describing all aspects of his ceaseless labors attending the sick and wounded in Washington's hospitals. On occasion, he writes more fully of other things. He speaks of President Lincoln many times. One such is during the hot summer of 1863:

"Aug. 12.—I see the President almost every day, as I happen to live where he passes to or from his lodgings out of town. He never sleeps at the White House during the hot season, but has quarters at a healthy location, some three miles north of the city, the Soldiers' Home, a United States military establishment. I saw him this morning about 8 1/2 coming in to business, riding on Vermont avenue, near L street. The sight is a significant one, (and different enough from how and where I first saw him). He always has a company of twenty-five or thirty cavalry, with sabres drawn, and held upright over their shoulders. The party makes no great show in uniforms or horses. Mr. Lincoln, on the saddle, generally rides a good-sized easy-going gray horse, is dress'd in plain black, somewhat rusty and dusty; wears a black stiff hat, and looks about as ordinary in attire, &c., as the commonest man. A Lieutenant, with yellow straps, rides at his left, and following behind, two by two, come the cavalry men in their yellow-striped jackets. They are generally going at a slow trot, as that is the pace set them by the One they wait upon. The sabres and accoutrements clank, and the entirely unornamental cortege as it trots towards Lafayette square, arouses no sensation, only some curious stranger stops and gazes. I see very plainly ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S dark brown face, with the deep cut lines, the eyes, &c., always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression. We have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones.
Published 1876, in Memoranda During the War.
@John Hartwell ,

There is a book that describes this military escort of Lincoln's entitled, A Personal Reminiscenees of Abraham Lincoln: By a Hand That Clasped the Hand of Abraham Lincoln, by Smith Stimmel. The book is only 56 pages long, written by Stimmel who was a member of the Union Light Guard, the personal escort for President Lincoln.

Sgt. Smith Stimmel was 21 years old when he was assigned to the Union Light Guard and assigned to the White House as a member of President Lincoln's personal escort. The unit was organized by Ohio Gov. David Tod in 1863.

Although the book is a short one, it was well worth buying at the Ohio Statehouse gift shop in 1998?, but only a limited edition of 1,000 copies were printed. My book number is 271.

Maybe youy might find a copy out there somewhere on the internet. If not, I might be tempted to render a few of the stories here at the forum on request. :smile:

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

John Hartwell

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@John Hartwell ,

There is a book that describes this military escort of Lincoln's entitled, A Personal Reminiscenees of Abraham Lincoln: By a Hand That Clasped the Hand of Abraham Lincoln, by Smith Stimmel. The book is only 56 pages long, written by Stimmel who was a member of the Union Light Guard, the personal escort for President Lincoln.

Sgt. Smith Stimmel was 21 years old when he was assigned to the Union Light Guard and assigned to the White House as a member of President Lincoln's personal escort. The unit was organized by Ohio Gov. David Tod in 1863.

Although the book is a short one, it was well worth buying at the Ohio Statehouse gift shop in 1998?, but only a limited edition of 1,000 copies were printed. My book number is 271.

Maybe youy might find a copy out there somewhere on the internet. If not, I might be tempted to render a few of the stories here at the forum on request. :smile:

Sincerely,
Unionblue
I haven't seen it, but I note that Stimmel's Personal Reminiscences were reprinted in 2017.

There is also a 1908 booklet, Lincoln's Bodyguard: the Union Light Guard, by Robert McBride ("former corporal and company clerk"). It includes a complete roster, history of the unit's formation, and an outline of attempts to form a Veterans' Organization.
 
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Pat Young

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@John Hartwell ,

There is a book that describes this military escort of Lincoln's entitled, A Personal Reminiscenees of Abraham Lincoln: By a Hand That Clasped the Hand of Abraham Lincoln, by Smith Stimmel. The book is only 56 pages long, written by Stimmel who was a member of the Union Light Guard, the personal escort for President Lincoln.

Sgt. Smith Stimmel was 21 years old when he was assigned to the Union Light Guard and assigned to the White House as a member of President Lincoln's personal escort. The unit was organized by Ohio Gov. David Tod in 1863.

Although the book is a short one, it was well worth buying at the Ohio Statehouse gift shop in 1998?, but only a limited edition of 1,000 copies were printed. My book number is 271.

Maybe youy might find a copy out there somewhere on the internet. If not, I might be tempted to render a few of the stories here at the forum on request. :smile:

Sincerely,
Unionblue
Sounds like a good find.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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@unionblue , nearly posted the link to a free version of Smith's book- if you're going to use it for a thread will not. Nice to see it discussed although also nice saving some money. :angel:

Maybe we don't need a greater artist than Whitman to paint Lincoln. Seems to have given us an awfully clear image in words.

Hadn't been a huge Walt Whitman fan before reading what he left us on the war. 180 in a big hurry, first time someone pointed me to what he had to say on the war. There was just no one like him- these Lincoln sightings prove it. Thanks for posting Jno.
 

unionblue

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#8
I haven't seen it, but I note that Stimmel's Personal Reminiscences were reprinted in 2017.

There is also a 1908 booklet, Lincoln's Bodyguard: the Union Light Guard, by Robert McBride ("former corporal and company clerk"). It includes a complete roster, history of the unit's formation, and an outline of attempts to form a Veterans' Organization.
@John Hartwell ,

Thanks for posting the website where the book can be found for all to read. It's well worth the time and interest.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

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