Abraham Lincoln in Command

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“General Delafield,” Lincoln said.  “It was good of you to hold the reins at the Academy after that fool Beauregard displayed his southern tendencies.”

“I am always glad to serve my country, sir,” Delafield said.

“Would that all military men felt the same way,” Lincoln murmured, more to himself than the others.

“Sir,” Delafield said, “if I might introduce—“

“Sergeant Major Rumble,” Lincoln said.  Surprisingly, Lincoln stood and leaned over the desk, extending his hand.  Rumble scrambled to his feet and met the President’s firm hand.

Lincoln held the grip for a second.  “I can always tell a lot about a man from his shake.”

Then the President sat back down, put his feet up on the desk while leaning so far back in his chair, that even Stanton started, expecting to see the President fall over backwards.  Their concern was for naught as Lincoln laced his fingers behind his head and began speaking, as if to the ceiling.

“I was in the military for a little while during the Black Hawk War,” Lincoln said.  “One of the proudest moments of my life was when the men in my company elected me captain.  Of course, they did not do so out of any sense that I had the genius of a Mars.  I could wrestle well, which they somehow seemed to believe lent itself to leadership.”

Lincoln was gazing at some spot on the ceiling.  Rumble was tempted to look up, but he kept his eyes on the President as he continued.

“One time we were on the march and we came upon a split rail fence.  There was a narrow gate in the fence, but I fear I could not remember the proper commands to go from the march formation to the appropriate movement to get us through the gate in a military manner.  So I simply called a halt, ordered the men to fall out for a few minutes and reform on the other side of the fence in formation.  It worked.”  Lincoln dropped his feet off the desk with a heavy thud and sat up straight.  “However, no one was firing at us at the time.  I suppose that would have made my maneuver disastrous.”

Lincoln sighed and for a moment he looked old, very old, the lines in his face falling into each other and the dark pockets under his eyes telling of restless nights.

“General McDowell will move on Richmond soon.  And many say that hopefully this war will be over soon.  Are you a hopeful man, Sergeant Major Rumble?”

“In this instance, I am not, sir,” Rumble replied.

“Really?  A rarity in this city.”  Lincoln looked past Stanton, out the window.  “They stopped building Washington’s monument in ’54 when the pockets of the people donating were empty.  Congress was going to appropriate the money to finish it, but then the states got to haggling.  Alabama wanted the monument to have stone from every state and once that can of worms was opened Washington’s tower was doomed to gather dust.” Lincoln fell silent for a moment.  “And then there’s the capitol dome.  Also incomplete.  I can finish one or the other, but not both, which seems to be the theme of this war.”

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