Thursday, August 28, 2014

the last book I ever read (Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Volume One, excerpt seventeen)

from The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote:

These words were written in a letter to Carl Schurz, a young German emigrant whom the Republican central committee had sent to Illinois four years ago to speak in Lincoln’s behalf during the senatorial race against Douglas. Grateful for this and later, more successful work, Lincoln appointed him Minister to Spain in 1861, and when Schurz resigned to come home and fight, the President made him a brigadier under Frémont in the Alleghenies. After the fall election returns were in, he wrote Lincoln his belief that they were “a most serious reproof to the Administration” for placing the nation’s armies in “the hands of its enemies,” meaning Democrats. “What Republican has ever had a fair chance in this war?” Schurz asked, apparently leaving his own case out of account, and urged: “Let us be commanded by generals whose heart is in the war.” Lincoln thought this over and replied: “I have just received and read your letter of [November] 20th. The purport of it is that we lost the late elections and the Administration is failing because the war is unsuccessful, and that I must not flatter myself that I am not justly to blame for it. I certainly know that if the war fails, the Administration fails, and that I will be blamed for it, whether I deserve it or not. And I ought to be blamed if I could do better. You think I could do better; therefore you blame me already. I think I could not do better; therefore I blame you for blaming me.” Having thus disposed of the matter of blame, he passed on to the matter of hearts. “I understand you now to be willing to accept the help of men who are not Republicans, provided they have ‘heart in it.’ Agreed. I want no others. But who is to be the judge of hearts, or of ‘heart in it’? If I must discard my own judgment and take yours, I must also take that of others; and by the time I should reject all I should be advised to reject, I should have none left, Republicans or others—not even yourself. For be assured, my dear sir, there are men who have ‘heart in it’ that think you are performing your part as poorly as you think I am performing mine . . . . I wish to disparage no one, certainly not those who sympathize with me; but I must say I need success more than I need sympathy, and that I have not seen the so much greater evidence of getting success from my sympathizers than from those who are denounced as the contrary.”

He closed with a suggestion that the citizen soldier come to see him soon at the White House: which Schurz did, arriving early one morning, and was taken at once to an upstairs room where he found the President sitting before an open fire, his feet in large Morocco slippers. Told to pull up a chair, he did so: whereupon Lincoln brought his hand down with a slap on Schurz’s knee. “Now tell me, young man, whether you really think that I am as poor a fellow as you have made me out in your letter.” He was smiling, but Schurz could not keep from stammering as he tried to apologize. This made the tall man laugh aloud, and again he slapped his visitor’s knee. “Didn’t I give it to you hard in my letter? Didn’t I? But it didn’t hurt, did it? I did not mean to, and therefore I wanted you to come so quickly.” Still laughing, he added: “Well, I guess we understand one another now, and it’s all right.” They talked for the better part of an hour, and as Schurz rose to leave he asked whether he should keep on writing letters to the President. “Why, certainly,” Lincoln told him. “Write me whenever the spirit moves you.”

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