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The battle of Fair Oaks was fought May 31, 1862; or rather this is the date of the first of the terrible seven days before Richmond, when, as is now abundantly established, even by Rebel testimony, it would have been an easy matter for McClellan to have captured what proved to be the [140] Sebastopol of the Rebellion. During this week of battles, many of our wounded men were sent on steamboats and transports to White House landing, upon the estate of Mrs. Fitz Hugh Lee, wife of the Rebel General. Prosper M. Wetmore, of New York city, was, at this juncture, on a visit to the army. Very ill himself while on the Peninsula, his sympathies were greatly excited for the wounded soldiers, confined, during the broiling weather, to the boats, compelled to quench the burning thirst created by their wounds with the muddy water of the Pamunkey, which caused and aggravated disease in a fearful manner. As a civilian, he was permitted to go on shore, and there found the magnificent lawns and grounds, including one of the finest springs of water in the world, all under a protective guard, set over the property by order of the commanding general; and, while civilians like himself were permitted freely to drink at the spring, the suffering soldiers were prohibited from approaching it! Mr. W.‘s indignation was so greatly aroused that, upon reaching Baltimore, on his return home, he, with two other gentlemen, cognizant of the facts, determined to go to Washington and lay the case before the War Department. Upon hearing their statement, the Secretary of War referred them to Surgeon-General Hammond, saying that a requisition from him, to the effect that the grounds of the estate were needed for the wounded, would be instantly responded [141] to by the War Department in the issue of the necessary order, taking possession. They immediately waited upon the Surgeon-General, and procured the document required, upon which Secretary Stanton made out the order, saying, as he signed it: “Now, gentlemen, you had better see the President also about this matter, and get his indorsement of the order.” Proceeding to the Executive Mansion, they found, as usual, the waiting-rooms thronged with visitors; but, representing to the usher in attendance that their business was extremely urgent, and concerned the wounded of the army, they were at once shown into Mr. Lincoln's presence. It was late in what had perhaps been a trying or vexatious day. Very briefly, but unceremoniously, the object of their visit was stated. In the language of Mr. W-, “The President listened to the account half impatiently, saying, as the speaker concluded, with an expression of countenance very like a sneer, ‘This is another raid upon McClellan, I take it!’ ‘Mr. President,’ was the reply, ‘we came here to lay these facts before you solely from a sense of duty. Had I the power, sir, I would take possession of the lawns in front of this mansion for the benefit of our wounded men, so many of whom are now dying on the Pamunkey, for want of pure air and water. After the sights witnessed upon those seven steamboats now lying at White House, I covet every spot of greensward my eyes rest upon. What I have [142] told you of the actual condition of things at that landing is below the truth, as the gentlemen who accompany me will confirm to your satisfaction. For myself, allow me to say, sir, that I belong to that political organization which opposed your election to the Presidency — the same organization to which General McClellan is presumed to belong. This is no raid upon him or upon you. It is simple justice to the wounded and suffering soldiers that we ask of you.’ Entirely convinced by the candor of this reply, Mr. Lincoln then proceeded to a minute questioning in regard to the scenes they had witnessed; and when subsequently told that they had called at Secretary Stanton's request, to secure his approval of the order issued, which embraced only the grounds and spring, ‘Not only these,’ said he, with emphasis, ‘but the order must include the house, and everything else which can in any way contribute to the comfort of the poor boys!’ And so the order was made to read before it left Washington.”

There is scarcely a parallel in history to the forbearance exhibited by the President toward General McClellan. The incident given above is but one illustration of his impatience with those who preferred charges against the “Commanding General.” During the last year of his life, however, in friendly conversation, he could not refrain sometimes from an impromptu sarcasm, nevertheless so blended with wit that it must, one would think, effectually disarm all resentment. [143]

About two weeks after the Chicago Convention, the Rev. J. P. Thompson, of New York, called upon the President, in company with the Assistant Secretary of War, Mr. Dana. In the course of conversation, Dr. T. said: “What do you think, Mr. President, is the reason General McClellan does not reply to the letter from the Chicago Convention?” “Oh!” replied Mr. Lincoln, with a characteristic twinkle of the eye, “he is intrenching.”

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