[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, all other inconsistencies are as in the original. Author's spelling has been maintained.]
Charles Carleton Coffin
War Correspondent, Traveller, Author, and Statesman
William Elliot Griffis, D. D.
Author of "Matthew Calbraith Perry," "Sir William Johnson," and "Townsend Harris, First American Envoy to Japan."
Boston Estes and Lauriat 1898
Copyright, 1898 By Sallie R. Coffin
Colonial Press. Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co. Boston, U. S. A.
Dedicated to The Generation of Young People whom Carleton Helped to Educate for American Citizenship.
Among the million or more readers of "Carleton's" books, are some who will enjoy knowing about him as boy and man. Between condensed autobiography and biography, we have here, let us hope, a binocular, which will yield to the eye a stereoscopic picture, having the solidity and relief of ordinary vision.
Two facts may make one preface. Mrs. Coffin requested me, in a letter dated May 10, 1896, to outline the life and work of her late husband. "Because," said she, "you write in a condensed way that would please Mr. Coffin, and because you could see into Mr. Coffin's motives of life."
With such leisure and ability as one in the active pastorate, who preaches steadily to "town and gown" in a university town, could command, I have cut a cameo rather than chiselled a bust or statue. Many good friends, especially Dr. Edmund Carleton and Rev. H. A. Bridgman, have helped me. To them I herewith return warm thanks.
W. E. G.
Ithaca, N. Y., May 24, 1898.
I. Introductory Chapter. 13 II. Of Revolutionary Sires. 19 III. The Days of Homespun. 30 IV. Politics, Travel, and Business. 41 V. Electricity and Journalism. 55 VI. The Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln. 66 VII. The War Correspondent. 79 VIII. With the Army of the Potomac. 95 IX. Ho, for the Gunboats, Ho! 107 X. At Antietam and Fredericksburg. 119 XI. The Ironclads off Charleston. 132 XII. Gettysburg: High Tide and Ebb. 141 XIII. The Battles in the Wilderness. 151 XIV. Camp Life and News-gathering. 162 XV. "The Old Flag Waves over Sumter". 175 XVI. With Lincoln in Richmond. 183 XVII. The Glories of Europe. 189 XVIII. Through Oriental Lands. 204 XIX. In China and Japan. 215 XX. The Great Northwest. 229 XXI. The Writer of History. 238 XXII. Music and Poetry. 256 XXIII. Shawmut Church. 268 XXIV. The Free Churchman. 284 XXV. Citizen, Statesman, and Reformer. 294 XXVI. A Saviour of Human Life. 308 XXVII. Life's Evening Glow. 321 XXVIII. The Home at Alwington. 333 XXIX. The Golden Wedding. 341
CHARLES CARLETON COFFIN
Charles Carleton Coffin had a face that helped one to believe in God. His whole life was an evidence of Christianity. His was a genial, sunny soul that cheered you. He was an originator and an organizer of happiness. He had no ambition to be rich. His investments were in giving others a start and helping them to win success and joy. He was a soldier of the pen and a knight of truth. He began the good warfare in boyhood. He laid down armor and weapons only on the day that he changed his world. His was a long and beautiful life, worth both the living and the telling. He loved both fact and truth so well that one need write only realities about him. He cared little for flattery, so we shall not flatter him. His own works praise him in the gates.
He had blue eyes that often twinkled with fun, for Mr. Coffin loved a joke. He was fond to his last day of wit, and could make quick repartee. None enjoyed American humor more than he. He pitied the person who could not see a joke until it was made into a diagram, with annotations. In spirit, he was a boy even after three score and ten. The young folks "lived in that mild and magnificent eye." Out of it came sympathy, kindness, helpfulness. We have seen those eyes flash with indignation. Scorn of wrong snapped in them. Before hypocrisy or oppression his glances were as mimic lightning.
We loved to hear that voice. If one that is low is "an excellent thing in woman," one that is rich and deep is becoming to a man. Mr. Coffin's tones were sweet to the ear, persuasive, inspiring. His voice moved men, his acts more.
His was a manly form. Broad-footed and full-boned, he stood nearly six feet high. He was alert, dignified, easily accessible, and responsive even to children. With him, acquaintanceship was quickly made, and friendship long preserved. Those who knew Charles Carleton Coffin respected, honored, loved him. His memory, in the perspective of time, is as our remembrance of his native New Hampshire hills, rugged, sublime, tonic in atmosphere, seat of perpetual beauty. So was he, a moral invigorant, the stimulator to noble action, the centre of spiritual charm.
Who was he, and what did he do that he should have his life-story told?
First of all, he was the noblest work of God, an honest man. Nothing higher than this. The New Hampshire country boy rose to one of the high places in the fourth estate. He became editor of one of Boston's leading daily newspapers. On the battle-field he saw the movements of the mightiest armies and navies ever gathered for combat. As a white lily among war correspondents, he was ever trusted. He not only informed, but he kept in cheer all New England during four years of strain. With his pen he made himself a master of English style. He was a poet, a musician, a traveller, a statesman, and, best of all and always, a Christian. He travelled around the globe, and then told the world's story of liberty and of the war that crushed slavery and state sovereignty and consolidated the Union. With his books he has educated a generation of American boys and girls in patriotism. He died without entering into old age, for he was always ready to entertain a new idea. Let us glance at his name and inheritance. He was well named, and ever appreciated his heritage. In his Christian, middle, and family name, is a suggestion. In each lies a story.
"Charles," as we say, is the Norman form of the old Teutonic Carl, meaning strong, valiant, commanding. The Hungarians named a king Carl.
"Carleton" is the ton or town of Carl or Charles.
"Coffin" in old English meant a cask, chest, casket, box of any kind.
The Latin Cophinum was usually a basket. When Wickliffe translated the Gospel, he rendered the verse at Matt. xiv. 20, "They took up of that which remained over of the broken pieces, twelve coffins full."
The name as a family name is still found in England, but all the Coffins in America are descended from Tristram Coffin, who sailed from Plymouth, England, in 1642, and in 1660 settled in Nantucket. The most ancient seat of the name and family of the Coffins in England is Portledge, in the parish of Alwington. To his house, and last earthly home, in Brookline, Mass., built under his own eye, and in which Charles Carleton Coffin died, he gave the name of Alwington.
"Carleton's" grandfather, Peter Coffin, married Rebecca Hazeltine, of Chester, N. H., whose ancestors had come from England to Salem, Mass., in 1637, and settled at Bradford. Carleton has told something of his ancestry and kin in his "History of Boscawen." In his later years, in the eighties of this century, at the repeated and urgent request of his wife, Carleton wrote out, or, rather, jotted down, some notes for the story of the earlier portion of his life. He was to have written a volume—had his wife succeeded, after due perseverance, in overcoming his modesty—entitled "Recollections of Seventy Years." To this, we, also, that is, the biographer and others, often urged him. It was not to be.
Excepting, then, these hastily jotted notes, Mr. Coffin never indicated, gave directions, or prepared materials for his biography. To the story of his life, as gathered from his own rough notes, intended for after-reference and elaboration, let us at once proceed, without further introduction.
OF REVOLUTIONARY SIRES.
The Coffins of America are descended from Tristram Coffin of England and Nantucket. Charles Carleton Coffin was born of Revolutionary sires. He first saw light in the southwest corner room of a house which stood on Water Street, in Boscawen, N. H., which his grandfather, Captain Peter Coffin, had built in 1766.
This ancestor, "an energetic, plucky, good-natured, genial man," married Rebecca Hazeltine, of Chester, N. H. When the frame of the house was up and the corner room partitioned off, the bride and groom began housekeeping. Her wedding outfit was a feather bed, a frying-pan, a dinner-pot, and some wooden and pewter plates. She was just the kind of a woman to be the mother of patriots and to make the Revolution a success. The couple had been married nine years, when the news of the marching of the British upon Lexington reached Boscawen, on the afternoon of the 20th of April, 1775. Captain Coffin mounted his horse and rode to Exeter, to take part in the Provincial Assembly, which gathered the next day. Two years later, he served in the campaign against Burgoyne. When the militia was called to march to Bennington, in July, 1777, one soldier could not go because he had no shirt. Mrs. Coffin had a web of tow cloth in the loom. She at once cut out the woven part, sat up all night, and made the required garment, so that he could take his place in the ranks the next morning. One month after the making of this shirt, the father of Charles Carleton Coffin was born, July 15.
When the news of Stark's victory at Bennington came, the call was for every able-bodied man to turn out, in order to defeat Burgoyne. Every well man went, including Carleton's two grandfathers, Captain Peter Coffin, who had been out in June, though not in Stark's command, and Eliphalet Kilborn. The women and children were left to gather in the crops. The wheat was ripe for the sickle, but there was not a man or boy to cut it. With her baby, one month old, in her arms, Mrs. Peter Coffin mounted the horse, leaving her other children in care of the oldest, who was but seven years old. The heroine made her way six miles through the woods, fording Black Water River to the log cabin of Enoch Little, on Little Hill, in the present town of Webster. Here were several sons, but the two eldest had gone to Bennington. Enoch, Jr., fourteen years old, could be spared to reap the ripened grain, but he was without shoes, coat, or hat, and his trousers of tow cloth were out at the knee.
"Enoch can go and help you, but he has no coat," said Mrs. Little.
"I can make him a coat," said Mrs. Coffin.
The boy sprang on the horse behind the heroic woman, who, between the baby and the boy, rode upon the horse back to the farm. Enoch took the sickle and went to the wheat field, while Mrs. Coffin made him a coat. She had no cloth, but taking a meal-bag, she cut a hole in the bottom for his head, and two other holes for his arms. Then cutting off the legs of a pair of her stockings, she sewed them on for sleeves, thus completing the garment. Going into the wheat field, she laid her baby, the father of Charles Carleton Coffin, in the shade of a tree, and bound up the cut grain into sheaves.
In 1789, when the youngest child of this Revolutionary heroine was four months old, she was left a widow, with five children. Three were daughters, the eldest being sixteen; and two were sons, the elder being twelve. With rigid economy, thrift, and hard work, she reared her family. In working out the road tax she was allowed four pence halfpenny for every cart-load of stones dumped into miry places on the highway. She helped the boys fill the cart with stones. While the boy who became Carleton's father managed the steers, hauled and dumped the load, she went on with her knitting.
Of such a daughter of the Revolution and of a Revolutionary sire was Carleton's father born. When he grew to manhood he was "tall in stature, kind-hearted, genial, public-spirited, benevolent, ever ready to relieve suffering and to help on every good cause. He was an intense lover of liberty and was always true to his convictions." He fell in love with Hannah, the daughter of Deacon Eliphalet Kilborn, of Boscawen, and the couple lived in the old house built by his father. There, after other children had been born, Charles Carleton Coffin, her youngest child, entered this world at 9 A. M., July 26, 1823. From this time forward, the mother never had a well day. After ten years of ill health and suffering, she died from too much calomel and from slow starvation, being able to take but little food on account of canker in her mouth and throat. Carleton, her pet, was very much with her during his child-life, so that his recollections of his mother were ever very clear, very tender, and profoundly influential for good.
The first event whose isolation grew defined in the mind of "the baby new to earth and sky," was an incident of 1825, when he was twenty-three months old. His maternal grandfather had shot a hawk, breaking its wing, and bringing it to the house alive. The boy baby standing in the doorway, all the family being in the yard, always remembered looking at what he called "a hen with a crooked bill." Carleton's recollection of the freshet of August, 1826, when the great slide occurred at the White Mountains, causing the death of the Willey family, was more detailed. This event has been thrillingly described by Thomas Starr King. The irrepressible small boy wanted to "go to meeting" on Sunday. Being told that he could not, he cried himself to sleep. When he awoke he mounted his "horse,"—a broomstick,—and cantered up the road for a half mile. Captured by a lady, he resisted vigorously, while she pointed to the waters running in white streams down the hills through the flooded meadows and telling him he would be drowned.
Meanwhile the hired man at home was poling the well under the sweep and "the old oaken bucket," thinking the little fellow might have leaned over the curb and tumbled in. Shortly afterwards he came near disappearing altogether from this world by tumbling into the water-trough, being fished out by his sister Mary.
In the old kitchen, a pair of deer's horns fastened into the wall held the long-barrelled musket which his grandfather had carried in the campaign of 1777. A round beaver hat, bullet, button, and spoon moulds, and home-made pewter spoons and buttons, were among other things which impressed themselves upon the sensitive films of the child's memory.
Following out the usual small boy's instinct of destruction, he once sallied out down to the "karsey" (causeway) to spear frogs with a weapon made by his brother. It was a sharpened nail in the end of a broomstick. Stepping on a log and making a stab at a "pull paddock," he slipped and fell head foremost into the mud and slime. Scrambling out, he hied homeward, and entering the parlor, filled with company, he was greeted with shouts of laughter. Even worse was it to be dubbed by his brother and the hired man a "mud lark."
Carleton's first and greatest teachers were his mother and father. After these, came formal instruction by means of letters and books, classes and schools. Carleton's religious and dogmatic education began with the New England Primer, and progressed with the hymns of that famous Congregationalist, Doctor Watts. When five years old, at the foot of a long line of boys and girls, he toed the mark,—a crack in the kitchen floor,—and recited verses from the Bible. Sunday-school instruction was then in its beginning at Boscawen. The first hymn he learned was:
"Life is the time to serve the Lord."
"In Adam's fall We sinned all,"
the infantile ganglions got tangled up between the "sleigh" in the carriage-house, and the act of pussy in mauling the poor little mouse, unmentioned, but of importance, in the couplet:
"The cat doth play, And after slay."
Having heard of and seen the sleigh before learning the synonym for "kill," the little New Hampshire boy was as much bothered as a Chinese child who first hears one sound which has many meanings, and only gradually clears up the mystery as the ideographs are mastered.
From the very first, the boy had an ear sensitive to music. The playing of Enoch Little, his first school-teacher, and afterwards his brother-in-law, upon the bass viol, was very sweet. Napoleon was never prouder of his victories at Austerlitz than was little Carleton of his first reward of merit. This was a bit of white paper two inches square, bordered with yellow from the paint-box of a beautiful young lady who had written in the middle, "To a good little boy."
The first social event of importance was the marriage of his sister Apphia to Enoch Little, Nov. 29, 1829, when a room-full of cousins, uncles, and aunts gathered together. After a chapter read from the Bible, and a long address by the clergyman, the marital ceremony was performed, followed by a hymn read and sung, and a prayer. Although this healthy small boy, Carleton, had been given a big slice of wedding cake with white frosting on the top, he felt himself injured, and was hotly jealous of his brother Enoch, who had secured a slice with a big red sugar strawberry on the frosting. After eating voraciously, he hid the remainder of his cake in the mortise of a beam beside the back chamber stairs. On visiting it next morning for secret indulgence, he found that the rats had enjoyed the wedding feast, too. Nothing was left. His first toy watch was to him an event of vast significance, and he slept with it under his pillow. When also he had donned his first pair of trousers, he strutted like a turkey cock and said, "I look just like a grand sir." Children in those days often spoke of men advanced in years as "grand sirs."
The boy was ten years old when President Andrew Jackson visited Concord. Everybody went to see "Old Hickory." In the yellow-bottomed chaise, paterfamilias Coffin took his boy Carleton and his daughter Elvira, the former having four pence ha'penny to spend. Federal currency was not plentiful in those days, and the people still used the old nomenclature, of pounds, shillings, and pence, which was Teutonic even before it was English or American. Rejoicing in his orange, his stick of candy, and his supply of seed cakes, young Carleton, from the window of the old North Meeting House, saw the military parade and the hero of New Orleans. With thin features and white hair, Jackson sat superbly on a white horse, bowing right and left to the multitude. Martin Van Buren was one of the party.
Another event, long to be remembered by a child who had never before been out late at night, was when, with a party of boys seven or eight in number, he went a-spearing on Great Pond. In the calm darkness they walked around the pond down the brook to the falls. With a bright jack-light, made of pitch-pine-knots, everything seemed strange and exciting to the boy who was making his first acquaintance of the wilderness world by night. His brother Enoch speared an eel that weighed four pounds, and a pickerel of the same weight. The party did not get home till 2 A. M., but the expedition was a glorious one and long talked over. The only sad feature in this rich experience was in his mother's worrying while her youngest child was away.
This was in April. On the 20th of August, just after sunset, in the calm summer night, little Carleton looked into his mother's eyes for the last time, and saw the heaving breast gradually become still. It was the first great sorrow of his life.
THE DAYS OF HOMESPUN.
Carleton's memories of school-days have little perhaps that is uncommon. He remembers the typical struggle between the teacher and the big boy who, despite resistance, was soundly thrashed. Those were the days of physical rather than moral argument, of punishment before judicial inquiry. Once young Carleton had marked his face with a pencil, making the scholars laugh. Called up by the man behind the desk, and asked whether he had done it purposely, the frightened boy, not knowing what to say, answered first yes, and then no. "Don't tell a lie, sir," roared the master, and down came the blows upon the boy's hands, while up came the sense of injustice and the longing for revenge. The boy took his seat with tingling palms and a heart hot with the sense of wrong, but no tears fell.
It was his father's rule that if the children were punished at school, they should have the punishment repeated at home. This was the sentiment of the time and the method of discipline believed to be best for moulding boys and girls into law-abiding citizens. In the evening, tender-hearted and with pain in his soul, but fearing to relax and let down the bars to admit a herd of evils, the father doomed his son to stay at home, ordering as a punishment the reading of the narrative of Ananias and Sapphira.
From that hour throughout his life Carleton hated this particular scripture. He had told no lie, he did not know what he had said, yet he was old enough to feel the injustice of the punishment. It rankled in memory for years. Temporarily he hated the teacher and the Bible, and the episode diminished for awhile his respect for law and order.
The next ten years of Carleton's life may be told in his own words, as follows:
"The year of 1830 may be taken as a general date for a new order of social life. The years prior to that date were the days of homespun. I remember the loom in the garret, the great and small spinning-wheels, the warping bars, quill wheel, reels, swifts, and other rude mechanisms for spinning and weaving. My eldest sister learned to spin and weave. My second sister Mary and sister Elvira both could spin on the large wheel, but did not learn to weave. I myself learned to twist yarn on the large wheel, and was set to winding it into balls.
"The linen and the tow cloths were bleached on the grass in the orchard, and it was my business to keep it sprinkled during the hot days, to take it in at night and on rainy days, to prevent mildew. In those days a girl began to prepare for marriage as soon as she could use a needle, stitching bits of calico together for quilts. She must spin and weave her own sheets and pillow-cases and blankets.
"All of my clothes, up to the age of fourteen, were homespun. My first 'boughten' jacket was an olive green broadcloth,—a remnant which was bought cheap because it was a remnant. I wore it at an evening party given by my schoolmate. We were twenty or more boys and girls, and I was regarded by my mates with jealousy. I was an aristocrat, all because I wore broadcloth.
"It was the period of open fireplaces. Stoves were just being introduced. We could play blind man's buff in the old kitchen with great zest without running over stoves.
"It was the period of brown bread, apple and milk, boiled dinners, pumpkin pies. We had very little cake. Pork and beans and Indian pudding were standard dishes, only the pudding was eaten first. My father had always been accustomed to that order. His second marriage was in 1835, and my stepmother, or rather my sister Mary, who was teaching school in Concord and had learned the new way, brought about the change in the order of serving the food.
"Prior to 1830 there was no stove in the meeting-house, and the introduction of the first stove brought about a deal of trouble. One man objected, the air stifled him. It was therefore voted that on one Sunday in each month there should be no fire.
"It was a bitter experience,—riding two and one-half miles to meeting, sitting through the long service with the mercury at zero. Only we did not know how cold it was, not having a thermometer. My father purchased one about 1838. I think there was one earlier in the town.
"The Sunday noons were spent around the fireplaces. The old men smoked their pipes.
"In 1835, religious meetings were held in all the school districts, usually in the kitchens of the farmhouses. There was a deep religious interest. Protracted meetings, held three days in succession, were frequently attended by all the ministers of surrounding towns. I became impressed with a sense of my condition as a sinner, and resolved to become a Christian. I united with the church the first Sunday in May, 1835, in my twelfth year. I knew very little about the spiritual life, but I have no doubt that I have been saved from many temptations by the course then pursued. The thought that I was a member of the church was ever a restraint in temptation."
The anti-slavery agitation reached Boscawen in 1835, and Carleton's father became an ardent friend of the slaves. In the Webster meeting-house the boy attended a gathering at which a theological student gave an address, using an illustration in the peroration which made a lasting impression upon the youthful mind. At a country barn-raising, the frame was partly up, but the strength of the raisers was gone. "It won't go, it won't go," was the cry. An old man who was making pins threw down his axe, and shouted, "It will go," and put his shoulder to a post, and it did go. So would it be with anti-slavery.
The boy Carleton became an ardent abolitionist from this time forth. He read the Liberator, Herald of Freedom, Emancipator, and all the anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets which he could get hold of. In his bedroom, he had hanging on the wall the picture of a negro in chains. The last thing he saw at night, and the first that met his eyes in the morning, was this picture, with the words, "Am I not a man and a brother?"
With their usual conservatism, the churches generally were hostile to the movement and methods of the anti-slavery agitation. There was an intense prejudice against the blacks. The only negro in town was a servant girl, who used to sit solitary and alone in the colored people's pew in the gallery. When three families of black folks moved into a deserted house in Boscawen, near Beaver Dam Brook, and their children made their appearance in Corser Hill school, a great commotion at once ensued in the town. After the Sunday evening prayer-meeting, which was for "the conversion of the world," it was agreed by the legal voters that "if the niggers persisted in attending school," it should be discontinued. Accordingly the children left the Corser Hill school, and went into what was, "religiously speaking," a heathen district, where, however, the prejudice against black people was not so strong, and there were received into the school.
Thereupon, out of pure devotion to principle, Carleton's father protested against the action of the Corser Hill people, and, to show his sympathy, gave employment to the negroes even when he did not need their services. Society was against the Africans, and they needed help. They were not particularly nice in their ways, nor were they likely to improve while all the world was against them. Mr. Coffin's idea was to improve them.
About this time Whittier's poems, especially those depicting slave life, had a great influence upon young Carleton. Learning the poems, he declaimed them in schools and lyceums. The first week in June, which was not only election time, but also anniversary week in Concord, with no end of meetings, was mightily enjoyed by the future war correspondent. He attended them, and listened to Garrison, Thompson, Weld, Stanton, Abby K. Foster, and other agitators. The disruption of the anti-slavery societies, and the violence of the churches, were matters of great grief to Carleton's father, who began early to vote for James G. Birney. He would not vote for Henry Clay. When Carleton's uncle, B. T. Kimball, and his three sons undertook to sustain the anti-slavery agitator, and also interrupter of church services, in the meeting-house on Corser Hill, on Sunday afternoon, the obnoxious orator was removed by force at the order of the justice of the peace. In the disciplinary measures inaugurated by the church, Mr. Kimball and his three sons and daughters were excommunicated. This proved an unhappy affair, resulting in great bitterness and dissension.
Carleton thus tells his own story of amateur soldiering:
"Those were the days of military trainings. In September, 1836, came the mustering of the 21st Regiment, New Hampshire militia. My brother Frederic was captain of the light infantry. I played first the triangle and then the drum in his company. I knew all the evolutions laid down in the book. The boys of Boscawen formed a company and elected me captain. I was thirteen years old, full of military ardor. I drilled them in a few evolutions till they could execute them as well as the best soldiers of the adult companies. We wore white frocks trimmed with red braid and three-cornered pasteboard caps with a bronzed eagle on the front. Muster was on Corser Hill. One of the boys could squeak out a tune on the fife. One boy played the bass drum, and another the small drum.
"We had a great surprise. The Bellows Falls Band, from Walpole, New Hampshire, was travelling to play at musters, and as none of the adult companies hired them, they offered their services to us free.
"My company paraded in rear of the meeting-house. My brother, with the light infantry, was the first company at drill. He had two fifes and drums. Nearly all the companies were parading, but the regimental line had not been formed when we made our appearance. What a commotion! It was a splendid band of about fifteen members,—two trombones, cornets, bugles, clarionets, fife. No other company had more than fifes or clarionets. It was a grand crash which the band gave. The next moment the people were astonished to see a company of boys marching proudly upon the green,—up and down,—changing front, marching by files, in echelon, by platoons.
"We took our place in line on the field, were inspected, reviewed, and complimented by Maj.-Gen. Anthony Colby, afterwards governor of the State.
"When I gave the salute, the crowd applauded. It was the great day of all others in my boyhood. Several of the farmers gave us a grand dinner. In the afternoon we took part in the sham fight with our little cannon, and covered ourselves with glory—against the big artillery.
"I think that I manifested good common sense when, at the close of the day, I complimented the soldiers on their behavior, and resigned my commission. I knew that we could never attain equal glory again, and that it was better to resign when at the zenith of fame than to go out as a fading star."
POLITICS, TRAVEL, AND BUSINESS.
Let us quote again from Mr. Coffin's autobiographical notes:
"In 1836 my father, catching the speculation fever of the period, accompanied by my uncle and brother-in-law, went to Illinois, and left quite an amount of money for the purchase of government land. My father owned several shares in the Concord Bank. The speculative fever pervaded the entire community,—speculation in lands in Maine and in Illinois. The result was a great inflation of prices,—the issuing of a great amount of promises to pay, with a grand collapse which brought ruin and poverty to many households. The year of 1838 was one of great distress. The wheat and corn crop was scant. Flour was worth $16 a barrel. I remember going often to mill with a grist of oats, which was bolted into flour for want of wheat. The Concord Bank failed,—the Western lands were worthless. Wool could not be sold, and the shearing for that year was taken to the town of Nelson, in Cheshire County, and manufactured into satinets and cassimeres, on shares. One of the pieces of cassimere was dyed with a claret tinge, from which I had my first Sunday suit.
"Up to this period, nearly all my clothing was manufactured in the family loom and cleaned at the clothing and fulling mill. In very early boyhood, my Sunday suit was a swallow-tailed coat, and hat of the stove-pipe pattern.
"The year 1840 was one of great political excitement,—known to history as the Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign. General Harrison, the Whig candidate, was popularly supposed to live in a log cabin and drink hard cider. On June 17th, there was an immense gathering of Whigs at Concord. It was one of the greatest days of my life. Six weeks prior to that date, I thought of nothing but the coming event. I was seventeen years old, with a clear and flexible voice, and I quickly learned the Harrison songs. I went to the convention with my brothers and cousins, in a four-wheeled lumber wagon, drawn by four horses, with a white banner, having the words 'Boscawen Whig Delegation.' We had flags, and the horses' heads labelled 'Harrison and Tyler.' We had a roasted pig, mince pies, cakes, doughnuts and cheese, and a keg of cider. Before reaching Concord we were joined by the log cabin from Franklin, with coon skins, bear traps, etc., dangling from its sides. Boscawen sent nearly every Whig voter to the meeting. I hurrahed and sung, and was wild with excitement. I remember three of the speakers,—George Wilson, of Keene, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, a young man, and Henry Wilson, also a young man, both of them natives of New Hampshire. Wilson had attended school with my brother at the academy in Concord, in 1837, then having the high-sounding name of Concord Literary Institute. Wilson was a shoemaker, then residing in Natick, Mass., and was known as the 'Natick Cobbler.' The songs have nearly all faded from memory. I recall one line of our description of the prospective departure of Van Buren's cabinet from the White House:
"'Let each as we go take a fork and a spoon.'
"There was one entitled 'Up Salt River,'—descriptive of the approaching fate of the Democratic party. Another ran:
"'Oh, what has caused this great commotion the country through? It is the ball, a rolling on For Tippecanoe and Tyler too.'
"Then came the chorus:
"'Van, Van, is a used-up man.'
"In 1839, I had a fancy that I should like to be a merchant, and was taken to Newburyport and placed with a firm of wholesale and retail grocers. I was obliged to be up at 4.30, open the store, care for the horse, curry him, swallow my breakfast in a hurry, also my dinner and supper, and close the store at nine. It was only an experiment on my part, and after five weeks of such life, finding that I was compelled to do dishonest work, I concluded that I never would attempt to be a princely merchant, and took the stage for home. It was a delightful ride home on the top of the rocking coach, with the driver lashing his whip and his horses doing their best.
"I think it was in 1841 that Daniel Webster attended the Merrimac County Agricultural Fair at Fisherville, now Penacook. I was there with a fine yoke of oxen which won his admiration. He asked me as to their age and weight, and to whom they belonged. He recognized nearly all of his old acquaintances. I saw him many times during the following year. He was in the prime of life,—in personal appearance a remarkable man."
Thus far it will be seen that there was little in Mr. Coffin's life and surroundings that could not be easily told of the average New England youth. Besides summer work on the farm, and "chores" about the house, he had taken several terms at the academy in Boscawen. During the winter of 1841-42, while unable to do any outdoor work, on account of sickness, he bought a text-book on land-surveying and learned something of the science and art, yet more for pastime than from any expectation of making it useful.
Nevertheless, that book had a powerful influence upon his life. It gave him an idea, through the application of measurement to the earth's surface, of that order and beauty of those mathematical principles after which the Creator built the universe. It opened his eyes to the vast modification of the landscape, and the earth itself, by man's work upon its crust. It gave him the engineer's eye. Henceforth he became interested in the capacity of every portion of the country, which came under his notice, for the roads, fields, gardens, and parks of peace, and for the making of forts, military roads, and the strategy of battle. In a word, the book and its study gave him an enrichment of life which fitted him to enjoy the world by travel, and to understand the arena of war,—theatres of usefulness to which Providence was to call him in after-life.
In August, 1843, in his twenty-first year, he became a student at Pembroke Academy. The term of ten weeks seemed ever afterwards in his memory one of the golden periods of his life. The teacher, Charles G. M. Burnham, was enthusiastic and magnetic, having few rules, and placing his pupils upon their honor. It was not so much what Carleton learned from books, as association with the one hundred and sixty young men and women of his own age, which here so stimulated him.
From the academy he advanced to be teacher of the district school on Corser Hill, in West Boscawen, but after three weeks of pedagogy was obliged to leave on account of sickness. He passed the remainder of the winter in lumbering, rising at 4 A. M. to feed his team of horses. While breakfast was preparing he studied books, ate the meal by candle-light, and then was off with his lunch of cold meat, bread, and apple pie. From the woods to the bank of the Merrimac the distance was three miles, and three or four trips were made daily in drawing the long and heavy logs to the water. Returning home after dark, he ate supper by candle-light, fed his horses, and gave an hour to study before bedtime.
The summer of 1844 was one of hard toil on the farm. In July he became of age, and during the autumn worked on his brother-in-law's farm, rising at five and frequently finishing about 9 P. M. It is no wonder that all through his life Mr. Coffin showed a deep sympathy, born of personal experience, with men who are bound down to physical toil. Nevertheless, the fine arts were not neglected. He had already learned to play the "seraphine," the instrument which has been developed into the reed organ. He started the project, in 1842, of getting one for the church. By great efforts sixty dollars were raised and an instrument purchased in Concord. Mr. Coffin became the "organist," and also taught singing in the schoolhouse. Three of his nieces, excellent singers, assisted him.
The time had now come for the young man to strike out in the world for himself. Like most New England youth, his eyes were on Boston. With a recommendation from his friend, the minister, he took the stage to Concord. The next day he was in Boston, then a city of 75,000 people, with the water dashing against the embankment of Charles Street, opposite the Common, and with only one road leading out to Roxbury. Sloops and schooners, loaded with coal and timber, sailed over the spot where afterwards stood his house, at No. 81 Dartmouth Street. In a word, the "Back Bay" and "South End" were then unknown. Boston city, shaped like a pond lily laid flat, had its long stem reaching to the solid land southward on the Dorchester and Roxbury hills.
Young Carleton went to Mount Vernon Church on Ashburton Place, the pastor, Dr. E. N. Kirk, being in the prime of his power, and the church crowded. The country boy from New Hampshire became a member of the choir and enjoyed the Friday night rehearsals. He found employment at one dollar a day in a commission store, 84 Utica Street, with the firm of Lowell & Hinckley. The former, a brother of James Russell Lowell, had a son, a bright little boy, who afterwards became the superb cavalry commander at the battle of Cedar Creek in 1864. Carleton boarded on Beacon Street, next door to the present Athenaeum Building. The firm dissolved by Mr. Lowell's entering the Athenaeum. Carleton returned to his native town to vote. He became a farm laborer with his brother-in-law, passing a summer of laborious toil, frequently fourteen and sixteen hours, with but little rest.
It was time now for the old Granite State to be opened by the railway. The Northern Railroad had been chartered, and preliminary surveys were to be made. Young Carleton, seizing the opportunity, went to Franklin, saw the president, and told him who he was. He was at once offered a position as chainman, and told to report two weeks later. The other chainman gave Carleton the leading end, intending that the Boscawen boy, and not himself, should drag it and drive the stake. Carleton did not object, for he was looking beyond the chain.
The compass-man was an old gentleman dim of eyesight and slow of action. Young Carleton drove his first stake, at a point one hundred feet north of the Concord railway depot, which was opened in the month of August, 1845. The old compass-man then set his compass for a second sight, but before he could get out his spectacles and put them on, young Carleton read the point to him. When, through his glasses, the old gentleman had verified the reading, he was delighted. Promotion for Carleton was now sure. Before night he was not only dragging the chain, but was sighting the instrument. The result, two days later, was promotion to the charge of the party. What he had learned of land surveying was producing its fruit. In the autumn he was employed as the head of a party to make the preliminary survey of the Concord and Portsmouth road.
Unfortunately, during this surveying campaign, he received a wound which caused slight permanent lameness and disqualified him for military service. It came about in this way. He was engaged in some work while an axe-man behind him was chopping away some bushes and undergrowth. The latter gave a swing of the axe which came out too far and cut through the boot and large tendon of Carleton's left ankle. With skilled medical attention, rest, and care, the wound would have soon healed up, but owing to lack of skill, and to carelessness and exposure, the wound gave him considerable trouble, and once reopened. In after-life, when overwearied, this part of the limb was very troublesome.
It was not all toil for Carleton. The time of love had already come, and the days of marriage were not far off. The object of his devotion was Miss Sally Russell Farmer, the daughter of Colonel John Farmer, of Boscawen. On February 18, 1846, amid the winter winds, the fire of a holy union for life was kindled, and its glow was unflickering during more than fifty years. In ancestry and relationship, the Farmers of Boscawen were allied with the Russells of England,—Sir William, of bygone centuries, and Lord John, of our own memory. Carleton found a true "help-meet" in Sally Coffin. Though no children ever came to bless their union, it was as perfect, though even more hallowed and beautified, on the day it was severed, as when first begun.
The following summer was one full of days of toil in the engineering department of the Northern railway, Carleton being engaged upon the first section to be opened from Concord to Franklin. The engineering was difficult, and the work heavy. Breakfast was eaten at six in the morning, and dinner wherever it could be found along the road. Seldom could the young engineer rise from his arithmetical calculations until midnight.
Weary with such exacting mental and physical labor, he resigned his position, and became a contractor. First he supplied the Concord railroad with 200,000 feet of lumber, which he purchased at the various mills. This venture being profitable, he engaged in the lumber trade, furnishing beams for a large factory, timber for a new railway station at Concord, and for a ship at Medford. It was while transacting some business in Lowell, that he saw President Polk, James Buchanan, Levi Woodbury, and other political magnates of the period, who, however, were rather coldly received on account of the annexation of Texas, and war with Mexico.
Wishing for a home of his own, Carleton now bought a farm in West Boscawen, and began housekeeping in the following November. He carried on extensive lumber operations, hiring a large number of men and teams. He rose between four and five in the morning, and was in the woods, four miles away, at sunrise, working through the day, and reaching home after dark to care for the cattle and horses and milk the cows. None of his men worked harder than he.
Although railroad building stimulated prices and gave activity to business men, the flush times were followed by depression. To secure the construction of a railway to the mast yard, Carleton subscribed to the stock, and, under the individual liability law of that period, was compelled to take as much more to relieve the company from debt. Soon he found, however, in spite of hard work for both himself and his wife, that farming and lumbering together rendered no adequate returns. Relief to mind and body was found in the weekly arrival of Littell's Living Age and two or three weekly papers, in agricultural meetings at Concord and Manchester, and in the formation of the State Agricultural Society, of which Carleton was one of the founders.
ELECTRICITY AND JOURNALISM.
The modern age of electricity was ushered in during Mr. Coffin's early manhood. The telegraph, which has given the world a new nervous system, being less an invention than an evolution, had from the labors of Prof. Joseph Henry, in Albany, and of Wheatstone, of England, become, by Morse's invention of the dot-and-line alphabet, a far-off writer by which men could annihilate time and distance. One of the first to experiment with the new power—old as eternity, but only slowly revealed to man—was Carleton's brother-in-law, Prof. Moses G. Farmer, whose services to science have never yet been adequately set forth.
This inventor in 1851 invited Mr. Coffin to leave the farm temporarily, to construct a line of wire connecting the telegraphs of Boston with the Cambridge observatory, for the purpose of giving uniform time to the railroads. In this Carleton was so successful that, in the winter and spring of 1852, he was employed by Mr. Moses Farmer to construct the telegraph fire alarm, which had been invented by his brother-in-law. The work was completed in the month of May, and Charles Carleton Coffin gave the first alarm of fire ever transmitted by the electric apparatus. The system was a great curiosity, and many distinguished men of this country, and from Europe, especially from Russia and France, came to inspect its working.
Commodore Charles Wilkes, of the United States Navy, who had returned from his brilliant expedition in Antarctic regions, but who had not yet made himself notorious by a capture of the Confederate commissioners, proposed to use this electric system in ascertaining the velocity of sound. Cannon were stationed at various points, the Navy Yard, Fort Constitution, South Boston, and at the Observatory, in front of which was an apparatus and telegraph connecting with the central office. Each cannon, when fired, heated the circuit. Each listener at the various points was to snap a circuit key the moment the sound reached him. In the central office was a chronograph which registered each discharge in succession. The distances from each cannon muzzle had been obtained by triangulation. In the calm, still night, Commodore Wilkes and Professor Farmer stood in the cupola of the State House with the chronograph, holding their watches, and noting the successive flashes.
The experiments were not very satisfactory. Mr. Coffin, perhaps, possibly, because he was not a skilled artillerist, had the mortifying experience of seeing the apparatus in front of his cannon blown into fragments, but he made notes of the other reports. After a series of trials, the approximate result was obtained, that in a moderately humid atmosphere the velocity of sound was a little under nine hundred feet per second.
The exactions of the fire alarm service, owing to its crude construction, which compelled the attendants to be ever on the alert, told severely on Carleton's' nervous system. He therefore resigned in October, and went to Cincinnati to get the system introduced there. Herds of hogs then roamed the streets, picking up their living around the grain houses, and in the gutters. After three weeks of exhibition and canvassing, he found that Cincinnati was not yet ready for such a novelty, and so he returned to Boston.
The following winter was passed in Boscawen without financially remunerative employment, but in earnest study, though in the spring a supply of money came pleasantly and unexpectedly. He undertook to negotiate a patent for an invention of Professor Farmer's, and after considerable time disposed of it to a New York gentleman. Carleton's net profits were $1,850.
This was an immense sum to him, and he once more resolved to try Boston, and did so. He made his home, however, in Malden, renting half of a small house on Washington Street. Having inked his pen on agricultural subjects, descriptive pieces, and even on a few poems, he took up newspaper work. Entering the office of the Boston Journal he worked without pay, giving the Journal three months' service in writing editorials, and reporting meetings. This was simply to educate himself as a journalist. At that time very few reporters were employed on the daily papers. What he says of this work had better be told in his own words:
"It was three months of hard study and work. I saw that what the public wanted was news in condensed form; that the day for stately editorials was passing away; that short statements and arguments, which went like an arrow straight to the mark, were what the public would be likely to read. I formed my style of writing with that in view. I avoided long sentences. I thought that I went too far in the other direction and clipped my sentences too short, and did not give sufficient ornamentation, but I determined to use words of Saxon rather than of Latin or Norman origin, to use 'begin,' instead of 'commence,' as stronger and more forcible.
"I selected the speeches of Webster, Lord Erskine, Burke, and other English writers, for careful analysis, but soon discarded Brougham and Burke. I derived great benefit from Erskine and Webster, for incisive and strong statement,—also Shakespeare and Milton. At that time I read again and again the rhapsodies of Christopher North, Professor Wilson, and the 'Noctes Ambrosianae,' and found great delight, also, in reading Bryant's poems.
"It was the period of white heat in the anti-slavery struggle, when the public heard the keenest debates, the sharpest invective. At an anti-slavery meeting the red-hot lava was always on the flow. The anti-slavery men were like anthracite in the furnace,—red hot,—white hot,—clear through. I have little doubt that the sharpness and ruggedness of my writing is due, in some degree, to the curt, sharp statements of that period. When men were feeling so intensely, and speaking with a force and earnestness unknown in these later years, a reporter would insensibly take on something of the spirit of the hour, otherwise his reports would be limp and lifeless. I was induced to study stenography, but the system then in use was complex and inadequate,—hard to learn. I was informed by several stenographers that if I wanted a condensed report it would be far better to give the spirit, rather than attempt the letter."
During the summer of 1854, Mrs. Coffin being in poor health, they visited Saratoga together, passed several weeks at the Springs, and visited the battle-field where his grandfather, Eliphalet Kilborn, had fought. Carleton picked up a bullet just uncovered by the plow, and in that bright and beautiful summer's day the whole scene of 1777 came back before him. From the author's map in "Burgoyne's Defence," giving a meagre sketch of the battle, he was able to retrace the general lines of the American breastworks. This was the first of scores of careful study on the spot and reproduction in imagination of famous battles, which Carleton made and enjoyed during his life.
He was also present at the International Exhibition in New York, seeing, on the opening day, President Franklin Pierce and his Cabinet. The popular idol of the hour was General Winfield Scott, of an imposing personal appearance which was set off by a showy uniform. He was the hero of the two wars, and expected to be President. In personal vanity, in bravery, and in military science, Scott was without a superior, one of the ablest officers whose names adorn the long and brilliant roll of the United States regular army.
Carleton wrote of General Scott: "A man of great egotism, an able general, but who never had any chance of an election. He was the last candidate of a dying political party which never was aggressive and which was going down under the slave power, to which it had allied itself."
Mr. Coffin writes further: "The passage of the Compromise Measures of 1850 gave great offence to the radical wing of the anti-slavery party. The members of that wing were very bitter towards Daniel Webster for his part in its passage. I was heart and soul in sympathy with the grand idea of anti-slavery, but did not believe in fierce denunciation as the best argument. I did not like the compromise, and hated the odious fugitive slave law, but I nevertheless believed that Mr. Webster was sincere in his desire to avert impending trouble. I learned from Hon. G. W. Nesmith, of Franklin, president of the Northern railroad, that Mr. Webster felt very keenly the assaults upon him, and the manifest alienation of his old friends. Mr. Nesmith suggested that his old-time neighbors in Boscawen and Salisbury should send him a letter expressive of their appreciation of his efforts to harmonize the country, and that the proper person to write the letter was the Rev. Mr. Price, ex-pastor of the Congregational church in West Boscawen, in whom the county had great confidence. A few days later, at the invitation of Mr. Price, I went over the rough draft with him in his study. The letter was circulated for signatures by Worcester Webster, of Boscawen, distantly related to Daniel. It is in the published works of the great statesman, edited by Mr. Everett, together with his reply."
In May, 1854, Carleton saw the Potomac and the Capitol at Washington for the first time. The enlargement of the house of the National Legislature had not yet begun. He studied the paintings in the rotunda, which were to him a revelation of artistic power. He spent a long time before Prof. Robert W. Weir's picture of the departure of the Pilgrims for Delfshaven.
Here are some of his impressions of the overgrown village and of the characters he met:
"Washington was a straggling city, thoroughly Southern. There was not a decent hotel. The National was regarded as the best. Nearly all the public men were in boarding-houses. I stopped at the Kirkwood, then regarded as very good. The furniture was old; there was scarcely a whole chair in the parlor or dining-room. It was the period of the Kansas struggle. The passions of men were at a white heat. The typical Southern man wore a broad-brimmed felt hat. Many had long hair and loose flowing neckties. There was insolence and swagger in their deportment towards Northern men.
"I spent much time in the gallery of the Senate. Thomas Benton, of Missouri, was perhaps the most notable man in the Senate. Slidell, of Louisiana, whom I had seen in New Hampshire the winter before, speaking for the Democracy, and Toombs, of Georgia, were strongly marked characters. Toombs made a speech doubling up his fists as if about to knock some one down."
From Washington, Carleton went to Harrisburg, noticing, as he passed over the railway, the difference between free and slave territory. "A half dozen miles from the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania was sufficient to change the characteristics of the country." The Pennsylvania railway had just been opened, and Altoona was just starting. Carleton visited the iron and other industries at Pittsburg, and described his journey and impressions in a series of letters to the Boston Journal. Having inherited from his father eighty acres of land in Central Illinois, near the town of Lincoln, he went out to visit it. At Chicago, a bustling place of 25,000 inhabitants, he found the mud knee-deep. Great crowds of emigrants were arriving and departing. Going south to La Salle he took steamer on the Illinois River to Peoria, reaching there Saturday night. Not willing to travel on Sunday, he went ashore. After attending service at church, he asked the privilege of playing on the organ. A few minutes later, he found a large audience listening with apparent pleasure.
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
The time had now come for the formation of a new political party, and in this Carleton had a hand, being at the first meeting and making the acquaintance of the leading men, Henry Wilson, Anson Burlingame, George S. Boutwell, N. P. Banks, Charles Sumner, and others. His connection with the press brought him into personal contact with men of all parties. He found Edward Everett more sensitive to criticism than any other public man.
In 1856 Carleton was offered a position on the Atlas, which had been the leading Whig paper in Massachusetts. He attended the first great Republican gathering ever held in Maine, at Portland, at which Hannibal Hamlin, Benjamin Wade, and N. P. Banks were speakers. On the night of the Maine election, which was held in August, as the returns, which gave the first great victory of the Republican party in the Fremont campaign, thrilled the young editor, he wrote a head-line which was copied all over the country,—"Behold How Brightly Breaks the Morning."
In Malden, where he was then residing, a Fremont Club was formed. Carleton wrote a song, to the melody "Suoni La Tromba," from one of the operas then much admired, which was sung by the glee men in the club. Political enthusiasm rose to fever heat. In the columns of the Atlas are many editorials which came seething hot from Carleton's brain, during the campaign which elevated Mr. James Buchanan to the presidency.
When the storm of politics had subsided, Carleton wrote a series of articles for an educational periodical, The Student and Schoolmate. Inspired by his attendance on the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he penned a series of astronomical articles for The Congregationalist. He also attended the opening of the Grand Trunk railroad from Montreal to Toronto, celebrated by a grand jubilee at Montreal. During the winter, when Elihu Burritt, the learned blacksmith, failed to appear on the lecture platform, Carleton was called upon at short notice to give his lecture entitled "The Savage and the Citizen."
He was welcomed with applause, which he half suspected was in derision. At the end, he received ten dollars and a vote of thanks. The lecture system was then just beginning, and its bright stars, Phillips, Holmes, Whipple, Beecher, Gough, and Curtis were then mounting the zenith.
Carleton made another trip West in 1857, seeing the Mississippi, when the railway was completed from Cincinnati to St. Louis. When the crowd was near degenerating into a drunken mob,—the native wine of Missouri being served free to everybody,—the committee in charge cut off the supply of drink, and thus saved a riot. From St. Louis he went to Liverpool, on the Illinois River, to see about his land affairs. He enjoyed hugely the strange frontier scenes, meals in log cabins, and the trial of a case in court, which was in a schoolroom lighted by two tallow candles.
The Boston Atlas, unable to hold up the world, had summoned the Bee to its aid, yet did not even then stand on a paying basis. Finally it became absorbed in the Boston Traveller. Carleton again entered the service of the Boston Journal as reporter. Yet life was a hard struggle. Through the years 1857, 1858, 1859, Carleton was floating around among the newspapers getting a precarious living,—hardly a living. He wrote a few stories for Putnam's Magazine, for one of which he was paid ten dollars. One of the bright spots in this period of uncertainty was his attendance, at Springfield and Newport, upon the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also became more or less acquainted with men who were afterwards governors of Massachusetts, or United States senators, with John Brown and Stephen A. Douglas.
The political campaign which resulted in the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency is described in Mr. Coffin's own words:
"During the winter of 1859, George W. Gage, proprietor of the Tremont House at Chicago, visited Boston. I had known him many years. Being from the West, I asked him who he thought would be acceptable to the Republicans of the West as candidate for the presidency. The names prominently before the country were those of W. H. Seward, S. P. Chase, Edward Bates, and J. C. Fremont.
"'We shall elect whomsoever we nominate,' said Mr. Gage. 'The Democratic party is going to split. The Northern and Western Democrats will go for Douglas. The slaveholders never will accept him. The Whig party is but a fragment. There will certainly be three, if not four candidates, and the Republican party can win. We think a good deal of old Abe Lincoln. He would make a strong candidate.'
"It was the first time I had heard the name of Lincoln in connection with the presidency. I knew there was such a man. Being a journalist, I had some knowledge of his debate with Douglas on the great questions of the day, but he had been defeated in his canvass for the Senate, and had dropped out of sight. It was about this time that he gave his lecture at Cooper Institute, New Haven, and Norwich. I did not meet him in Boston. His coming created no excitement. The aristocracy of Boston, including Robert C. Winthrop, Edward Everett, George S. Hilliard, and that class, were Whigs, who did not see the trend of events. Lincoln came and went, having little recognition. The sentiment of Massachusetts Republicans was all in favor of the nomination of Seward.
"The remark of Mr. Gage in regard to Lincoln set me to thinking upon the probable outcome of the presidential contest. The enthusiasm of the Republican party was at fever heat. The party had nearly succeeded in 1856, under Fremont, and the evidences of success in 1860 multiplied, as the days for nominating a candidate approached. The disruption of the Democratic party at Charleston made the election of the Republican candidate certain.
"I determined to attend the Convention to be held at Chicago, and also that of the Whig party, to be held earlier at Baltimore.
"I visited Washington and made the acquaintance of many of the leading Republican members of Congress. Senator Wilson gave me a seat on one of the sofas in the south chamber. He was sitting by my side when Seward appeared. He stopped a moment in the passage, and leaned against the wall.
"'There is our next President,' said Wilson. 'He feels that he is to be nominated and elected. He shows it.'
"It was evident that Mr. Seward was conscious of the expected honor. It did not display itself in haughty actions, but in a fitting air of dignity. He knew the galleries were looking down upon him, men were pointing him out, nodding their heads. He was the coming man."
The Whig Convention in Baltimore, which Carleton attended, "was held in an old church from which the worshippers had departed,—a fitting place to hold it. The people had left the Whig party, which had departed from its principles and was ready to compromise still further in slavery."
On leaving Baltimore for Chicago, and conversing with people everywhere, Carleton discovered in Pennsylvania a hostility to Seward which he had not found elsewhere. It was geographical antagonism, New York glorying in being the Empire State, and Pennsylvania in being the Keystone of the arch. "Pennsylvania could not endure the thought of having New York lead the procession." Arriving in Chicago several days before the Convention opened, Carleton noticed a growing disposition to take a Western man. The contest was to be between Seward and Lincoln. On the second day the New York crowd tried to make a tremendous impression with bands and banners. Entering the building, they found it packed with the friends of Lincoln. Carleton sat at a table next to Thurlow Weed. "When the drawn ballot was taken, Weed, pale and excited, thrust his thumbs into his eyes to keep back the tears."
Mr. Coffin must tell the rest of the story:
"I accompanied the committee to Springfield to notify Lincoln of his nomination. Ashman, the president of the committee, W. D. Kelly, of Pennsylvania, Amos Jack, of New Hampshire, Sweet, of Chicago, and others made up the party. We went down the Illinois Central. It was a hot, dusty ride. Reached Springfield early in the evening. Had supper at the hotel and then called on Lincoln. His two youngest boys were on the fence in front of the house, chaffing some Democratic urchins in the street. A Douglas meeting was going on in the State House, addressed, as I learned, by A. McClernand,—afterwards major-general. Lincoln stood in the parlor, dressed in black frock coat. Ashman made the formal announcement. Lincoln's reply was brief. He was much constrained, but as soon as the last word was spoken he turned to Kelly and said:
"'Judge, you are a pretty tall man. How tall are you?'
"'Six feet two.'
"'I beat you. I'm six feet three without my high-heeled boots on.'
"'Pennsylvania bows to Illinois, where we have been told there were only Little Giants,' said Kelly, gracefully alluding to Douglas, who was called the Little Giant.
"One by one we were introduced by Mr. Ashman. After the hand-shaking was over, Mr. Lincoln said:
"'Mrs. Lincoln will be pleased to see you gentlemen in the adjoining room, where you will find some refreshments.'
"We passed into the room and were presented to Mrs. Lincoln. Her personal appearance was not remarkably prepossessing. The prevailing fashion of the times was a gown of voluminous proportions, over an enormous hoop. The corsage was cut somewhat low, revealing plump shoulders and bust. She wore golden bracelets. Her hair was combed low about the ears. She evidently was much gratified over the nomination, but was perfectly ladylike in her deportment.
"The only sign of refreshments visible was a white earthen pitcher filled with ice-water. Probably it was Mr. Lincoln's little joke, for the next morning I learned that his Republican neighbors had offered to furnish wines and liquor, but he would not allow them in the house; that his Democratic friends also sent round baskets of champagne, which he would not accept.
"I met him the next morning in his law office, also his secretary, J. G. Nicolay. It was a large, square room, with a plain pine table, splint-bottomed chairs, law books in a case, and several bushels of newspapers and pamphlets dumped in one corner. It had a general air of untidiness.
"During the campaign I reported many meetings for the Boston Journal, and was made night editor soon after Mr. Lincoln's election. The position was very laborious and exacting. It was the period of secession. Through the live-long night, till nearly 3 A. M., I sat at my desk editing the exciting news. The reporters usually left the room about eleven, and from that time to the hour of going to press, I was alone,—save the company of two mice that became so friendly that they would sit on my desk, and make a supper of crackers and cheese, which I doled out to them. I remember them with much pleasure.
"The exacting labors and sleepless nights told upon my health. The disturbed state of the country made everybody in business very cautious, so much so that the proprietor of the Journal, Charles A. Rogers, began to discharge his employees, and I was informed that my services were no longer needed. I had been receiving the magnificent sum of ten dollars per week, and this princely revenue ceased."
After President Lincoln had been inaugurated, Mr. Coffin went to Washington, during the last week in March. His experiences there must be told by himself:
"I took lodgings at a private boardinghouse on Pennsylvania Avenue, where there was a poverty-stricken Virginian, of the old Whig school, after an office. He did 'not think his State would secede.' I saw much of the Republican members of Congress, who said if I wanted a position they would do what they could for me. Senator Sumner suggested that I would make a good secretary of one of the Western territories.
"I called upon my old schoolmate Sargeant who had been for many years in the Treasury. Having constructed the telegraph fire-alarm, and done something in engineering, I thought I was competent to become an examiner in the patent office. I made out an application, which was signed by the entire Massachusetts delegation, recommending me. I dropped it into the post-office, and that was the last I saw or even thought of it, for the great crisis in the history of the country was so rapidly approaching, and so evident, that,—newspaper man as I was,—accustomed to forecast coming events, I could see what many others could not see.
"I was walking with Senator Wilson up E Street, on a bright moonlight night. The moon's rays, falling upon the unfinished dome of the Capitol, brought the building out in bold relief."
"'Will it ever be finished?' I asked. The senator stopped, and gazed upon it a moment in silence.
"'We are going to have a war, but the people of this country will not give up the Union, I think. Yet, to-day, that building, prospectively, is a pile of worthless marble.'"
THE WAR CORRESPONDENT.
When the long gathering clouds broke in the storm at Sumter, and war was precipitated in a rain of blood, Charles Carleton Coffin's first question was as to his duty. He was thirty-seven years old, healthy and hearty, though not what men would usually call robust. To him who had long learned to look into the causes of things, who knew well his country's history, and who had been educated to thinking and feeling by the long debate on slavery, the Secession movement was nothing more or less than a slaveholders' conspiracy. His conviction in 1861 was the same as that held by him, when more than thirty years of reflection had passed by, that the inaugurators of the Civil War of 1861-65 were guilty of a gigantic crime.
In 1861, with his manhood and his talent, the question was not on which side duty lay, or whether his relation to the question should be active or passive, but just how he could most and best give himself to the service of his country. Whether with rifle or pen, he would do nothing less than his best. He inquired first at the recruiting office of the army. He was promptly informed that on no account could he be accepted as an active soldier, whether private or officer, on account of his lame heel. Rejected here, he thought that some other department of public service might be open to him in which he could be more or less directly in touch with the soldiers. While uncertain as to his future course, he was, happily for his country, led to consult his old friend, Senator Henry Wilson, who immediately and strenuously advised him to give up all idea of either the army, the hospital, the clerical, or any other government service, but to enter at once actively upon the work of a war correspondent.
"Your talent," said Wilson, "is with the pen, and you can do the best service by seeing what is going on and reporting it."
The author of the "Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America" intimated that truth, accurately told and published throughout the North, was not only extremely valuable, but absolutely necessary. It would not take long for a thoroughly truthful reporter to make himself a national authority. The sympathizers with disunion would be only too active in spreading rumors to dishearten the upholders of the Union, and there would be need for every honest pen and voice.
After this conversation, Carleton was at peace. He would find his work and ask no other blessedness. But how to find it, and to win his place as a recognized writer on the field was a question. Within our generation, the world has learned the value of the war correspondent. He has won the spurs of the knighthood of civilization. He wears in life the laurel wreath of fame. He is respected in his calling. He goes forth as an apostle of the printed truth. The resources of wealthy corporations are behind him. His salary is not princely, but it is ample. Though he may lose limb or life, he is honored like the soldier, and after his death, the monument rises to his memory. In the great struggle between France and Germany, between Russia and Turkey, between Japan and China, and in the minor wars of European Powers against inferior civilizations, in Asia and Africa, the "war correspondent" has been a striking figure. He is not the creation of our age; but our half of this century, having greater need of him, has equipped him the most liberally. He has his permanent place of honor. If the newspaper is the Woden of our century and civilization, the war correspondent and the printer are the twin Ravens that sit upon his shoulder. The one flies afar to gather the news, the other sits at home to scatter the tidings.
In 1861 it was very different. The idea of spending large sums of money, and maintaining a staff-corps of correspondents who on land and sea should follow our armies and fleets, and utilize horse, rail car, and telegraph, boat, yacht, and steamer, without regard to expense, had not seized upon newspaper publishers in the Eastern States. Almost from the first, the great New York journals organized bureaus for the collection of news. With relays of stenographers, telegraphers, and extra printers, they were ready for all emergencies in the home office, besides liberally endowing their agencies at Washington and cities near the front, and equipping their correspondent, in camp and on deck. In this, the New England publishers were far behind those on Manhattan Island. Carleton, when in Washington, wrote his first letters to the Boston Journal and took the risk of their being accepted for publication. He visited the camps, forts, and places of storage of government material. He described the preparations for war and life in Washington with such spirit and graphic power, that from June 15 to July 17, 1861, no fewer than twenty-one of his letters were published in the Journal.
The great battle of Bull Run gave him his opportunity. As an eye-witness, his opportunity was one to be coveted. He wrote out so full, so clear, and so interesting an account, that the proprietors of the Journal engaged him as their regular correspondent at a salary of twenty-five dollars a week, with extra allowance for transportation. His instructions were to "keep the Journal at the front. Use all means for obtaining and transmitting important information, regardless of expense." This, however, was not to be interpreted to mean that he should have assistants or be the head of a bureau or relay of men, as in the case of the chief correspondent of at least three of the New York newspapers. It meant that he was to gather and transmit the news and be the whole bureau and staff in himself. Nevertheless, during most of the war, the Boston Journal was the only New England paper that kept a regular correspondent permanently not only in Washington, but at the seat of war. Carleton in several signal instances sent news of most important movements and victories ahead of any other Northern correspondent. He achieved a succession of what newspaper men call "beats." In those days, on account of the great expense, the telegraph was used only for summaries of news, and rarely, if ever, for long despatches or letters. The ideas and practice of newspaper managers have greatly enlarged since 1865. Entering upon his work at the very beginning of the war, he was, we believe, almost the only field correspondent who continued steadily to the end, coming out of it with unbroken health of body and mind.
How he managed to preserve his strength and enthusiasm, and to excel where so many others did well and nobly, is an open secret. In the first place, he was a man of profoundest religious faith in the Heavenly Father. Prayer was his refreshment. He renewed his strength by waiting upon God. His spirit never grew weary. In the darkest days he was able to cheer and encourage the desponding. He spoke continually, through the Journal, to hundreds of thousands of readers, in tones of cheer. Like a great lighthouse, with its mighty lamps ever burning and its reflectors and lenses kept clean and clear, Carleton, never discouraged, terrified, or tired out, sent across the troubled sea and through the deepest darkness the inspiriting flash of the light of truth and the steady beam of faith in the Right and its ultimate triumph. He was a missionary of cheer among the soldiers in camp and at the front. His reports of battles, and his message of comfort in times of inaction, wilted the hopes of the traitors, copperheads, cowards, and "nightshades" at home, while they put new blood in the veins of the hopeful.
Carleton was always welcome among the commanders and at headquarters. This was because of his frankness as well as his ability and his genial bonhomie and social qualities. He did not consider himself a critic of generals. He simply described. He took care to tell what he saw, or knew on good authority to be true. He did probe rumors. From the very first he became a higher critic of assertions and even of documents. He quickly learned the value of camp reports and items of news. By and by his skill became the envy of many of less experienced readers of human nature, and judges of talk and despatches. While shirking no hard work in the saddle, on foot, on the rail, or in the boat, he found by experience that by keeping near headquarters he was the better enabled to know the motions of the army as a whole, to divine the plans of the commanding general, and thus test the value of flying rumors. He had a genius for interpreting signs of movement, whether in the loading of a barge, the riding of an orderly, or the nod of a general's head. His previous training as an engineer and surveyor enabled him to foresee the strategic value of a position and to know the general course of a campaign in a particular district of country. With this power of practical foresight, he was often better able even than some of the generals to foresee and appraise results. This topographical knowledge also gave him that power of wonderful clearness in description which is the first and best quality necessary to the narrator of a series of complex movements. A battle fought in the open, like that at Gettysburg, or one of those which took place during the previous campaigns, on a plain, along the river, and in the Peninsula, is comparatively easy to describe, especially when viewed from an eminence. These battles were like those in ordinary European history; but after Grant took command of the Army of the Potomac, a reversion to something like the American colonial methods in the forest took place. The heaviest fighting was in the woods, behind entrenchments, or in regions where but little of the general scheme, and few of the operations, could be seen at once. In either case, however, as will be seen by reading over the thousand or so letters in Carleton's correspondence, his power of making a modern battle easily understood is, if not unique, at least very remarkable. With his letters often went diagrams which greatly aided his readers.
Carleton's personal courage was always equal to that of the bravest. Too sincerely appreciative of the gift of life from his Creator, he never needlessly, especially after his first eagerness for experience had been satiated, exposed himself, as the Dutch used to say, with "full-hardiness," or as we, corrupting the word, say, with "foolhardiness." He got out of the line of shells and bullets where there was no call for his presence, and when the only justification for remaining would be to gratify idle curiosity. Yet, when duty called, when there was need to know both the facts, and the truth to be deduced from the facts, whistling bullets or screeching shells never sufficed to drive him away. His coolness with pen and pencil, amid the dropping fire of the enemy, made heroes of many a soldier whose nerves were not as strong as was the instinct of his legs to run. The lady librarian of Dover, N. H., thus writes:
"An old soldier whom I was once showing through the library stopped short in front of Coffin's books and looked at them with much interest. He said that at his first battle,—I think it was Fredericksburg, but of this I am not sure,—he was scared almost to death. He was a mere boy, and when his regiment was ordered to the front and the shot was lively around him, he would have run away if he had dared. But a little distance off, he saw a man standing under the lee of a tree and writing away as coolly as if he were standing at a desk. The soldier asked who he was, and was told it was Carleton, of the Journal. 'There he stood,' said the man, 'perfectly unconcerned, and I felt easier every time I looked at him. Finally he finished and went off to another place. But that was his reputation among the men all through the war,—perfectly cool, and always at the front.'"
Carleton was able to withstand four years of mental strain and physical exposure because he knew and put in practice the right laws of life. His temperance in eating and drinking was habitual. Often dependent with the private soldier, while on the march and in camp, on raw pork and hardtack; helped out in emergencies with food and victuals, by the quartermaster or his assistants; not infrequently reaching the verge of starvation, he did not, when reaching city or home, play the gourmand. He drank no intoxicating liquor, always politely waving aside the social glass. He was true to his principles of total abstinence which had been formed in boyhood. It would have been easy for him to become intemperate, since in early boyhood he acquired a fondness for liquors, through being allowed to drink what might remain in the glass after his sick mother had partaken of her tonic. He demonstrated that man has no necessity for alcoholic drinks, however much he may enjoy them.