Was Abraham Lincoln a Apiritualist? by Nettie Colburn Maynard 1917



The next day was Sunday, and Mr. Lincoln had evidently forgotten that fact when he bade me bring him my request in writing. I therefore used part of the day to write out a plain statement of the case. I considered it almost a state document, addressed it “to the President of the United States”, and thoughtlessly, or rather with great deliberation, believing it necessary, signed my full baptismal name to the paper. Since I had responded to a name, I had been called “Nettie” by old and young, and had almost forgotten that my proper name was “Henrietta”.

Sunday morning’s issue of John W. Forney’s “Gazette” bore in startling headlines: “The President is about to visit the Army of the Potomac.” Then followed a statement of what gunboat was in preparation to take him and his family to Fortress Monroe; and other matter showing literal obedience to the directions given the night previous. These papers, I learned, were scattered by the thousand throughout the army, as quickly as they could be conveyed there.

On Monday morning, with my paper in hand, I visited the White House. Going up to the waiting room, I sent it in by Edward, and anxiously awaited the result. Twenty minutes or more must have passed when Edward came out, and said, “The President desires that you will call tomorrow.” I was thunderstruck; not knowing what this might indicate. I knew that without the consent and knowledge of my friend I had furnished the full facts about his whereabouts and his acts to headquarters; and knew not how my action might be considered by him and his colonel. Startled and full of doubt, I walked to the broad stairway, and when half-way down met the major (whose name I have forgotten, but who was with the President on the occasion of the sitting the Saturday previous), who instantly recognised me, and raised his cap and bowed pleasantly. I left the White House, going to the Post-Office Department for my mail, then returned to Georgetown to find the major awaiting me. He came to me as I entered and said, “Mr. Lincoln sent me to you with this note. He says that he thinks it will answer every purpose. He told me to tell you he had left it without a date, as you could not give him the precise date of your friend leaving camp, and being without a date, it therefore covers all the back time. He would have given it to you in person, but he did not recognise the name attached to the foot of the paper containing the statement.”

“When I went into the room,” he said, “after meeting you on the stairs, the President took up the paper and said, in a perplexed way, ‘This lady states that I requested her to write this out. I do not remember the name or circumstance, and yet there is something familiar about it.’ I stepped up to Mr. Lincoln, and glancing at the name, replied, ‘It is that little medium we saw in Georgetown.’ ‘Oh, yes,’ he exclaimed, ‘I fully remember now. Go out and bid her in. ‘I hurried out.” added the major; “but you having left, I failed to find you. He then said, ‘This matter must be attended to at once.’ and writing on this card, as you see, he enclosed it in an envelope and bade me bring it to you.” I opened it and read the following: “Leave of absence is granted to A.L.Gurney, Comp. G, 30th N.Y.Reg., and he will report to his company Feb. 17th, 1863”- thus giving him ten days’ additional leave (the time was afterwards extended to the 27th, merely changing the date). I have no doubt this gentleman treasures to this day that souvenir of our martyred President. I thanked the major for his kindness, and


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bade him extend to Mr. Lincoln my grateful acknowledgement, impulsively remarking, “How good of him to do this thing!” To which the major replied, “It is a common thing for him to do these acts. He is all the time doing something of the kind.”

The President’s visit to the front and the ovation tendered him showed the spontaneous uprising of a people to receive a loved ruler. How he was literally borne on the shoulders of the soldiers through the camp, and how everywhere “the boys in blue” rallied round him, all grievances forgotten and restored, and his leaving a united and devoted army behind him when he returned to Washington, are matters of history too well known to bear repeating.

He did not achieve the victory of carrying out to the letter, without a struggle, the directions of our unseen friends. Mrs. Laurie and myself visited the white House in the interval of the preparation and the time of departure; and Mrs. Lincoln informed us that they were being besieged by applications from members of both houses, and Cabinet officers and their wives, for permission to go with them. And she remarked, in her quick, impulsive way: “But I tell Mt. Lincoln if we are going to take spirits’ advice, let us do it fully, and then there can be no responsibility resting with us if we fail.” I was controlled at this time, and “They” impressed upon her the importance of carrying this out as strictly as was consistent; as it was all important that the man” not the “President” should visit the army.

Disunionists had laboured to fill the minds of the soldiers with the idea that the government at Washington was rioting in the good things of life and surrounded by pomp and display, while the soldiers were left to die in the swamps, neglected and forgotten; it was therefore necessary “that they should see the man in all his simplicity,” and that he should carry with him a personal influence which would be felt throughout the camp. The wisdom of his action is told in the result.

I think it was in May of that year that the battle of Chancellors Ville was fought. My father was then with my eldest brother in hospital in Washington. Intending to visit him, I went by permission of Mrs. Lincoln to the white House hothouse to obtain a bouquet of flowers for him. Miss Parnie and myself applied to the private entrance, expecting only to receive the flowers and depart; Mrs. Cuthbert, Mrs. Lincoln’s waiting-woman, eagerly met us at the door. “Oh, my dear young ladies,” she exclaimed in her broken French fashion, “the madam is distracted. Come to her, I beg of you. She wants you very much.” Surprised at her earnestness, we went upstairs and were ushered into her bedroom. Mrs. Lincoln, in a loose wrapper, her long beautiful hair down her back and over her shoulders, was distractedly walking up and down the room. As she saw me she came forward and exclaimed, “Oh, Miss Nettie, such dreadful news; they are fighting at the front; such terrible slaughter; and all our generals are killed and our army is in full retreat; such is the latest news. Oh, I am glad you have come. Will you sit down a few moments and see if we can get anything from ‘beyond’?”

No hint of the battle had as yet reached the public. I was surprised. I threw my things aside and we at once sat down. “Pinkie” controlled me instantly, and, in her own original way, assured Mrs. Lincoln that her alarm was groundless; that while a great battle had been fought and was still in progress, our forces were fully holding their own, and that none of the generals, as she had been informed, was slain or injured.


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She bade her have no fear whatever; that they would get better news by night-fall, and the next day would bring still more cheering results.

This calmed her somewhat, and after I awoke she talked very earnestly with me to know if I fully trusted and believed in what was said through me. I assured her my confidence in whatever was communicated, and it seemed to give her courage. It was now approaching one o’clock, and Mr. Lincoln entered the room; he was bowed as if bent with trouble, his face looking anxious and careworn. He shook my hand in a listless way and kindly enquired how I was, shaking hands with my friend also. He sat down at a little stand on which Mrs. Cuthbert had placed a cup of tea and a plate of crackers. It seemed that it was his custom at this hour to partake of this frugal lunch.

Mrs. Lincoln instantly began to tell him what had been said. He looked up with quick interest. My friend Parnie said, “Perhaps Mr. Lincoln would prefer to hear it direct; would you not like to, Mr. Lincoln?” He said, “If it would not tire your friend too much, yes.” I hastened to assure him that I felt no weariness whatever, and again I was soon under control. This time it was the strong clear utterance of one we had learned to call “Wisdom”; and Parnie told me that Mr. Lincoln listened intently to every word. For twenty minutes “he” talked to him, stating clearly the condition of affairs at the front; assuring him of what news he would receive by nightfall, and what the morrow would bring forth; and that in no wise was the battle disastrous; and though not decisive particularly in character, was sufficiently so to be a gain, not a loss, to the Union cause. He brightened visibly under the assurances given; and my friend said she had never seen me more impressive or convincing when under control.

Evidently “they” felt his need in that hour, and met it. When I awoke his tea stood untasted and cold, and as none seemed to think of it that should have done so, my friend quietly arose, and, taking from the stand, handed it to Mrs. Cuthbert, and said, “Change this for a hot cup of tea, and bring it soon.” No one seemed to think she was stepping out of her place in thus thinking of the weary man before us. It was quickly brought, and he drank it with a relish, but left the crackers untasted. He shook us warmly by the hand, and with a pleasant smile passed back to his private apartments.

I need not say that our hands were filled with flowers when we left the White House. However, it was then too late to go to the camp. The next morning, on our way to the hospital, we called at the white House and received from Mrs. Cuthbert the assurance that the news had been received as predicted, and that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were both feeling much better and full of hope.

Taking the cars at Fourteenth Street, we made our visit to Mount Pleasant Hospital. Its thousands of clean, white empty tents, full of little cot-beds, suggested the possibilities of war, but presented none of the horrors. My brother was somewhat better, although still in bed; and my father was glad to see his visitors. We stayed a few hours, and he showed us over the department; taking us to the surgeons’ headquarters, where all seemed quiet and peaceful. We returned to the city, little dreaming of the scene that would greet us when we again visited the camp.

The Wounded & Dying