Was Abraham Lincoln a Apiritualist? by Nettie Colburn Maynard 1917



During the seven or eight days that followed we did not visit my father, being busied with circles and attending to our duties in the seed department.

The battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg had been fought and our armies had gained a negative victory – that is, we had lost no ground, and the enemy had been defeated. One morning, bright and early, accompanied by our friend, Miss Anna Betts, of Albany, we started for the hospital to see my father. How changed in the brief time since we had looked upon the quiet, peaceful canvas-covered grounds, soldiers everywhere, rushing in all directions. Upon our statement of “having friends in the camp” we were freely allowed to pass. Threading our way through what seemed hardly familiar lines of tents, we were shocked to find that nearly every tent was filled with mutilated occupants; every bed having its tenant, and fresh arrivals constantly being added to the number. Reaching the tent where my brother had been an invalid, which was one of the many feet in length, containing many beds, I met him at the doorway pale and feeble, but active on behalf of those who were far more needy than he.

We stood dumb before the scene presented to our eyes, when my father hastily approached and exclaimed, “Girls, have you nerve enough to help us?” We all responded, “Yes; anything we can do.” He quickly furnished us with tin basins, and showing us where to fill them with fresh water from large tanks outside, handed each a sponge and told us to pass from cot to cot, and squeeze a spongeful of cold water upon the foot or hand of the occupant, Spiritualism repeated until a little relief was afforded, then to pass on to the next. We eagerly began our task. Anna, full of earnest zeal, started on her round, but the first sight that greeted her eyes was one of horror – a poor soldier boy bleeding to death from a wound in the neck. Turning deadly faint, she retreated to the open air. A few moments and she rallied and bravely returned to her work.

For the three hours we could remain, we passed from bed to bed and applied the cold water as best we could to the poor boys who lay, each waiting his turn, uncomplaining, and, strange to say, even cheerful under such terrible conditions. Pleasant words were passed from bed to bed between them; and when we would approach with a fresh basin of water, they would call out in a cheery tone, “Me first, me first,” and always with a pleasant laugh, if we took the first that came, without heeding the call, and I know that many tears mingled with the water we squeezed upon their poor mangled limbs. The scene comes back to me vividly as I recall it; for it was our first real experience of the meaning of that horrible word “war”.

In a tent outside surgeons were busy lopping off legs and arms; and going outside on one occasion to renew my basin of water that was crimson with the loyal blood of our brave boys in blue, I saw my brother being borne fainting from a tent. I went to him at once, and they told me that he was assisting the surgeon at an amputation when his feelings overcame him. A dose of brandy quickly brought him round, and he returned to his post with a determined spirit. Every hand was needed. The weakest grew strong in the face of that army of sufferers. At one time the water by our tent that was under our charge became exhausted, and my father hastily told me to go to the next tent on the right and there find another tank. In my hurry I turned to the left instead, and


Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist?

- 39 -

throwing aside the flap of the tent was horrified to see a mass of legs and arms that had of necessity been hastily placed there – the fruit of the surgeons’ bloody but necessary work. Weak and faint I turned back, retraced my steps, and found the needed water.

For three hours we never paused, and at the end of that time desisted, being warned by the approach of nightfall of the distance from our home. It was with regret, and tears we did not care to hide, that we left our work to return to the city. The next day Parnie and myself started early for the hospital. Anna could not accompany us, and we went without her. Our presence was hailed with delight, and we found that the wounds of all those who had been under our charge the day previous had been attended to and the application of cold water was now the only thing to be done.

We saw several other empty beds that day that told their own silent story; and the mounds grew in number around the surgeons’ headquarters, as one by one the brave boys succumbed to a conqueror they were powerless to resist.

We found a full list of nurses in attendance that day and our services were hardly needed, although we went to work in the same manner as the day previous; and some of the nurses, wearied and tired, were glad of the brief respite we could give them. It was a satisfaction to us, on leaving the camp, to know that all were as comfortable as care and strict attendance could make them, and the horrors of the previous day had passed from sight. Finding we could be of no further use, we did not visit the hospital again; but it was many a day before the memory of those pain-marked faces and shattered limbs failed to haunt our dreams by night and challenge our thought by day.

Soon after this, while riding up Pennsylvania Avenue to Georgetown in a street car filled with a miscellaneous crowd composed chiefly of officers and soldiers from the headquarters in Georgetown, an incident came under my notice that I deem worthy of record. It was a dull, rainy morning such as drives all pedestrians indoors or under shelter, and the avenue above the Treasury building was practically deserted. Seated on the right-hand side of the car, I faced the Treasury building.

As we turned the corner, and some distance ahead, I beheld the tall figure of President Lincoln going with hurried strides toward the white House. He wore an old-fashioned dress coat, the sleeves tight to the arm and the right elbow torn so that his white shirt sleeve plainly showed through, and he, seemingly unconscious of this discrepancy in his dress, was pursuing his way with his head down as if in a profound study. He wore a beaver hat that looked as well worn as his coat, and in his right hand was a bundle of papers as though he had just come from some office. As he neared the gate of the White House, a soldier boy leaning on crutches, one leg drawn up, approached, and they nearly collided, so absorbed was Mr. Lincoln in his thoughts.

Hastily looking up, seeing who was before him, he instantly removed his hat, the soldier boy doing the same. He then commenced talking to him, and from his manner seemed to be inquiring as to the cause of his lameness, while one hand went into his pocket. As he drew it out, and was in the act of handing the soldier what was in his hand, his back was to the street and he did not see the loaded car which was then opposite. The soldier boys in the car, however, saw him; one impulsively jerked the check-strap and the car stopped; he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Three cheers for Father Abraham” rent the air. They were given with a will.


Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist?

- 40 -

He looked around, startled at the outburst so near him; acting like a schoolboy caught in some dereliction of duty, thrust what he had in the hand of the soldier, doffed his hat again, and with a smile hurried out of sight into the grounds of the White House, followed by the cheers of soldiers, who witnessed in this kindness shown, unseen as he supposed, the man they loved in the President that ruled them.

I have seen President Lincoln under many aspects, and he never failed to evidence the man of kindly heart, tender feelings, and one replete with thoughtfulness for others, and one willing to serve the humblest where it did not conflict with his sense of duty.

Continued Services