Was Abraham Lincoln a Apiritualist? by Nettie Colburn Maynard 1917



About the last of May or the first of June the two year term of service of the Thirtieth Regiment of New York State Volunteers expiring, they were ordered home. In this regiment, it will be remembered, was my acquaintance for whom I had obtained Mr. Lincoln’s grant of furlough. Since that gracious act of kindness the regiment had been through the fire and smoke of battle.

The fragment of a regiment that was returning was to arrive in Washington by one o’clock of the afternoon.

We reached the dock as the boat neared her moorings. The pleasant anticipation of meeting our friends was saddened by the silent procession that first passed – for the regiment was accompanied by a long array of sleepers who would never again awaken at the sound of the reveille. We had only time for a handshake.

Our friends were no sooner mustered out from their two years’ service that they re­enlisted. Major Morgan H. Chrysler quickly recruited the discharged soldiers, seeking to raise a mounted brigade of veterans to return at once to the field.

In the early fall of 1863 my friend and myself received a request from the Colonel Chrysler, at Saratoga, that we should go to Washington and see the President on behalf of him and his veterans, of whom he had raised three hundred. About this time there was strong call for reinforcements, and as fast as troops were enlisted they were forwarded to Washington and sent “ to the Camp of Distribution,” so called, and scattered through the different army corps to fill up depleted companies. Colonel Chrysler’s fear was that this fate would await his command; and his ambition was to raise his brigade and so obtain the command thereof. He had confidence in my power to reach the President, and he had also confidence in the unseen powers that controlled me, and he earnestly requested that I should make the effort in his behalf, offering to defray all expenses, which he did.

We went at once, going directly to our friend Mrs. Cosby, on Capitol Hill, who received us with joy and surprise, as she had not expected us until later. I told her the purpose of our coming and requested her to accompany me to see Mr. Lincoln. As we could not go at once, we decided upon making the venture the following day. Morning came and brought with it an important visitor, who called on our friend. This person was Mr. Joshua Speed. We were introduced to him; and Anna, in her gentle but forcible way, informed him of my peculiar gift, and that of my friend. While we were talking Parnie was controlled by what proved to be the spirit of an old coloured man – a former slave who was in the family of Mr. Speed, and who identified himself with his old master by expressing his thanks that he was granted his request “to be buried under the tree where in his old age he used to sit, and where (if memory serves correctly) he had died.”

Mr. Speed acknowledged that this was very strange and singular, and afterward questioned us both clearly and closely in regard to our peculiar gifts. The forenoon passed quickly; and as Mr. Speed was about to leave us, Mrs. Cosby told him of our desire to visit the President. She asked him for a letter of introduction. Smiling, he said, “Surely, you need no letter of introduction to him.”


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She answered, “It has been some time since I have seen him, and I would be pleased to have a letter from you”.

He sat down at her desk, and quickly indited a genial note of introduction, including my name also in the letter. I will here state that a few months previously Mr. Cosby had been superseded in his consulship, owing to the fact that he had been reported to our government ''as giving entertainments to the representatives of the Southern Confederacy, at the port where he was stationed.” I think it was this fact that led Mrs. Cosby to desire a letter of introduction to Mr. Lincoln, fearing that he might believe that she also held disloyal sentiments. The day was too far spent when Mr. Speed took his departure for us to think of visiting the White House.

At ten o'clock next morning we stood at the portals of the White House, where the genial Edward received our cards and letter, and were led soon after into the presence of Mr. Lincoln.

Mr. Lincoln was alone. He greeted Mrs. Cosby with a most serious but kindly deference in his manner, and he gave me his usual kindly greeting of, “How do you do, Miss Nettie? - glad to see you back among us.” There was an awkward silence for a moment. He asked us to be seated. Then, turning to Mrs. Cosby, he remarked, “We have not met, Mrs. Cosby, since it was my un-pleasant duty to banish your husband from the country.” She replied, “No, Mr. Lincoln; and I trust, when the full truth is known, Mr. Cosby will prove less culpable than the report caused him to appear.” A slight pause, and then he remarked: “In public life we are compelled to forego all claims save those of duty, and in a critical time like the present, when the nation's life is in our hands, we must often seem to our friends unduly stern and relent- less.” “Say no more,” remarked Mrs. Cosby in her gentle way; “I fully recognise your position, Mr. Lincoln, and am too loyal a woman to the interests of the Union to question anything which you may deem proper to do.”

I shall not forget the grace and dignity of manner that governed my friend as she uttered these words, which indelibly impressed themselves upon my memory, and seemed equally to impress Mr. Lincoln, for he remarked, “I thank you for your loyalty,” and “I fear that the same does not exist with all our lady residents in Washington.”

During this time, he had held Mr. Speed's letter in his hand, and now turning to it said, “I see you are acquainted with my friend Speed.” “Yes,” she replied; “he gave me a pleasant call yesterday.” “He is a good fellow,” remarked Mr. Lincoln; and, after some few words concerning their early associations, looked up with his genial smile, and said, “I was with him the night he settled it about his marriage with the widow. I was walking along the road when he overtook me with his wagon and asked me to get in. We rode together until we reached her house, and there stopped for the night. I could see that Josh had something on his mind, but I did not know what that something was until I was left to go to bed alone. Towards morning Joshua came to bed, and, awakening me, informed me of the important fact that it was settled between him and the widow.”

I now see the President as he then looked, seated in a big arm-chair, one leg thrown over the arm, his hands clasped behind his head, talking to us in this pleasant, familiar strain; and, as Mrs. Cosby afterwards said, “We felt that he was, under the circumstances, endeavouring to cover the embarrassment of our meeting, bearing in


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mind the removal of Mr. Cosby from office.” As he concluded, Mrs. Cosby turned to me, and said, “Miss Nettie is a petitioner to-day.” He looked at me in all kindness and asked how he could serve me. In as few words as possible I related the dilemma of my acquaintance, and his request that I should lay the matter before the President, feeling that if he fully understood the determination and purpose he would not permit the troops to be scattered.

“By the way,” he remarked, “1 think I have received a telegram from your friend,” and stepping to his table in the centre of the room he picked up a dispatch and read aloud: “We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred veterans strong - M. H. Chrysler, commanding.”

The President quietly chuckled as he read it, and, turning to me, said: “I really have no power in the matter; but think I can somewhat influence the decision of the commanding officers. To tell the truth, it is unwise for me to interfere in any of the regulations connected with the army. You have no idea what a time I had when this war first broke out. When I issued my call for the first 75,000 men I was as ignorant as a child regarding the best course to pursue. Regiments were poured into Washington, and were lying about without shelter and without sufficient provisions. The troops were clamouring at the doors here for orders, and I was harassed and perplexed, not knowing what to do. At last Gov. Morgan, of New York, wrote me that it was impossible for him to fill the quota of his State until I called my recruiting officers from the field. I thought his letter impertinent, and took no notice of it. He, with others, then visited me, and explained the situation. Two recruiting parties were in the field-one in my name, contesting for the enlisting soldier; and one under the officers of the State, trying to obtain regiments to fill the demand - I, meanwhile, having made peremptory demand on the Governors of the States to forward their proportion.

“My mistake was apparent, for I had granted the right to raise troops to every man who had applied, and, therefore, had unwittingly checked or balked my own purpose. Of course I then cancelled all orders, and left the affairs where they should be-in the hands of the Governors of the respecting States. As a result, order was soon restored. So, you see, my young friend, the difficulty in this case. But I will tell you what I will do. I will give you a line to the Secretary of War, and request him to send these men to the Camp of Instruction until the brigade is completed- if he finds it possible to do so.” He wrote a line to this effect, signing and handing it to me, and, after a few more words of kindness and explanation, shook us cordially by the hand and bade us good­day.

Here, again, was the kindly and genial spirit of President Lincoln clearly shown, in that he should take the pains to explain to me his inability to comply with my request, confessing at the same time his deficiency in knowledge when war first made its demands upon him; going into an account of matters he need not have named, when without a word he might have dismissed us, as most likely any other official in Washington would have done. But it was ever the characteristic of this man, so great in goodness, that he avoided wounding the feelings of the humblest, and ever sought to work in perfect harmony with all of his people.


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Being too late to see the Secretary of War that afternoon, we returned home. The next morning my friend was ill with a sick-headache, and Parnie and I went to the War Department and asked to see Secretary Stanton.

We held the paper Mr. Lincoln had given us, on which was written, “The Secretary will receive Miss Colburn and hear her statement. - A. LINCOLN.”

This paper procured us instant admission to the presence of the Secretary, who received us with a very stern, unbending countenance, that boded ill for the request. In trembling tones I stated the case, and remarked that the rigid orders surrounding my soldier friends prevented their getting leave of absence to prefer this request in person. Glancing at the paper which he held in his hand containing Mr. Lincoln's name, he said, “Why did you come to me? Mr. Lincoln has full power in this matter. Why didn't he attend to it?” As was often the case in an emergency, I felt the hand of an unseen guide on my shoulder, warning me to be careful of my reply; and I heard the words issue from my lips without any volition of my own: “I supposed, as Secretary of War, you were the proper person to apply to in this case. I knew how hard it was to get to your presence, and I asked Mr. Lincoln for this paper.” His countenance changed instantly, and in the kindest tones imaginable bade us be seated, took down the name of Col. Chrysler, the number of men under his command, and all the circum­stances attending the subject, saying kindly, 'I will see that this is attended to at once,” and politely bowed us out.

Some time afterwards, in relating this circumstance to a friend in Washington, I was informed that the good Secretary was a little jealous of his prerogatives, and looked with unfriendly eyes upon any interference from the White House. Be this as it may, I know that my politic answer to his irate question, for which I was not responsible, seemed to change the face of matters and favourably shape results for our friends of the camp, who, when visiting us a few days later, informed us in high glee that they were ordered to remain at the Camp of Instruction until their brigade was fully completed, and also given full power to enlist veterans for that purpose.

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