In 1861 the Civil War broke out and I was at once summoned to Washington by Mr. Scott, who had been appointed Assistant Secretary of War in charge of the Transportation Department. I was to act as his assistant in charge of the military railroads and telegraphs of the Government and to organize a force of railway men. It was one of the most important departments of all at the beginning of the war.
The first regiments of Union troops passing through Baltimore had been attacked, and the railway line cut between Baltimore and Annapolis Junction, destroying communication with Washington. It was therefore necessary for me, with my corps of assistants, to take train at Philadelphia for Annapolis, a point from which a branch line extended to the Junction, joining the main line to Washington. Our first duty was to repair this branch and make it passable for heavy trains, a work of some days. General Butler and several regiments of troops arrived a few days after us, and we were able to transport his whole brigade to Washington.
I took my place upon the first engine which started for the Capital, and proceeded very cautiously. Some distance from Washington I noticed that the telegraph wires had been pinned to the ground by wooden stakes. I stopped the engine and ran forward to release them, but I did not notice that the wires had been pulled to one side before staking. When released, in their spring upwards, they struck me in the face, knocked me over, and cut a gash in my cheek which bled profusely. In this condition I entered the city of Washington with the first troops, so that with the exception of one or two soldiers, wounded a few days previously in passing through the streets of Baltimore, I can justly claim that I „shed my blood for my country” among the first of its defenders. I gloried in being useful to the land that had done so much for me, and worked, I can truly say, night and day, to open communication to the South.
I soon removed my headquarters to Alexandria, Virginia, and was stationed there when the unfortunate battle of Bull Run was fought. We could not believe the reports that came to us, but it soon became evident that we must rush every engine and car to the front to bring back our defeated forces. The closest point then was Burke Station. I went out there and loaded up train after train of the poor wounded volunteers. The rebels were reported to be close upon us and we were finally compelled to close Burke Station, the operator and myself leaving on the last train for Alexandria where the effect of panic was evident upon every side. Some of our railway men were missing, but the number at the mess on the following morning showed that, compared with other branches of the service, we had cause for congratulation. A few conductors and engineers had obtained boats and crossed the Potomac, but the great body of the men remained, although the roar of the guns of the pursuing enemy was supposed to be heard in every sound during the night. Of our telegraphers not one was missing the next morning.
[Footnote 20: „When Carnegie reached Washington his first task was to establish a ferry to Alexandria and to extend the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad track from the old depot in Washington, along Maryland Avenue to and across the Potomac, so that locomotives and cars might be crossed for use in Virginia. Long Bridge, over the Potomac, had to be rebuilt, and I recall the fact that under the direction of Carnegie and R.F. Morley the railroad between Washington and Alexandria was completed in the remarkably short period of seven days. All hands, from Carnegie down, worked day and night to accomplish the task.” (Bates, Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, p. 22. New York, 1907.)]
Soon after this I returned to Washington and made my headquarters in the War Building with Colonel Scott. As I had charge of the telegraph department, as well as the railways, this gave me an opportunity of seeing President Lincoln, Mr. Seward, Secretary Cameron, and others; and I was occasionally brought in personal contact with these men, which was to me a source of great interest. Mr. Lincoln would occasionally come to the office and sit at the desk awaiting replies to telegrams, or perhaps merely anxious for information.
All the pictures of this extraordinary man are like him. He was so marked of feature that it was impossible for any one to paint him and not produce a likeness. He was certainly one of the most homely men I ever saw when his features were in repose; but when excited or telling a story, intellect shone through his eyes and illuminated his face to a degree which I have seldom or never seen in any other. His manners were perfect because natural; and he had a kind word for everybody, even the youngest boy in the office. His attentions were not graduated. They were the same to all, as deferential in talking to the messenger boy as to Secretary Seward. His charm lay in the total absence of manner. It was not so much, perhaps, what he said as the way in which he said it that never failed to win one. I have often regretted that I did not note down carefully at the time some of his curious sayings, for he said even common things in an original way. I never met a great man who so thoroughly made himself one with all men as Mr. Lincoln. As Secretary Hay so well says, „It is impossible to imagine any one a valet to Mr. Lincoln; he would have been his companion.” He was the most perfect democrat, revealing in every word and act the equality of men.
When Mason and Slidell in 1861 were taken from the British ship Trent there was intense anxiety upon the part of those who, like myself, knew what the right of asylum on her ships meant to Britain. It was certain war or else a prompt return of the prisoners. Secretary Cameron being absent when the Cabinet was summoned to consider the question, Mr. Scott was invited to attend as Assistant Secretary of War. I did my best to let him understand that upon this issue Britain would fight beyond question, and urged that he stand firm for surrender, especially since it had been the American doctrine that ships should be immune from search. Mr. Scott, knowing nothing of foreign affairs, was disposed to hold the captives, but upon his return from the meeting he told me that Seward had warned the Cabinet it meant war, just as I had said. Lincoln, too, was at first inclined to hold the prisoners, but was at last converted to Seward’s policy. The Cabinet, however, had decided to postpone action until the morrow, when Cameron and other absentees would be present. Mr. Scott was requested by Seward to meet Cameron on arrival and get him right on the subject before going to the meeting, for he was expected to be in no surrendering mood. This was done and all went well next day.
The general confusion which reigned at Washington at this time had to be seen to be understood. No description can convey my initial impression of it. The first time I saw General Scott, then Commander-in-Chief, he was being helped by two men across the pavement from his office into his carriage. He was an old, decrepit man, paralyzed not only in body, but in mind; and it was upon this noble relic of the past that the organization of the forces of the Republic depended. His chief commissary, General Taylor, was in some degree a counterpart of Scott. It was our business to arrange with these, and others scarcely less fit, for the opening of communications and for the transportation of men and supplies. They were seemingly one and all martinets who had passed the age of usefulness. Days would elapse before a decision could be obtained upon matters which required prompt action. There was scarcely a young active officer at the head of any important department – at least I cannot recall one. Long years of peace had fossilized the service.
The same cause had produced like results, I understood, in the Navy Department, but I was not brought in personal contact with it. The navy was not important at the beginning; it was the army that counted. Nothing but defeat was to be looked for until the heads of the various departments were changed, and this could not be done in a day. The impatience of the country at the apparent delay in producing an effective weapon for the great task thrown upon the Government was no doubt natural, but the wonder to me is that order was so soon evolved from the chaos which prevailed in every branch of the service.
As far as our operations were concerned we had one great advantage. Secretary Cameron authorized Mr. Scott (he had been made a Colonel) to do what he thought necessary without waiting for the slow movements of the officials under the Secretary of War. Of this authority unsparing use was made, and the important part played by the railway and telegraph department of the Government from the very beginning of the war is to be attributed to the fact that we had the cordial support of Secretary Cameron. He was then in the possession of all his faculties and grasped the elements of the problem far better than his generals and heads of departments. Popular clamor compelled Lincoln to change him at last, but those who were behind the scenes well knew that if other departments had been as well managed as was the War Department under Cameron, all things considered, much of disaster would have been avoided.
Lochiel, as Cameron liked to be called, was a man of sentiment. In his ninetieth year he visited us in Scotland and, passing through one of our glens, sitting on the front seat of our four-in-hand coach, he reverently took off his hat and bareheaded rode through the glen, overcome by its grandeur. The conversation turned once upon the efforts which candidates for office must themselves put forth and the fallacy that office seeks the man, except in very rare emergencies. Apropos of this Lochiel told this story about Lincoln’s second term:
One day at Cameron’s country home near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he received a telegram saying that President Lincoln would like to see him. Accordingly he went to Washington. Lincoln began:
„Cameron, the people about me are telling me that it is my patriotic duty to become a candidate for a second term, that I am the only man who can save my country, and so on; and do you know I’m just beginning to be fool enough to believe them a little. What do you say, and how could it be managed?”
„Well, Mr. President, twenty-eight years ago President Jackson sent for me as you have now done and told me just the same story. His letter reached me in New Orleans and I traveled ten days to reach Washington. I told President Jackson I thought the best plan would be to have the Legislature of one of the States pass resolutions insisting that the pilot should not desert the ship during these stormy times, and so forth. If one State did this I thought others would follow. Mr. Jackson concurred and I went to Harrisburg, and had such a resolution prepared and passed. Other States followed as I expected and, as you know, he won a second term.”
„Well,” said Lincoln, „could you do that now?”
„No,” said I, „I am too near to you, Mr. President; but if you desire I might get a friend to attend to it, I think.”
„Well,” said President Lincoln, „I leave the matter with you.”
„I sent for Foster here” (who was his companion on the coach and our guest) „and asked him to look up the Jackson resolutions. We changed them a little to meet new conditions and passed them. The like result followed as in the case of President Jackson. Upon my next visit to Washington I went in the evening to the President’s public reception. When I entered the crowded and spacious East Room, being like Lincoln very tall, the President recognized me over the mass of people and holding up both white-gloved hands which looked like two legs of mutton, called out: ‚Two more in to-day, Cameron, two more.’ That is, two additional States had passed the Jackson-Lincoln resolutions.”
Apart from the light this incident throws upon political life, it is rather remarkable that the same man should have been called upon by two presidents of the United States, twenty-eight years apart, under exactly similar circumstances and asked for advice, and that, the same expedient being employed, both men became candidates and both secured second terms. As was once explained upon a memorable occasion: „There’s figuring in all them things.”
When in Washington I had not met General Grant, because he was in the West up to the time of my leaving, but on a journey to and from Washington he stopped at Pittsburgh to make the necessary arrangements for his removal to the East. I met him on the line upon both occasions and took him to dine with me in Pittsburgh. There were no dining-cars then. He was the most ordinary-looking man of high position I had ever met, and the last that one would select at first glance as a remarkable man. I remember that Secretary of War Stanton said that when he visited the armies in the West, General Grant and his staff entered his car; he looked at them, one after the other, as they entered and seeing General Grant, said to himself, „Well, I do not know which is General Grant, but there is one that cannot be.” Yet this was he. [Reading this years after it was written, I laugh. It is pretty hard on the General, for I have been taken for him more than once.]
In those days of the war much was talked about „strategy” and the plans of the various generals. I was amazed at General Grant’s freedom in talking to me about such things. Of course he knew that I had been in the War Office, and was well known to Secretary Stanton, and had some knowledge of what was going on; but my surprise can be imagined when he said to me:
„Well, the President and Stanton want me to go East and take command there, and I have agreed to do it. I am just going West to make the necessary arrangements.”
I said, „I suspected as much.”
„I am going to put Sherman in charge,” he said.
„That will surprise the country,” I said, „for I think the impression is that General Thomas should succeed.”
„Yes, I know that,” he said, „but I know the men and Thomas will be the first to say that Sherman is the man for the work. There will be no trouble about that. The fact is the western end is pretty far down, and the next thing we must do is to push the eastern end down a little.”
[Footnote 21: Mr. Carnegie gave to Stanton’s college, Kenyon, $80,000, and on April 26, 1906, delivered at the college an address on the great War Secretary. It has been published under the title Edwin M. Stanton, an Address by Andrew Carnegie on Stanton Memorial Day at Kenyon College. (New York, 1906.)]
That was exactly what he did. And that was Grant’s way of putting strategy into words. It was my privilege to become well acquainted with him in after years. If ever a man was without the slightest trace of affectation, Grant was that man. Even Lincoln did not surpass him in that: but Grant was a quiet, slow man while Lincoln was always alive and in motion. I never heard Grant use a long or grand word, or make any attempt at „manner,” but the general impression that he was always reticent is a mistake. He was a surprisingly good talker sometimes and upon occasion liked to talk. His sentences were always short and to the point, and his observations upon things remarkably shrewd. When he had nothing to say he said nothing. I noticed that he was never tired of praising his subordinates in the war. He spoke of them as a fond father speaks of his children.
The story is told that during the trials of war in the West, General Grant began to indulge too freely in liquor. His chief of staff, Rawlins, boldly ventured to tell him so. That this was the act of a true friend Grant fully recognized.
„You do not mean that? I was wholly unconscious of it. I am surprised!” said the General.
„Yes, I do mean it. It is even beginning to be a subject of comment among your officers.”
„Why did you not tell me before? I’ll never drink a drop of liquor again.”
He never did. Time after time in later years, dining with the Grants in New York, I have seen the General turn down the wine-glasses at his side. That indomitable will of his enabled him to remain steadfast to his resolve, a rare case as far as my experience goes. Some have refrained for a time. In one noted case one of our partners refrained for three years, but alas, the old enemy at last recaptured its victim.
Grant, when President, was accused of being pecuniarily benefited by certain appointments, or acts, of his administration, while his friends knew that he was so poor that he had been compelled to announce his intention of abandoning the customary state dinners, each one of which, he found, cost eight hundred dollars – a sum which he could not afford to pay out of his salary. The increase of the presidential salary from $25,000 to $50,000 a year enabled him, during his second term, to save a little, although he cared no more about money than about uniforms. At the end of his first term I know he had nothing. Yet I found, when in Europe, that the impression was widespread among the highest officials there that there was something in the charge that General Grant had benefited pecuniarily by appointments. We know in America how little weight to attach to these charges, but it would have been well for those who made them so recklessly to have considered what effect they would produce upon public opinion in other lands.
The cause of democracy suffers more in Britain to-day from the generally received opinion that American politics are corrupt, and therefore that republicanism necessarily produces corruption, than from any other one cause. Yet, speaking with some knowledge of politics in both lands, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that for every ounce of corruption of public men in the new land of republicanism there is one in the old land of monarchy, only the forms of corruption differ. Titles are the bribes in the monarchy, not dollars. Office is a common and proper reward in both. There is, however, this difference in favor of the monarchy; titles are given openly and are not considered by the recipients or the mass of the people as bribes.
When I was called to Washington in 1861, it was supposed that the war would soon be over; but it was seen shortly afterwards that it was to be a question of years. Permanent officials in charge would be required. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company was unable to spare Mr. Scott, and Mr. Scott, in turn, decided that I must return to Pittsburgh, where my services were urgently needed, owing to the demands made upon the Pennsylvania by the Government. We therefore placed the department at Washington in the hands of others and returned to our respective positions.
After my return from Washington reaction followed and I was taken with my first serious illness. I was completely broken down, and after a struggle to perform my duties was compelled to seek rest. One afternoon, when on the railway line in Virginia, I had experienced something like a sunstroke, which gave me considerable trouble. It passed off, however, but after that I found I could not stand heat and had to be careful to keep out of the sun – a hot day wilting me completely. [That is the reason why the cool Highland air in summer has been to me a panacea for many years. My physician has insisted that I must avoid our hot American summers.]
Leave of absence was granted me by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and the long-sought opportunity to visit Scotland came. My mother, my bosom friend Tom Miller, and myself, sailed in the steamship Etna, June 28, 1862, I in my twenty-seventh year; and on landing in Liverpool we proceeded at once to Dunfermline. No change ever affected me so much as this return to my native land. I seemed to be in a dream. Every mile that brought us nearer to Scotland increased the intensity of my feelings. My mother was equally moved, and I remember, when her eyes first caught sight of the familiar yellow bush, she exclaimed:
„Oh! there’s the broom, the broom!”
Her heart was so full she could not restrain her tears, and the more I tried to make light of it or to soothe her, the more she was overcome. For myself, I felt as if I could throw myself upon the sacred soil and kiss it.
[Footnote 22: „It’s a God’s mercy I was born a Scotchman, for I do not see how I could ever have been contented to be anything else. The little dour deevil, set in her own ways, and getting them, too, level-headed and shrewd, with an eye to the main chance always and yet so lovingly weak, so fond, so led away by song or story, so easily touched to fine issues, so leal, so true. Ah! you suit me, Scotia, and proud am I that I am your son.” (Andrew Carnegie, Our Coaching Trip, p. 152. New York, 1882.)]
In this mood we reached Dunfermline. Every object we passed was recognized at once, but everything seemed so small, compared with what I had imagined it, that I was completely puzzled. Finally, reaching Uncle Lauder’s and getting into the old room where he had taught Dod and myself so many things, I exclaimed:
„You are all here; everything is just as I left it, but you are now all playing with toys.”
The High Street, which I had considered not a bad Broadway, uncle’s shop, which I had compared with some New York establishments, the little mounds about the town, to which we had run on Sundays to play, the distances, the height of the houses, all had shrunk. Here was a city of the Lilliputians. I could almost touch the eaves of the house in which I was born, and the sea – to walk to which on a Saturday had been considered quite a feat – was only three miles distant. The rocks at the seashore, among which I had gathered wilks (whelks) seemed to have vanished, and a tame flat shoal remained. The schoolhouse, around which had centered many of my schoolboy recollections – my only Alma Mater – and the playground, upon which mimic battles had been fought and races run, had shrunk into ridiculously small dimensions. The fine residences, Broomhall, Fordell, and especially the conservatories at Donibristle, fell one after the other into the petty and insignificant. What I felt on a later occasion on a visit to Japan, with its small toy houses, was something like a repetition of the impression my old home made upon me.
Everything was there in miniature. Even the old well at the head of Moodie Street, where I began my early struggles, was changed from what I had pictured it. But one object remained all that I had dreamed of it. There was no disappointment in the glorious old Abbey and its Glen. It was big enough and grand enough, and the memorable carved letters on the top of the tower – „King Robert The Bruce” – filled my eye and my heart as fully as of old. Nor was the Abbey bell disappointing, when I heard it for the first time after my return. For this I was grateful. It gave me a rallying point, and around the old Abbey, with its Palace ruins and the Glen, other objects adjusted themselves in their true proportions after a time.
My relatives were exceedingly kind, and the oldest of all, my dear old Auntie Charlotte, in a moment of exultation exclaimed:
„Oh, you will just be coming back here some day and keep a shop in the High Street.”
To keep a shop in the High Street was her idea of triumph. Her son-in-law and daughter, both my full cousins, though unrelated to each other, had risen to this sublime height, and nothing was too great to predict for her promising nephew. There is an aristocracy even in shopkeeping, and the family of the green grocer of the High Street mingles not upon equal terms with him of Moodie Street.
Auntie, who had often played my nurse, liked to dwell upon the fact that I was a screaming infant that had to be fed with two spoons, as I yelled whenever one left my mouth. Captain Jones, our superintendent of the steel works at a later day, described me as having been born „with two rows of teeth and holes punched for more,” so insatiable was my appetite for new works and increased production. As I was the first child in our immediate family circle, there were plenty of now venerable relatives begging to be allowed to play nurse, my aunties among them. Many of my childhood pranks and words they told me in their old age. One of them that the aunties remembered struck me as rather precocious.
I had been brought up upon wise saws and one that my father had taught me was soon given direct application. As a boy, returning from the seashore three miles distant, he had to carry me part of the way upon his back. Going up a steep hill in the gloaming he remarked upon the heavy load, hoping probably I would propose to walk a bit. The response, however, which he received was:
„Ah, faither, never mind, patience and perseverance make the man, ye ken.”
He toiled on with his burden, but shaking with laughter. He was hoist with his own petard, but his burden grew lighter all the same. I am sure of this.
My home, of course, was with my instructor, guide, and inspirer, Uncle Lauder – he who had done so much to make me romantic, patriotic, and poetical at eight. Now I was twenty-seven, but Uncle Lauder still remained Uncle Lauder. He had not shrunk, no one could fill his place. We had our walks and talks constantly and I was „Naig” again to him. He had never had any name for me but that and never did have. My dear, dear uncle, and more, much more than uncle to me.
[Footnote 23: „This uncle, who loved liberty because it is the heritage of brave souls, in the dark days of the American Civil War stood almost alone in his community for the cause which Lincoln represented.” (Hamilton Wright Mabie in Century Magazine, vol. 64, p. 958.)]
I was still dreaming and so excited that I could not sleep and had caught cold in the bargain. The natural result of this was a fever. I lay in uncle’s house for six weeks, a part of that time in a critical condition. Scottish medicine was then as stern as Scottish theology (both are now much softened), and I was bled. My thin American blood was so depleted that when I was pronounced convalescent it was long before I could stand upon my feet. This illness put an end to my visit, but by the time I had reached America again, the ocean voyage had done me so much good I was able to resume work.
I remember being deeply affected by the reception I met with when I returned to my division. The men of the eastern end had gathered together with a cannon and while the train passed I was greeted with a salvo. This was perhaps the first occasion upon which my subordinates had an opportunity of making me the subject of any demonstration, and their reception made a lasting impression. I knew how much I cared for them and it was pleasing to know that they reciprocated my feelings. Working-men always do reciprocate kindly feeling. If we truly care for others we need not be anxious about their feelings for us. Like draws to like.