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566. LeGrand B. Cannon to William H. Herndon.

Near Burlington, Vt. Oct 7 [1889]

My Dear Sir

My friend Jno. Wilson by your permission sends me your letters to him in responce to his enquirys; for which consent I am grateful & will observe its confidences.

I was charmed with your Life of Lincoln its the only one attempted which I believe to be truthful & therefore instructive & satisfactory.

The facts which you make public in no measure detract, but on the contrary add luster to his great life. With his low breeding and surroundings, his small opportunity for education & culture, — the infalicity of his married life, & limitations overcoming & bearing all by his virtues & instinct for truth, is simply a marvel.

Your book further suggests to my mind, that that in seeking relief from the discords of his house, brought out his great quality to the Public had it been otherwise I doubt if he would have had the opportunity made a conspicuous record in history, & in this aspect his success, was an accident of life.


It was my great good fortune to know something of Lincoln distinct from his official life. It is the outcome of [it?].

Intensely in earnest, I entered the service at the opening of the Rebellion as a Staff officer in the Regular Army and was assigned to the Department of Virginia with Head Quarters at Fort Monroe, Maj Genr Wool in command of the Dept. & I was honored by him as his Chief of Staff & enjoyed his entire confidence. it was the only Gate open for communication with the Rebel Govt. & Genl Wool was the Agent for much intercourse.

In the early stages of the war there was a want of harmony between the Army & Navy about us, which seriously embarrased Military Operations resulting in the President & Sect'y — Chase & Stanton coming to Fort Monroe to adjust Matters.

Domestic comforts were limited at Head Quarters & the President occupied my room & I was (in accordance with Military etiquett) assigned to him as "Aid in waiting" & Scty. Altho I had frequently Met the Pres. as "Bearer of Dispatches" I was not a little prejudiced & a good deal irritated at the levity which he was charged with indulgence in. In grave matters jesting & [frolicking?] seemed to me shocking, with such Vital Matters to settle & I confess to thinking of Nero.

But all this Changed when I came to know Lincoln & I very soon discerned that he had a Sad Nature & that it was a terrable burden & that his saddness did not originate in his great official responsibility. I had heard that his house was not pleasant, but did not know that their was More beyond it.

The day after Lincoln came to us. He said to me I suppose you have neither a Bible or a copy of Shakespeare here. I replyed that I had a Bible & the Genl. Shakespear & that he never missed a night without reading it. The Prest. asked wont he lend it to me, which of course I obtained.

The day following he read by himself in one of my offices some two hours, or more, entirely [alone?] I being engaged in a connecting room on duty. He interrupted & wished me to rest, & he would read to me. He read from MacBeth Lear & finally King John, & in reading the passage where Constance bewails the loss of her child to the King. I noticed that he was deeply move, his voice trembled, laying the Book on the table, he said, did you ever dream of a lost friend & feel that you were haveing a direct communion with that friend & yet a conciousness that it was not a reality. My reply was, yes I think all may have had such an experience. He repleyd so do I dream of my Boy Willey. He was utterly overcome. His great frame shook & Bowing down on the table he wept as only such a man in the breaking down of a great sorrow could weep.

It is needless to say that — I wept in sympathy, & quitly left the Room, that he might recover without restraint.

Lincoln never again referred to his boy, but he made me feel that he had given me a sacred confidence & he ever after treated me with a tenderness, regard & confidence, that won my love, & I became to him & his memory almost an idoliter.


Again, some days after I had been absent in a Reconnaisance, & returned just before dinner & was in the Room dressing for Dinner which was a formal Affair. As [illegible] the Administration we had almost daily Distinguished Forigners to dine.

The Prest. came in & seeing me in full uniform, said why Col, your fixing up mighty fine & if you lend me your brush & comb, I brush up to. handg him the things, he toyed with the comb. & said why this wont comb my hair if you have such a thing as they comb a Horses tail with, I can do it: & laughed in his merry way. by the way he said I will tell you a story about my hair when I was nominated at Chicago an enterprising fellow thought that every would like to see how Abe Lincoln looked, & as I had not very long before set for a Photograph in Chicago & this fellow had seen it, he [illegible] & bought the negative & got out no end of woodcuts & so active was the circulation that very soon after the news reached Springfield a Boy ran throught the Street crying out "buy a likeness of Abe Lincoln price two shillings, look a great deal better when he gets his hair combed"

I give you these tid bits as they may interest you for I know you loved him & nothing he said or did failed to interest me, & I feel it must you.

With a full appreciation of your work, & a lasting regard for, Lincolns memory. I shall persuade all my friends to read your Book with a confidence that they will be instructed & entertained & come to feel as I do that his position in the history of all great human characters will be no less unique than Superior.

I wish I could condence as you do & have written you hastily without review. So excuse everything except. the overestimate of Lincoln.

Yours Very Resp.
Le G B Cannon

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3602 — 8



1. H&W (1889).

2. King John 3:3, 93 — 105.