Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Catblogging

I was reclining on the davenport with Vol. IV of Sandburg's epic life of Lincoln, whereupon I came to discover that the Great Emancipator, the Man Who Saved the Union, was also something of a cat person.

An excellent example of President Abraham Lincoln's tenderness occurred near the end of the Civil War. Abraham and his family had been invited to visit General Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters at City Point, Virginia. During his visit, the president came upon three tiny kittens. They appeared to be lost and were wandering around and meowing. Abraham picked up one of the kittens and asked, "Where is your mother?" A person standing nearby said, "The mother is dead." The president continued to pet the little kitten and said, "Then she can't grieve as many a poor mother is grieving for a son lost in battle." Abraham picked up the other two kittens and now had all three in his lap. He stroked their fur and quietly told them, "Kitties, thank God you are cats, and can't understand this terrible strife that is going on." The Chief Executive continued, "Poor little creatures, don't cry; you'll be taken good care of." He looked toward Colonel Bowers of Grant's staff and said, "Colonel, I hope you will see that these poor little motherless waifs are given plenty of milk and treated kindly." Bowers promised that he would tell the cook to take good care of them. Colonel Horace Porter watched the president and recalled, "He would wipe their eyes tenderly with his handkerchief, stroke their smooth coats, and listen to them purring their gratitude to him." Quite a sight it was, thought Porter, "at an army headquarters, upon the eve of a great military crisis in the nation's history, to see the hand which had affixed the signature to the Emancipation Proclamation and had signed the commissions....from the general-in-chief to the lowest lieutenant, tenderly caressing three stray kittens."

We can't decide if this is just creepy in a Blofeld sort of way, or if we should be extra thankful that the North managed to win the Civil War. Anyway, three weeks later John Wilkes Booth - pretty clearly a dog person - went and shot the president, who was also, as it turns out, a dog person, too

Fido was born in circa 1855 and lived with the Lincoln family for five happy years. The dog was of uncertain ancestry, but closely resembled a retriever/shepherd mix and was roughly the color of mustard.

His time with the Lincoln family ended upon Lincoln's election to the presidency. Lincoln noticed how terrified Fido was of the cannon blasts marking Lincoln's election and never enjoyed being around trains. Lincoln loved animals with a passion (he abhorred hunting and fishing, for example) and strongly believed that Fido would not survive the trip to Washington. So with great sorrow, the Lincolns gave Fido to a local family with the stipulation that he be an indoor dog, given special treats, allowed the run of the home, etc. In fact, the Lincolns even gave Fido's favorite horsehair sofa to the family who took over the raising of Fido.

Perhaps overshadowed by his master's more newsworthy assassination, few people remember that in 1866, ol' Fido went bounding up to a drunken man on the streets of Springfield and was, depending on the source, either shot or beaten to death.

[Ed. note: These are not Lincoln's kittens.]


Charles said...

For the record, let us note the important difference that Lincoln saw between cats and dogs.

He spent a few moments with the cats, then shrewdly handed the little Devil spawn off for someone else to deal with.

Meanwhile he took the trusty dog into his home, lived with him, shared bread, for five wonderful years.

A great and intelligent man indeed.

Dan said...

Is it just me or is there something decidedly sinister about the line "Bowers promised that he would tell the cook to take good care of them"?

Burro Hall said...

"That evening, Bowers presented me with the most delectable stew, serve with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. It was a most jovial supper."

-- Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, p.522