Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: Equine Ingratitude

President Lincoln, while eager that the United States troops should be supplied with the most modern and serviceable weapons, often took occasion to put his foot down upon the mania for experimenting with which some of his generals were afflicted. While engaged in these experiments much valuable time was wasted, the enemy was left to do as he thought best, no battles were fought, and opportunities for winning victories allowed to pass.

The President was an exceedingly practical man, and when an invention, idea or discovery was submitted to him, his first step was to ascertain how any or all of them could be applied in a way to be of benefit to the army. As to experimenting with “contrivances” which, to his mind, could never be put to practical use, he had little patience.

“Some of these generals,” said he, “experiment so long and so much with newfangled, fancy notions that when they are finally brought to a head they are useless. Either the time to use them has gone by, or the machine, when put in operation, kills more than it cures.

“One of these generals, who has a scheme for ‘condensing’ rations, is willing to swear his life away that his idea, when carried to perfection, will reduce the cost of feeding the Union troops to almost nothing, while the soldiers themselves will get so fat that they’ll ‘bust out’ of their uniforms. Of course, uniforms cost nothing, and real fat men are more active and vigorous than lean, skinny ones, but that is getting away from my story.

“There was once an Irishman—a cabman—who had a notion that he could induce his horse to live entirely on shavings. The latter he could get for nothing, while corn and oats were pretty high-priced. So he daily lessened the amount of food to the horse, substituting shavings for the corn and oats abstracted, so that the horse wouldn’t know his rations were being cut down.

“However, just as he had achieved success in his experiment, and the horse had been taught to live without other food than shavings, the ungrateful animal ‘up and died,’ and he had to buy another.

“So far as this general referred to is concerned, I’m afraid the soldiers will all be dead at the time when his experiment is demonstrated as thoroughly successful.”