Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: He’d Need His Gun

When the President, early in the War, was anxious about the defenses of Washington, he told a story illustrating his feelings in the case. General Scott, then Commander-in-Chief of the United States Army, had but 1,500 men, two guns and an old sloop of war, the latter anchored in the Potomac, with which to protect the National Capital, and the President was uneasy.

To one of his queries as to the safety of Washington, General Scott had replied, “It has been ordained, Mr. President, that the city shall not be captured by the Confederates.”

“But we ought to have more men and guns here,” was the Chief Executive’s answer. “The Confederates are not such fools as to let a good chance to capture Washington go by, and even if it has been ordained that the city is safe, I’d feel easier if it were better protected. All this reminds me of the old trapper out in the West who had been assured by some ‘city folks’ who had hired him as a guide that all matters regarding life and death were prearranged.

“‘It is ordained,’ said one of the party to the old trapper, ‘that you are to die at a certain time, and no one can kill you before that time. If you met a thousand Indians, and your death had not been ordained for that day, you would certainly escape.’

“‘I don’t exactly understand this “ordained” business,’ was the trapper’s reply. ‘I don’t care to run no risks. I always have my gun with me, so that if I come across some reds I can feel sure that I won’t cross the Jordan ‘thout taking some of ‘em with me. Now, for instance, if I met an Indian in the woods; he drew a bead on me—sayin’, too, that he wasn’t more’n ten feet away—an’ I didn’t have nothing to protect myself; say it was as bad as that, the redskin bein’ dead ready to kill me; now, even if it had been ordained that the Indian (sayin’ he was a good shot), was to die that very minute, an’ I wasn’t, what would I do ‘thout my gun?’

“There you are,” the President remarked; “even if it has been ordained that the city of Washington will never be taken by the Southerners, what would we do in case they made an attack upon the place, without men and heavy guns?”