There are times when research seems repetitive. Battles, generals, troop movements, the effects of one thing upon another, and on and on. It is an endless stream, and once one dips one’s toes in it, either you want to do it again or again, or you just get up and go home.
I love research, but even I have to take a break once in a while. For that, my recreational research concerns . . . cats. I had pretty much exhausted the subject of the draft during the Civil War for one day, and I wandered to the search engine and typed in my subject: Cats & the Civil War.
Of course, I had read the anecdote from Mary Lincoln, who had replied, rather tartly, to an early inquiry concerning her husband’s hobbies, that Lincoln’s main one was, “cats.” Ms. Mary followed this up in a letter to her husband, written while she was on a visit to her family home in Kentucky with the children. Apparently young Eddy Lincoln was following “your hobby” by coming home with a stray kitten under his arm.
We know about the gift of Mr. Seward to Lincoln when he was still in Springfield, although President-elect. Some sources say the new Secretary of State brought the Lincoln family two kittens, some say three. No matter–there were plenty of kittens to help Mr. Lincoln ready himself for Washington.
Lincoln allegedly fed his White House cats, Tabby and Dixie, from the dinner table. Mrs. Lincoln didn’t like that, but her husband defended his actions. “If that gold fork was good enough for President Buchanan, it is good enough for Tabby.”
Lincoln’s friend Caleb Carman recalled how the president would pick up one of the cats and “talk to it for half an hour at a time.” The cats apparently won the president over with their quiet adoration.At one point during his first term, Lincoln observed in frustration, “Dixie is smarter than my whole cabinet! And furthermore she doesn’t talk back!”
In March of ’65, just before the end of the war, Lincoln visited General Grant at Grant’s City Point headquarters. With no spay-and-neuter program in place at that time, there were plenty of early spring kittens, and three had found their way into the President’s hearing. According to Admiral David Porter, the President hunted down the little guys and began, “tenderly caressing three stray kittens. It well illustrated the kindness of the man’s disposition, and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature.”
Porter recalled that Lincoln stroked the cats’ fur and quietly told them, “Kitties, thank God you are cats, and can’t understand this terrible strife that is going on.” Before leaving a meeting in the officers’ tent that day, Lincoln turned to a colonel and said, “I hope you will see that these poor little motherless waifs are given plenty of milk and treated kindly.”
I do not pretend that cat stories about our 16th President are “hard” history, nor does his fondness for animals of any kind have a thing to do with the American Civil War. Still, there must be some reason cat videos top the charts of YouTube, and why their small, purring presences lighten our lives. I would like to think a cat helped Lincoln cope with his issues, lightened his load somehow. Looking up information for this blog, and finding accompanying images has helped lighten my issues considerably.
Now . . . just why isn’t Vicksburg celebrated with the verve that accompanies Gettysburg? Maybe Gary Gallagher could help . . .