Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Diary of John Hay: July 18, 1863

To-day we spent six hours deciding on Court Martials, the President, Judge Holt and I. I was amused at the eagerness with which the President caught at any fact which would justify him in saving the life of a condemned soldier. He was only merciless in cases where meanness or cruelty were shown.

Cases of cowardice he was specially averse to punishing with death. He said it would frighten the poor devils too terribly to shoot them. On the case of a soldier who had once deserted and reenlisted, he endorsed: — “Let him fight instead of shooting him!”

One fellow who had deserted, and escaped after conviction, into Mexico, he sentenced, saying: — “We will condemn him as they used to sell hogs in Indiana, as they run.”

He told one good story about U. F. Linder getting a fellow off who had stolen a hog, by advising him to go and get a drink, suggesting that the water was better in Tennessee.

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 88-9; Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 68-9; Michael Burlingame, Editor, Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 64;

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