Abe Lincoln’s Birthday: 1909

SOMEWHAR down thar round Hodgenville, Kaintucky,
Or tharabouts, a hundred year ago,
Was born a boy ye wouldn’ thought was lucky;
Looked like he never wouldn’ have a show.
But * * * * I don’ know.
That boy was started middlin’ well, I’m thinkin’.
His name? W’y, it was Abraham — Abe Lincoln.

PORE whites his folks was? Yes, as pore as any,
Them pioneers, they wa’n’t no plutocrats;
Belonged right down among the humble many,
And no more property than dogs or cats.
But * * * * maybe that’s
As good a way as any for a startin’.
Abe Lincoln, he riz middlin’ high, for sartin!

SOMEHOW I’ve always had a sort o’ sneakin’
Idee that peddygrees is purty much
Like monkeys’ tails — so long they’re apt to weaken
The yap that drags ’em round. No use for such!
But * * * * beats the Dutch
How now and then a lad like Little Aby
Grows up a president — or govnor, maybe.

Indiana Evening Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania) Feb 12, 1909

When, back in the middle of the ’50s, Abraham Lincoln was a plain lawyer, practicing in Springfield, Ill., he appears to have indulged but one office luxury — an office boy, Epenetus McIntosh, aged 10.

McIntosh afterwards became a drummer boy in the civil war, rose to the rank of major, and survived Andersonville and the great Sultana disaster to become prominent as a poet, writing a book of Grand Army songs.

Major McIntosh, now of Omaha, Neb., was the first to enlist in the first Grand Army of the Republic post ever formed — that at Decatur, Ill. — and he is now the only survivor of that post.

Neither Lincoln, who was regarded by his office boy as merely a good lawyer, nor Epenetus McIntosh, who was regarded by his employer as only a good office boy, could foresee that the one was to become the greatest figure in the nation’s history, while the other was to write one of the most remarkable human-interest views of the martyred president ever printed.

Today, 100 years after the birth of Lincoln, Major McIntosh tells his story for the first time in any publication. He wrote the following exclusively for this newspaper, and it is a document that will endure among the more personal annals of America’s greatest chief executive.

*****

By MAJ. EPENETUS McINTOSH.

Lincoln’s First Office Boy.

The fact of which I am proudest in all my long life is that I was Abraham Lincoln’s first office boy.

The one possession which I treasure above all others is a little drum which Lincoln gave me.

It was not much of a job. And it was never much of a drum. But they were enough to keep my life sweet at its core.

I was the first office boy Lincoln ever had; at least I never heard of his having had an earlier one.

Just as office boys anywhere do today, I then thought myself the important member of the establishment. Mr. Lincoln seemed to think well of me, for he kept me two years, gave me much advice of the direct homely sort, such as only Lincoln co[u]ld give, and he gave me the drum.

I must tell of the drum first, because it came first, and has been treasured to the last.

A dozen or so of us urchins were playing soldier in my father’s yard, which was across the street from Lincoln’s office. I was the drummer boy, using a tin pan and a couple of sticks. The lawyer, whom we even then regarded as a great man, looked over the fence and said to us:

“Boys, train up right; we may need you some day.”

Christmas came soon after and with it a little drum. Upon that drum I learned to play; and seven years afterward, when Lincoln was president and called the nation to arms, I, a well grown youth of 17 and a good drummer, was the first man to take my stand in front of the old court house at Bloomington, Ill., and then I beat the roll which called for volunteers. It was not the little old drum I used that day, but a new one that could be heard all over town.

I have both drums yet, and I have the precious memory of marching off to war as a drummer beating steps for the troops.

But this has carried me ahead of my story. an old man must be pardoned if he rambles as he writes of matters so close to his heart.

With the little drum Mr. Lincoln gave me I drummed myself into his further notice, and one day he offered me the job of whitewashing his fence, I did it well; and as he stood admiring my work, he asked me if I cared to be his office boy. I eagerly accepted, and remained with him until my father moved to another town.

I have always remembered one of the first things Lincoln said to me. It was:

“Work hard, be honest; never gamble; keep smiling, and you will succeed.”

He had many quaint sayings about cheerfulness. One I remember was this:

“The world has no use for a grumbler who always keeps his head down and always sees the dark side of life.”

Another was this:

“If a cow kicks over a bucket of milk, just milk the next cow and keep on smiling. Smiling will get you more milk than kicking back.”

He was never so at ease as when tilted back in his chair with his big feet resting on the table. In that position his great length seemed even greater than it was. It may not seem possible to connect the Lincoln so revered today with an attitude so undignified; but I have often seen him so, and the natural ungainliness of his lank figure rendered him very ludicrous.

His only chair was a Windsor of the hard, rugged, old-fashioned sort, as different as could be imagined from the elegantly upholstered chairs in the offices of leading lawyers today. For visitors there was an uncushioned bench along one wall.

I have heard many stories of his bringing his lunch to the office and eating it off the office table while discussing cases with clients; but I never saw him do that and do not believe he ever did it. But he liked to work in his shirt sleeves when alone in the office.

I have no recollection of any tilts with my boss. He was always kind and good-natured.

He had little respect for smokers. He once remarked of a pipe: “A fire at one end and a fool at the other.”

Another recollection I have of him is that he shaved himself and always came to the office with a perfectly smooth face except in winter, when he allowed his whiskers to grow.

I cannot better close my reminiscences than by quoting a saying which I have heard him utter to many people, which I have never seen in print:

“Keep a stiff upper lip and a steel backbone, and don’t let any one discourage you.”

It healed the heart wounds of many a worried client.

San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Feb 12, 1909

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