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January 26, 2013

President Lincoln Reviews the Troops- 1863

My great-great grandfather, William James Burk, was a captain in the 116th PA Volunteers Regiment (of the Irish Brigade). Here is his commanding officer's story of President Lincoln's visit to the troops.


From the book, The Story of the 116th Regiment by St. Clair A. Mulholland:

In the latter part of April, the President visited and reviewed the army. The One Hundred and Sixteenth Battalion never looked better than on this occasion. The great review took place on the plains, back of Spofford Heights, and occupied two whole days. Corps after corps filed past, one hundred and twenty thousand men . . . But though a joyous occasion, Mr. Lincoln wore that air of thoughtful sadness that every one recalls so well.

While at Army Headquarters in the morning, surrounded by Generals and brilliant company, he seemed cheerful and full of life and gayety [sic], but, as hour after hour he rode along the line of troops, he appeared like a man overshadowed by some deep sorrow. No doubt he thought of the coming campaign, of the great battle in the near future, and of the many who would fall.

On the second day of the review he seemed more overcome than usual, and his strong, rugged face bore visible traces of his inmost thoughts. During the afternoon he became unusually silent, and rode for an hour without exchanging a word with the brilliant staff that galloped behind him. At one time his gait became very slow, and finally he reigned up his horse in front of a Pennsylvania regiment, and looking into the faces of the young soldiers who stood silently in line at a "present arm," he let fall the lines on the horse's neck, and reaching out his arms towards the ranks, exclaimed, "My God, men, if I could save this country by giving up my own life and saving yours, how gladly I would do it!" As he spoke, the tears stole down his furrowed cheeks, and his great heart seemed bursting. Then he slowly passed on --- but who can forget the scene!

It was an episode called forth by the circumstances, the occasion and the man. Abraham Lincoln had a heart overflowing with kindness and love for all mankind. No human being was too lowly to an object of his tender thought and solicitude.

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