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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter XXV

I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels, how can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by't?
Love thyself last; cherish those hearts that hate thee:
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues.

THE blood and treasure poured out so freely in the suppression of the rebellion were by no means offered up on the shrine of freedom. Notwithstanding Abraham Lincoln had expressed himself in controversy to the effect that a nation half free and half slave could not long exist, he felt constrained under the constitution to swear that under his rule he should do his best to keep it so.. The removal of that foul blot, which had so long disgraced our otherwise fair escutcheon, we owe to the exigencies of war: showing that terrible as war is, it is not the worst of evils that afflict our erring race. The cost of that dreadful ordeal is most abundantly compensated by making this nation what it is. Never till I die can I cease to remember the intoxicating news of the fall of Richmond in Chicago. But oh! how fleet the overjoy ! The bells had hardly ceased to vibrate on that national jubilation ,when lo! the wires proclaimed the foul murder of the idol of a joyous people—Abraham Lincoln —at the hands of a daft theatrical, who shall here be nameless, stimulated by the blind enemies of "freedom" behind. The manner of the taking-off of that great, good man needs not any comment here. It is patent to the world, and lamented by every well-regulated mind the world contains. The perpetrator of this deed of darkness evaded justice for about fourteen dreadful days, to be hunted and shot down like a wild beast. Where his body lies is known to very few. The incipient elements of this rebellion were characterized by a species of craft, or what may be termed low cunning, which reflects anything but credit to the prominent movers of the lost cause. For instance, take the conduct of Floyd. That gentleman occupied the office of secretary of war under James Buchanan—an office fraught with the utmost importance. In the hands of conservative patriotism a bulwark; in the hands of a traitor, dreadfully dangerous.

The part Floyd played in treacherous lust,
Betraying of a nation's trust,
While those in high power were sleeping—
The potent means in his keeping
Were ceded to the nation's foes,
That deadlier might fall their blows
Against our government and laws,
While they exult in fiend's applause,
In hopes that on the nation's ruin.

To build an odious despotism. We have reason, I think, to thank heaven it was otherwise ruled. It was during the civil war that we had the misfortune to lose our only son—John Washington. I may here remark that that portion of his time which ought to have been devoted to out-door recreation while running his photographic gallery was spent in the cultivation of the arts of drawing and painting, which told on his lungs. In pursuit of art he went to New York, thence to Montreal, and improved in health greatly, and was on the eve of marriage with a Miss Fraser in that city when we received the unwelcome news that he was prostrate from hemorrhage of the lungs, with fears that a second attack might prove fatal. No time must be lost in getting him home. His brother-in-law, John Balfour, to whom he was much attached, volunteered his services to repair to Canada and fetch the poor fellow home to die, which, with much care and delicacy, he performed to the satisfaction of all the members of the family. But it required only a few short months to finish the progress of the dire disease on his poor, emaciated frame. His remains were interred in Rosehill cemetery, nor had they long to lie alone, for in about three years the second grave in our little lot had to open to receive his sister Margaret. Maggie suffered much agony with great patience, and rallied sufficiently after her first operation to enable her to participate in a New Year's family gathering, whereat there were twenty members sitting down to dinner. All present entertained lively hopes of her recovery, but in a few days the virulent monster showed symptoms of having been only " scotched, not killed."

The loss of the Lady Elgin, January 18, and the great fire of Chicago merit a passing notice here; the former in 1860, the latter in 1871.


States and nations in their endeavors to dispense with large standing armies find it necessary to use means by which to strengthen the volunteer arm.

Military companies deemed reliable are furnished with arms, accoutrements and halls wherein to drill, etc., at the public expense. In seasons of political excitement, however, when partisanship runs high and manifestations of disloyalty ooze out, or, in other words, whensoever the attitude of a company shall become dubious as to how these arms shall be pro or con directed in case of a popular outbreak against the public peace, it becomes the duty of the governor of the state to cite the officer in command to the seat of government, and there subject him to a personal interrogatory, and on being found unreliable deprive his company of all their arms and military privileges whatsoever.

The party inimical to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 was pretty outspoken, and the patriotism of not a few in Milwaukee fell under the suspicion of the state authorities. One of the suspects was Captain Barry, who was summoned to Madison to explain his position, or rather his sentiments, and, as far as he knew, or was willing to expose, those of the company under his command. The result of this inquiry proved adverse to the company, and disarmament was the result. But the boys, being spirited, and smarting under the frown of the state, resolved to keep up their organization by procuring guns of their own, and to raise the necessary means resolved on chartering the Lady Elgin to Chicago and back to Milwaukee, which, being accomplished, a very numerous party (about 400), provided with fine music, awaited the arrival of the steamer on the wharf at Milwaukee for some hours, notwithstanding the weather was rather rough. The passage to Chicago was spent in dancing and merrymaking. On the early morning of one tempestuous day the Lady Elgin, with her precious freight of gay, light-hearted souls, arrived, and as the hour of departure from Chicago was fixed for 11 p.m. the interim gave ample opportunity of doing the lions of Chicago, which was duly done. The weather in the meantime had increased in violence, and Captain Wilson, of the Elgin, was requested to delay his starting until morning, but having cattle on board, and other merchandise for the north, he could not comply therewith. And well do I remember on retiring to bed hearing through the howling storm of that fatal night the sounds of the strains of that music which was destined to usher them all, or nearly all, into eternity! And such was the hasty desire to resume that fascinating pastime (I am informed) that the steamer had scarcely cleared the lights of the harbor when the figurative marriage bell was ne'er so gay as with that joyous party, bound as they were by ties most sacred—by blood relationship, by intermarriage, by nationality, by political proclivity, and by religious faith. A more genial and happy company it were difficult to conceive. A thorough knowledge of the object of the excursion was doubtless confined to the few, and the youthful members, having confidence in their leader, took for granted that to purchase warlike weapons with a portion of their surplus earnings was an act entitled to praise—at least, to be above censure. Be that as it may, I have no doubt but there were many on that fatal errand who never bestowed a thought upon the purport of the expedition. It is safe to say that in cases of this kind conscience is a light ingredient. There were a few passengers on their way north who secured berths on the ill-fated ship in Chicago, thereby adding to the doomed number, among whom were Mr. Ingram, the distinguished editor and proprietor of the Illustrated London News, and his son. Notwithstanding the night was dark and stormy, so bent on pleasure were the youthful excursionists that the lights of the harbor had scarcely waned when dancing was resumed, and up to the fatal moment was with hilarity kept up.

When about two hours out of Chicago, and abreast of Winnetka, the mirth and music of over four hundred young people were in less time than I require to write it turned to weeping and wailing. A lumber-laden schooner, by some culpable blunder in reading the lights, ran straight into the larboard quarter of the steamer. Oh! the horror of that crash. It was soon discovered that the damage sustained was such as to cut off all hope of saving the ship, or even of saving a soul on board. Already she was perceptibly sinking, and rapidly, by displacement of her treacherous support, forming that fearful gulf yawning to swallow up four hundred happy creatures in the morning of their lives. Comparatively happy those that with the sinking ship went down! Most of those who clung to floating fragments were doomed to perish in the angry surf. Among those who were so destroyed was Capt. Wilson. He had improvised a raft of hatches, whereon he succeeded in reaching the surf with fourteen persons clinging thereto, but such was the violence of the waves lining the shore that the raft no sooner touched the land than it went to pieces, and all on board were drowned or killed by the floating debris of the wreck.

Wilson was one of the most experienced and careful captains on these lakes. A number of warm, admiring friends survive to lament his loss. It appeared by the hole in his forehead that he had received his death wound from being violently thrown against some floating part of the wreck.

Among the few that were saved may be mentioned the bass-drummer of the band, who, by corking up the sound-hole of his drum, improvised a buoy, on which he safely drifted ashore. For many days the bodies of the unfortunates were deposited for identification around the court house of Chicago, and during those days the influx of the bereaved from the sister city in search of their lost dear ones made the scene sufficiently heart-rending, until the sanitary safety of the city demanded a change, and ever afterward all victims found of the ill-fated steamer were deposited among the shrubbery of the old cemetery (now forming part of Lincoln Park). At length identification became impossible, which to anxious searchers was most distressing. The remains of Mr. Ingram were found, and identified by his gold watch and other personal property. They were taken to the Briggs House, and thence by countrymen, members of the St. George's Society of Illinois, to the railroad depot, on their way to his beloved Nottingham. Those of his son, I believe, were never discovered.


On Saturday, the 8th day of October, 1871, there had been a strong breeze blowing all day from Chicago's dangerous quarter (the northwest), when a fire broke out on Canal street, near to Van Buren street, which well-nigh bade defiance to the efforts of one of the most efficient fire departments in the world. Nor could the firemen for one moment relax their noble efforts until the morning of the 9th, after the destruction of valuable property covering sixteen acres of the business part of the city.

To the exhausted condition of the firemen on the 9th has been mainly attributed the fierce, ungovernable hold which characterized the early features of that dreadful disaster, which claimed for its ravages through the principal streets of that splendid city a distance of four and a half miles.

For an accurate description of this calamity the reader is referred to a volume written by Mr. Good-speed, embellished copiously and graphically by wood engravings of excellent quality.

This visitation had the effect of provoking the benevolent sympathy of the Christian world into boiling heat.

The amount of money, food and raiment poured into the hands of the relieving committees of Chicago was marvelous, and I am sorry to say that while the fire proved the ruin of many an honest, struggling family there were those who, by barefaced, unscrupulous means, realized positions to which they never could attain by legitimate effort. Having lost in the fire my inimitable Voigtlander viewing tube and all my bread-winning tools and chemicals, in the way of assistance I acknowledge the receipt of $135 from the bounty of Scottish societies abroad; $100 through the medium of the St. Andrew's Society of Illinois, and $35 through the Caledonian Club.

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