Dakota Datebook

Lincoln’s Bodyguards

Monday, December 17, 2007

Assuming office during a tumultuous period in American history, the personal security of President Abraham Lincoln was a constant concern of his friends and supporters.
Lincoln‘s secretary, John Nicolay wrote, “From the very beginning of his presidency, Mr. Lincoln had been constantly subject to the threats of his enemies… His mail was infested with brutal and vulgar menace… Most of these communications received no notice… Warnings that appeared most definite, when examined, proved too vague and confused for further attention.”
Nicolay continued, “The President was too intelligent not to know that he was in some danger. Madmen frequently made their way to the very door of the executed office, and sometimes into Mr. Lincoln’s presence. But he had himself so sane a mind, and a heart so kindly, even to his enemies, that it was hard for him to believe in political hatred so deadly as to lead to murder.”
At the beginning of Lincoln’s administration, there were mounted and foot guards posted at the White House gates. But at the President’s insistence, these precautions were immediately discontinued. They did not return until 1863 upon the prompting of Governor David Tod of Ohio. Concerned about the lack of White House security, the Governor applied to the War Department for permission to organize one hundred men to be assigned as Lincoln’s mounted bodyguards. Upon receiving permission, Governor Tod contacted the military committees of several counties in Ohio asking for volunteers.
One volunteer was 21-year-old Smith Stimmel born on a farm six miles south of Columbus, Ohio on this day December 17, 1842.
Receiving a letter of recommendation from a nearby neighbor and member of one of the military committees, Stimmel was accepted into the newly formed troop named by Governor Todd, the Union Light Guard. Each bodyguard was given a black horse and sent to Washington to be placed on duty at the White House.
As Stimmel later recalled in his memoirs, “Our duties were to guard the front entrance to the White House grounds, and to act as an escort to the President whenever he went out in his carriage, or when he rode on horse-back, as he often did during the summer.” Another infantry company from Pennsylvania was charged with guarding the remaining three sides of the White House.
Tragically, such precautions in the end failed to save the president from an assassin’s bullet. On the evening of April 14, 1865 John Wilkes Booth fired two shots at the back of Lincoln’s head, mortally wounding the president.
Several years after the death of Lincoln, Stimmel and his wife moved to Dakota Territory where he practiced law and served as president of the territorial council before retiring in 1922.
Written by Christina Sunwall
Stimmel, Smith, “Experiences as a Member of President Lincoln’s Body Guard, 1863-65”. North Dakota Historical Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 2 (January 1927): 5-33
Mr. Lincoln’s White House- http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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