‘Getting Endwise’ – Lincoln’s Military Story

Lincolns Military Experience
Oil Painting by Shoji Ohzawa
(Billie Trimbler Chandler Coll) Del Mar College Library

Many of the men in the community where I grew up served in WWII. Almost all of them were combat veterans. Most of these vets rarely talked about their experiences. However, there were others who were always quick with a funny story about their time as a “sad sack.”

In honor of these men, I thought I’d look for a story Abraham Lincoln like to tell about his own military exploits.

This is the one he frequently shared.

Chief Black Hawk of Sauk Tribe
Oil Painting of Black Hawk, Chief of Sauk Tribe

During the Black Hawk War in 1832, Lincoln was voted the “captain” by about twenty volunteers from his area in Illinois.

Ironically, Lincoln had NO previous military training.

And this was a tough group of men!

In fact, they all responded to his first order with a shouted “Go to hell!”[1]

So one day not long after, Lincoln was drilling them, and the men were marching, all twenty of them, in a line across a field. They came to a gate in the fence bordering another field.

Said Lincoln:

“I could not for the life of me remember the proper word of command for getting my company ‘endwise,’ so that it could get through the gate, so, as we came near the gate I shouted: ‘This company is dismissed for two minutes, when it will fall in again on the OTHER side of the gate.'”[2]

Mr. Gross, on page vii in the “Introduction” to his book, cited below, notes that President Abraham Lincoln “was the genius of common sense…never oppressed with…the self-consciousness of petty things.”[2]

While quick thinking and problem-solving with your “audience” in mind may be the leadership traits demonstrated by this story, Lincoln just enjoyed telling it to humorously emphasize his absolute lack of military bearing.

“…never oppressed with…the self-consciousness of petty things.”

Food for thought.


[Like this one? Please click here for more Stories That Abe Told.]

Works Cited

[1] Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. v.I:154-157, 386. [See also: Catton, Bruce. (1956) This Hallowed Ground. Doubleday and Company, Inc. Garden City, New York. p.27.

[2 ] Gross, A., & Lincoln, A. (1912). Lincoln’s Own Stories. Collected and edited by A. Gross. With portrait. Harper & Bros: New York & London. pp.5, vii.

[3] [Featured image at the top of the page] Life of Abraham Lincoln #19. Oil Painting by Shoji Ohzawa (Billie Trimble Chandler Collection – Del Mar College Library, Del Mar College, Corpus Christi, TX

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