Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 6.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
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To James M. Cutts, Jr. [1]

Executive Mansion,
Capt. James M. Cutts. Washington, Oct 26, 1863.

Although what I am now to say is to be, in form, a reprimand, it is not intended to add a pang to what you have already suffered upon the subject to which it relates. You have too much of life yet before you, and have shown too much of promise as an officer, for your future to be lightly surrendered. You were convicted of two offences. One of them, not of great enormity, and yet greatly to be avoided, I feel sure you are in no danger of repeating. The other you are not so well assured against. The advice of a father to his son ``Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, bear it that the opposed may beware of thee,'' is good, and yet not the best. Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself, can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper, and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you can show no more than equal right; and yield lesser ones, though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog, than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.

In the mood indicated deal henceforth with your fellow men, and especially with your brother officers; and even the unpleasant events you are passing from will not have been profitless to you.

Annotation

[1]   ADf, DLC-RTL. This reprimand may have been delivered to Captain Cutts in a personal interview. Never published by Nicolay and Hay for obvious reasons, a portion was, however, incorporated in their footnote to Lincoln's letter to William G. Anderson, October 31, 1840, as an unidentified bit of advice ``given many years afterward to a young officer condemned to be court-martialed for quarreling'' (NH, I, 152).

The court-martial trial on June 30, 1863, of Captain James Madison Cutts, Jr., brother of Stephen A. Douglas' second wife, on the charge of ``conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman,'' involved three subordinate specifications: (1) that Cutts had used unbecoming language in addressing Captain Charles G. Hutton, aide-de-camp to General Burnside, when Hutton attempted to take over Cutts' desk; (2) that Cutts had sent a written communication to Major William Cutting derogatory to the accomplishments of Captain Hutton as an officer; and (3) that the said ``James M. Cutts . . . did, on or about the 10th day of April, 1863, while occupying room No. 79, Burnet House, Cincinnati, Ohio, on the afternoon of said day, attempt to look through the key-hole of room No. 80 of said house, occupied by a gentleman and his wife; and did, inPage  539 the evening of said day, at about half past eleven o'clock, after said lady had retired to her room, and while her husband was in the corridor below, said lady being at the time partly undressed, previous to retiring, take a valise or portmanteau from his room and . . . placing himself thereon, did look through the Venetian blind or transom light in or over the door into said room and at said lady while undressing. . . .'' (AGO General Orders No. 330, October 8, 1863). To the first and second specifications Cutts pleaded not guilty; to the third, he acknowledged the facts ``with deep regret,'' and pleaded guilty. The court found him guilty on all three specifications and sentenced him to be dismissed from the service.

In connection with this episode, John Hay's Diary on July 18 records Lincoln's humorous remark that Cutts ``should be elevated to the peerage for it with the title of Count Peeper.'' Lincoln's pun and allusion were probably suggested by the name of the Swedish minister, Edward Count Piper.

Tried before the same court-martial, Captain Hutton was found guilty of having sent Captain Cutts a challenge to a duel, but was sentenced merely to a presidential reprimand. Major Cutting was found not guilty of the charge of having carried the challenge from Hutton to Cutts.

Lincoln approved the proceedings in the cases of Cutting and Cutts, but in view of Cutts' ``previous good character . . . and gallant conduct in battle'' remitted the sentence after reprimand. (General Orders No. 330). The proceedings in the case of Captain Hutton, Lincoln disapproved, because ``The penalty fixed by the 25th Article of War for the offence of which the accused is found guilty, viz., sending a challenge to another officer, is cashiering, and admits of no alternative. . . . The President directs that Captain Hutton be dismissed the service of the United States from the 28th day of September, 1863.'' (Ibid.). Hutton was reappointed, however, as of October 30, 1863, and served throughout the war.

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