Notable Visitors: Maunsell B. Field (1822-1875)
Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 to 1865, Maunsell B. Field became the proximate cause of Salmon P. Chase's departure from the Cabinet.
Chase attempted to appoint Field assistant United States Treasurer in New York in June 1864 to replace John J. Cisco. According to historian Ernest A. McKay, Field was "a man of high social standing with literary interests who was coauthor of a romantic novel. Chase opponents charged that Field was not respected by either politicians or financiers. Field, however, was hardly a novice in the financial world. He had served as an assistant to Cisco for many and was now assistant secretary of the treasury. Nonetheless, Senator Morgan objected to his appointment and offered three well-regarded New Yorkers, R. M. Blatchford, Dudley S. Gregory, and Thomas "Immediately Morgan interposed objections on the grounds of Field's unfitness and the political unwisdom of the appointment. Chase stubbornly sent Field's name to the president. Morgan carried his objections to Lincoln and submitted three acceptable names, R.M. Blatchford, Dudley S. Gregory, and Thomas Hillhouse, his former Adjutant General. 'It is in my judgment discreet to appoint a Republican at New York at this time,' he told the president.
Lincoln now made his own position clear to the secretary of the Treasury. 'I can not without much embarrassment make this appointment, principally because of Senator Morgan's very firm opposition to it...It will really oblige me if you will make choice among these three, or any other man that Senators Morgan and Harris will be satisfied with, and send me a nomination for him.'Senator Edwin Morgan objected to the choice—after Chase had promised President Lincoln that he would clear the nomination with Morgan. "I can not without much embarrassment make this appointment, principally because of Senator Morgan's very firm opposition to it," Mr. Lincoln had written to Chase. "It will really oblige me if you will make a choice among these three, or any other man that Senators Morgan and Harris will be satisfied with, and send me a nomination for him."2
On the day before his assassination, Field came upon the President as he took an afternoon ride to the Soldiers’ Home. He recalled: "I was driving alone on the Fourteenth Street road in the direction of the Soldiers' Home. Presently, I heard a clatter behind me, and, looking out of the carriage-window, I saw Mr. Lincoln approaching on horseback, followed by the usual cavalry escort. He soon came up to me, and, while he rode for some time at my side, we conversed together upon indifferent subjects. I noted that he was in one of those moods when 'melancholy seemed to be dripping from him,' and his eye had that expression of profound weariness and sadness which I never saw in other human eye. After a while he put spurs to his horse and hurried on, and he and his followers soon lost to view."3
Lincoln chronicler Anthony Pitch wrote that Field “was one of the first political appointees to arrive at the Petersen House. He had been in the reading room at Willard’s Hotel when two men charged in, electrifying all with news that the president had been shot inside Ford’s Theatre. Field ran four blocks down E. Street and up 10th, where crowds had already formed. When Field encountered Clara Harris, who had been in the presidential box with the Lincolns. She told him: “O, Mr. Field, the president is dying! But for heaven’s sake, do not tell Mrs. Lincoln.”4 Field later wrote out a statement on the events of that night: “On Friday evening, April 14, 1865, at about half-past 10 o'clock, I was sitting in the reading-room at Willard's Hotel, engaged with a newspaper, when a person hurriedly entered the hotel and passed up the hall, announcing in a loud tone of voice that the President had just been shot at Ford's Theatre. I started to my feet, and had hardly reached the office when two other persons came In, and confirmed the report—which at first I was hardly able to credit. I had parted about fifteen minutes previously with Mr. Mellen, of the Treasury Department, who had retired to his room for the night, and I at once went to him and communicated what had occurred, and we started together for the scene of the tragedy.
We found the streets already crowded with excited masses of people, and when we reached the theater there was a very large assemblage in front of it, as well as of the opposite house, belonging to Mr. Peterson, into which the President had been conveyed. The people around the theater related to us substantially the general facts connected with the assassination, which have since been communicated to the public. The impression was prevalent, however, at that time, that the President had been shot in the breast, about the region of the heart, and that the wound might not prove fatal. After a few minutes, we crossed the street, and endeavored to gain admission into the house where Mr. Lincoln lay. This I effected with some little difficulty.