A Peeping Tom Reprimanded, Lincoln Gives Fatherly Advice
Lincoln Reprimands a Peeping Tom, Capt. James M. Cutts, Jr., and Offers Fatherly Advice, Showing Characteristic Compassion and Forgiveness. Disgraced Cutts Goes on to Receive the Only Triple Medal of Honor in History.
October 26, 1863. What had Captain Cutts done to warrant his being court-martialed and sentenced to be dismissed from the service, a sentence, however, that the President, “seeing treachery and jealousy in his court-martial,” [remanded,] gave him a personal reprimand and sent him back to his unit with the Army of the Potomac?
Cutts had been convicted of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” involving three specifics: (1) using unbecoming language in addressing Captain Charles G. Hutton, aide-de-camp to General Burnside, when Hutton attempted to take over Cutts’ desk; (2) sending a written communication to Major William Cutting derogatory to the accomplishments of Captain Hutton as an officer; and (3) attempting to look through the key-hole of a hotel room near his own room, a room occupied by a married couple; and at about 11:30 P.M., while the husband was on the floor below, taking a trunk from his room and standing on it so he could look through the transom light above the couple’s door at the woman undressing.
The President’s remarkable October 26, 1863 letter to Capt. Cutts reads:
My Dear Oliver,
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.
Publicly disgraced, Cutts, who clearly resolved to redeem his honor or die trying, fought the following year with such conspicuous gallantry at the battles of The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg that he was awarded a triple Medal of Honor, the only one in history.
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council executive director
See Bing G. Spider’s Hero of the Republic: Triple Medal of Honor Winner James Madison Cutts, Jr.