The War Comet

WHILE FEAR OF AN ATTACK…. held the city of Washington in its grasp, the Negroes cowered under the great war comet blazing in the sky. The Woodwards had an old slave named Oola, said to be a native African. She was tall and large of frame, with gray-black skin wrinkled yet drawn tight over forehead and cheek bones, and eyes whose sudden glance made us wince as though actually prickled, with tufts of white wool springing from her skull. The other servants were afraid of her evil eye and “conjure spells.”

To have our fortunes told by her was a terrifying yet fascinating experience.

“You see dat great fire sword, blazin’ in de sky,” she said, “Dat’s a great war comin’ and de handle’s to’rd de Norf and de point to’rd de Souf and de Norf’s gwine take dat sword and cut de Souf’s heart out. But dat Linkum man, chilluns, if he takes de sword, he’s gwine perish by it.”

We told the Lincoln boys about Oola’s prophecy of war, carefully omitting, however, the dire prediction regarding their father. Tad was greatly impressed and carrid the story, as tidings of import, to his father. Tad was greatly impressed and carried the story, as tidings of import, to his father. Mrs. Lincoln laughed, but the President seemed strangely interested.

“What was that, Tad, that she said about the comet?” asked Mr. Lincoln, “Said said,”, answered Tad, gratified that at least one member of his family appreciated the gravity of the omen, “that the handle was toward the north and the point toward the south and that meant the North was going to take that sword and cut the South’s heart out. Do you think that’s what it means, Pa?” “I hope not, Tad,” answered his father gravely. “I hope it won’t come to that.”

But I noticed him, a few evenings later, looking out of the old Negro woman’s prophecy.

— Julia Taft Bayne, 1863