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The Sentry

The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour

The Sentry

Sep 27 1934


HOST, Rudy Vallee





WILLIAM SCOTT, age eighteen; meek

HOST: Presenting now Mr. Walter Huston, distinguished star of "Dodsworth" on the Broadway stage and the creator of a notable series of screen characters. One of Mr. Huston's earlier movie successes was his vivid performance as Abraham Lincoln. You will hear Mr. Huston as Lincoln again tonight in a one-act play called "The Sentry," a dramatic experience based on a true incident in the life of the great leader. Mr. Walter Huston as Abraham Lincoln.



ANNOUNCER: Time, Spring in the year Eighteen Sixty-Two. Place, headquarters of General McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac. McClellan's inaction and his attitude toward Lincoln have brought about a crisis. His patience almost at an end, the president has decided to see if personal persuasion can bring the stubborn general to some form of decisive movement. As the curtain rises, the president is speaking.

LINCOLN: Yes, I know, general, I know, you haven't much regard for my military knowledge, and I don't pretend to be a military expert, and I won't tell you how to move your army, nor when. But it must be moved, and rapidly.

McCLELLAN: Naturally, sir, my plans call for a movement of troops at an early date.

LINCOLN: How early?

McCLELLAN: That depends a great deal on the enemy.

LINCOLN: Well, McClellan, suppose this time you make the enemy's movement depend upon yours. Force the issue. Drive, instead of follow, for a change.

McCLELLAN: Very well, sir. If you insist.


McCLELLAN: I'll revise my plans and let you have them tomorrow.

LINCOLN: Good. And now, if there's nothing more, I'll have to leave you -- although, I'll tell you, McClellan, I'd rather stay here and see you do this thing than go home and tend to my own job.

McCLELLAN: There's just one thing more, Mr. President.


McCLELLAN: I have a batch of court-martial findings here. Would you care to look them over before you leave? It will save my sending them to Washington.

LINCOLN: Well, McClellan, I'll do anything I can to save you time. Let's have a look at them.

McCLELLAN: Here they are, sir. Won't you sit at my desk while you read them?

LINCOLN: Thank you. S'pose you've been over them all.

McCLELLAN: I have.

LINCOLN: And approved 'em.

McCLELLAN: I have. My experience is that the findings of military courts are almost invariably fair and impartial.

LINCOLN: (CHUCKLES) And you wish I'd not upset these things by disapproving any of them, eh? (CHUCKLES) 

McCLELLAN: If you'll pardon me for saying so, Mr. President--

LINCOLN: Go ahead.

McCLELLAN: You're inclined to be too lenient, sir. It makes it difficult for us.

LINCOLN: Mm, no doubt. Well, I'll try to be a little more hardhearted. Let's have a look at these things. (CLEARS THROAT) Looks like a lot of them.

McCLELLAN: Yes, several.

LINCOLN: Mm, yes. (READS) "Desertion in face of the enemy." (THOUGHTFUL, TO HIMSELF) Yes. "Ten years." Ten. Mm, that's a long time.

McCLELLAN: Beg pardon, sir?

LINCOLN: Nothing. I was just looking over these things.

McCLELLAN: Yes, sir.

LINCOLN: All right, I'll approve that. Uh-- (CLEARS THROAT) McClellan?


LINCOLN: Do you think perhaps, er--?

McCLELLAN: What, sir?

LINCOLN: Maybe five years? No, no, no, I - I said I'd be hardhearted. (CLEARS THROAT) Ah, there you are. (AS HE WRITES) "Finding approved. A. Lincoln." (TO HIMSELF) Now, what's the next one? Hmm. (READS) "Asleep on sentry post -- on or about one-thirty A. M., March sixteenth, Eighteen Sixty-Two." (QUIETLY) I see. (READS, WITH DISAPPROVAL) "Shot." (UP) McClellan, I don't like this. I don't like it at all.

McCLELLAN: What's that, sir?

LINCOLN: It's a youngster, eighteen years old.


LINCOLN: By the name of Scott. William Scott.

McCLELLAN: What's the charge?

LINCOLN: Found guilty of sleeping on sentry post.

McCLELLAN: That's very serious, sir.

LINCOLN: I know, but must the boy be shot?

McCLELLAN: Let me see the record.

LINCOLN: Certainly. Look it over. I suppose you've approved it. But glance it over again.

McCLELLAN: Yes. Yes, I remember this. Found asleep on post, March sixteenth. Yes. (CURT) That was during the advance of Franklin's division. It was a critical post at a critical time, Mr. President.

LINCOLN: Yes, but to shoot the boy--! For sleeping.

McCLELLAN: May seem harsh to a civilian, but it's a desperately bad breach of military discipline.

LINCOLN: I know.

McCLELLAN: It might have caused the loss of a regiment.

LINCOLN: Yes, I know. (BEAT) I wonder, er--


LINCOLN: Where's the boy now?

McCLELLAN: He's in the guardhouse.

LINCOLN: Near at hand?

McCLELLAN: (SURPRISED) Why, yes, sir.

LINCOLN: May I speak to him?

McCLELLAN: Why, yes, if you want to. (QUICKLY) Though, really, I can't see that it'll do any good.

LINCOLN: I'd like to.

McCLELLAN: Very well. (CALLS) Orderly?


ORDERLY: (OFF) Yes, sir?

McCLELLAN: Go to the guardhouse, get prisoner William Scott, and bring him here -- under guard.

ORDERLY: (OFF) William Scott. Yes, sir.


McCLELLAN: (VERY EARNEST) Mr. President, I'd like to have you understand the military point of view in this case.

LINCOLN: Yes, go ahead, McClellan, I'll want both sides. I don't want to be hasty in deciding one way or the other.

McCLELLAN: In the first place, there can be no question of the prisoner's guilt. He admits the charge.

LINCOLN: Yes, I noticed that.

McCLELLAN: Then, you must remember the post on which he was found asleep was a highly important post, in the face of the enemy. In fact, the regiment was actually in enemy territory. What might have happened if an attack had been launched at the inopportune moment, I leave you to imagine.


McCLELLAN: The punishment recommended by the court isn't merely for the violation of an Article of War, but for placing in acute danger an entire regiment -- yes, an entire army! -- for his regiment covered the advance of the army.

LINCOLN: You - you make it sound pretty bad, general.

McCLELLAN: It was bad, and the court had to find him guilty and give him an extreme penalty -- or army discipline wouldn't be worth a Continental.

LINCOLN: I understand; the court did its duty.

McCLELLAN: I'm sure it did.

LINCOLN: (AGREES) Mm hm, and I must do mine. (CLEARS THROAT) You don't know how hard it is to let a human being die when you feel that the stroke of your pen will save him.

McCLELLAN: But don't you see, sir, that--?!

LINCOLN: Yes, yes. And I'll remember all you've told me, general. Just one other thing. I noticed in this report-- Yes, here it is. (READS) "Extenuating circumstances -- insufficient grounds for leniency."

McCLELLAN: Yes, that's right.

LINCOLN: So the boy had some excuses?

McCLELLAN: (CONCEDES) Yes, the court took them into consideration, as you see.

LINCOLN: What were they?

McCLELLAN: Well, as I remember it, his regiment had made a forced march, some twenty-five miles that day.

LINCOLN: Anything else?

McCLELLAN: And he was doing double guard.

LINCOLN: Double guard? After all, if he was ordered to--

McCLELLAN: Not ordered. He volunteered for a sick friend.

LINCOLN: Ohhh, volunteered.

McCLELLAN: He accepted the responsibility himself, you see.

LINCOLN: Yes. (CLEARS THROAT, THOUGHTFUL, TO HIMSELF) Hmm. Volunteered. Sick friend. Double guard.


McCLELLAN: Yes? Come in!


ORDERLY: (OFF) Prisoner William Scott, sir, under guard.

McCLELLAN: Let the guard stay outside. Send the prisoner in.

ORDERLY: (OFF) Yes, sir. (TO SCOTT) Scott? Step forward.

McCLELLAN: (BEAT, TO LINCOLN) Here he is, sir.

LINCOLN: Uh, do you mind, general--?

McCLELLAN: Not at all, sir. I'll go.

LINCOLN: Thank you.


LINCOLN: Come here, my boy.

SCOTT: Yes, sir.

LINCOLN: Are you William Scott?

SCOTT: Yes, sir.

LINCOLN: Do you know who I am?


LINCOLN: You've been court-martialed for sleeping on guard.

SCOTT: Yes, sir.

LINCOLN: It's a very serious offense.

SCOTT: Yes, sir, but--

LINCOLN: Go ahead, my boy. Tell me.

SCOTT: I couldn't keep awake, sir. We'd marched twenty-five miles.

LINCOLN: Yes, I know, and you were doing double guard.

SCOTT: Yes, sir.

LINCOLN: Volunteered, hadn't you?

SCOTT: Yes, sir.

LINCOLN: Why did you volunteer for double duty? You must have known you'd have a hard time keeping awake.

SCOTT: Yes, sir.

LINCOLN: Then why did you do it?

SCOTT: My - my friend was sick. He couldn't do his tour of duty and I thought I could keep awake.

LINCOLN: Mm, your friend. He must have been a very dear friend.

SCOTT: Well, yes, sir. You see, I'd - I'd promised his father I'd look after him. We come from the same place, sir.

LINCOLN: Where's that?

SCOTT: Groton, Vermont, sir.

LINCOLN: Your people live there now?

SCOTT: My mother. She's got a farm there. I've - I've got her picture here.

LINCOLN: (UNINTERESTED) Yes, yes, I see. (CLEARS THROAT) Does she know about this?

SCOTT: (READY TO CRY) Oh, sir, please don't--

LINCOLN: (REASSURING) Now, there, there, my boy. You're - you're not going to be shot.

SCOTT: (STUNNED) Not - not going to be - shot?

LINCOLN: I believe you when you tell me that you couldn't keep awake. I'm sure you meant to do your duty. So I'm going to trust you and send you back to your regiment.

SCOTT: (OVERCOME) Oh, sir-- Thank you, I-- I don't know what to say, sir.

LINCOLN: William, you've put me to a great deal of trouble on your account.

SCOTT: Yes, I'm - I'm sorry, sir.

LINCOLN: Yes. And now, how are you going to pay my bill?

SCOTT: (SURPRISED) Your bill? (GRASPING) Oh, sir, we'll sell the farm, and my bounty, and I can borrow--

LINCOLN: No, no, William. My bill is a very large one.

SCOTT: But, sir, my friends, I'm sure, they'll lend me--


LINCOLN: Your friends? Ah, no, your friends can't pay it. Nor your bounty, nor the farm, nor all your comrades. There's only one man in the world who can pay it and his name is William Scott. If from this day William Scott does his duty, so that when he comes to die, he can look me in the face as he does now and say, "I've kept my promise, I've done my duty as a soldier," then my bill will be paid. Will you make that promise, and try and keep it?


LINCOLN: All right, my boy. You are free.