Previously Unknown Civil War Letter From Abraham Lincoln Discovered
Lincoln Memorial
Jon Hicks via Getty Images

A newly discovered letter from President Abraham Lincoln during the early part of the Civil War has recently been recovered, according to The Raab Collection auction house. 

Having been part of a private collection for over a century, the letter was acquired by Raab earlier this year. It was addressed to Union Army Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr., who the auction house describes as “America’s greatest civil engineer.” The correspondence sheds light on Lincoln’s wartime strategy, the attempts to protect Washington, D.C., using science available at the time, and gives insight into a strained relationship between the president and one of his generals. 

“You propose raising for the service of the U.S., a Civil Engineer Corps,” President Lincoln wrote to Ellet. “I am not capable to judge of the value of such a corps; but I would be glad to accept one if approved by Gen. Scott, Gen. McClellan & Gen. Totten. Please see them and get their views upon it.”

The letter was dated August 19, 1861, and sent from the Executive Mansion. Prior to Lincoln sending the letter, Ellet had been trying to persuade the president to provide more support to the Army Corps of Engineers. Raab notes that there was already correspondence on the matter in the Library of Congress, but that this discovery “fills in a part of the historical record that had been missing.”

The push was an attempt to “survey terrain, disrupt Confederate supply chains, and defend the city of Washington” through an improved Corps of Engineers. Ellet also wanted the Union to build steam-powered ram ships to protect ports in the North. Lincoln advised Ellet to get the views of Generals Winfield Scott, James Totten, and George McClellan on the issue. The find also sheds light on Lincoln’s strained relationship with McClellan.

According to Raab, the letter was subsequently delivered to the home of McClellan, who refused to meet with Ellet in a “snub” to the president. “This letter is documentary evidence of McClellan’s mistreatment of Lincoln,” the Philadelphia-based auction house says. 

“I called this morning at the residence of General McClellan, and endeavored to obtain an interview with him through the influence of your note requesting him to give me one,” Ellet wrote to Lincoln after the snub. “But the general was unwilling to communicate with me … My effort, I regret to report, was entirely unsatisfactory.”

In 1862, when Union ships were destroyed by one of the Confederacy’s ironclads, the CSS Merrimack, the generals would see there was merit to Ellet’s advice, Raab says. 

The letter, a find that’s “increasingly rare” today, is valued at $85,000 and is up for sale at Raab Collections. “Abraham Lincoln autographs and historical documents are among the most collected and are always in demand,” Raab states on its website. “His letters are known for their great clarity and economy of words, he never [used] two where one would suffice.”

Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr., was born in Pennsylvania in 1810. During the Battle of Memphis, less than a year after Lincoln’s letter, he was shot as two ram ships, which he commanded, engaged eight Confederate ironclads. Two weeks later, Ellet died at age 52, and he lay in state under the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Raab notes.

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Previously Unknown Civil War Letter From Abraham Lincoln Discovered