LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") as President, TO LT. GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT, Executive Mansion, Washington D.C., 19 January 1865. 1 page, 4to (7 15/16 x 10 in.), on lined Executive Mansion stationery, faintly discolored at extreme edges from old mat.
A PRESIDENT'S SON GOES TO WAR: "PLEASE...ANSWER...AS THOUGH I WAS NOT PRESIDENT, BUT ONLY A FRIEND": LINCOLN SEEKS A "NOMINAL RANK" FOR ROBERT TODD LINCOLN IN THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
A highly unusual letter in which the President requests an important favor on behalf of his eldest son from the recently appointed General in Chief. Lincoln writes: "Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend. My son, now in his twenty second year, having graduated at Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends. I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give him a commission, to which those who have already served long, are better entitled, and better qualified to hold. Could he, without embarrassment to you, or detriment to the service, go into your Military family with some nominal rank, I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means? If no, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious, and as deeply interested, that you shall not be encumbered as you can be yourself..."
Robert Todd (1843-1926), the Lincolns' eldest son, had briefly attended Illinois State University at Springfield, then Philips Exeter Academy, in order to qualify for Harvard, which he entered in the Fall of 1860. As the war wound on, he became increasingly anxious to play some part in it. Mary Lincoln abhorred the idea. By 1865, "she had lost two sons before they were old enough to know what war was about; now she stood to lose a third, in the prime of his young manhood....Mary had become so overwrought at the idea of her oldest son being exposed to danger that her husband tactfully refrained from discussing the matter with her" (Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p.197). But after Robert left Harvard in late 1864, the President felt increasing pressure to find a way to enable his son to participate in some capacity in the war, which was clearly winding to a conclusion. In deference to Mary's fears, he specifically states that he soes not want him "in the ranks" as a lowly infantryman, but at the same time, he is unwilling to advance his son as an officer, especially if this would deprive a more deserving candidate. Most particularly, he asks if Robert might join Grant's staff of aides (his "military family") which would permit Grant himself to exercise control over the young man's assignments. Lincoln shows a delicate political caution, too, in offering to defray Robert's pay and expenses, which would also serve to deflect any charge of nepotism from the hostile press.
Grant was quite amenable to the President's proposal and in his reply, dated 21 January, wrote: "...I will be most happy to have him in my Military family in the manner you propose. The nominal rank given him is immaterial but I would suggest Capt. as I have three staff officers now...in no higher grade..." On 11 February, Robert Todd Lincoln was appointed Captain and Assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers. He served with Grant's staff through the final months of the war, was present when his father, mother and brother Tad visited the Union depot at City Point in late March and at the McLean farmhouse at the surrender of Robert E. Lee. He resigned from the Army on 10 July 1865, later attended law school, was admitted to the bar in 1867, and rose to the post of Secretary of War in the Cabinet of James A. Garfield. Accompanying the letter is a typed letter signed of Robert Todd Lincoln dated 15 August 1887, stating "my military service was very short and began in February 1865, so that I was not with Grant, as you suppose, in the summer and autumn of 1864..."
Provenance: Foreman M. Lebold, Chicago, Illinois, in 1953 -- Philip D. Sang, (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 8 November 1978, lot 501).