LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph letter signed ("A Lincoln") TO MARY TODD LINCOLN in Washington, D.C., probably intended for telegraphic transmission although it bears no markings to that effect, Head Quarters, Armies of the United States, City Point [Virginia], 2 April, 7:45 [a.m.] 1865. 1 full page, 4to, 9 7/8 x 7¾ in. on Headquarters printed stationery, neatly inlaid to a protective sheet.
LINCOLN'S LAST LETTER TO MARY LINCOLN, THE DAY BEFORE THE FALL OF RICHMOND, WITH DRAMATIC NEWS OF THE FINAL COLLAPSE OF THE CONFEDERATE DEFENSES
Having received clear indications that the war was entering its final, climatic phases, Lincoln, Mary Lincoln and son Tad had made an unprecendented personal visit to Grant's Headquarters at City Point on March 24. Mary returned to Washington on April 1st, but the President and his young son remained behind; another son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was serving as an aide to General Grant. The final effort to end the long and costly siege of Petersburg and Richmond began with a strong attack by Sheridan's cavalry on April 1 at Five Forks; it was followed by a powerful attack of Warren's Fifth Corps, which penetrated the Confederate lines and partially encircled Pickett's command. The Confederate right flank began to crumble, and Grant, quick to exploit the situation, ordered assaults along the line to commence at 4 a.m. on the 2nd. Grant, during this climatic period, was at a forward command post at Dabney's mills, but took considerable pains to keep Lincoln apprised, by telegraph, of the course of the battle. As he recounts in his memoirs: "I notified Mr. Lincoln at City Point of the success of the day...because he was so much interested in the movements taking place that I wanted to relieve his mind as much as I could" (Memoirs, p.403).
Here, Lincoln, writing in a tone of palpable excitement, first tells Mary of the Five Forks battle: "Last night Gen. Grant telegraphed that Sheridan with his Cavalry and the 5th Corps had captured three brigades of Infantry, a train of wagons, and several batteries, prisoners amounting to several thousands." Then, he jubilantly describes the success of the final Union assaults: "This morning Gen. Grant, having ordered an attack along the whole line, telegraphs as follows. 'Both Wright and Parke got through the enemies [sic] lines. The battle now rages furiously. Sheridan with his cavalry, the 5th Corps, & Miles Division of the 2nd Corps, which was sent in to him since 1 this A.M. is now sweeping down from the West. All now looks highly favorable. Ord is engaged, but I have not yet heard the result on his front.'"
Then, Lincoln closes with a brief report on their son, Robert Todd Lincoln and, as an afterthought, reminds Mary to pass on his letter, with Grant's report, to Secretary of War Stanton: : "Robert yesterday wrote a little cheerful note to Capt. Parsons which is all I have heard of him since you left. Copy to Secretary of War. A. Lincoln."
Lincoln, Grant recalled, "remained for some days near City Point, and I communicated with him frequently and fully by telegraph" (Memoirs, Library of America edn., p.410). The Union armies continued their inexorable pressure on the Confederates, and at 2:00 p.m. the same day as this letter, Richmond was evacuated by the Confederate government. Grant's forces occupied the burning city on the 3rd and Lincoln himself visited the smouldering rebel capital on the 4th. Aside from a brief cable sent from the President to Mary later the same day (see Basler 8:384), this is the last letter the President is known to have written his wife of twenty-two years. Mary rejoined her husband on the 6th at City Point and they were not separated again before his death. Since the autograph of the telegram of the afternoon of April 2 (printed from government records) has never been found and may no longer be extant, this is almost certainly THE LAST SURVIVING HANDWRITTEN MESSAGE FROM LINCOLN TO MARY LINCOLN.
Published in Basler, 8:381.
Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale. Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 26 October 1983, lot 131).