Unpublished Lincoln Letter About DC Defenses to Be Sold

President answered request for larger civil engineer corps
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2023 4:36 PM CDT
Unpublished Lincoln Letter About DC Defenses to Be Sold
Abraham Lincoln in an 1873 engraving   (Getty Images)

More than 160 years after it was written, a letter from President Abraham Lincoln sent during the Civil War has been discovered. Nathan Raab, a collector of Civil War artifacts, plans to put the letter up for sale, saying there's no record that it's ever been published or hit the market before. He said the brief note holds historical significance, the Guardian reports. Dated Aug. 19, 1861—in the first months of the war—the handwritten letter to Charles Ellet Jr. "fills in a part of the historical record that had been missing," Raab said.

The commander-in-chief was responding to Ellet's lobbying to create a civil engineer corps to strengthen the capital's defenses in the event of a Confederate attack. A corps existed, but Ellet suggested the task required a larger, better-funded force. In his letter, Lincoln deflected. "You propose raising for the service of the US a Civil Engineer Corps. 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," Lincoln wrote. "Please see them and get their views upon it."

George McClellan declined to meet with Ellet, however; the general had been an engineer in the corps before the war, per the Corps of Engineers' online history. After losing ships in a humiliating defeat in the battle of Hampton Roads, Lincoln stepped in, making Ellet an army colonel and ordering him to launch a construction program, per the Guardian. Ellet died after being shot during the Battle of Memphis. Lincoln's writings are another sort of lesson, Raab said: "His letters are known for their great clarity and economy of words—never two where one would suffice." (A lock of Lincoln's hair once netted $25,000.)

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