According to The Raab Collection auction house, a recently recovered letter from President Abraham Lincoln during the early stages of the Civil War has come to light.
This letter, which had been part of a private collection for over a century, was obtained by Raab earlier this year.
It was addressed to Union Army Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr., whom the auction house hails as “America’s greatest civil engineer.”
The correspondence provides valuable insights into Lincoln’s wartime strategy, the efforts to safeguard Washington, D.C., using the scientific knowledge available at the time, and reveals a strained relationship between the president and one of his generals.
In the letter, President Lincoln expressed his thoughts to Ellet regarding the latter’s proposal to establish a Civil Engineer Corps for the service of the United States.
Lincoln admitted his lack of expertise in assessing the value of such a corps. Still, he expressed his willingness to accept it if it gained the approval of Generals Scott, McClellan, and Totten. He requested Ellet to consult with them and obtain their perspectives on the matter.
The letter, dated August 19, 1861, originated from the Executive Mansion.
Before sending this letter, Ellet had been attempting to persuade President Lincoln to provide increased support to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Raab Collection highlights that while there were existing correspondences on this topic in the Library of Congress, this newly discovered letter fills a crucial gap in the historical record.
In an endeavor to assess the landscape, disrupt Confederate supply lines, and safeguard Washington D.C., a determined effort was made by Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr. to enhance the Corps of Engineers.
Additionally, Ellet advocated for the construction of steam-powered ram ships by the Union to fortify Northern ports. Recognizing the significance of the matter, President Lincoln advised Ellet to seek the opinions of Generals James Totten, George McClellan, and Winfield Scott.
This incident also offers insight into the strained relationship between Lincoln and McClellan.
Raab, a Philadelphia-based auction house, reveals that the letter was subsequently delivered to General McClellan’s residence, where he refused to meet with Ellet, which was seen as a disrespectful snub to the president.
The auction house argues that this letter provides documented evidence of McClellan mistreating Lincoln.
Expressing his disappointment to Lincoln after the incident, Ellet wrote, “I visited General McClellan’s residence this morning, attempting to secure an interview as per your note requesting one. However, the general was unwilling to engage with me… Regrettably, my attempt was wholly unsatisfactory.”
In 1862, when the CSS Merrimack, one of the Confederacy’s ironclads, destroyed Union ships, the generals realized the validity of Ellet’s advice, according to Raab.
This letter deemed a rare find in contemporary times, is currently valued at $85,000 and is available for sale at Raab Collections.
The auction house emphasizes the enduring popularity and demand for autographs and historical documents related to Abraham Lincoln, stating that his letters are highly regarded for their clear and concise expression, with a preference for the economy of words over redundancy.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1810, Colonel Charles Ellet, Jr. met his untimely demise at the age of 52 during the Battle of Memphis, less than a year after the letter from Lincoln. Ellet, who commanded two ram ships, was shot during the engagement with eight Confederates. Two weeks later, he was laid in state beneath the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as highlighted by Raab.