Lincoln Signs to Support Union Soldiers
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To raise money for Union soldiers, the former Illinois First Lady requests an autograph for the sanitary fair to sell. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Autograph Letter Signed as President, to Lucy Southwick French. Washington, D.C., May 16, 1864. 1 p., 5 x 8 in. On Executive Mansion stationery.
Also for sale as part of the Ultimate Lincoln Collection.
May 16, 
Mrs Gov. French,
Mrs L. tells me that you request my autograph to be used at the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair. Though much pressed for time, some portion spent in efforts to relieve and comfort our brave soldiers can not but be well spent. Therefore I cheerfully send the autograph.
Yours very truly
The United States Sanitary Commission, a private relief agency created in 1861, worked to raise money for sick and wounded soldiers, provide nursing, uniforms, and supplies, and improve conditions in military camps. When Northerners attended fairs, donated money or goods, or volunteered their time, they were actively aiding the soldiers on the front lines. Autographs of leading Americans were often sold at the fairs, and Lincoln contributed a variety of items. He donated a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address to the New York Metropolitan Sanitary Fair that reportedly sold for $1,000 and another for the Baltimore Sanitary Fair. On March 2, Lincoln penned a brief letter for the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair that sold for the astronomical price of $100.00 to shipping magnate Charles Henry Mallory of Mystic, Connecticut. For Chicago’s Great Northwestern Fair, Lincoln donated his original signed draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, with an accompanying letter stating his “desire to retain the paper, but if it shall contribute to the relief or comfort of the soldiers, that will be better.” It sold for an astounding $3,000. Unfortunately, that manuscript document was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871.
The Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair, held in St. Louis, Missouri, May 17 – June 18, 1864, was the largest fundraising event to be held by the Western Sanitary Commission. Visitors could view exhibits of fine art, manufactures, and flowers, as well as carnivalesque attractions such as the “Delphi Oracle,” an old New England kitchen, and a giant shoe. The fair sold food, clothing, needlework, and Missouri-made products to provide for soldiers and their families. In addition to this letter solicited by Lucy French, Lincoln donated a second piece to the Mississippi Valley fair. Lewis J. Cist had asked Lincoln for a photograph and signature, and the request was passed to the White House by Representative Joseph W. McClurg of Missouri. Lincoln, responding directly to Cist, insisted that he was happy to help support the troops. In total, the fair raised $550,000.
In the Spring of 1864, Ulysses Grant and the Army of the Potomac began the Overland Campaign, which would eventually lead to the destruction of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The first action, the two-day long Battle of the Wilderness, began on May 5. Immediately following the bloody but inconclusive battle, Grant withdrew, hoping to fight on more favorable ground. Part of Lee’s army met Grant on May 8 in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and began fortifying their position. For the next two weeks, Union and Confederate forces battered each other to another inconclusive end. Both sides suffered heavy casualties in the battles (nearly 30,000 in the Wilderness, and 32,000 in Spotsylvania), which favored the numerically-superior northern forces. It is no wonder that Lincoln wanted to do all he could to provide for Union troops in light of such high casualties.
Lucy Southwick French (1846 - 1853) was the wife of Augustus French, the ninth governor of Illinois.
Roy Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 7. (New Brunswick:
Rutgers UP, 1953) 220, 343.
“Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair.”
“First Ladies of Illinois.” http://www.alliancelibrarysystem.com/IllinoisWomen/first.html