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Abraham Lincoln Asks Charles Dana for Meeting During Brief Return to the Capital from Grant’s Army of the Potomac
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Lincoln directs Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to have Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana, who was in Washington just for the day before returning to Grant’s Headquarters, to “call and see me.” Dana had been managing editor of the New-York Tribune until conflict with Horace Greeley forced his resignation in 1862. Stanton immediately made Dana a special investigating agent. Regularly reporting from the front, occasionally shuttling back and forth, Dana became a trusted friend of Ulysses S. Grant. On January 28, 1864, Lincoln appointed Dana as Second Assistant Secretary of War. Dana shuttled between Washington D.C. and the army during the Vicksburg campaign, the Battle of Chickamauga, and most recently to this note, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, which started on May 8th, with the last major Union movement occurring on May 19th.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Autograph Note Signed, to Edwin M. Stanton, May 20, 1864, Washington, D.C. 1 p., 3¼ x 2 in.

Inventory #27219       Price: $16,500

Complete Transcript

Sec. of War please ask Mr Dana to call and see me before he starts to the front

                                    A. Lincoln
May 20, 1864

Historical Background
On May 19, Dana telegraphed to Stanton from Belle Plain, Virginia, reporting on the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. The Union suffered 1,000 killed and wounded, but they “severely punished” the Confederates and took about 700 prisoners. Dana noted, “I am taking advantage of this lull in offensive operations to come to Washington for a day to get a few necessary things. When I left I brought with me only a toothbrush, which proves inadequate to the exigencies of prolonged campaign.”[1] A steamer would bring him up the Potomac River to the capital.

The reason for Lincoln’s request to meet with Dana is unknown; perhaps the president wanted Dana to deliver a message to General Grant in person. About what?

On May 17, Lincoln had drafted an order to Stanton to “notify the insurgents” that the U.S. had evidence that the Fort Pillow Massacre was indeed a massacre. If captured black troops were not exchanged, the president threatened to assume that they had been murdered or enslaved, which would lead to significant (but unspecified) consequences. It isn’t clear if Stanton received or acted on the order yet.

Also, on May 18, Lincoln had telegraphed Grant, “An elderly gentleman—Dr. Winston—is here, saying he is well acquainted with the ground you are on, and trying to get on, and having letters from Gov. Morton, Senator Lane, and one from your Father, and asking to be allowed to go to you. Shall we allow him to go to you?” On the 19th, Grant replied, “Dr Winston may be of great service to us, please send him along.”[2] On May 20, the day of our note, Lincoln added an endorsement on Grant’s telegram, sending it to Stanton, “Please provide for Dr. Winston going forward according to the within.”[3] “Dr. Winston” was likely the Indiana Quaker farmer and physician Pleasant Winston (1792-1876), who was born in Henrico County, Virginia, just north of Richmond. He married in Virginia in 1820 and thereby became the owner of slaves, which he could not liberate under Virginia law, though keeping them was against his belief as a member of the Society of Friends. Therefore, he sent them to Liberia, where they would be free. In 1830, not wanting his children to grow up with slavery, he moved his family to Indiana. Perhaps Lincoln wanted Dana to accompany Winston to Grant’s headquarters.

Dana may not have received the message in time to meet with Lincoln. Dana was back in Belle Plaine by 8 p.m. on May 20. He telegraphed Stanton additional details of the Battle, as told to him by “a newspaper correspondent of my acquaintance,” who had left the front on May 19 at 4 p.m.  

By 5:30 on May 21, Dana was again at the front, at Guiney’s Station, Virginia. He informed Stanton that, “so far the new movement of the army has been accomplished without interruption.”  In a pattern Grant would repeat several times, starting on the night of May 20-21, he moved his army around Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s flank toward Richmond. Lee retreated on a parallel path. After the Battles of North Anna and Cold Harbor, Grant crossed the James River and settled into a nine-month Siege of Petersburg.

Charles A. Dana (1819-1897) was born in New Hampshire and became a clerk in his uncle’s store in Buffalo, New York. He studied at Harvard University from 1839 to 1841, but his poor eyesight forced him to leave college. From 1841 to 1846, he lived at Brook Farm and wrote for a Transcendentalist publication. In 1846, he married Eunice MacDaniel; they had four children. In 1847, Horace Greeley, a frequent visitor to Brook Farm, hired Dana as city editor for the New-York Tribune. After traveling in Europe for eight months, Dana became managing editor of the Tribune in 1849. Dana was asked to resign in March 1862 due to conflict with Greeley. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton immediately made Dana a special investigating agent of the War Department. He uncovered frauds by quartermasters and contractors, and frequently reported to Stanton from the front. In the summer of 1862, in the western theatre, he became a close friend of Ulysses S. Grant, and reassured the administration regarding rumors of Grant’s drinking habits. He returned to Grant’s army during the Vicksburg campaign and for the Battle of Chickamauga and recommended placing Grant in supreme command of all Union armies, which Lincoln did in March 1864. From January 1864 to June 1865, Dana served as Assistant Secretary of War. He was responsible for the collection of Confederate records from Richmond after the city fell in April 1865. In 1868, he published A Campaign Life of U.S. Grant in time for the presidential election. He also began editing The Sun in New York City. Dana’s Recollections of the Civil War was published posthumously in 1898.

Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869) was born in Steubenville, Ohio, and graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 1834. In 1836, he married Mary Ann Lamson (1813-1844), and they had a son and a daughter, though their daughter died as a toddler. Stanton commenced his political life as an Ohio lawyer and antislavery Democrat. In 1856, he married Ellen Hutchinson (1830-1873), and they had four children over the next seven years. Stanton served as U.S. Attorney General under President James Buchanan in the winter of 1860-1861, during which time he strengthened the Administration’s resolve against secession. Appointed as Lincoln’s Secretary of War in early 1862, Stanton brought order to the War Department, improving the efficiency of the armed forces. He worked with Congress and the president to ensure appropriate involvement in the conduct of the war by each branch of government, as specified by the Constitution. Continuing in the cabinet of President Andrew Johnson, Disagreements over Johnson’s sabotage of Reconstruction led to Stanton’s ouster and eventually to Johnson’s 1868 impeachment. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Stanton to the Supreme Court, but Stanton died before he could take office.

Ex- Walter R. Benjamin Autographs.

Condition: Pencil notations on recto; very light scattered soiling.

[1]Charles A. Dana to Edwin M. Stanton, May 18, 1864; Charles A. Dana to Edwin M. Stanton, May 19, 1864, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols. in 4 series (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1881-1901), ser. 1, vol. 36, part 1, pp. 73-74.

[2]Abraham Lincoln to Ulysses S. Grant, May 18, 1864, Roy P. Basler et al., eds., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 7:350.

[3] Abraham Lincoln to Edwin M. Stanton, May 20, 1864, Basler et al., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 7:354.

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