Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lincoln's Letter to the Parents of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth

I had hoped to post something regarding this yesterday, but in the course of my busy day it simply slipped my mind. As I posted two days ago, this May 24 was the 150th anniversary of the death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. While the death of one soldier in a war which claimed the lives of over 600,000 may seem trivial to some, Ellsworth's death was a major rallying cry in the North during the early months of the conflict.

On May 25, 150 years ago yesterday, President Abraham Lincoln, a close personal friend of Ellsworth's, wrote the following letter to the grieving parents of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. Not only is this one of the most heartfelt letters that Lincoln ever wrote, but it should also be noted that it would not be long before Lincoln himself would occupy the seat of the grieving parent for the second time. In 1850, Lincoln's son Edward Baker Lincoln, or "Eddie" for short, passed away at the tender age of four. In February of 1862, Lincoln's 11 year old son Willie passed away in the White House, most likely from Typhoid Fever. Clearly, Lincoln understood the pains of losing a child, and this letter below is one of the more remarkable messages that he wrote during his presidency.

To the Father and Mother of Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth:
My dear Sir and Madam,

In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here, is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one's country, and of bright hopes for one's self and friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed, as in his fall. In size, in years, and in youthful appearance, a boy only, his power to command men, was surpassingly great. This power, combined with a fine intellect, an indomitable energy, and a taste altogether military, constituted in him, as seemed to me, the best natural talent, in that department, I ever knew.

And yet he was singularly modest and deferential in social intercourse. My acquaintance with him began less than two years ago; yet through the latter half of the intervening period, it was as intimate as the disparity of our ages, and my engrossing engagements, would permit. To me, he appeared to have no indulgences or pastimes; and I never heard him utter a profane, or intemperate word. What was conclusive of his good heart, he never forgot his parents. The honors he labored for so laudably, and, in the sad end, so gallantly gave his life, he meant for them, no less than for himself.

In the hope that it may be no intrusion upon the sacredness of your sorrow, I have ventured to address you this tribute to the memory of my young friend, and your brave and early fallen child.

May God give you that consolation which is beyond all earthly power.

Sincerely your friend in a common affliction--
A. Lincoln

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