Trevor Plante: Archivist Discovers Long-lost Lincoln Letter

Historians in the News

“Wow!” That was archivist Trevor Plante’s initial reaction when it dawned on him that the faded, yellow letter in his hand had been written by the 16th President of the United States. Plante, a Civil War specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration, happened upon the note three weeks ago while sifting through a box of war-related documents. It was penned by Lincoln on July 7, 1863, and addressed to his general-in-chief, Henry Wager Halleck. “We have certain information that Vicksburg surrendered to Gen. Grant on the 4th of July,” the president informed Halleck. “Now if Gen. Meade can complete his work so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.” Lincoln could sense that an end to the war was close. Vicksburg, the Confederacy’s “Gibraltar of the West”, had fallen, splitting the South in two and giving the U.S. government source-to-mouth control of the Mississippi River. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania had been repulsed in three days of sanguinary slaughter at an obscure hamlet called Gettysburg. The president wanted General George Meade, the hero of Gettysburg, to deliver a death blow to the Army of Northern Virginia before it could retreat to the safety of its home state. Unfortunately, Meade became unnerved at the prospect of attacking the South’s most famous general and the war dragged on for another two years. The letter captures Lincoln’s excitement at the possibility of bagging Lee and ending the internecine conflict. It had been lost to history for over 140 years until it was discovered last month. Wow, indeed.
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