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1315101

Abraham Lincoln

Less than three weeks before Gettysburg,

Lincoln directs the Judge Advocate General to investigate a case

Abraham Lincoln, 18091865.  16th President of the United States.  Autographed Note Signed, A. Lincoln, one page, 3¼” x 2 ¾”, [no place], June 13, 1863

President Lincoln writes to Joseph Holt, the Judge Advocate General.  In full:  “Judge Advocate General please examine & report on this case.  /  A. Lincoln  /  June 13, 1863.”  This note is published in Volume 6 of the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. 

Our research has not disclosed to what case Lincoln refers.  Since the Judge Advocate General is the United States Army’s primary legal officer, though, the case might well have related to the punishment of a soldier.  Lincoln issued hundreds, if not thousands, of orders commuting the death sentences of accused deserters, sleeping sentries, and other offenders—largely, it seems, to boost the morale of  the Union Army.  Early in 1864, Lincoln ordered the War Department to commute deserters’ death sentences to imprisonment until the end of the war and to permit commanding generals to reinstate convicted deserters if they were useful to the Army.  In a single order in May 1864, Lincoln commuted the sentences of 62 soldiers who were to be executed for desertion.  This note thus would be worthy of further investigation.

Lincoln wrote this note on the same day that Confederate General Robert E. Lee defeated the Union forces at Winchester, Virginia, and moved on into Pennsylvania.  On Lincolnʼs orders, Union General Joseph Hooker followed Lee—and a chance encounter of Union and Confederate forces touched off the greatest battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1–3, 1863. 

The note is on a small piece of paper clipped from a letter or other attendant papers.  It has the blind-embossed stationer’s mark at the lower right.  There are pinholes in the blank upper margin, one of which affects the part of Lincoln’s writing that he has scratched out, and some fold lines.  There is some soiling around and behind Lincoln’s writing in the text but not around his bold signature.  Overall the piece is in very good condition.

This note has been richly double matted in bronze suede with a print of an Alexander Gardner portrait of Lincoln made on August 9, 1863, just under two months after the President wrote this note.  The piece is finished with an inlaid gilt wood fillet and a brass engraved identification plate and is conservation framed in a black-and-gilt wood frame to an overall size of 13” x 16.”

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