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Daniel E. Sickles

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“ . . . which cannot fail I think to add something to so graceful a tribute to valor and patriotism

Daniel Edgar Sickles, 1819–1914. American politician, soldier, and diplomat; Major General, Union Army, American Civil War; United States Ambassador to Spain, 1869–1874.  Autograph Letter Signed, D. E. Sickles, two pages (recto and verso), 5” x 8”, on plain stationery, Seville, [Spain], April 14, 1871.

This is an outstanding example of Sickles’ sometimes difficult holograph.  Sickles, then the American Minister to Spain, writes to famed New York socialite Anne Lynch Botta, who evidently sought Sickles’ help in honoring a guest.  The Ambassador writes, in full:  “Dear Madam, / Your letter of the 27th ultimo was forwarded to me from Madrid yesterday & I have sent instructions to Mr. Adee the Secretary of Legation on the subject which I am sure will receive his prompt attention.  You will be duly informed of the result of his exhibits which cannot fail I think to add something to so graceful a tribute to valor and patriotism.  I am, Madam, very respectfully your most obedient servant . . . .”

Sickles represented New York in the United States House of Representatives for two terms, 1857–1861, before the Civil War.  When the war  began, he recruited the New York regiments that formed the Excelsior Brigade in the Army of the Potomac. 

His most significant battlefield action came at Gettysburg.  Although Maj. Gen. George G. Meade ordered Sickles’ III Corps to assume a defensive position on the southern end of Cemetery Ridge, in a concentrated position with other federal troops, Sickles instead marched his troops nearly a mile in front of Cemetery Ridge, forming a defenseless salient that Confederate forces attacked, virtually destroying Sickles’ corps.  Sickles’ right leg was mangled when a cannon ball tore through it, and it was later amputated.  Historians debate whether Sickles’ disobedience to Meade’s orders hurt or helped the Union cause at Gettysburg; some argue that Sickles’ position blunted the Confederate attack that was intended to destroy the Union line.  Sickles went to great lengths to exonerate himself after the war.  In 1897, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor, for his actions.  The citation read that Sickles displayed “most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.”

Sickles was appointed U.S. Minister to Spain from 1869 to 1874.  After serving in the New York state government, he was again elected to Congress and served one term, 1893–1895.  He was instrumental in sponsoring legislation to form the Gettysburg National Military Park in order to preserve the Gettysburg battlefield, acquire private lands, and erect monuments.

Our research has not discovered the person who is the subject of Sickles’ letter.  Botta (1815–1891), a poet, writer, and teacher, was a popular leader in New York society.  She hosted regular Saturday evening gatherings at her home on West 37th Street for such luminaries as Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Horace Greeley, Andrew Carnegie, Julia Ward Howe, William Cullen Bryant, and others.

Alvey Augustus Adee (1842–1924), whom Sickles mentions, served a diplomatic apprenticeship in the American legation at Madrid before entering the State Department in Washington, D.C., in 1877.  He served until his death, at age 81.  For nearly 40 years, he served as the Second Assistant Secretary of State, the nearest thing the United States has come to having a permanent Under Secretary of State. 

This is a beautiful letter.  The laid paper retains its original sheen.  Sickles has boldly written and signed the letter in black fountain pen.  The letter has one vertical and two horizontal mailing folds.  For the sake of accuracy, we note that there is a 1/8” tear in the right edge of the paper, affecting nothing.  The letter is in very fine condition.


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