Back to Document Index   Back to Home Page

Item:  BSL - Lincoln-McClellan 1861 Counter Letter


A Rare and Terrific Tandem of Historic Signatures on a Civil War Date Letter
 Colleagues and Competitors in Business, the Military and Politics
Lincoln Accedes to Gen. McClellan's Request for a Personal Appointment


Detail of Lincoln's Note


Abraham Lincoln (1809 -1865)
George Brinton McClellan (1826 -1885)

In what can only be described as the "Honeymoon" period between Lincoln and his newly Appointed Commander in Chief of the Army, George McClellan, Lincoln is amenable to his request for the Appointment of a Personal Aide-de-Camp. They had a "strange bedfellows" relationship both having worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, both connected through the Civil War and finally both Opponents for the Presidency in 1864. This rare War Date letter signed by both men is a sensational record of this mostly stormy Relationship.

Handwritten 1 page Letter Signed and Dated: December 10, 1861
Text as Follows:

Head Qtrs. of the Army
 Washington, Dec.10, 186[1]

His Excellency
      A. Lincoln
                         I have the honor to request that Mr. Wm. F Biddle of Phila. may be appointed an aide de camp on my staff with the rank of Captain.
                                                                 Very respectfully
                                                                     your obt. svt
                                                                          Geo. B. McClellan
                                                                                   Maj. Gen. Comdg

[Then Rotated 90 as was characteristic of Lincoln's Counter Letter Style]

 Let the appointment be made according to Gen. McClellan's request.
                                            A. Lincoln
                                             Dec. 10, 1861

Historical Note

In 1846 McClellan graduated second in his class of 59 at West Point. The class of '46 contributed 20 generals to the Union and Confederate armies. He took his Lieutenancy to the Mexican War and under General Winfield Scott won brevet promotions to 1st Lieutenant and Captain for building roads and bridges for Scott's advancing Army. As a member of a board of officers, he was sent abroad to study the armies of Europe and observe the Crimean War. This resulted in the development of the "McClellan saddle" which was standard equipment in the army until mechanization eliminated horses in 1942. In 1857, he resigned his commission of Captain in the 1st Cavalry to become Chief Engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad and eventually a Vice-President; when he was a colleague with a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln who then represented the Railroad. When the Civil War began, he was living in Ohio, where he served as president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. McClellan was a good example of the Pre-War West Point graduate. He was a very talented Engineer and Organizer and had a strong personal magnetism, but lacked the true cut and thrust of an active military commander. So it is somewhat surprising that Lincoln, upon what, in hindsight, were overly optimistic endorsements from a questionable West Virginia military campaign, appointed McClellan to be Commander in Chief of the Army on November 5, 1861, being outranked only by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. McClellan reorganized a disjointed and poorly disciplined army, which gained him the respect and approval of his men. However, his military operations soon became a frustrating series of lost opportunities. He consistently overestimated his opposing forces and his carefully devised plans were lacking in execution. After the Battle of Antietam, he was ordered to turn over his command to his good friend Ambrose E. Burnside and to go home to New Jersey to await further orders. They never came. Yet In 1864, McClellan was nominated for President by the Democratic Party and was favored to defeat Lincoln for re-election - but for some timely Union Victories that carried Lincoln through. He did serve as governor of New Jersey from 1878-1881. However, in December of 1861, with the Union roiling, Lincoln and McClellan were in agreement. McClellan was suffering with typhoid at the time and may have felt the need for an additional Aide-de-Camp. In fact his Letter Date states December 10, 1860 not 1861, perhaps an artifact of a fevered mind. But Lincoln was still optimistic, hoping for a swift end to the National Catastrophe and more than willing to give the young energetic Organizer of the Army of the Potomac a little more organizing power.

W. F. Biddle was appointed one of McClellan's aides de camp the same day although his nomination for the Rank of Captain came somewhat later. He served on the General's staff on the Virginia Peninsula and was prominent enough to rate mention in a fine history of the Peninsula Campaign: To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen Sears. Wardate letters of McClellan are uncommon, however, this letter, addressed to Abraham Lincoln and containing Lincoln's return written endorsement on an important matter, stands on its own as exceptional.

Document Specifications: Very Fine Document on Wove Paper, handwritten and signed (ALS) by "A. Lincoln" as President and dated "Dec. 10, 1861", (see detail above) also handwritten and signed by "George B McClellan" as Major General dated "Washington, Dec 10 1860[sic]". Page measures approximately 9 7/8w x 7 1/2h inches (250 x 190 mm). Document is one page with docketing notes on reverse. Two horizontal and three vertical original file folds with a 2 inch separation along upper right vertical fold, some light toning, none affecting signatures. In addition to our own guarantee of authenticity, this item has been authenticated by an independent third party expert in the field.

Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

End of Item - BSL - Lincoln-McClellan Counter Letter

Tel: 573-335-7720

 Back to Document Index   Back to Home Page