Lincoln's Life in Letters:
The Lincoln Family

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Washington, D.C. May 25/61

Dear Henry

You reqest a letter, & here it is. I want you to give my respects to Edward McClernand, and tell him that I feel very sorry about his mother, and one more thing.
Colonel E. E. Ellsworth went over to Alexandra, Va, and determined to take ^the^ secession flag down of the Marshall house. So he rushed up the steps untill he reached the pole, took down the flag, wrapped it around him (8 men with him), and coming down the steps (his comrade, Brownell, being in front of him) & Jackson (a secessionist) behind him, shot him.  Immediately his (ellsworths) comrades) went & killed Jackson. 

Yours truly
Willie Lincoln.


From the President of the United States 

Jno. G. Nicolay
Priv Sec

Master Henry Remann,
Sangamon Co.

care of T Y.

Willie Writes Home

Of Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s four sons, only one lived to adulthood. By the time they reached Washington, they had already lost one child, Eddy. The war brought loss and hardship to all Americans, and the Lincolns were not exempted. This letter, for instance, vividly shows 10-year-old Willie coming face-to-face with the war’s awful cost. He writes to his neighbor Henry Remann back in Springfield that family friend Colonel Elmer Ellsworth has been killed.

Ellsworth was an American celebrity and the boys would have met him during a brief time he studied law under Lincoln. He tragically became the first Union officer to die in the Civil War and Willie is telling the story to Henry as best he can. Sadly, Willie himself had less than a year to live, eventually succumbing to illness in the White House.

The Lincoln family sits together in the White House. Robert sits at the table, reading, as Willie leans on an arm on the table looking at the eldest brother. The President holds a book and stares ahead into the distance. Mary clasps her hands on the back of her husband’s chair while their youngest son, Tad, approaches carrying a United States flag.
An 1867 engraver’s depiction of the Lincoln family. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Mary Lincoln stands in between her youngest two children who wear matching outfits. Mary is well dressed in a layered skirt made of shimmering material. She grasps the hand of her youngest son, Tad, who stands to the right of her. Willie stands on the other side of his mother and rests his hand inside an unbuttoned section of his jacket.
Mary Lincoln with Willie (left) and Tad (right).
James Jackson fatally shoots Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. Descending a flight of stairs, Ellsworth carries the confederate flag of Virginia that he tore down from the roof of Jackson’s inn. The Colonel clutches his chest as the innkeeper directs his fire. In defense of Ellsworth, Private Francis E. Brownell directs his rifle toward Jackson.
A contemporary artist’s depiction of Elmer Ellsworth’s death.
Willie Lincoln, 10 years old, stands with his arms covering his chest as he leans an elbow against a cloth covered table. The boy’s hair is flatly combed over the top of his head and he is neatly dressed in a tie knotted in a bow underneath a clean white collar and buttoned sweater.
Willie Lincoln.


Gettysburg Address

Mary Lincoln

The documents highlighted in this exhibit are all drawn from our own collection. The originals are in our vault and the images were created by our Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. To see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world, please visit If you have a Lincoln document, or know someone who does, please reach out to us. We are always looking for new discoveries.

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