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Civil War and Reconstruction
African-American Soldiers During the Civil War

Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Charles Sumner

In May 1864, President Abraham Lincoln held a personal audience with Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Booth at the White House. Mrs. Booth, widow of a Major Lionel F. Booth, spoke with the President about equal treatment for the widows and orphans of African-American soldiers. Major Booth had been the commanding officer at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, and was killed by a sniper's bullet just before the fall of Fort Pillow. Following his meeting with Mrs. Booth, President Lincoln penned a letter to Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, asking him to meet with and hear Mrs. Booth's concerns. What was President Lincoln's position about equal treatment for widows and orphans of African-American and white soldiers? On what moral principle did Lincoln base the position stated in the letter?

Note: At least one word in the original letter is illegible. In the copy below this word is indicated by a question mark. The original letter may be viewed in Words and Deeds in American History. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


Executive Mansion

Washington, May 19, 1864

Hon. Charles Sumner

My Dear Sir:

The bearer of this is the widow of Major Booth, who fell at Fort Pillow. She makes a point which I think very worthy of consideration which is, widows and children in fact, of Colored soldiers who fell in our service, be placed in law, the same as if their mariages were legal, so that they can have the benefit of the provisions (?) the widows and orphans of white soldiers. Please see and hear Mrs. Booth.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln

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