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Lincoln Originals at Cincinnati Museum Center

Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Salmon P. Chase, May 3, 1864

President Abraham Lincoln sent this letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) on May 3, 1864 requesting his opinion on the controversial Battle of Fort Pillow, often called the Fort Pillow Massacre. Fort Pillow, located 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, fell to Union troops on June 4, 1862. Confederate forces under General Nathan B. Forrest, recaptured the fort on April 12, 1864 and allegedly slaughtered the Union troops, almost half of whom were black, after they had surrendered. Lincoln indicates that it is "quite certain that a large number of our colored soldiers, with their white officers, were, by the rebel force, massacred after they had surrendered." The Union believed it was a massacre and planned to take appropriate action, but ultimately none was taken. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln's secretaries and biographers, thought that the matter was "crowded out of view and consideration" due to Grant's Wilderness Campaign of May and June of 1864.

From the CMC Manuscript Collection: Mss VF 3017.

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Letter to Chase

Executive Mansion
Washington, May 3rd, 1864

Hon. Secretary of the Treasury,

Sir:
It is now quite certain that a large num=
ber of our colored soldiers, with their white officers,
were, by the rebel force, massacred after they had
surrendered, at the recent capture of Fort Pillow. So
much is known, though the evidence is not yet quite
ready to be laid before me. – Meanwhile I will
thank you to prepare, and give me in writing, your
opinion as to what course the government should
take in the case.

Yours truly
A. Lincoln

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