February 13, 1998
New Lincoln Documents Discovered at the National Archives
Washington, D.C. . . On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln took care of a number of administrative matters at the White House before going to Ford's Theater. Among the documents he signed, was a pardon for a man named Patrick Murphy who had deserted the army and had been sentenced to be shot.
This is one of nearly 600 Lincoln documents recently discovered at the National Archives and Records Administration. The materials were found in the massive Civil War Court Martial files of the Judge Advocate General's Office. The Lincoln autographs range from signatures and phrases to sentences and even a 50-word paragraph.
Approximately 80,000 courts martial of Union soldiers took place during the four years of the Civil War on charges ranging from stealing supplies to murder. These files of the Judge Advocate General's Office had never been systematically examined by researchers until last year when author-researcher Thomas P. Lowry and his wife Beverly began the daunting task of reading every file. Besides uncovering material shedding light on many facets of Civil War military life, they have discovered, thus far, 570 Lincoln items never before uncovered. The two researchers have not yet completed the exhaustive search.
Michael Musick, archivist and Civil War specialist at the National Archives, says of the discovery, "The American public, no doubt, will be astonished and fascinated that 570 writings in Lincoln's own hand could come to light at this very late date...for Lincoln scholars, the most important dimension is that, for the first time, a definitive, quantitative analysis of the 16th President's involvement in these court martial cases will be possible."
Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin said, "This major discovery of Lincoln documents illustrates the vastness of the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration and the documentary treasures that still await discovery within them."
For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.