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Letters to the Editor

Fake Lincoln Endorsement

November 19, 2019

Dear Rail Splitter:
My colleagues searching for Abraham Lincoln documents at the National Archives recently made a discovery that I think may interest you. In September 2002, you offered a Lincoln document for sale, dated August 17, 1863, regarding Hiram Berdan, the recruiter and leader of Berdan’s sharpshooters. Lincoln expressed his desire to have Berdan promoted from colonel to brigadier general. Early in 2003, you wisely pulled it from your auction, as some had questioned its authenticity. According to your Summer/Fall 2003 article in The Railsplitter, it had first surfaced in 2001 in an Ohio auction. Experts you consulted raised enough questions for you to deem it “problematic.”

In 2008, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum purchased it as a legitimate document at a discounted price, though some staff questioned its authenticity.

In 2012, my colleague David Gerleman located the real document at the National Archives in the records of the Adjutant General’s Office. However, because it was an endorsement on an envelope and there was no addressee, he was not able immediately to connect it to the forgery we had in our database, as yet untranscribed.

Recently, we had occasion to revisit the legitimate document from the Adjutant General’s records and discovered that the forgery was also in our database. Careful comparison of the images of the two documents confirmed that the document now here at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a forgery and that the forger must have had access to the original or an excellent facsimile. Clearly, the forger sought to reproduce every stroke of the original.

I am pleased to enclose an image of the real document, and it is encouraging that we were able to find and remove the forgery from our database and bring closure to this story of yours from 2003. It is, indeed, one of the challenges of both manuscript collectors and dealers on one hand and documentary editors on the other to identify and avoid such crimes on the past.

Best wishes,

Daniel W. Stowell
Director / Editor
The Papers of Abraham Lincoln