1912: George Edwin Farrington to John E. Boos

This curious letter was penned in 1912 by George Edwin Farrington (1842-1913) the year before he died in Elgin, Kane county, Illinois. George was born at Chester, Vermont, on 30 May 1842 where he was raised and lived until he attended the Springfield Wesleyan Seminary in Springfield, Vermont. During the American Civil War, George enlisted in Co. A, 3rd Vermont Infantry and rose in rank to that of Commissary Sergeant of Co. C before he was discharged after three years service. He was a participant in the Battle of Gettysburg and often attended the reunions held there after the war.

Being an expert mechanic, George relocated to Elgin, Illinois, in 1867 and was employed by the Elgin Watch Factory where he served as foreman of the train department until 1893 when he retired.  He was married on 16 June 1868 at Brattleboro, Windham county, Vermont, to Emily Wheeler.

This letter was sent to John E. Boos (1879-1974) of Albany, New York—the eldest son of John W. Boos (b. 1856), a leather-maker and collector, and Louisa Boos (b. 1860), an émigré from France. He worked in the Albany city government and married Lela Distan around 1904. John E. Boos was an Abraham Lincoln admirer and collector of personal recollections and other materials related to the 16th President and the Civil War. Throughout the first decades of the 20th century, he attended encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic to meet veterans and he sent solicitation letters to the dwindling population of Americans born before the Civil War for memories of personal encounters with Lincoln.

In 1913, Boos initiated an effort to have Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address read in public schools across the country for the 50th anniversary of the speech. In addition to his Lincoln memorabilia, Boos collected reminiscences and ephemera related to the Roosevelt family and to Albany’s history. Following John Boos’s death in 1974, his compiled letters and reminiscences became scattered, and thereafter many manuscript collectors and institutions began to assemble modest collections of “Boos letters.” [See Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan]

Farrington’s account of Lincoln’s presence at Fort Stevens was cited in the “Sixth Corps at Fort Stevens,” appearing in the National Tribune, 12 July 1913. [Referenced in The Day Lincoln was Almost Shot: The Fort Stevens Story by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, III]

TRANSCRIPTION

Elgin, Illinois
April 22, 1912

Mr. J. E. Boos
Albany, New York
Dear Sir,

It always pleases me to see young people have an interest in the history of the great war, and especially that they believe—as you say—that “Mr. Lincoln was one of the grandest men that ever lived.”

I was at the battle of Fort Stevens where we lost 280 men in a very short time, and most of the battle was witnessed by the President standing on the parapet of the fort. Perhaps I can express what you desire to know best by quoting from “Vermont in the Civil War.”

“It was a sharp and well conducted fight, and a portion of it took place in the presence of a more distinguished group of spectators than witnessed any other action of the war. President and Mrs. Lincoln, Secretary Stanton, and other members of the cabinet and several ladies, came out to Fort Stevens during the afternoon, to see actual fighting; and Mr. Lincoln remained during the action, upon the invitation of General [Horatio] Wright, which the latter much repented having given, when to his surprise it was accepted by the President. Mr. Lincoln persisted in standing on the parapet of Fort Stevens by the side of Gen. Wright in spite of the earnest remonstrances of the latter and the entreaties of Mrs. Lincoln, till an officer was wounded within three feet of him by a rebel bullet, when he consented to step down to the banquette, still looking over the parapet till the enemy was driven out of sight.”

This all happened in sight and sound of where I happened to be in the line, as the 3rd Vermont was the first regiment to the left of the fort and Co. A—to which I belonged—-was on the right, so I was not more than 6 or 8 rods [~100 ft.] away, so could see the men standing on the fort. But as Mr. Lincoln was surrounded by the others in my direction, I could not see him very well—only his hat. I wanted very much to go to the entrance of the fort to see him when he came out, but we were liable to be ordered forward at any moment, so felt obliged to stay in my place.

It seems General Breckinridge was there with Gen. Early on the rebel side—also Gen. Gordon—and they joked Breckinridge about going into the city and they would escort him to his old seat in the Senate Chamber as he used to be Vice President before the war. But they decided not to enter the city—especially after they found the Old 16th Corps had arrived on the field.

Napoleon the Great has the largest number of words devoted to him of any man in history, but he never had such a place in the hearts of the people as President Lincoln.

Yours truly, — Geo. E. Farrington

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