DescriptionAbraham Lincoln: President Arranges P.O.W. Exchange for Condemned Libby Prison Inmates Involving Robert E. Lee's Son. This is another highlight from the Dow Collection. After General Burnside executed two Confederate agents for recruiting within the lines, the Rebels decided to retaliate by executing two Libby Prison inmates, chosen by lot. One of the condemned men, John M. Flinn of the 51st Indiana infantry, wrote to Senator Thomas A. Hendricks, asking him for help. Hendricks contacted President Lincoln who authorized an exchange of prisoners, even though the prisoner exchange program had basically broken down by this time. What makes this intervention more interesting is that one of the exchanges involved Union General Neal Dow and Confederate General William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee. We offer Flinn's letter to Hendricks with President Lincoln's endorsement. This significant item was purchased by Donald Dow from noted manuscript dealer Mary A. Benjamin in 1975 and was a favorite of his, for good reason! Flinn's letter is 7 ½" x 9 ½", written on lined writing paper, 2 pp. with integral leaf. Written from "Libby Prison, Richmond Va, Jany 28, 1864". In full: "You are already informed of my position here, as having been elected by lot with Capt. H. H. Sawyer of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry for execution in retaliation for the execution by Maj. Genl. Burnside in Kentucky of two persons alleged to have been recruiting within the Federal lines. As hostages for our safety Genl. Lee and one other Confederate officer were selected and set apart by our Government. Our position remains unchanged. But I have reasons to believe, indeed I have no doubt from most reliable information received yesterday that if our authorities will propose the exchange of equivalent Confederate officers for Capt. Sawyer and myself and of Genl. Lee for Genl. Dow, the only Federal Genl. In the hands of the Confederates, the proposition will be favorably entertained, and the exchange be acceded to. Genl. Dow will write by same mail to his friends, who are numerous and influential and wish your kind cooperation. I have no doubt but we may speedily be released from captivity. I am sorry to trouble you with this matter, as your time is so taken up with important matters, but beg to ask that if possible it may receive your immediate attention. I probably would not ask this favor of our Govt. were it not that my health is daily declining and at best I would return to my family with an impaired constitution. I am Sir your obt. Servt. John M. Flinn Capt 51st Ind Vols." The letter writing campaign was successful, as President Lincoln approved the exchange, but with certain caveats. "If the Sec. of War, or Gen. Hitchcock, perceive no objection, I shall be glad for any two rebel Captains to be exchanged for Capt. Sawyer and Capt. Flinn, and Gen. Lee for Gen. Dow. Lee, of course not to be given up while Capts. Sawyer & Flinn, or either of them, is held. A. Lincoln Feb. 6, 1864". Lincoln seems intent on securing the release of the two captains, making sure not to release their "ace-in-the-hole", Fitzhugh Lee, until the objective was achieved. The exchange did take place on February 25, 1864. General Dow, wounded at Port Hudson, suffered additional health issues as a result of his imprisonment and retired from the service once released. Flinn also mustered out and returned home. Ironically, on the day that Lincoln signed this endorsement, he made a prophetic and much cited declaration: "This war is eating my life out. I have a strong impression I shall not live to see the end."
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