After Christmas comes the pleasant task of writing thank-you notes… at least that’s what my mom taught me. Abe Lincoln may have come from the Kentucky backwoods, but his mother taught him manners too. And, when you receive a Rebel stronghold as a holiday present, a thank-you letter must follow!
On December 22, 1864, President Lincoln had received a very special Christmas gift from one of his officers. Having completed the March To The Sea, Sherman arrived at the port city of Savannah, confident his achievement would hastened the conclusion of a hellish conflict. The general sent a message which has entered the unofficial hall of memorable Civil War quotes: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”[i]
While history buffs are familiar with “the Christmas gift telegram”, many aren’t aware of Lincoln’s response. Just four days later – on December 26, 1864 – Lincoln wrote his thank-you note.
Executive Mansion, Washington, December 26, 1864.
My dear General Sherman.
Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah.
When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that “nothing risked, nothing gained” I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. And, taking the work of Gen. Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages; but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole – Hood’s army – it brings those who sat in darkness, to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide.
Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army, officers and men. Yours very truly[ii]
Nicely written letter, Mr. Lincoln.
There are many admirable character qualities in Lincoln’s life, and today – the day after Christmas – I’m going to follow his example and write some thank-you notes. I didn’t get the City of Savannah, one hundred and fifty guns, or twenty-five thousand bales of cotton (thank goodness!), but I can borrow Lincoln’s style and write: “Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the new Civil War book…”
[i] History Channel, This Day in History http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sherman-presents-lincoln-with-a-christmas-gift
[ii] Abraham Lincoln, A. Lincoln, Speeches and Writings 1859-1865 (1989), page 665.