The John E. Boos collection consists of over 1,200 personal manuscript recollections or brief notes by persons who met or saw Abraham Lincoln and by persons who experienced the Civil War. John Boos, of Albany, New York, solicited and compiled most of these reminiscences in the early 20th century.
The John E. Boos collection consists of over 1,200 personal manuscript recollections or brief notes by persons who met or saw Abraham Lincoln and by persons who experienced the Civil War. John Boos solicited and compiled most of these reminiscences in the early 20th century. The collection is arranged in four series: Bound Volumes (compiled by and bound for John Boos), Unbound Volumes (binders apparently compiled by John Boos, but never bound), Loose Items, and one Book.
Boos collected autographs and reminiscences on uniquely sized 6.5'' by 9'' paper, and he instructed those he was soliciting to leave a wide 1.5'' left margin for binding. All but one volume in Series I are bound collections of this Boos-standard paper and most contributors in Series II and III contributed a note or autograph on the same size paper.
John Boos's interviewees related an almost uniform admiration or reverence to the President and his memory. Within the first binder of Series II, for example, William Strover (who was not a Civil War veteran, and who never met Lincoln) remarked: "I consider him the greatest man that has come upon the earth since Jesus Christ, and surely the greatest American that lived." Such high praise is featured throughout the entire collection. One example expressing disdain for Abraham Lincoln is a November 24, 1930, letter by Confederate and Presbyterian minister Milton B. Lambdin, who was skeptical about Boos' intent in contacting him. He suspected that Boos made the connection on account of a multi-issue article Lambdin produced for the Confederate Veteran (1929) titled "A Boy of the Old Dominion..."
Series I: Bound Volumes, 1931-1970
Eight of the nine volumes contained in this series are letters and reminiscences compiled by Boos. The volumes revolve around individual persons or themes, including the Lincoln-Douglas debates; Lincoln's assassination; Lincoln's guards; General George H. Thomas, a leading figure in the Western theater of the Civil War who retired to Troy, New York; Johnson Brigham, a fellow Lincoln enthusiast who met the President on several occasions; and the story of Confederate General George Pickett as told by his wife, La Salle Corbell Pickett; and a selection of "Mr. Lincoln's Soldiers."
Boos interspersed the manuscript and typed accounts with ephemeral items and his own narratives of relevant events. He frequently provided an overall account of the volume's theme (usually with lengthy quotations from his correspondents) before presenting the reminiscences and a brief biography of each contributor. In his introductions to these personal accounts, Boos sometimes included a narrative of how he had met and interviewed the individual or linked the person's memories of Lincoln to similar ones. Most of the volumes include a title page, dedication, illustrations, and an index.
The accounts in these bound volumes differ in length, tone, and detail, but they provide insight into how a variety of individuals remembered the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln more than a half-century after the fact. Many of his contributors were Union Army veterans, but he also tracked down individuals who witnessed the Lincoln-Douglas debates as children, Mrs. M. O. Smith who saw Lincoln at Gettysburg,a Confederate soldier, several of Lincoln's personal guards, an actress who had performed in Our American Cousin the night Lincoln was shot (Jeannie Gourley), a man who was in the same Ford's Theater box as Lincoln and who was stabbed by John Wilkes Booth (Henry Rathbone), and the man who recorded the testimony of witnesses to the assassination (James Tanner). The accounts address subjects ranging from the President's dress and style of speaking to the contributors' reflections on his legacy and greatness.
One bound volume, inscribed to John E. Boos by its creator Bernhardt Wall, contains etchings of locations in New York State visited by Lincoln. Three letters from Wall to Boos are enclosed in this 1938 volume.
Series II: Unbound Volumes (extracted from binders), 1905-1941
Series II includes the contents of 13 binders, arranged roughly into thematic categories, apparently by Boos himself (likely with the intention of binding them as he did with the letters in Series I). The order of pages within the binders has been maintained in its present housing.
Boos placed each incoming letter, reminiscence, or autograph into a top-loading page protector with related materials. In some volumes, for example, Boos matched each manuscript with his own typed or handwritten notes, which variously included the veteran's name, where they saw Lincoln, regimental information, where Boos met the veteran, and Boos's impressions of the individual. Boos wrote many of these notes on the back of scrap paper, such as advertising mail received by Boos or sample primary election ballots (some of the scrap paper contains illustrated letterheads).
Binders 1-3: Lincoln's Soldiers (3 binders, 1905-1927). Lincoln's Soldiers largely consists of letters sent to Boos, many with their envelopes still attached. Most contributors utilized Boos-provided paper, though some utilized their own stationery. Despite its title, "Lincoln's Soldiers" is comprised of letters by civilians and soldiers alike. Many contributors had met President Lincoln, and Boos collected as much information as possible about those encounters. Others were unable to meet Lincoln, but shared vivid memories of their times in Andersonville Prison, or interactions with other famous leaders, such as General Sherman (W. H. Jennings) and General Grant (J. E. Parmelee). Some documented their efforts to preserve Lincoln's memory or their involvement in Veteran's organizations.
Binders 4-7: I Saw Lincoln (4 binders, 1911-1928). The bulk of the contributors to I Saw Lincoln met or saw Lincoln during his presidency; a smaller portion interacted with him prior to the presidency; and others saw him while lying in state or en route to Illinois in 1865. The I Saw Lincoln group includes Boos's incoming correspondence and autographs he personally collected while traveling. Glowing praise of Lincoln continues throughout these binders, including an anecdote by Daniel Webster (of Salem, Oregon), in which he described how he was "near being mobbed" in Arkansas in 1871 for calling Lincoln "the brightest star in the galaxy of American statesmen and patriots."
Binder 8: Antietam (1 binder, 1912-1937). The soldiers represented in Antietam were present at the battle; some provided descriptions of the confrontation, though the writers do not all focus on the event. Antietam is notable for having the longest continuous example (in the unbound portion of the collection) of prose by Boos, in which he described the battle and his meetings with the veterans.
Binders 9-11: Lincoln's Soldiers and Where They Saw Him (3 binders, 1911-1933). contains accounts from soldiers who saw Lincoln and soldiers who did not. This group includes a significant number of contributions by soldiers who guarded the President's remains.
Binder 12: Autographs of Abe Lincoln's Soldiers (1 binder, 1910-1917). This binder contains signatures of soldiers, with very brief notes on each veteran. Boos apparently revisited the binder at a later dated and added death dates.
[Unnumbered Binder]: [Additional Lincoln's Soldiers] (1 binder, 1911-1937). This binder includes accounts similar to those found in binders 9-11.
Series III: Loose Items, 1904-1949
This series is comprised of nearly 200 loose letters, disbound book pages, and notes. Many of these items were either part of one of the Clements Library's pre-2015 accessions, or were included with the Dow collection in unarranged binders. The bulk of the series is letters to Boos containing memories of Lincoln. The accounts provided by these eye witnesses include memories of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln's assassination, hospital visits by the President, his 1860 Cooper Union speech, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and general memories of the Civil War period. The contributors include veterans, Ford's Theater attendees on the night Lincoln was shot, the daughter of Mary Todd Lincoln's personal nurse (Ealine Fay), and a woman who sang in the choir for the ceremony at which Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address (M. O. Smith). This series contains letters by Jennie Gourlay Struthers and James Tanner, who are also represented in the Then a Nation Stood Still volume in Series I.
The series includes writings and other materials that shed light on John E. Boos's collecting practices and editing processes and a 1924 letter from Congregational minister William E. Barton to Walt Whitman expert Emory Holloway, with comments on the growing cult of memory surrounding Lincoln.
A folder of manuscripts and photocopies pertain to Grace Bedell, who is credited with convincing Lincoln to grow his whiskers. These items include photocopies of letters Bedell exchanged with Boos, original letters between Boos and Bedell's heirs, and letters between Boos and Congressman George Dondero, who at one point owned Bedell's original letter to Lincoln.
The Loose Items series also contains correspondence of Donald P. Dow, photocopies of Boos materials offered for sale, and photocopies of letters not present in the Clements Library's collection.
Series IV: Book. A publication containing 103 John Boos letters has been added to the collection: Rare Personal Accounts of Abraham Lincoln, ed. By William R. Feeheley and Bill Snack (Cadillac, Mich.: Rail Splitter Pub., 2005).
In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created a comprehensive writer index, which identifies each contributor to the collection: John E. Boos Collection Writer Index.