Amidst the frenetic events leading up to the Civil War, the 16th president took a moment to write a letter, now on display, to a young student Young George Patten had something he desperately wanted to tell his schoolmates. In May 1860 the eight-year-old and his father had traveled to Springfield, Illinois, and shaken the hand of Abraham Lincoln at the Republican National Convention in May 1860. But back at school in New York City, his chums refused to believe him. Such a brouhaha ensued that the headmaster intervened—and wrote to the president himself.
The president replied to George directly—the only letter Lincoln ever wrote in the White House to a child not his own. The quickly scrawled note on a time-stained sheet was recently sold for $60,000 by the Raab Collection in Philadelphia to an East Coast collector. Notable about the letter is its timing: on March 19, 1861, Lincoln had been sworn in barely two weeks earlier and faced a more desperate scenario than any other president before or since. South Carolina had seceded, the Union teetered on the edge of collapse, and Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor lay vulnerable. That morning Lincoln had spoken to Lt. Gustavus V. Fox about the possibility of resupplying the fort, an early move in a chess game that would erupt in civil war just one month later.