John Benson Williams, US Military Academy Class of May 1861, was First Lieutenant, 3rd United States Infantry at Antietam in September 1862, and commanded Company G there.

Antietam was the peak of his young military career, however, as he was sentenced by a Court Martial to be dismissed from the service in February 1863, having “left his command on the battlefield and returned to Washington, without leave and in known violation of orders and of his duty.”

In this note of 18 March 1863, President Lincoln, famously soft-hearted in these matters, asked Army Judge-Advocate General Joseph Holt to see if there weren’t mitigating circumstances that would allow him to return Lieutenant Williams to duty. He was presumably referring to Williams having been ill since sometime in December 1862:

The answer came back in the negative, Holt reiterating that Williams “has shown himself disqualified for the profession of arms,” so on 11 April 1863 the President endorsed the sentence of the Court, writing “I decline to interfere in Behalf of Lieut. Williams.”



Lieutenant Williams’ picture above is from a CDV sold on ebay, date unknown; it was captured and archived by Worthpoint.

The Lincoln letter was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 2008. The image of it is from Sotheby’s, and details surrounding it are from Dr. James M. Cornelius, Curator, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

The original of this letter is again up for sale (as of January 2023), by Houle Rare Books and Autographs, with an online listing through Abe Books.

The President’s endorsement of 11 April 1863 is found in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), Vol. 6, pg. 169.

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