150 years after Lincoln assassination, massive online archive goes live

The documents range from official to personal, even a letter about that famous beard to an 11-year-old girl

As the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination approaches, a massive online archive has gone live containing 99,525 documents related to the Civil War-era commander-in-chief.

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a joint digitization project sponsored by The University of Illinois and the Abraham Lincoln Association, is dedicated to identifying, imaging, transcribing, annotating, and publishing all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime. Lincoln was assassinated in Ford' Theater in Washington, D.C.  on April 14, 1865.

Abraham Lincoln Creative Commons Lic.

Albumen portrait of Abraham Lincoln, taken in Washington at Gardner's studio on 9 August 1863

Data storage vendor Iron Mountain has provided 40TB of online cloud storage for the project, which is expected to grow by another 50% over the next five years. So far, the archive includes more than 67,000 written documents available in image form online where users can browse or search by title and date.

The Papers consist of three types:

  • Series I: Legal Papers, which cover Lincoln's time practicing law from 1836 to 1861; The collection encompasses the surviving record of his quarter-century career in the federal, state and county court systems.
  • Series II: Illinois Papers, which encompass Lincoln's non-legal life from his birth in February 1809 through March 3, 1861, the day before his inauguration. The papers include personal and political correspondence, political speeches, and all other non-legal materials
  • Series III: Presidential Papers, which include a massive documentary record of an active president engaged in leading a nation during wartime.

For example, the day before his assassination, Lincoln sent an aide to deliver a message with a simple note attached to make sure it arrived promptly: The note stated: "Let this man enter with this note. A. Lincoln April 14, 1865."

The archive also contains images of some of the most historically significant documents penned by Lincoln, such as one of the five original copies of the Gettysburg Address.

The archives also contain documents illustrating a more personal side to the Civil War-era president and his constituency -- no matter how old they were.

abraham lincoln by nicholas shepherd 1846 crop

Quarter plate daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln, then Congressman-elect from Illinois in 1846-47.

For example, the archive contains a Letter to 11-year old Grace Bedell on Oct. 19, 1860 who had suggested Lincoln grow a beard because his face was so thin. And there's a note to U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.), who lead anti-slavery forces in that Commonwealth, that simply asks him to swing by because Mrs. Lincoln needed his help.

Documents include a hand-written pass dated April 29, 1964 for someone named Mrs. William R. Smith to cross enemy lines so she could get to New Orleans.

There's also the report of Dr. Charles A. Leale on the assassination of the President.

More recently discovered letters and documents are also being added to the digital archive as time passes. For example, as an attorney, Lincoln penned a letter in 1847 to the 11th President of the United States, James K Polk.

"President Lincoln's legacy as a statesman has marked him as one of the most important and influential leaders our country and the world have ever known," Daniel Stowell, director and editor of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, stated in a news release.. "He was also perhaps the most well-written, and written to, presidents in history, with thousands of personal and political documents, all of which tell the story of our country during one of the most pivotal times in history."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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