Oct. 24th, 1861

To his Excellency Abraham Lincoln,

President of the United States

and to the Hon Simon Cameron, Secretary of War



I beg leave respectfully to inform you that I have invented a cannon which will destroy a whole battalion at a single shot, and in naval warfare it cannot fall to cripple the largest ship on the first discharge. As you will easily perceive by the accompanying drawing and description which I herewith send you, I have tested the gun by a small model. Should the War Department think proper to adopt this gun I will proceed immediately to Washington and exhibit the working model before you. With great respect I have the honor to be Gentlemen your most obedient servant

John D’Arcy, San Francisco

New York City Prison

Cell No. 110, 3d Tier, Nov. 12, 1861

Hon. Abraham Lincoln. President United State of America:

Sir, —

I, J.P.N. Calvo, a South Carolina Secessionist and Privateersman, take the liberty of expressing myself freely to you in regard to the imprisonment of the privateersmen in the above named place. . . . We are not Pirates, and it is a sin and a shame that an intelligent Government should tolerate such an idea and have us entombed in damp Cells, eight by six feet, with food only fit for hogs. . . . You can no more make us out Pirates than you and the Army Prisoners of the Confederate States, or those of the Federal Navy and Federal Army, or the Privateersmen and Army of America when she was in her infancy and rebelled against England. The Seceded States have as much right to have her private armed vessels on the seas, if they have no Navy, as the United States have with Naval vessels. . . . In conclusion allow me to say for myself, if you still think and will have it that I am a Pirate for serving my country, (Southern Confederacy) as a Privateersman, in God’s name have me indicted, tried, sentenced and hung, instead of having me imprisoned as above stated. . . .

With all due respect, I am

Your Prisoner, J.P.N. Calvo

Washington, D.C. January 5th, 1862

Mr. President.

Dear Sir:

Allow me with all due respect, to protest against the use of the Smithsonian Institute (of which you are one of the Regents) for the purpose of advancing the political Sentiments of any party. I regard the lecture of Mr. Horace Greeley delivered at the Institute on the evening of the 3d inst. So far as it related to the question of Slavery highly objectionable. I think the Institution was not endowed for partizan purposes, If we are to avoid the fatal consequences of division amongst our Selves, these Abolition lectures at the Institute Should be immediately stopd. I have given your Administration a cordial Support, and my best efforts in its defence with the understanding that your policy was, to put down this wicked Rebellion, to save the Constitution, and the Union, and re-establish the Supremacy of the laws, without reference to the Slavery question, or in other words, the object of the war was to save the Union, and not to free the Slaves.

. . . [I]t is my firm opinion that if we fall in putting down this Rebellion it will be the result of our having acted unwisely on the Negro question. . . . Let us not close our eyes to the fact, that if we change the policy of the war, and attempt through its instrumentality to Emancipate four millions of Slaves, we Shall immediately loose all the border Slave States and Send them into the vortex of Revolution, Soon to be followed by all the border free States, whose Natural Channels of trade and Commerce is, and must for ever be, with the South. We can not afford to make any blunders in the present distressed condition of our country. . . .

With the best wishes of my heart that you may be instrumental in Saving the Union, I am Your Obt. Servt.

J.A. Cravens, M.C. [Member of Congress]

Cambridge, Jan. 20, 1862

Hon. Abraham Lincoln,

President of the United States, Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir,

Your son has received a requisition to make up during the vacation. I take this occasion to say a word or two about him and his pursuits. Since he entered College his conduct and studies have been unexceptionable until recently: and I do not think he has even now gone far astray. But, of late, the professors have been pained to notice that he has seemed to be on intimate terms with some of the idlest persons in his class. His studies generally have suffered detriment: and in the department of Chemistry, his failure has been complete. . . .

I have no doubt a word or two from you will set every thing right; for I feel quite sure that he has no bad habits as yet.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest consideration,


C.C. Felton,

Pres. H[arvard] C[ollege].

Compiled and edited by Harold Holzer, from his book, “The Lincoln Mailbag: America Writes to the President, 1861-1865.”

More: Letters to Lincoln during his first year as president and newspaper reaction to Lincoln’s election

This story was included in a Washington Post special section, “Civil War 150: Ripples of War.” See more stories on the Civil War.