“Of the killed, one Major Genl. and five Brigadiers, including your brother-in-law, Helm”

There were thousands of casualties at Chickamauga in late September 1863, but one death was particularly notable: Brig. Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm. Although he was a Confederate officer, he was also the brother-in-law of the Union’s first family, having wed Mary Todd’s half-sister Emilie in 1856. (To add to the irony, it was fellow Kentuckian—a sharpshooter in the 15th KY Infantry—who took Helm’s life.)

Benjamin Hardin Helm (Wikimedia Commons)

David Davis remembered that he “never saw Mr. Lincoln so moved” as when he heard of Helm’s death, claiming that he “found him in the greatest grief.” On Sept, 24th, Lincoln sent this message to his wife, who was visiting New York:

We now have a tolerably accurate summing up of the late battle between Rosecrans and Bragg. The result is that we are worsted, if at all, only in the fact that we, after the main fighting was over, yielded the ground, thus leaving considerable of our artillery and wounded to fall into the enemies’ hands, for which we got nothing in turn. We lost, in general officers, one killed, and three or four wounded, all Brigadiers; while according to rebel accounts, which we have, they lost six killed, and eight wounded. Of the killed, one Major Genl. and five Brigadiers, including your brother-in-law, Helm; This list may be reduced two in number, by correction of confusion in names.

The widowed Emilie Helm came through enemy lines to visit the White House after her husband’s death, but remained a defiant Confederate.

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Filed under Lincoln the Man, Lincoln's Writings

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