1861 · Washington, D.C.
Autograph Letter Signed as President ("A. Lincoln"), December 28, 1861, Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., to Henry Liebenau, Esq. 1 page, 5 x 8 in.
Dec. 28, 1861
Henry Liebenau, Esq.
My dear Sir:
Your private letter in regard to Mr. "Burtnete" is received.
I have no power to remove a Lieut Colonel appointed by the Governor of New-York. The appeal must be made, if at all, to the Governor.
John W. Latson, a New York attorney, began raising a regiment in April 1861. In July, he received permission from the War Department to recruit a regiment of artillery, but his authority was revoked a month later and his recruits were consolidated with another regiment to form the 2d New York Heavy Artillery. Latson's troubles may have stemmed from his practice of securing uniforms for his men without paying a local merchant, claiming the authority of the federal government for doing so. The merchant reported Latson's actions to a justice, who had Latson arrested. He posted $500 in bail,
but was soon arrested again, charged with false imprisonment. After being in jail for a week, Latson made a motion to discharge the case because his accuser, Henry Farrington, was a recruit and subject to military discipline. The court granted the discharge and released Latson.
After his release, Latson learned that Daniel H. Burtnett, who claimed to be "Major Commanding the Coast Brigade at Fortress Monroe," had "ingratiated himself with the officers of Col. Latson's Staff, and stirred up the difficulties with a view of superseding Col. L. in command." Latson also learned that Burtnett had carried on a secret correspondence with P.G.T. Beauregard through the Confederate General's sister, who lived in New York, and had communicated with Confederates from Fortress Monroe by a "secret telegraphic wire" that he had helped to lay.
On September 6, 1861, Latson went to attorney William T. Birdsall's office to make out an affidavit charging Burtnett with treason. Burtnett and several other officers reportedly entered the office, confronted Latson with a loaded pistol to his head, and left with Latson's affidavit. After Latson and Birdsall reported the incident to a justice of the peace, Burtnett and the others were arrested, but the court discharged them on their promising to return for a hearing.
On November 2, their attorney denied the charges and filed a motion to discharge, claiming the application of an 1858 New York law that "no person belonging to the military forces shall be arrested on any civil process while going to, remaining at or returning from any place at which he may be required to attend, for the election of officers or other military duty." The Court held that the defendants were exempt and discharged them.
Liebenau's letter to Lincoln may have been an effort to have Burtnett discharged so he could not claim immunity based on military duty.
Accompanied by Special Order No. 49 from the Headquarters of the Seventh Regiment, National Guard, detailing companies to attend the funeral of Thomas H. Higginbotham. Signed in print by Adjutant Joseph Henry Liebenau (1832-1878), Henry Liebenau's nephew and foster son.
Henry Liebenau (1803-c1889). Born in New York, Liebenau was a portrait artist and inspector at the customs house in New York City. As early as 1847, he advertised to paint or embroider military flags and banners. In 1861, he helped Congressman Daniel E. Sickles raise a brigade. In August 1861, he applied to the Secretary of War for appointment as a paymaster in the army, and in October sought Lincoln's support for his application. In November 1861, he asked Lincoln to appoint him as collector at the port of Beaufort, South Carolina. After the war, Liebenau served as the corresponding secretary for the Constitutional Union Association, a conservative organization that supported President Andrew Johnson in his battles with Congressional Republicans. He sought reappointment to the customs house in 1868, but Johnson did not appoint him. He served as an Inspector of Markets for the city in 1867.
Daniel Henry Burtnett (or Burtnete). Born in New York. On October 7, 1861, Burtnett was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the New York 2d Heavy Artillery, but was dismissed on December 9th. In April 1862, Burtnett received appointment as a major and additional aide-de-camp on General John C. Fremont's staff. He was dismissed from the service on October 19, 1862, for absence without leave, breach of arrest, and conduct unbecoming an officer. In November 1863, Burtnett was found guilty of "keeping a bawdy house" in Washington, D.C. and sentenced to one month in jail and a $500 fine or six months in jail. Burtnett sent a ten-page letter to Lincoln, protesting his innocence in taking a room at what turned out to be a house of prostitution. On February 10, 1864, Congressman Francis Thomas of Maryland wrote to Lincoln, requesting Burtnett's pardon. Thomas was convinced that "a merciful exercise of the pardoning power, in Burtnets case, would, in restoring to society a reformed man, be, in no respect, detrimental to the cause of morality." Lincoln pardoned Burtnett on February 11, after he had served just over three months of his sentence.
John W. Latson (1815-1864) was an attorney in New York City from at least 1847 to 1861. Latson ran for Congress in the Seventh District in 1860, as a representative of the Minute Man party.
Published in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 5:81. Relying on a faulty transcription from Gilbert Tracy's Uncollected Letters of Abraham Lincoln (1917), Roy P. Basler and the editors of the Collected Work could not correctly identify either Liebenau or Burtnett. Tracy had mis-transcribed both tough-to-spell names. (Inventory #: 24189)