It was the largest find in Civil War history in a generation: Hours before he was gunned down at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln pardoned a Union soldier court-martialed for desertion and saved him from execution.
The pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, was discovered 13 years ago by Thomas P. and Beverly Lowry, amateur historians from Prince William County who were poring over rarely touched files at the National Archives. Part of a treasure trove of courts-martial with Lincoln’s signature and comments, it was a testament to the president’s compassionate nature.
Thomas Lowry, 78, was catapulted to fame as a chronicler of Civil War military justice. The pardon, exhibited at the Archives’ rotunda in downtown Washington, became a new thread in the narrative of one of history’s most famous assassinations.
Except that it wasn’t.