The Matter of a Pencil

By Carl Klopfenstein

Volume VI, Number 4
Summer, 1987

Among the mementos presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes while he was in the White House was a lead pencil alleged to have been used in the composition of the surrender terms at Appomottox on April 9, 1865. An E. H. Bailey sent this pencil to the President. In a letter, written presumably to a member of the White House staff in which he offered to give the pencil to President Hayes, Bailey stated that he was on the piazza of the McLean House while the generals were in conference and that "after they left the room I took the liberty of confiscating the pencil."28. District of Columbia City Directory Search Report, District of Columbia Public Library; BPR:NA.1

When Bailey forwarded the pencil to President Hayes, he attached to it the following notarized note:

I certify in honor that the pencil attached to this paper formerly belonged to Genl. Robert E. Lee and was used by Genls Grant and Lee in drawing up the rough draft of the terms of surrender. E H Bailey

Major & Provost Marshall    

John J.. Vorhis, a notary public, notarized the note on May 8, 1880 in Washington, D. C.31. A. L. Nimsons[?], Pension Agent to John C. Black, Commissioner of Pensions, March 28, 1887, BPR:NA.2

When Thomas A. Smith, Head of Research at the Hayes Presidential Center, asked me to investigate and determine, if possible, the authenticity of this item and its donor, it offered me an interesting opportunity to engage in some historical detective work. Dusting off some of my rusty tools of the trade, I proceeded to tackle the problem.

Some of the questions posed by this little puzzle came immediately to mind. First, was the rough draft of the surrender terms written in pencil? Second, who was E. H. Bailey? Third, was Bailey at Appomottox on April 9, 1865 as he alleges? Fourth, who were the individuals present either inside outside the McLean House at the time of the surrender by Lee, and fifth, was this a or thepencil used by Grant and/or Lee? What historical sources then should or would one check for answers to the questions posed and any others?

I began by consulting existing diaries, memoirs, and reminiscences of the individuals in the room at the McLean House when the terms of surrender were drawn up. Next I consulted the pertinent volumes of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. This did not prove very fruitful except to identify the existence of a Major Ezra H. Bailey. Once I had identified Bailey beyond a question of doubt, which shall be discussed later, I turned to histories by or reminiscences of members of the military unit to which Bailey belonged.

Biographies of participants in this historic event and other secondary sources rendered some assistance in finding source materials. For example, when Mr. Smith asked me to undertake this enterprise, I went immediately to the four volume biography of Robert E. Lee by Douglas Southall Freeman to find what he recorded about the Appomattox meeting. Freeman notes the use of a pencil but more to the point, he cites the source of his information to which I shall return later.33. "Application for Accrued Pension," and "General Affidavit of T. D. Warren," BPR:NA.3

To verify conclusively the use of a pencil by Grant to write the rough draft of the surrender terms, I turned to the memoirs of Grant. In volume II of these memoirs can be found a facsimile copy of the draft. It clearly shows that a pencil was used to rough out the surrender terms.4

Next I moved to the problem of the identification of E. H. Bailey. Since he signed the notarized note attached to the pencil "Provost Marshal C.C.," it can be deduced that Bailey had been provost marshal of a cavalry corps. A first step, however, to identifying E. H. Bailey was a search made of the directory for the District of Columbia for 1880. This was done on the basis that Bailey had dated his letter offering the pencil to Hayes "City 4/5/80/." That directory as well as the succeeding ones for 1881, 1882 and 1883 listed an Ezra H. Bailey as a resident of Washington, D. C. In the directory for 1880 he was listed with the title of major and in 1881 as colonel.5

Proceeding on the assumption that this Ezra H. Bailey was our man and that he served in the cavalry during the Civil War, I then requested from the National Archives the military and pension records of Ezra H. Bailey. The military records confirmed that he [Ezra H. Bailey] served as an officer in the First New York (Lincoln) Volunteer Cavalry - the first volunteer union cavalry unit formed in the war. This record further documents that Bailey was appointed provost marshal of the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac late in the war. By that time he had risen from the rank of lieutenant to that of major.6

To secure more details on the military career of Bailey during the Civil War, I next sought to determine if any histories or reminiscences existed on the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry. They did, namely, William H. Beach’s The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry and Jas. H. Stevenson’s "Boots and Saddles": A History of the First Volunteer Cavalry of the War Known as the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry....Beach states that Bailey wrote reminiscences of his war experiences for the press late in his life but to date these have not been located.7 The military records of Bailey and the two works on the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry clearly indicate that there was an officer in the cavalry named Ezra H. Bailey who in April 1865 was a major and a provost marshal.

Was this Bailey at Appomattox and the McLean House at the time of the surrender of Lee on April 9, 1865? According to his testimony in the letter offering the pencil to President Hayes, E. H. Bailey was not only there but on the piazza of the house at the time. What corroborating evidence can be provided to support this claim and also to prove that the Ezra H. Bailey of the military records and histories of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry and the letter writer are one and the same?

Since Major Bailey was provost marshal of the cavalry corps under the overall command of General Philip H. Sheridan, he undoubtedly was a member of Sheridan’s staff. If this is correct, then the following would bear out his presence at Appomattox and also being on the piazza as he asserts. George A. Forsyth in his Thrilling Days in Army Life records "While the conference between Generals Grant and Lee was still in progress, Generals Merritt and Custer of the Cavalry Corps, and several of the infantry generals, together with the rest of General Sheridan’s staff-officers came up on the porch."8

Both Stevenson and Beach in their histories of the First New York Cavalry note the presence of Bailey in the vicinity of Appomattox. Stevenson wrote: "On the morning after this battle [Saylor’s Creek on April 5, 1865], while prisoners under Major Bailey, who was provost marshal of the cavalry corps, were getting ready to march to the rear, Custer’s division emerged from their bivouac, and passed them at a canter."9

Beach stated: "The next morning [after the battle of Saylor’s Creek], as many of the captured officers, including Ewell and his generals, were standing in a group under the care of Major Bailey, provost marshal, whose manly and chivalric ways always won him favor, General Custer passed near the group on his way to the front where there was yet work to be done."10 We can be thus reasonably certain that Major Ezra H. Bailey was at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Since the "E. H. Bailey who sent the letter and the notarized note concerning the pencil signed the latter "E. H. Bailey, Major and Provost Marshal C.C.," I am convinced that we have our man clearly identified and at Appomattox.

Let us now return to the matter of the pencil and Bailey’s claim that it was the pencil used by Grant and Lee. In his letter offering the pencil to President Hayes as a memento, Bailey wrote: "The pencil belonged to Genl Lee but was used by both Generals, and left on the table on which they were writing by Genl Lee when he left the room." He repeated this affirmation in the notarized note attached to the pencil when it was later sent to the President.

An eyewitness account of the events in the McLean House on the April morning, however, contradicts Bailey’s assertion. This witness, Colonel Horace Porter, the source cited by Freeman in his biography of Lee noted earlier, states in his memoir, Campaigning With Grant, that while Lee was reading the draft handed to him by Grant, he noted an omission; Grant told him to insert a correction. When Lee fumbled for a pencil to do so, Colonel Porter stepped forward and handed Lee his pencil. Following the insertion of the correction, Lee twirled the pencil around in his hand for a time and then handed it back to Colonel Porter. Porter further notes that he kept it as a memento of the occasion.11

If Colonel Porter’s recollection is correct, then the pencil in question could not have belonged to or been used by Lee. It would seem quite reasonable that Porter was correct for he would well recall what happened on that memorable day especially if he played a role, minor though it may have been. Could this pencil have been used by Grant in drawing up the rough draft of the surrender terms and did Bailey take it as he alleges?

One concrete piece of evidence to support Bailey’s claim that he purloined the pencil is ironically in Porter’s Campaigning With Grant, in which he notes that upon "the departure of the chief actors in the surrender...the relic hunters charged down upon the manor-house and made various attempts to jump Mr. McLean’s claims to his own furniture."12

General Philip Sheridan paid McLean twenty dollars in gold for the chair in which Lee sat and then proceeded to give it to George Custer as a present for his wife. "Bargains were at once struck for all the articles in the room, and it is even said that some mementos were carried off for which no coin of the republic was ever exchanged."13 This last observation by Colonel Porter could very well have applied to Bailey as well as others.

As to the question of whether this pencil was the one used by Grant in drawing up the rough draft of the terms of surrender, I cannot state with certainty that it is the pencil. The only evidence we have that the pencil in the Hayes Presidential Center is the one is Ezra H. Bailey’s testimony. We do know from a conversation with Ronald Wilson, historian at the McLean House Museum, that they do have the Lee pencil but not the Grant one. He believes we may well have this missing item but the jury is still out on this until evidence to corroborate Bailey’s claim is found. To date we have been unable to uncover any and it seems likely that any more will be located. This, however, has not detracted any from the exhilaration of the search.

Having concluded to my satisfaction that we have identified Ezra H. Bailey as the writer of the letter and the notarized note and that he was at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 and took a pencil from the McLean House, I did further research on his life. I utilized again his military and pension records as well as the Beach and Stevenson volumes on the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry regiment. In addition, I was able to obtain valuable information on his post-war career through such documents as the census records, The North Carolina Business Directory for 1869, the District of Columbia directories from 1881 to 1884, and Bailey’s certificate of death.

Ezra H. Bailey was born in the State of Michigan probably in March 1837.14 Sometime prior to 1861 he moved to New York and enlisted in the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was involved in the formation of this regiment from its inception.

When President Lincoln issued his first call for troops on April 15, 1861, the New York Tribune carried a notice the following day that a cavalry regiment was forming and needed a leader. Anyone interested was to contact G. W. Richardson. He, in turn, called upon his friend, Ezra H. Bailey, to help him. The two called a meeting to which a group of about 150 men responded. The group organized and elected Richardson as chairman and Bailey as secretary. They set up a committee, which included Richardson and Bailey, to recruit a regiment.15

When officers were elected, Bailey was selected as a first lieutenant and received the post of quartermaster which he requested.16 The regiment was to experience some difficulty in securing a commanding officer. Carl Schurz, the noted German emigree and politician, initially agreed to take the position. Since President Lincoln was soon to appoint him a minister to Spain, Schurz did not accept the colonelcy of the newly formed regiment.17

Since Schurz was unavailable, the regimental leaders decided to send Bailey to West Point where he offered the colonelcy to Lieutenant George D. Bayard. Bayard rejected it but recommended Captain Joshua T. Owen, a fellow instructor at the military academy. Captain Owen was willing to accept the command contingent upon a leave of absence from his regular army assignment.

Since such action meant sending a request through regular channels which would take time, Bailey was now sent to Washington to expedite this matter. He was, however, unable to secure a leave for Captain Owen from either Secretary of War Simon Cameron or Army Chief of Staff General Winfield Scott.

Bailey left these interviews depressed but, since it was visiting day at the White House, he decided to take a chance at meeting and speaking with President Lincoln on the issue. He was able to do so but Lincoln tried to refer Bailey back to Cameron or Scott. Bailey advised the President that he had already received no encouragement in these quarters. Lincoln then agreed to see that the regiment was accepted for service as soon as it was fully organized.

Bolstered by this presidential promise, Bailey returned to New York and reported on his efforts. Captain Owen was disappointed as were the officers of the regiment for it meant a renewal of the search for a commanding officer. The colonelcy of the regiment was finally accepted by Andrew T. McReynolds of Grand Rapids, Michigan who had served in the cavalry in the Mexican War.18 The regiment once fully organized took as its name First New York (Lincoln) Volunteer Cavalry thus doing honor to President Lincoln for his support.19

During the war Bailey played an active role with the regiment in its military exploits with cavalry units in the Virginia and Shenandoah Valley campaigns. He took part in a number of battles and raids. Bailey began his military service as a first lieutenant in Company A and quartermaster for the regiment. On September 20, 1862, he received promotion to captain and joined Company K presumably as its commanding officer.20

Bailey also commanded the regiment for a brief time in November 1863 and issued an order for the observance of Thanksgiving Day. He seemingly was well-liked and respected among the men of his command. When the regiment was on its veteran furlough in February 1864, the men of company K presented Bailey with a sash and sword as a token on their regard.21

Following the return of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry from its veteran furlough and reenlistments on March 24, 1864, Bailey was soon to find his military capabilities recognized by his superiors. He was to serve as an aide-de-camp on the staffs of Major General Julius Stahel (May-June 1864) and Major General Alfred T. A. Torbert (August 1864-January 1865).22 General Torbert was to recommend Bailey "to the favorable consideration of higher authorities...for gallantry and courage...."23 Bailey was promoted to major on February 1, 1865 and became a provost marshal in the cavalry corps.24 He was serving in this capacity, as noted earlier, at the time of the surrender of Lee at Appomattox.

Ezra H. Bailey received his discharge from military service on June 27, 1865. When the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry regiment was mustered out on July 7, 1865, Bailey was promoted to the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel "for gallant and meritorious service at the battle of Five Forks, Va. To date from Apr. 1, 1865."25 This action highlighted the end of his military career.

Within a year following his discharge, Bailey had become involved in the lumber business in Jamesville, North Carolina. He was to remain in Jamesville until 1876. On November 18, 1875, he married a widow, Mary B. Stubbs (nee Mary Basham) in St. Paul’s parish church in Baltimore County, Maryland. She had previously been married to Jessie R. Stubbs of Williamstown, North Carolina who died in 1870. Ezra and Mary were to have three children: Jennie, born on August 28, 1876; Custer, born October 24, 1878, and Stuart, born February 10, 1880.26

In 1876, Bailey apparently moved to the nearby community of Plymouth in Washington County, North Carolina. He purchased several town lots in Plymouth and an existing sawmill facility just outside the town. The Baileys seemed to have remained in Plymouth for the remainder of the decade.27 Between 1880 and 1884, they resided at least in part in Washington, D. C. while Bailey remained engaged in the lumber business.28

Meanwhile, on December 1, 1879, Ezra Bailey instigated proceedings to procure a disability pension on the basis of an injury incurred in the war. In his declaration for original invalid pension, Bailey related that on or about April 25, 1863,

he while returning from Charleston, W. Va. (having been to Harper’s Ferry) was attacked by guerillas about four miles from Berryville & being pushed by them in the evening and attempting to cross a bridge half a mile from Berryville his horse broke through the bridge and threw him volently[sic] on to a pile of stones on the road side. . . . This accident injured his right leg and was occasion of a fever sore, which has troubled him ever since & entirely disabled him from labor. He has suffered much from it especially in cold weather. has to use a cain[sic] the greater part of the time.29

It would seem that Bailey was in ill health by 1879 and was to suffer considerably from the leg injury which he complained resulted in blood poisoning. He also had dropsy (an abnormal accumulation of serum-like fluids in the cavities or tissues of the body) which added greatly to his physical weight.30 Bailey did receive a pension and payment until December 4, 1886.31

Bailey returned in 1885 to New York to live. Ill health continued to plague him and on the advice of a physician he finally entered the New York Homeopathic Hospital. While he was in the hospital, Bailey died on February 21, 1887 from complications brought on by the dropsy and his injured leg.32 He was to leave his wife and family in straitened circumstances, leading Mrs. Bailey to apply for a widow’s pension later.33

End Notes

1 E. H. Bailey to Unknown, April 5, 1880, Rutherford B. Hayes Papers, Hayes Presidential Center.  

2 Ibid. 

3 Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography (New York, 1935), IV, 137-138.  

4 Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885-1886), II, facing p. 486. See also Charles Marshall, "Last days of Lee’s Army," Century Magazine, XLI:4 (April 1902), 934, and Lloyd A. Dunlap, "The Grant-Lee Surrender Correspondence: Some Notes and Queries," Manuscripts, XXI:2 (Spring 1969), 82-83, 84. 

5 Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia, 1880, 130; 1881, 179; 1882, 178 and 1883, 181.  

6 Military Records of Ezra Bailey, National Archives. These records consist of muster rolls and return forms as well as a few miscellaneous items. Hereafter cited as BMR:NA.  

7 William H. Beach, The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry from April 19, 1861 to July 25, 1865. (New York, 1902), 190. 

8 George A. Forsyth, Thrilling Days in Army Life (New York, 1902), 522.  

9 Jas. H. Stevenson, "Boots and Saddles": A History of the First Volunteer Cavalry of the War Known as the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry and also as The Sabre Brigade. Its Organization, Campaigns and Battles (Harrisburg, 1879), 357.  

10 Beach, 504.  

11 Horace Porter, Campaigning With Grant (New York, 1907), 478.  

12 Ibid., 486-487.  

13 Ibid., 487.  

14 U. S. Census, 1870. North Carolina, Martin County; State of New York, Certificate of Death in the City of New York, Municipal Archives, City of New York.  

15 Beach, 9-10; Stevenson, 5-8.  

16 Stevenson, 8; Beach, 10. The officers of the regiment were selected under the process provided for in the "Act to authorize the employment of volunteers" of July 22, 1861, namely that company officers, i.e. lieutenants and captains, were to be elected by their men and these officers were then to elect the field grade officers.  

17 Schurz had laid before President Lincoln a plan for a volunteer cavalry force being confident that there were a number of German immigrants in New York City who could be the nucleus for such a unit. He offered to organize a regiment which, although General Winfield Scott, Army Chief of Staff, opposed the scheme, Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, and Lincoln endorsed and authorized Schurz to proceed. Upon his return to New York, Schurz persuaded Frederick Von Schickfuss, a former cavalry officer in Germany, to organize a regiment. He raised four companies, but Schurz needed more and worked out an agreement with the Bailey group by conceding to them the right to the posts of quartermaster and regimental surgeon in addition to that of major of their battalion. (Carl Schurz, The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz [New York, 1907], 229-236; See also Stephen Z. Starr, The Union Cavalry in the Civil War[Baton Rouge, 1979-1985], III, 67-72.)  

18 The material on Bailey’s trip and the resolution of the problem is based upon Stevenson, 20-23; Beach, 14-15, and Starr, 72-73.

19 Stevenson provides this version of the use of the name Lincoln: "While at the War Office a discussion arose as to what name the regiment should be known by, and Colonel McReynolds promptly proposed ‘The Lincoln Cavalry,’ which was unanimously adopted by the committee, all of whom thought the name appropriate, because Mr. Lincoln had called the regiment out, not-withstanding much opposition from those high in authority around him." p. 27.  

20 This material has been taken from the company muster rolls and returns in BMR:NA. Both Beach and Stevenson in their volumes on the history of the First New York (Lincoln) Volunteer Cavalry contain numerous references to Bailey and his activities.  

21 Beach, 293, 314; Stevenson, 252.  

22 Major General Julius Stahel to Lieutenant Colonel G. Halpine, May 22, 1864, and "Special Orders 103"; "Headquarters Middle Military Division, General Orders No. 4, August 8, 1864," BMR:NA. Major General Julius Stahel commanded the First Cavalry Division in the Department of West Virginia from April until June 9, 1864. He was badly wounded in the arm on June 5, 1864 leading an attack. Mark M. Boatner, The Civil War Dictionary (New York, 1959), 790-791. Major General Alfred T. A. Torbert was chief of cavalry in the Middle Military District of the Army of the Shenandoah at his time. (Ibid., 842.)  

23 The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901), Series I, XLIII, Pt. 1, 435. Other volumes in Series I of these records contain items concerning Bailey.  

24 "Staff Muster-in-Roll" BMR:NA.  

25 "General Order, No. 91, Adjutant General’s Office, October 9, 1867, Ibid.; Stevenson, 370. Bailey also received a medal of honor. Ibid. 

26 Pension Records of Ezra H. Bailey, National Archives. Hereafter cited as BPR:NA. Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory for 1869 (Raleigh, 1869), 94.  

27 This is based upon information provided in a letter to the writer from Wilson Angley of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. 

28 District of Columbia City Directory Search Report, District of Columbia Public Library; BPR:NA.  

29 Ibid. 

30 "General Affidavit of Clifford Thomson," BPR:NA.  

31 A.L. Nimsons[?], Pension Agent to John C. Black, Commissioner of Pensions, March 28, 1887 BPR:NA.  

32 Bailey's terminal illness and death are described in a general affidavit signed by Dr. Octavius A. White, a physician in New York.  Ibid.; Certificate of Death.  

33 "Application for Accrued Pension," and "General Affidavit of T. D. Warren," BPR:NA.