The University Record, February 27, 1996

Unusual 'crossed page' letter among holdings at Bentley Library

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

 A young woman of 20, Julia Maria Buel, daughter of a Detroit lawyer and political figure, wrote to her sisters from Washington, D.C., where she was attending the first inauguration of Abraham Lincoln that "the path to the White House was lined with soldiery, and 'Old Abe' is lodged within its walls unharmed."

There was much concern about the president's welfare during the early days of March 1861, when nearly 25,000 office seekers, hangers-on, soldiers, potential troublemakers and visitors crammed into the nation's capital for the swearing-in and accompanying festivities.

A copy of Buel's letter, written in part in the "crossed page" style---a style commonly used in the 19th century to save paper---is among the artifacts about Michigan and Michiganders maintained at the Bentley Library.

"The crossed page writing was often used by women in mid-19th century letters, as much for its calligraphy style as for conserving writing paper---a style very difficult to read," says Arlene Shy of the Clements Library.

As did most visitors to Washington, Buel went to the Smithsonian Museum, the Capitol, Mount Vernon, and the partially completed Washington Monument which she said was "so incomplete that there is nothing there particularly interesting to see." She also noted that she couldn't get close enough to see the swearing-in or to hear the inaugural address. But she did hear the crowd shouting, "Hurrah for Mr. Lincoln!"

"The shouts which have resounded for him at the capital are still ringing in my ears," Buel wrote her sisters.

In that letter, Buel wrote of her observations of mounted cannons, with artillery men ready to fire, positioned in the city. She noted two to three companies of cavalry and "regulars" from West Point stationed at corners, on rooftops and in private yards. Such was the city's atmosphere in the days just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., April 12, 1861.

"We have talked nothing but politics all the evening," she wrote. "You can have no idea of the state of feeling here---southerners are determined not to give Lincoln credit for a single good thing. Washington is full of hot -blooded secessionists."

But the young woman thought of more than politics and the fears and talks of war. She was heady with the excitement of having been "presented" to Lincoln at a reception the evening before Inauguration Day. "I like old 'Honest Abe' very much," she wrote her sisters. But her description of Mrs. Lincoln was not as generous. "Mrs. Lincoln is a plain, good sort of woman," Buel wrote, "nothing elegant in her manners---rather short---was dressed in lavender moire antique with sash and lapels. The Washington ladies criticize her most terribly. I am glad that I am not in her place."