This week in the Civil War for February 23 1864
March 1874 ~ Maj Gen Hugh Judson Kirkpatrick

Emilie Todd Helm

Emilie Todd Helm (1836-1930) “Rebel In The White House”

 “The child has a tongue like the rest of the Todds.” —

Abraham Lincoln

Emilie Todd was Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-sister. In 1856 she married Benjamin Helm, a Confederate general. After Helm’s death in 1863 Emily Helm passed through Union Lines to visit her sister in the White House. This caused great consternation in the Northern newspapers. Emily Helm took an oath of loyalty to the Union and was granted amnesty.

As one of Robert Smith Todd’s younger daughters, Emilie was a beautiful debutante from a wealthy and influential Kentucky family when she married Ben Hardin Helm in 1856.  Widowed when General Helm, the last commander of the “Orphan Brigade,” fell at Chickamauga, Emilie and her daughter Katherine accepted the offer of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln to stay with them in Washington during the winter of 1863-64. 

While there, even though she kept a very low public profile, Emilie was labeled the “Rebel in the White House” with her presence causing the Lincolns some political discomfort.  Lincoln’s comment was made to a complaining General Daniel E. Sickles, after Sickles had baited Emilie by stating that the Confederate soldiers were“scoundrels [that] ran like scared rabbits” at Chattanooga.  Emily retorted that the Confederate soldiers had only “followed the example the Federals had set them at Bull Run and Manassas.”  Later in her life, Emilie was appointed postmistress of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and became known as the “Mother of the Orphan Brigade” for her continued support to the survivors in the years after the Civil War.  Additionally, Emilie became an inveterate letter writer, genealogist, and raconteur, as evidenced by her collection of papers held in the Kentucky Historical Society. 

Source: Kentucky Historical Society Collections

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