Friday, February 21, 1930
Half-Sister of Abraham Lincoln’s wife dies in Fayette County
Lexington, Ky., Feb. 20 – Mrs. Emilie Todd Helm, 93 years old, half-sister of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and the last surviving person intimately associated with the murdered president, died at 2 o’clock this morning at her home, Helm Place, on the Bowman’s Mill Pike.
Mrs. Helm was the widow of General Hardin Helm and the daughter of Robert Smith Todd and Elizabeth Humphreys Todd. She was born at the Todd residence on West Main Street, here, which is pointed out as the birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln. She was known as the ‘Mother of the Orphan Brigade.’
Mrs. Helm’s husband, at the outbreak of the War Between the States, was called to Washington by President Lincoln and offered a commis-
sion in the Union Army, but declined, and returned to the South, where he accepted a commission in the Confederate Army in the brigade formed by Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, an old friend of his father. He rose rapidly in rank until he became a brigadier general. He was killed September 20, 1863, at the Battle of Chickamauga.
Following the death of General Helm, President Lincoln sent for the widow and invited her to the White House, where she spent several weeks. As a girl, she had visited the Lincolns when they lived at Springfield, Illinois.
For almost twenty years Mrs. Helm had lived at Helm Place, the colonial residence built by Col. Abraham Bowman, Revolutionary War officer, with her children, Ben Hardin Helm, Miss Katherine Helm and Mrs. Elodie Lewis. Miss Helm is an artist and the author of ‘Mary, Wife of Lincoln.’
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 o’clock Saturday morning at the residence, the Rt. Rev. H. P. Abbott, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, officiating. Burial will be in the Lexington Cemetery.
Saturday, February 22, 1930
It was a happy turn of fate that Mrs. Ben Hardin Helm, Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-sister, should have been spared these many years and that she was able, both verbally and by her diary and correspondence, to correct many false impressions of circumstances surrounding the lives of Abraham Lincoln and his wife in a day when public interest in them runs high. Many books have been written about the Lincolns, husband and wife, in these last ten years, and not the least of them was that of Katherine Helm of Lexington, based largely on her mother’s recollections, letters and writings.
Mrs. Helm’s death, at the age of 93, removes a woman who was well beloved by the ‘boys’ in gray, at many of whose reunions she had been an honored guest. She was an impressive figure at that time when, after General Helm was killed at Chickamauga and she was granted a pass through the lines from Atlanta. Union officers at Fortress Monroe sought to force her to take the oath of allegiance. Tearfully, yet firmly, the young widow refused. The authorities communicated with Lincoln, who had granted the pass. ‘Send her to me,’ wired the President, and Mrs. Helm went to the White House, to be reunited with her sister.
‘I had just lost my husband,’ she wrote in her diary, ‘Mary had lost her son, Willie, and we both had lost three fine, young brothers in the ranks of the Confederate Army.’
Lincoln was very fond of ‘Little Sister,’ as he had called Emilie Helm ever since that day in 1847 when, returning from Congress, he visited the Todd home at Lexington and gave her that pet name as he caught her up and held her at a terrifying height from the floor. Mary Todd was very fond of this child, and because of her confidences, the younger sister was able in later years to refute the cruel story first told by William Herndon that Lincoln had failed to appear at his own wedding, supposedly planned for January 1, 1841.
It was in April, 1861, that Lincoln offered Ben Hardin Helm, then 30 years old and ten years out of West Point, a paymaster’s commission in the Union Army, with the rank of major. That same day in Washington Ben Helm talked to Robert E. Lee and learned he had resigned his commission. Helm’s father, Gov. John L. Helm, was a slave owner, but a Union man. Mary wanted her beautiful sister to live in the White House with her. The place offered was much coveted and Helm realized his opportunity might readily lead to advancement. He thanked Lincoln and asked for time. Returning to Kentucky he was convinced by Simon Bolivar Buckner that he should cast his lot with the Confederacy, and so he wrote the President, after ‘a bitter struggle with myself.’ Two years later Lincoln broke the sad news of Ben Helm’s death to his wife, then in New York, and Senator David Davis described the President as much moved by the tragedy. ‘Davis,’ he said, ‘I fell as David of old did when he was told of the death of Absolom.’ Lincoln’s affection was even deeper for ‘Little Sister,’ even though while at the White House and until the surrender she remained a ‘loyal little rebel’ to the last.
General Ben Hardin Helm and Emilie Todd had three children, Katherine, who remained single; Elodie, who married Waller H. Lewis; and Ben Hardin Helm. All are buried in the Todd lot in Lexington Cemetery.