A lost 22-page transcript discovered at the National Archives reveals the secret history of how Abraham Lincoln pardoned Joe Biden’s ancestor

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FEBRUARY 19, 2024

    • Abraham Lincoln pardoned President Joe Biden’s great-great-grandfather, Moses J. Robinette, in 1864.
    • Robinette was convicted after a fight with an army colleague during the Civil War, documents show.
    • He was pardoned after receiving support from several army officers and a West Virginia senator.

President Joe Biden’s former boss, ex-President Barack Obama, used to say that his favorite American president was Abraham Lincoln, who kept the nation from splintering during the Civil War. But, on this Presidents Day, Biden may have a reason to show Lincoln some gratitude.

Abraham Lincoln, – Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Indeed, Lincoln, the country’s 16th commander in chief, pardoned Biden’s great-great-grandfather, US Army employee Moses J. Robinette, after he was caught up in an altercation on a Union Army base in 1864, according to a Washington Post report. Robinette was sentenced to two years hard labor in a Florida military prison for his role in the fight with a colleague, the Post reported, citing a transcript of Robinette’s military trial — until Lincoln stepped in and set him free.

Robinette was serving as a civilian veterinary surgeon in the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War when, on the evening of March 21, 1864, he got into a verbal altercation with another civilian employee, John J. Alexander. The shouting match turned physical, and eventually, Robinette injured Alexander with his pocketknife, according to the Post.

The camp’s watchmen arrested Robinette. He was charged with intoxication, causing a “dangerous quarrel,” disturbing military discipline and order, and — as a result of the knife wounds — making an “attempt to kill.” A military court convicted Robinette of all charges except the “attempt to kill” charge and sentenced him to the two-year prison sentence in Florida as punishment.

Three Army officers petitioned Lincoln to overturn Robinette’s conviction. After a senator from the recently formed state of West Virginia took up the case, Lincoln pardoned Biden’s ancestor on September 1, 1864. The War Department issued Special Order No. 296, and Robinette was released, returning to his family’s farm in Maryland.

Newly discovered docs

The Post’s account of these events is based on a 22-page transcript unearthed by David Gerleman, a history instructor at George Mason University in Virginia, who discovered the document at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

The surprise pardon by Lincoln represented a reversal of Robinette’s fortunes up until that point after he’d endured a pretty dismal time during the war. In 1861, when the war kicked off, Robinette operated a hotel in Grafton, Virginia. The area, now in West Virginia, was full of Union supporters and became a key early battleground of the war.

Union soldiers destroyed Robinette’s hotel, and his wife Jane died early in the war. The Post said Robinette fled with his children to other relatives in Allegany County, Maryland.

By 1863, he was hired to help care for the ammunition pack horses and mules of the Army of the Potomac’s reserve artillery. That assignment led Robinette to his scuffle with Alexander, who was serving as a brigade wagon master in the Army’s winter camp on the bank of Virginia’s Rappahannock River.

Alexander is said to have confronted Robinette after overhearing Robinette badmouthing him to a female cook. The argument devolved into a physical fight, according to the transcript. First, both participants brandished their fists. Then, Robinette took out his pocket knife.

Afterward, Robinette claimed he was only acting in self-defense and “had no malice towards Mr. Alexander before or since.” In a letter the three Army officers sent encouraging Lincoln to overturn Robinette’s conviction, they claimed he was merely “defending himself” against an adversary far larger and stronger than he was.

Ultimately, Robinette waited three months between being charged and convicted. He went on to spend one month in the military prison at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, near Key West, Florida, before Lincoln pardoned him.

Now, Robinette’s direct descendant is sitting in Lincoln’s old seat.


Courtesy: Business Insider