Image via Unsplash.com- Ian Hutchinson

Did Abraham Lincoln Reject A Gift Of Elephants That Could Have Helped Win The Civil War?

One of the first things the 16th President handled upon assuming office was an unusual offer of a gift from a foreign leader

Andrew Martin
4 min readJun 20, 2022

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The American Civil War was a long and bloody affair. The North and the South feinted, parried and battled for four long years, each looking for any advantage they could get that would possibly give them an advantage to win the war. One proposition sent to President Abraham Lincoln just before the war broke out was utilizing a gift of elephants from the King of Siam (modern day Thailand).

No American war has been as deadly as the Civil War, which counted approximately 620,000 deaths (and possibly more) during the five years (1861–1865) the conflict raged. Casualties came in many different forms, including dying on the battlefield and because of rampant disease.

With the United States literally being ripped apart over States’ rights and slavery, President Lincoln threw himself into identifying how to not only preserve the union but trying to effect the quickest end to the war possible — a Hurculean task. Of course, it wasn’t a one-person effort, and suggestions poured in from all over. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean they were all reasonable ideas.

One of the most unusual suggestions came from King Rama IV of Siam. Leading a country where elephants had a long history of utilitarian use, the King sent a sword, elephant tusks and a picture of himself as gifts, and wrote President James Buchanan in 1861 in the final days of his term. Rama knew that the animals were not in the United States outside of the occasional traveling show, and there were already great rumbles of internal strife in the United States. He offered to send several pairs of elephants as a gift to be “turned loose in forests and increase till there be large herds.” In particular, he believed the sturdy beasts could assist with construction projects that would usually tax even large groups of human workers:

“Elephants being animals of great size and strength can bear burdens and travel through uncleared woods and matted jungles where no carriage and cart roads have yet been made.”

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Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.