President Abraham Lincoln on this day in 1863 announced that he had granted amnesty to his wife’s half-sister Emilie Todd Helm, who is also the widow of the late Confederate general. Less than a week, Lincoln announced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction making the pardon for his in-law the first pardon under the new program. This development was Lincoln's plan of reintegration of the South back into the Union. As part of the program, former Confederates will be granted amnesty only if they took an oath to the United States. However, the plan was made available to all Southerners except high-ranking officials of the Confederate government.
Emilie Todd Helm was the wife of Benjamin Helm, who is a Kentucky native just as the Lincolns. It was reported that the president was a fan of Helm, who is a West Point and Harvard graduate. In fact, Lincoln offered Helm a position in the U.S. army, which he turned down and joined the Confederates. Helm rose in the hierarchy of the Confederates army and he later led a group of Kentuckians known as the "Orphan Brigade" because the Union had captured their native state and they could not go back. In September 1863, General Helm was killed at the battle of Chickamauga.
After the death of her husband, Emilie find her way through the Union lines and entered Washington D.C. and stayed in the White House while the Lincolns kept her visit a secret. When the news reached General Daniel Sickles, who had been injured at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, five months earlier, he told the president not to harbor a rebel in his house. Lincoln answered, "General Sickles, my wife and I have the choice of picking our own visitors. There is no need for our friends to counsel or help with the matter." Emilie Helm returned to her native state Kentucky after Lincoln granted her amnesty.