child has a tongue like the rest of the Todds.” —
little has been written about Emilie Todd Helm except in relation to her
sister, husband, or brother-in-law, Lincoln’s
pithy description of her seems most accurate.
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.
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
Kentucky Historical Society Collections