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Lincoln Arranged Wedding

President Abraham Lincoln took a hand in the marriage of a young couple whose families were from Potsdam and Parishville.

When Miss Fannie Gurley, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Phineas Gurley of Washington, D.C., announced her engagement to Cadet William Anthony Elderkin, son of Mr. and Mrs. Noble Strong Elderkin of Potsdam, the sounds of war were still far away. Dr. Gurley was chaplain of the U.S. Senate and pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. He and his wife, the former Emma Elizabeth Brooks, were born in Parishville.

The young couple had met several summers before in Potsdam when Fannie was visiting her uncle, who lived across the street from the Elderkin family. Elderkin was to be graduated from West Point in June, 1861. The couple's engagement was announced early that year, but wedding plans had not yet been made.

Mrs. Gurley's brother, Erasmus D. Brooks, a prominent merchant, lived in Potsdam. Dr. Gurley was President Lincoln's spiritual advisor and a very close friend of the President. Although Lincoln did not attend church services very often, he summoned Dr. Gurley nearly every day to pray with him. Cadet Elderkin's parents live at 20 Elm Street in Potsdam and Mr. Elderkin was one of Potsdam's leading citizens.

The story of President Lincoln's role in this romance was told by Fannie Elderkin herself. The story appeared in The New York Times more than 50 years ago.

"This is the story of the marriage of Dr. Gurley's daughter, a young girl 20 years old, in whom the President felt a deep interest, since her father was one of his closest friends, the man for whom he sent in time of doubt or trouble."

Dr. Gurley to White House

"As soon as the news of the fall of Fort Sumter reached Lincoln, he sent for Dr. Gurley to come to the White House, that they might pray together. After a few hours spent in seeking comfort and advise from God, Dr. Gurley started to leave the White House for his own home, when the President detained him."

"'What of your daughter?' he asked. 'She is engaged to young Elderkin, is she not? And he is a member of the graduating class at West Point, and must be called to the front at once. It will be hard for the little girl.' He talked for some time with the father, and asked him to send his daughter to the White House. 'I must talk with her', he said. 'If there is a war, Elderkin must take part in it.'"

"The wedding of Fannie Gurley and Lt. William Elderkin took place on Sunday, June 9, 1861, and the couple left the same day for Alexandria. Lt. Elderkin rose to the rank of Colonel during his 37 years in the Regular Army. He was retired in 1898, and died two years later in Middletown, New York. His wife survived him several years. Both are buried at West Point Cemetery."

"Elderkin, at West Point, received word on or about April 15 that his class was to start at once for Washington. Visions of his sweetheart rose in his mind, and he wondered if he might have time to see her once more before facing the guns of the enemy - if there was to be war, which most of the cadets doubted. It was late in the afternoon when the order to take the 6 o'clock train for Philadelphia reached West Point."

"The train reached Philadelphia about 10 o'clock, and the boys, very hungry by this time, marched to the hotel, where they were told a supper had been prepared for them. As they filed through the corridor of the hotel, from the partly open door of the large banquet hall came strong appetizing odors of hot meats and savory vegetables. The anticipation was very pleasant."

"The little company was met at the stair by a messenger with an order which said that a special train had been prepared to take them at once to Washington, and they were to march to the station immediately."

Washington Missed

"Elderkin was disappointed in his hope of seeing his sweetheart, for the cadets did not stop at Washington, but went immediately to the troop headquarters, about one day's distance from the Capitol. We may be sure that he faced the thought of war with a bit less cheer than when he was leaving West Point. One word from Miss Gurley would have made all the difference in the world - not to his courage, but in his spirit."

"Feeling rather blue and badly used, after two days inactivity in camp, with no news from the fighting front and no news from Washington, what must have been the young man's feelings to receive a dispatch which read, 'Three days' furlough for Elderkin. Come to Washington at once to be married,' signed by Abraham Lincoln. He lost no time in obeying the summons of his President and, with a chosen comrade for best man, hurried to the city. This brother cadet afterward became one of the most honored heroes of the war."

"Miss Gurley had but one doubt in her mind, and this she felt that even the wonderful President could not remove. She had no clothes in which to be married. There could be no wedding in Washington: her father's daughter could not be married in any unsuitable garments. The President smiled his happy, one-sided, and beautiful smile. 'I'll see what I can do,' he said."

"That evening the bride's outfit was ready. The wife of one of the President's Secretaries lent a veil, a historic bit of lace that had been in the family for generations: another lady sent a fan, a present of an honored Ambassador to the United States; a third friend produced white satin slippers that had adorned feet that danced with Lafayette. Seldom has one small bride worn so many historic and valuable things."

"Dr. Gurley performed the ceremony in the presence of many of the best-known people of the city, after which a large reception was held. President Lincoln stood by the side of the bride and received guests with her. During the ceremony he constantly turned to her with words of advice and wisdom. These precepts she treasured in her memory as long as she lived."

Fannie Gurley Elderkin with daughters Evelyn and Annie
ca. 1865-70

Col. William A. Elderkin with daughters Evelyn and Annie ca. 1869 Richmond, Virginia