24 January 2011 by Published in: Research and Writing 19 comments

Tip of the hat to good friend J.D. Petruzzi for bringing this to my attention…

Dr. Thomas P. Lowry is a retired physician who has published several interesting books on some very obscure aspects of the Civil War, from the Victorian sexual habits of the era to some very good books on Union courts-martial during the Civil War. Lowry has received kudos for his work, and for good reason. It was all groundbreaking work.

However, EVERYTHING that he has done to date is now subject to question. His reputation is now trash. And rightfully so–he committed criminal acts in the course of promoting himself. And in doing so, he has harmed the reputations of all of us who take the telling of history seriously, and who take the responsibility that goes with it just as seriously.

The following press release was issued by the National Archives today regarding Lowry:

National Archives Discovers Date Change on Lincoln Record
Thomas Lowry Confesses to Altering Lincoln Pardon to April 14, 1865

Washington, DC…Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that Thomas Lowry, a long-time Lincoln researcher from Woodbridge, VA, confessed on January 12, 2011, to altering an Abraham Lincoln Presidential pardon that is part of the permanent records of the U.S. National Archives. The pardon was for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion.

Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Having changed the year from 1864 to 1865, Lowry was then able to claim that this pardon was of significant historical relevance because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives. ARC Identifier: 1839980

Close up of altered date and Abraham Lincoln “A. Lincoln” signature from a President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army.

Close up of the altered date: Long-time Lincoln researcher Thomas Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives.

In 1998, Lowry was recognized in the national media for his “discovery” of the Murphy pardon, which was placed on exhibit in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Lowry subsequently cited the altered record in his book, Don’t Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, published in 1999.

In making the announcement, the Archivist said, “I am very grateful to Archives staff member Trevor Plante and the Office of the Inspector General for their hard work in uncovering this criminal intention to rewrite history. The Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team has proven once again its importance in contributing to our shared commitment to secure the nation’s historical record.”

National Archives archivist Trevor Plante reported to the National Archives Office of Inspector General that he believed the date on the Murphy pardon had been altered: the “5” looked like a darker shade of ink than the rest of the date and it appeared that there might have been another number under the “5”. Investigative Archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team (ART) confirmed Plante’s suspicions.

In an effort to determine who altered the Murphy pardon, the Office of the Inspector General contacted Lowry, a recognized Lincoln subject-matter expert, for assistance. Lowry initially responded, but when he learned the basis for the contact, communication to the Office of Inspector General ceased.

On January 12, 2011, Lowry ultimately agreed to be interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General’s special agent Greg Tremaglio. In the course of the interview, Lowry admitted to altering the Murphy pardon to reflect the date of Lincoln’s assassination in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2071. Against National Archives regulations, Lowry brought a fountain pen into a National Archives research room where, using fadeproof, pigment-based ink, he altered the date of the Murphy pardon in order to change its historical significance.

This matter was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution; however the Department of Justice informed the National Archives that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore Lowry could not be prosecuted. The National Archives, however, has permanently banned him from all of its facilities and research rooms.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld expressed his tremendous appreciation for the work of Plante and the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team in resolving this matter. Brachfeld added that “the stated mission of ART is ‘archival recovery,’ and while the Murphy pardon was neither lost or stolen, in a very real way our work helped to ‘recover’ the true record of a significant period in our collective history.”

At a later date, National Archives conservators will examine the document to determine whether the original date of 1864 can be restored by removing the “5”.

# # #

For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

Unfortunately, this act will not be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations having expired. However, that does not excuse Lowry’s actions, which now puts him in even a lower category of pond scum than plagiarists Stephen Ambrose, Joseph Ellis, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. His search for personal glory has harmed all of us.

Shame on you.

Scridb filter


  1. Mon 24th Jan 2011 at 4:44 pm

    The real question to be answered is whether his publishers and the groups that engage him as a speaker will take action. Lowry’s not a player in the professional academic community. But his quest for glory and reputation was also a quest for money … including the money of readers of our blogs.

  2. Mon 24th Jan 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Now that it’s gone public, it’s indeed a sad day. What Lowry did was absolutely reprehensible, and a crime against the people of the United States (the owners of that document). The fact that he promoted himself by bragging all over the place about how he “discovered” this and that, based his books on such fraudulent document(s), and made money from the same makes it all the more disgusting. And what else in the NA or elsewhere has he altered?
    It does remain to be seen how he is now treated by publishers, historical groups, etc., but he deserves no less than to be completely shunned.
    I own two of his books. Tonight they go in the trash when I get home.

  3. Mon 24th Jan 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Actually, I think the National Archives was not unaware of the fact that certain blogs would pick this up and spread the news. The release is quite skillfully composed in that regard, complete with video and images.

  4. John Foskett
    Mon 24th Jan 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Well, yikes. Ironically, I recently did a review for Civil War News of a new book called Baring The Iron Hand, the subject of which is the evolution of discipline in the Union armies. The author had used a sample of 5,000 courts martial files from the NARA to reach certain conclusions. The next issue featured a letter from the good Dr. which wondered whether the author was aware (if I recall correctly) that Lowry had compiled a large digital data base of this material. One can only imagine what is in there……

  5. Stan ODonnell
    Mon 24th Jan 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Lowry actually had the balls to include a photocopy of Murphy’s altered pardon in his 1999 book “Don’t Shoot That Boy!— Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice. (pp 216-17)

    Worse yet, on the same page, Lowry attributes the discovery or “location” of the letter to a certain “Beverly Lowry” (Whom I assume is his wife? The book was dedicated: For Beverly…. Friend, Partner, Sweetheart)
    …….thereby putting distance between himself and the forgery but implicating poor Beverly. One thing I noticed while reading the book is that Lowry frequently used the word “unscrupulous” in describing various characters. If you have the book also check out page 122 where Lowry “unscrupulously” 😉 describes the Murphy pardon and how a mere few hours later Lincoln “put on his hat and headed to Ford’s Theater.” I feel bad for Beverly.

  6. Mon 24th Jan 2011 at 10:42 pm

    It gets worse:


    Please explain how someone could coerced into a career-ending detailed confession given that the statute of limitations had expired.

  7. J David Petruzzi
    Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 1:04 am

    Oh, this POS. He and his wife are accusing a staffer of making the forgery, and they have a signed confession? “Man of honor” indeed.

    It is indeed worse than thought. A few hours ago, I threw away the 2 books of his I own. Now I’m going to take the bag down to the curb one night early so they’re not even in my house anymore. Rotten pieces of garbage.

    And I don’t mean the books.

  8. Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 12:23 pm


    Here in Chicago, we have a former Police watch commander being sentenced this month. His crime? Torturing false confessions out of people. We had to clear out death row a while back because of him…:)

    But I had no idea that he had taken employment at NARA!

    Seriously, the whole “fake confession” thing sounds really strange. What an odd case.

  9. Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 12:50 pm

    But look on the bright side of this. Now that what was considered the most authoritative Civil War-focused study of venereal disease, body lice, and pornography is out of the way, this re-opens a the field for another historian!

    I’m kidding of course.

  10. Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Craig, it was good to see some humor… and a career recommendation… in this.

    Perhaps Lowry missed Eric’s post: A historian’s code

  11. Chris Evans
    Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 8:43 pm

    How terrible and absurd. Now he lies about changing the date. What a coward! He needs to own up to what he did and apologize.

  12. Tim Ferry
    Tue 25th Jan 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I look at this as an incredibly good job done on the part of Trevor Plante and the Inspector General’s office! Items such as this to come to light, which were changed to fit some twisted redirection of published history are rare; for this to be uncovered and brought to the surface is fantastic. Yes, the act is horrible, but the research and discover are outstanding!

    Lowry, the “historian” has committed moral turpitude and needs justice.

    Now, in breaking news I’m announcing my upcoming new book on “venereal disease, body lice, and pornography” will be out in the early summer for your reading pleasure. Dedicated to Craig. ;P

  13. Chuck Heisler
    Thu 27th Jan 2011 at 12:00 am

    The question that I have on this whole matter is one of vetting the original claim made in 1998. I do not understand why someone did not check the military records for the trial and sentencing of Private Murphy–surely those documents would have shown that the Courts Martial for the soldier was held in 1864 and not 1865. It is hard for me to believe that historians would believe that Lincoln was still writing pardons for soldiers after most of the hostilities were terminated which they were on the alleged date of April 14th 1865.
    Something simply doesn’t make sense here given the attention this forged document received when “discovered” by Lowry, surely some researcher must have investigated the actual dates that this soldier was charged and adjudicated.
    Something is still murky with this whole incident.

  14. john graham
    Sat 29th Jan 2011 at 11:33 am

    It’s a crime to rewrite history???

    Watch out college & universities, school teachers, text book publishers, polititions, government officials, military commanders, the worldwide news media, and anyone on the Internet.

  15. Bill
    Thu 21st Mar 2013 at 8:04 pm

    So. Why was Pvt. Patrick Murphy in jail? What did he do that required a pardon?

  16. Howard Mann
    Fri 20th Jun 2014 at 8:46 am

    I am so out of the loop. It is a shame that research into an excellent topic becomes suspect when the researcher places their own reputation above the need for clarity and accuracy in restoring history to those who want to make sure past isn’t prologue. The Civil War court-martial reveals both strengths and weakness across the panorama of the single event which transformed our country in so many ways. I have used Dr. Lowry’s services in the past and hoped to do so in the future. But the sufferer in this isn’t Lowry as much as the historians who relied on him, the American people who were interested in the topic, and history itself.

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