Letter: The Lincoln Cottage

Letter: The Lincoln Cottage

— To the Editor:

A seniors’ bus trip took us to the Lincoln cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C. The cottage was recently restored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was opened to the public. It provides an amazingly intimate view of what President Abraham Lincoln’s life was like during the Civil War.

Our tour guide, Scott, provided thoughtful insight into Lincoln’s summers spent there. Lincoln spent a quarter of his time as President in residence in that cottage, protected by a company of Pennsylvania Volunteers. It was his Camp David, recommended to him by his predecessor James Buchanan.

Lincoln rode on horseback to the White House daily. Walt Whitman often saw him and they would exchange nods of greeting. Some residents were concerned for Lincoln’s safety during his ride as the city was full of Southern sympathizers and spies. One wrote to him to implore him to stop it.

Mary Todd Lincoln visited sick or wounded Union soldiers in the hospital tents at the Soldiers’ Home. She wrote letters home for those unable to do so for themselves. Scott challenged us to consider how a mother felt upon receiving a letter from Mrs. Lincoln on behalf of her injured son.

Lincoln is well known for his visits to wounded Union soldiers. He talked with them to comfort them and to find out first hand how the war was going. A national cemetery on the grounds was entirely filled before the end of the war. Burials were occurring every day. Lincoln would walk among the gravestones reciting poetry.

During the summer of 1862 Lincoln worked on his ideas for the Emancipation Proclamation. One of his concerns was how to keep slaveholding border states on the Union side when slaves were freed in the South. He quipped that he hoped God was on his side but that he surely needed Kentucky. When he met with his Cabinet, Secretary of State Seward gave sound advice, to wait until the Union Army had a victory so that the Emancipation Proclamation would not look like a desperate measure to stave off defeat by enlisting freed slaves as soldiers. The Union victory at Antietam gave Lincoln the occasion to issue the proclamation. Lincoln saw emancipation as necessary to the American dream of the pursuit of happiness, that with freedom and hard work one could rise, as he himself had risen from a Kentucky farm to the Presidency.

Lincoln was besieged by people seeking jobs and help of all kinds. They came in person to talk with the President. A British visitor arrived at the cottage after Lincoln had retired for the night and insisted on seeing him. Lincoln came downstairs rumpled and in carpet slippers and visited with him.

We came away from our tour with a clear impression of Lincoln’s daily life during the Civil War. The cottage allowed him to live on a human scale, closely with his wife and children. That may have helped him to bear the burdens of a president in wartime.

Peter and Alison Lattu