Even a Great Republican Left for the Union Party
President Abraham Lincoln, during warm weather, preferred sleeping at the Soldier’s Home instead of sleeping at the White House. A quarter of his Presidency from 1862 to 1864 was spent there.
The Soldier’s Home was created in the 1850s for disabled veterans without sufficient means to live on their own. Its cottages rested in over 300 acres with much shaded hilly areas. President James Buchanan stayed there and reported being better able to sleep there than at the White House. Lincoln also saw Soldier’s Home as a place for a family retreat, especially after his 12 year old son William died and First Lady Mary Lincoln found it difficult to mourn in the bustling White House.
There are no official records of Lincoln’s staying or of what guest he had to Soldier’s Home. He often traveled there with his wife, son Tad, a cook, a housekeeper and maybe a valet. At first, he had no security protecting him. While there, Lincoln would wake early and be at the White House by 8 am. His last visit to Soldier’s Home was the day before he was assassinated.
Staying at the Soldier’s Home provided Lincoln some sanctuary that provided him a better balance in his life. Prior, the stain of his wartime office had caused him to lose some abilities to make calm and considered decisions.
Lincoln pondered the fate of calling 300,000 more to war while residing at the Soldier’s Home. He could hear the sounds of battle at Antietam while at the Soldier’s Home.
Mary Lincoln was in a carriage accident near the Soldier’s Home and almost died. This probably significantly contributed to accelerating her already deteriorating emotional unbalance. She left for Vermont for two months afterwards.
Lincoln held meetings at the Solder’s Home. One in September 1864 with Fernando Wood, a Copperhead New York Member of Congress and former Mayor, may have helped his reelection efforts that year by encouraging some opposition to reduce their efforts against him.
Lincoln left Soldier’s Home on a dangerous trip to watch a battle with Confederates at Fort Stevens. Concerns for Lincoln’s safety rose and bodyguards of former police detectives were assigned to guard him.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and his family also resided at Soldier’s Home. This helped cement a personal as well as working relationship between them.
Mary Lincoln often clashed with White House aide John Hay over White House activities. She decided it would be better to spend more time away from the White House and Hay. The war ended plans for a summer residence outside the Washington, D.C. area. Mary Lincoln grieved for her departed son, refused to let the Marine Band play White House concerts, and decided Soldier’s Home would make a nice place to escape.
Lincoln wanted the rebels attacked quickly and decisively and the Confederate states resumed into the Union. General George McClellan flanked the Confederates in northern Virginia with his best trained soldiers in the Army of the Potomac, doing so over Lincoln’s objections. This potentially exposed DC to Confederate troops led by General Stonewall Jackson.
Vice President Hannibal Hamlin recalled a meeting conducted at the Soldier’s Home where Lincoln first made the emancipation of slaves a goal of the war.
Lincoln learned the news of battles could be conflicting and biased. His decision to call 300,000 more for the war effort was dramatic. A month earlier he had told Governors he would need 100,000. Lincoln instituted the first compulsory draft to reach this goal.
Private John Nichols claimed someone tried to shoot President Lincoln while horseback riding near Soldier’s Home. He claimed to find Lincoln’s hat with a bullet hole in it. Nichols said Lincoln asked him to keep quiet about the incident. Presidential security increased after this incident.
Soldier’s Home was open to the public. While Andrew Jackson had been physically attacked, the idea of protecting the President’s security was not a high concern then. Anyone could walk up to President Lincoln at Soldier’s Home. General McClellan ordered Pennsylvania infantrymen fresh from training at Harrisburg to protect Lincoln and his family at Soldier’s Home.
Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin ordered bonuses of $25 then plus $75 at the war’s end to enlistees of two “Bucktail Brigades” that wore deerskin hats. Company K of the 150th Pennsylvania regiment, which was about 150 men, protected Lincoln and his family for the rest of the war.
Union soldiers intercepted General Robert E. Lee’s plan to invade Maryland. Lee learned his orders had been divulged and changed his plans. Lincoln had wanted the Antietam battle to decide the war. He was upset that General McClellan did not follow his orders and pursue the Confederates and destroy their army. McClellan noted the soldiers lacked experience and that pursuit of a fleeing arm was a complicated procedure.
Captain David Derickson from Meadville, Pa. became Lincoln’s favorite companion, even sharing beds, a common practice then. Abraham Lincoln, who had left friends behind in Illinois, needed friendship he found in a soldier.
Draft riots occurred in several places, including Meadville where Derickson came from. Lincoln agreed to reduce quotas for military draft recruitment by including 2,400 foreign born Confederate prisoners who agreed to fight for the Union in Western battles against Northern Americans.
Twice as many died from infection during the Civil War than died during battle.
Confederate Colonel Bradley Johnson claimed he developed a plan to kidnap President Lincoln from the Soldier’s Home. This idea was dropped when Colonel Johnson was ordered into service in the Shenandoah Valley.
A Confederate sharp shooter fired at what he thought was Lincoln’s personal physician while Lincoln was visiting Fort Stevens. The physician who was shot, while standing near to Lincoln, was an assistant surgeon from the 102nd Pennsylvania volunteers.
There were political manipulations to nominate another nominee other than Lincoln as the Union Party nominee in 1864. Lincoln stayed in the race knowing he would force either support for his Administration or for antiwar Democrats to win the Presidency.
Lincoln signed a bill creating Soldier’s Homes nationwide just a few weeks before he died. There was Congressional debate over closing the Soldier’s Home where Lincoln often stayed, but Lincoln did not enter this debate.
65% of the residents in the Soldier’s Home during the Civil War were foreign born. 24% of the Union army was foreign born. Immigrant soldiers were more apt to lack a supportive family that would take them on after their injuries. A third of Soldier’s Home residents were Irish and one sixth were German.
Absentee ballots from soldiers were a new innovation for the 1864 elections. Lincoln won almost 80% of the solders’ vote. Lincoln received 55% of the total vote.
Presidents Rutherford Hayes and Chester Arthur also stayed at the Soldier’s Home. The cottage where the Presidents stayed made the National Trust’s list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2000. President Clinton then declared it a National Monument.