18 February 2008

President Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home

President Abraham Lincoln lived at the Soldiers' Home in what is now called Anderson Cottage on and off for a total of 13 months between the summer of 1862 and the fall of 1864.

The Soldiers' Home was established in 1851, as an "asylum for old and disabled veterans." The cottage there served as a retreat for Lincoln, though it brought the president face to face with the Civil War.

Wounded Union troops living at the adjacent Soldiers’ Home pitched tents and drilled on his lawn. Grave sites multiplied on the grounds.

“We have found refuge in the soldiers’ home, but in a way it brings us closer to the war than ever before,” wrote first lady Mary Lincoln.

On his daily commute to and from the White House, Lincoln discussed the front lines with wounded, active-duty soldiers in the hospitals he passed along the way. They were his eyes and ears on the battlefield. Their stories and opinions helped him decide how to wage the war.

The interaction and stories that come from his time there are considered instrumental in making Lincoln a father figure to the Union army.

When Fort Stevens, about two miles from the cottage, was under attack by Confederate troops, Lincoln went two days in a row to observe the battle. There, Lincoln became the only sitting U.S. president to come under enemy fire.

Perched on one of Washington’s highest points, with a breeze not possible three miles away at the White House, Lincoln mulled each battle’s progress. The cottage, which had a view of the Capitol’s dome midconstruction, was where Lincoln could decide how to constitutionally emancipate slaves and write the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Sources: Stars & Stripes, DefenseLink, National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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