12 February 2009

President Lincoln Bicentennial Birthday

"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

- From the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln: 16th and first Republican President of the United States, author of the Emancipation Proclamation, savior of the Union, and whose 200th birthday we celebrate today.

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 would decide how to constitutionally emancipate slaves and write the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

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

Originally posted February 2008.

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