Frequently Asked Questions

What is President Lincoln’s Cottage?

President Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation while living in a Gothic Revival Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC. Lincoln’s time at the Cottage served as bookends for Civil War — he first visited the grounds three days after his inauguration and last rode out to the site the day before his assassination. While living at the Cottage for 13 months from June-November of 1862-1864, Lincoln regularly commuted to the White House. The Cottage opened to the public in 2008, and is run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private, non-profit organization, through an agreement with the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

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Abraham Lincoln – Fascinating Facts

grateful-american-lincolnAbraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865): Considered one of the great presidents of the United States, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president. Lincoln served as President from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.

Big accomplishments: Lincoln led the United States through the Civil War, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.

Background: Reared in rural Kentucky and Indiana by an impoverished family, Lincoln held various odd jobs throughout his early years. By the 1830s, Lincoln became a self-educated lawyer and statesmen in the Illinois legislature. Lincoln was a staunch advocate of rapid economic modernization through banking, canals, railroads, and tariffs to encourage the building of factories. Lincoln served a single term in Congress in the late 1840s where he notably opposed the war with Mexico and criticized the presence of slavery in the nation’s capital.

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A Close Call at Fort Stevens

By Cyrus Beschloss, 2014 summer intern at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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Harper’s Weekly’s depiction of President Lincoln getting involved in the Battle of Fort Stevens (Published October 1st, 1864). Credit: Lehrman Institute. Abraham Lincoln and Soldiers. N.d. N.p.

Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Fort Stevens, between Union forces led by Generals McCook and Wright, against the Confederates, led by General Early. Fort Stevens, located just 1.5 miles from the Cottage in Washington D.C., was one of 68 forts that surronded the capital, providing defensive support throughout the war. The Battle, which took place from July 11-12, 1864, was the only Civil War battle to take place within the borders of Washington.

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Three Cheers for Old Abe

By Cyrus Beschloss, 2014 summer intern at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Beschloss 1Baseball season is in full swing, and fans across the country feel a distinct buzz in the air as the famed MLB All-Star game approaches. Every year, before each All-Star Game, fans of Major League Baseball reminisce about the captivating yet humble beginnings of the sport. With the All-Star Game just next week, it’s important to look back and recognize the sport’s history in order to fully appreciate the glory of the game that is baseball. Fans often fondly remember General Abner Doubleday, the Union General who is falsely credited as being the architect of the ground rules of Baseball, as we know them today. What might surprise most people, however, is the extent to which one of history’s most monumental figures reveled in the new game. To fully comprehend the significance of President Lincoln attending—and possibly even participating—in baseball games, one must understand the context of the arduous tasks and burdensome challenges he faced at such a critical juncture in this nation’s history.

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New Soldiers’ Home Cemetery Website

View of the Soldiers' Home National Cemetary in 1864.

View of the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery in 1864.

In the aftermath of the First Battle of Bull Run, the Federal army created the first national cemetery adjacent to the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C. Yet the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery — today officially called the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery — has not received as much as attention as Arlington National Cemetery, its direct successor. To rectify this, two President Lincoln’s Cottage staff members have created “How Sleep the Brave: Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War,” a website that specifically details the important legacy of the USSAH National Cemetery. The goal of this website is to provide context and interpretation to the cemetery, which is open to the public (though not part of the standard Cottage tour).

In addition to predating Arlington, the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery is significant because it influenced President Lincoln when he lived at the Cottage. As he witnessed numerous burials taking place in the cemetery, the cost of war became increasingly apparent. In fact, by graphing the burials, one discovers a huge spike in the number of burials occurred between August 1862 and January 1863. Battles that summer and fall, including Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, and Antietam, produced massive casualties. Yet during this time Lincoln deliberated, drafted and defended the Emancipation Proclamation, while living at the Soldiers’ Home.

The cemetery expanded after the war as well, with several highly decorated Buffalo Soldiers as well as General John Logan, founder Memorial Day, buried on the grounds. Buffalo Soldiers, such as Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant John Denny, were the military descendents of the Colored Troops that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation authorized. Reflecting upon the military service of the Buffalo Soldiers, visitors can understand the legacy of Lincoln’s ideas about freedom. Similarly, Logan, buried after the war, helped define how we view the Civil War and its veterans’ war experiences, as he became a staunch advocate for Union veterans during his post Civil War political career.

In addition to the USSAH National Cemetery’s burials, we also discuss how the cemetery has been visualized throughout history, how Lincoln dealt with deep personal loss in addition to the impersonal burials in the cemetery, and how National Cemeteries evolved throughout the country, starting with the Soldiers’ Home and continuing through Reconstruction, Civil War anniversaries, and the present.

This project sparked the staff’s interest because the cemetery is an overlooked aspect of Lincoln’s overall Soldiers’ Home experience. So, this resource will give visitors a better understanding of the context that surrounded Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home, especially the experience of witnessing thousands of burials from his window. To that end, the site is envisioned as a collaborative effort. Please comment on the site if you have any questions or additions.

Get a chance to explore the Soldiers’ Home Cemetery firsthand, during the 2014 President Lincoln’s Cottage Memorial Day Program, on Monday May 26. For more information see: www.lincolncottage.org/memorialday2014

President Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home

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At the Soldiers’ Home just as at the White House, Abraham Lincoln shouldered the burdens of wartime leadership and personal and national tragedy. During this time of grief and stress, Lincoln often was described as sad, restless, and always anxious about the future of his country. One officer from the Union Light Guard stationed at the Soldiers’ Home encountered the President outside around midnight one evening. The officer commented:

I saw a man walking alone and leisurely across the path I was taking . . . and as I came near him I saw it was Mr. Lincoln. At an earlier hour I would have kept from speaking, but, prompted by anxiety, I said, “Mr. President, isn’t it rather risky to be out here at this hour?” He answered, “Oh, I guess not I couldn’t rest and thought I’d take a walk.” He was quite a distance outside the line of infantry guards about the house where the family was staying. He turned back after I spoke to him, and I passed on to where the escort was camped.

— Lieutenant George C. Ashmun, officer of the Union Light Guard

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An Overview of President Lincoln’s Cottage

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After a $15 million restoration by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private, non-profit organization, President Lincoln’s Cottage opened to the public for the first time in 2008, giving Americans an intimate, never-before-seen view of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and family life.

Designated a National Monument by President Clinton in 2000, President Lincoln’s Cottage served as Lincoln’s family residence for a quarter of his presidency and is where he was living when he developed his Emancipation Proclamation. President Lincoln’s Cottage is located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in northwest Washington, DC.

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The Cottage

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On a hill overlooking downtown Washington is a cottage built for George W. Riggs around 1842. Architect John Skirving designed the house in the Gothic-Revival style popularized by A.J. Downing. In 1851, the estate was sold to the Federal Government, which purchased it in order to found a home for veteran soldiers.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln lived in that cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home from June into November to escape the heat and distractions of life at the White House. The tranquil surroundings at the Soldiers’ Home offered refreshing breezes and relative privacy during a period when the President confronted all-consuming decisions about military strategy, domestic policy, and foreign relations, and could not escape Washington or his responsibilities.

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The Soldiers’ Home

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Establishment of the “Military Asylum”

The Armed Forces Retirement Home was established on March 3, 1851, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation to found “a military asylum for the relief and support of invalid and disabled soldiers of the army of the United States.” Events leading to the establishment of a military asylum had been building for a number of years, beginning with the first recommendation for a soldiers’ home in November 1827, when Secretary of War James Barbour suggested the founding of an Army Asylum in his Annual Message to the President.

…The institution bearing the above name is a large, fine building, built of stone, in castelated style, about two miles and a half from Washington, due north. The grounds are extensive and beautiful, and belong to the Government, which erected the large central building for disabled, homeless soldiers of the regular service, of whom a large number here rest from the services in the field. Near the central building are several two-story cottages… in the Gothic style, and occupied by the Surgeon in charge, the Adjutant General and other functionaries, and one is occupied during the Summer by the President and his family.

- Noah Brooks, journalist, July 4, 1863.[1]

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The Landscape

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Robert Lautman, 2000

The landscape surrounding President Lincoln’s Cottage is historically significant for its association with the life of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The Cottage is located on the campus of the Armed Forces Retirement Home (the AFRH—historically known by many names, including the Soldiers’ Home) in the northwest quadrant of Washington, District of Columbia.

The character of the landscape surrounding the Cottage is representative of its varied history. In 1842, the property was the rural, private estate of George W. Riggs. The Federal Government approved purchase of the land in 1851 for the foundation of a home to care for veterans, called the U.S. Military Asylum. The establishment of a military asylum on the grounds of the once private estate brought a shift in form and program to the landscape that continues to evolve today with the changing needs of the AFRH. Today, the 276 acre landscape features a mix of historic and modern buildings, rolling hills, wooded paths, and sweeping views of Washington, DC.

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