Lincoln's Other White House: The Untold Story of the Man and His Presidency by Elizabeth Smith Brownstein

    Lincoln at Soldiers' Home...

    Chapter 4 - Embattled Retreat  


    IF THE WHITE HOUSE WAS in the worst possible location in the nation’s capital, then the Soldiers’ Home was
    surely in one of the very best.  The contrast was more than sad—it was frightening. “There is a soap factory south
    east of the President’s Mansion,” complained Lincoln’s commissioner of public buildings, Benjamin French, to the
    Board of Health, “the stench from which, when the wind direction is South East, is almost unindurable [sic] at the
    mansion, at the Treasury Department, and at all other places in that vicinity. Mrs. Lincoln has especially
    complained concerning it.” French went even further with a warning to the United States Senate: “The Washington
    Canal [that flowed into the Potomac not far from the White House to the south] is the grand receptacle of all the
    filth of the city . . . the waste from all the public buildings, the hotels, and very many private residences is drained
    into it . . . unless something is done to clean away this immense mass of fetid and corrupt matter, the good citizens
    of Washington must, during some hot season, find themselves visited by a pestilence . . . the health of the entire
    population and the lives of thousands depend on it.” John Hay added his two cents’ worth: “The ghosts of twenty
    thousand drowned cats come in nights through the South Windows.”

    French’s warning came too late for Willie Lincoln. The pestilence he feared had already struck the White House.
    That “vast septic tank,” the Potomac, which supplied the White House with water for washing, was most probably
    the cause of the eleven-year-old boy’s death of typhoid fever in February 1862. Tad Lincoln had almost died.
    Now two of the four Lincoln boys (Eddie had died in 1850) were gone. So whatever military or political crises
    had kept the Lincolns from their eagerly anticipated retreat at the Soldiers’ Home that first summer of 1861, there
    was no way Mary would risk another summer in “the City of Stink.” And from the fall of 1861 to the spring of
    1862, the Union Army had performed well, with a succession of significant victories throughout the Confederate
    states. New
    Orleans was in Union hands; McClellan was within a few miles of the Confederate capital, Richmond.

    So the Lincolns moved out to the country in early June 1862 and didn’t return to the city until the middle of
    November. The pattern was much the same in 1863 and 1864. Their prolonged reliance on the Soldiers’ Home
    was such an obvious retreat from the miseries and dangers of living in the White House that in 1866, just one year
    after the three surviving Lincolns were gone from it, a site adjacent to the Soldiers’ Home grounds was proposed
    as the ideal place for a new presidential mansion to be built. Mary had not exaggerated when she wrote to Hannah
    Shearer, a Springfield neighbor, that the Soldiers’ Home was “a very beautiful place.” Banker George Riggs had
    chosen well the site for his new home. The land had once been part of a large plantation known as “Pleasant Hills.”
    He bought partof that very desirable real estate at auction in June 1842, impressed by the description: “[It] lies on
    a commanding height overlooking the city of Washington . . . it is distinguished by its beauty of site [and] has been
    enriched by high cultivation and contains thriving orchards of well selected fruit.” Even today, with the city closing
    in on the few hundred acres that remain of the original property, and with more buildings on the grounds to house
    over a thousand veterans, the hilltop still can be a welcome ten degrees cooler than downtown in the summer.

    Just before the family moved out to the Soldiers’ Home for the summer of 1862, Mary had written another
    Springfield neighbor, Julia Ann Sprigg, “When we are in sorrow, quiet is very necessary to us.” Both parents had
    had such high hopes for Willie, their poised, considerate, highly intelligent third son, the one most like Lincoln
    himself, people said. But unlike Thomas Jefferson’s retreat, Poplar Forest, ninety miles from Monticello, where he
    could find “the solitude of a hermit,” the Soldiers’ Home was just a few miles north of the chaos of the capital city.
    The times were so turbulent, the fighting so close by, and Lincoln’s responsibilities so overwhelming, for the family
    to find the peace they longed for at the Soldiers’ Home was next to impossible. The ride out to the Soldiers’
    Home was disturbing enough, with its rumbling ambulances, military hospitals, and contraband camps along the
    way. Everyday sounds of the immense mobilization of men and material needed to fight a war being waged on a
    continental scale surrounded them.

    A young soldier camped on the grounds wrote his brother in September 1862, “There was fifty thousand troops
    passed up 7th St. on Saturday.” This was Lincoln’s usual route into the Soldiers’ Home grounds from the White
    House, and a major commercial route from the city’s docks to the north. A year later, the same soldier wrote:
    “There is 1800 mules not far from here that keeps muleing all night and make a devilish noise.” Not only that, he
    reported, “two of the old soldiers at the home had a big fight one was stone blind and both big fat stout men the
    blind man kicked bully for him.”

    Then there was the hundred-man Company K, the president’s guard, which had arrived at the Soldiers’ Home in
    early September 1862 to provide Lincoln at last with the protection he detested (“an almost morbid dislike,” said
    his journalist friend, Noah Brooks) and eluded as often as he could. Their camp was within sight of the Lincoln
    cottage; the drills, the drums, the rifle practice, even the music of its two bands must have added to the din. At
    least once, Mary Lincoln had to ask them to stop playing. Add to that the clankings of the cavalry escort that
    accompanied Lincoln from the Soldiers’ Home into town, which made so much noise on the way that he and Mary
    could hardly hear themselves talk. On top of that was the constant traffic at the military cemetery just down the hill
    from the Soldiers’ Home as new war dead were brought in to be buried, and old dead exhumed to be taken home
    for permanent burial. The clattering telegraph installed at the Soldiers’ Home by July 1863 was sure to have
    Lincoln hovering over it, for he communicated with his field commanders at all hours of the day and night.

    On October 1, 1862, Mary Lincoln mentioned far more ominous sounds to a favorite in her most intimate circle,
    General Daniel Sickles. “When we are within hearing, as we on this elevation have been, for the last two or three
    days, of the roaring cannon, we can but pause and think.” That was not the first or the last time sounds of battle
    reached the Soldiers’ Home, and in July 1864, the war came within just a few miles as the Union Army fought off
    Jubal Early’s invasion of the capital itself in a two-day battle at Fort Stevens. Perhaps inured by then to war, the
    Lincolns didn’t flee from it; instead, they headed out to the fort to see the action for themselves.  So those who call
    the Soldiers’ Home Lincoln’s “embattled retreat” would be closer to reality. Even so, it’s unlikely the Lincolns
    would have agreed with Company K’s Private Willard Cutter when he confessed to his brother back home in
    Meadville, Pennsylvania, that he was glad when the troops moved back to the city in late October 1863. “There is
    more going on in the city than at the Soldiers’ Home.” For at the very least, the Lincolns’ house at the Soldiers’
    Home was all theirs. There were no offices or secretaries, no office seekers crowding the halls and stairways, no
    curious citizens to make off with slices of carpet, drapes, or curtains (once an entire lace curtain disappeared for
    lack of a day watchman, Commissioner French complained), and no young soldiers coming in to sit down and
    write letters (it was the people’s house, wasn’t it?). And on a sunny day, summer or winter, the Riggs cottage then,
    as it is today, was bright, airy, high-ceilinged, and spacious. The fourteen-inch thick brick exterior walls helped
    keep the house cool in the “heated season.” Architects have discovered that if the entrance door on the north side
    and the jib windows on the south side facing the city are kept open, fresh, clean air circulates throughout the house.
    (The National Trust may continue to rely largely on this natural ventilation in the preserved cottage.) Seven marble-
    manteled fireplaces still in place today would have provided some warmth in the colder months, and the cottage
    kitchen was “nice and warm—a good coal fire is burning all night,” Private Cutter was pleased to find.  Lincoln
    was noticeably impatient to escape the White House for the Soldiers’ Home by four or five o’clock every
    afternoon, but it seems he was too courteous, perhaps too curious, and even hopeful for a rare bit of good news,
    to send anyone away who followed him out there, no matter what the hour. And plenty did. Some callers arrived
    so late at night that the servant who opened the door saw fit to comment on their intrusion. Ironically, it is thanks to
    that very intrusiveness that we have some of the most dramatic and poignant images of the president that exist.
    Some visitors were so desperate, some so angry, others so embarrassed by their thoughtlessness once they got a
    look at Lincoln, they paid little attention to the house itself. So it is not surprising that all we have are a few
    references to “a dark parlor,” a “dimly lighted hall,” and just a few hints of “a scantily furnished sort of parlor,” “a
    plainly furnished room” with a marble table in the center, “a neatly furnished drawing room,” “a haircloth-covered
    sofa,” a chandelier.

    But of Lincoln himself, the impressions were vivid. As late as August 1864, Lincoln appeared to one group of late-
    nighttime callers “holding a candle high above his head” to light his way downstairs, “clad in decidedly scant attire,”
    most likely his nightshirt, for we know from other accounts that he was delightfully unaware of how he looked in it
    when he had something else on his mind. (“He seemed to dislike clothing and in private wore as little of it as he
    could,” wrote the humorist David Ross Locke, creator of a favorite Lincoln character, Petroleum V. Nasby). He
    sometimes even “perambulate[d] through the [White] House” in his nightshirt, perhaps to share an amusing story
    with John Hay and John Nicolay, who slept there, or to dance a jig with the naval officer and general who brought
    good news to him in the middle of the night.  When Lincoln realized there were women with these particular
    nighttime visitors, however, one of them recorded that he “beat a retreat and soon reappeared in more suitable
    apparel” to listen to their story.

    Colonel Silas W. Burt’s nighttime visit to the Soldiers’ Home in 1863 was so excruciating that he refused for years
    to talk about it publicly. “It was very evident,” Burt finally wrote many years later, “that [Lincoln] had just got up
    from his bed, or had been very nearly into it when we were announced.” Burt was appalled by Lincoln’s
    appearance that evening. “It was the face that in every line told the story of anxiety and weariness. [It] was so
    pitiful that I could almost have fallen on my knees and begged pardon for my part in the cruel presumption and
    impudence that had thus invaded his repose.” The president tried to keep awake during his visit, which began well
    after nine o’clock. “But the gaunt figure of the President had gradually slid lower on that slippery sofa, and his long
    legs were stretched out in front, the loose slippers half fallen from his feet, while the drowsy eyelids had almost
    closed over his eyes, and his jaded features had taken on the suggestion of relaxation in sleep.” It was June 26,
    1863. Colonel Burt and his party did not know that the president had just made the agonizing decision to remove
    General Joseph Hooker, whom he liked very much, from command of the Army of the Potomac after his defeat at
    Chancellorsville, and to replace him with General George Meade just a few days before the critical battle of
    Gettysburg. It was Lincoln’s third change in the command of the hapless Army of the Potomac in one year.  As if
    their timing weren’t bad enough, after Burt’s group had delivered its message of support from a formidable
    Democratic opponent, the governor of New York, Horatio Seymour, which Lincoln did not appear to regard as
    particularly significant, one of Burt’s companions that night, a major, who Burt noticed too late on the way out, had
    had too much whiskey, proceeded to slap the exhausted Lincoln on the knee and say, “Mr. President, tell us one
    of your good stories. . . . If the floor had opened and dropped me out of sight,” Burt recalled, “I should have been
    happy.” Lincoln contained himself, but turned his back on the major, and then explained in words Burt wrote down
    that same night:

    I believe I have the popular reputation of being a story-teller, but I do not deserve the name in its general sense; for
    it is not the story itself, but its purpose, or its effect, that interests me. I often avoid a long and useless discussion by
    others or a laborious explanation on my part by a short story that illustrates my point of view.  So, too, the
    sharpness of a refusal or the edge of a rebuke may be blunted by an appropriate story, so as to save wounded
    feeling and yet serve the purpose. No, I am not simply a story-teller, but storytelling as an emollient saves me much
    friction and distress.

    More tersely and poignantly, Lincoln once put it another way: “I laugh because I must not weep. That’s all, that’s
    all.”  Fortunately, some would-be visitors lost their way in “the intricacies of this labyrinth,” as Lincoln’s old friend,
    attorney Leonard Swett, described the route to the Soldiers’ Home, wooded and pitch black at night. Even in the
    daytime, it took sixteen-year-old drummer boy Harry Kieffer from noon to nightfall to find his way there from the
    city. When he finally arrived, a certain casualness was evident in the reception he got from the soldiers who had
    guarded Lincoln briefly before their unit went into battle. “Halt! Who goes there? A friend. Advance, friend, and
    give the countersign. Hello, Elias! said I, peering through the bushes, is that you? That isn’t the countersign, friend.
    You’d better give the countersign, or you’re a dead man.” This banter went on for some time until Kieffer, who
    had been in the hospital with heat exhaustion, was marched off to bed with instructions to “beat reveille at
    daybreak.”

    As soon as the Lincolns moved out of the White House for their first season at the Soldiers’ Home, they learned
    that enough of the essential, even the extraneous, visitors could find their way there day or night. Jay Cooke, the
    “financier of the Civil War” and key adviser to Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury, Salmon P. Chase, was one of
    the first to describe the warlike atmosphere at the Soldiers’ Home. One night in the fall of 1862, he arrived to find
    Lincoln “surrounded by a small army of officers and civilians coming and going.”  Lincoln asked Cooke to wait
    until ten that evening, when the others would be gone. Cooke had already been phenomenally successful at raising
    millions of dollars for the war effort, and would continue to be so throughout the war and afterward. But he was
    convinced that General George Brinton McClellan, the “young Napoleon,” had to go. By then, Cooke had
    become totally disenchanted, as was Lincoln, by McClellan’s whining, procrastinating, even paranoid performance
    as head of the Army of the Potomac. (Some called him “Oliver Twist II” because he was always asking for more:
    troops, horses, anything, it seemed, to avoid action.) To Cooke, McClellan’s notorious “slows,” as Lincoln put it,
    were impeding his ability to raise the millions more needed to keep the war going. People were losing confidence,
    he argued, because they saw that McClellan “was entirely unfitted for the position of vast responsibility so
    unfortunately given him.” One week after Cooke’s Soldiers’ Home meeting, McClellan was indeed gone, despite
    pressure from his avid supporters to keep him. Cooke was relieved that “the sale of bonds increased and public
    confidence was restored.”

    Two years later, in the summer of 1864, arguably his worst both politically and militarily, Lincoln was still trudging
    down the stairs to receive visitors, in one case at midnight, to see the feisty Baltimore lawyer, Charles Gwynn. He
    was not even a political supporter, and, even more surprisingly, he was on business Lincoln had already taken care
    of, sparing the lives of several men sentenced to die the next morning as spies. Lincoln would have had every
    reason to excuse himself from meeting Gwynn at all, much less in the middle of the night. But he did not, and
    Gwynn was grateful: “Although you had decided to extend mercy to the prisoners without reference to any
    interview with me, I nevertheless acknowledge the promptness and genuine kindness, with which you exerted
    yourself to make that purpose effectual.”

    That same summer of 1864, an English lawyer, George Borrett, visited Washington, and as evidence of his earlier
    astute observation, at least as it applied to Lincoln, that “public life in America has no private side at all,” found
    himself late one night at the Soldiers’ Home, thanks to the daughter of a Treasury official. Borrett wrote, She was
    emphatically one of those strong-minded young ladies (and what American girl is not?) who can take care of
    themselves without chaperones, and very well too. It was dark when we reached the President’s residence, so that
    we could see little of what it was like beyond the fact that it stood in a sort of park and was guarded by a regiment
    of troops encamped picturesquely about the grounds.. . . We were waited upon by a buttonless “buttons,”
    apparently the sole domestic on the premises, to whom we told our wish. He suggested that it was rather late for
    an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and as it was then considerably past eight, I thought the hint very
    reasonable. Not so the Secretary’s daughter. With ready wit and admirable aplomb, she bade the officious page to
    go in and tell his master that there were three gentlemen there, who had come three thousand miles for the express
    purpose of seeing him and his lady, and did not intend to go away until they had done so.

    “I must confess,” continued Borrett, “I was very much ashamed of myself for disturbing a quiet couple in this
    unceremonious way, but it seemed to be all en règle . . . we had sat there but a few minutes, when there entered
    through the folding doors [a] long, lanky, lathlike figure with hair ruffled, and eyes very sleepy and . . . feet
    enveloped in carpet slippers.” Borrett’s initial reaction to seeing Lincoln in the city from afar earlier that day had
    been patronizing and harsh: Lincoln was “very ugly, and awkward and ungainly.” But as the conversation in the
    parlor went on and on, “briskly kept up by the President,” and covering everything from the United States
    Constitution, comparative legal systems, and problems of land acquisition in the two countries, to his early life and
    English poetry, Borrett, like so many others, became a convert: “Sit and talk with him for an hour, and note the
    instinctive kindliness of his every thought and word, and say if you have ever known a warmer-hearted noble spirit
    . . . one of the great historical characters of this century.” Mrs. Lincoln, less inclined than her husband to be
    imposed upon, did not appear that evening.

    On at least one spectacular occasion, Lincoln was not so hospitable to those who interrupted his evening peace.
    “It was late Saturday afternoon,” wrote John R. French, a former journalist, and now a Treasury employee. “Mr.
    Lincoln had left [the White House] wearier even than was his wont, for his retreat at the Soldiers’ Home; and in
    the hope of an undisturbed evening, and a quiet Sabbath, that he might gather some strength for the coming week,
    expected to be one of stirring events.” (The Battle of Second Bull Run was about to begin in late August, 1862,
    hopefully giving Lincoln the military victory he had been advised to claim before announcing his preliminary
    Emancipation Proclamation.) French arrived with a Colonel Scott, who wanted Lincoln’s permission, over
    Secretary of War Stanton’s refusal, to enter the war zone in Virginia to retrieve the body of his wife, who had
    drowned after successfully nursing him back to health. “It was in the deepening twilight,” French remembered.
    “The House was still and dark. . . . In the gloaming, entirely alone, sat Mr. Lincoln. In his escape, as he had
    supposed, from all visitors, and weary with the care and heat of the day, he had thrown off coat and shoes, and
    with a large palm-leaf fan in his hand, as he reposed in a broad chair, one leg hanging over its arm, he seemed to
    be in deep thought, perhaps studying the chances of the impending battle.” After hearing the colonel’s story,
    “Lincoln rose to his feet, and in a voice of mingled vexation and sadness, asked: ‘Am I to have no rest? Is there no
    hour or spot when or where I may escape this constant call? Why do you follow me out here with such business as
    this? . . . Go to the War Department. Your business belongs there. If they cannot help you, then bear your burden,
    as we all must, until this war is over. Everything must yield to the paramount duty of finishing the war.’ ” The
    colonel and his companion were stunned by this “totally unexpected rebuff” and left in despair.  But the next
    morning, Sunday, that longed-for quiet day now ruined for the president, the colonel was astonished to find Lincoln
    at his hotel room door, apologizing: “I was a brute last night!” Lincoln had already made all the necessary
    arrangements for the colonel to get to his wife’s body. “I have my carriage here and will go with you to the wharf .
    . . notwithstanding my apparent indifference last night, I honor you from the bottom of my heart for your manly love
    for your wife and devotion to her memory.”

    Lincoln’s extraordinary memory saved another larger entourage from a similar rebuff. The group had arrived late
    one night that same summer, awakening Lincoln to plead for the lives of three alleged Confederate spies who were
    to hang the next morning. It did not take Lincoln long to recollect that a couple in the group, a Mr. and Mrs.
    Gittings, had helped save Mary Lincoln and their three sons from a potentially violent attack by an angry mob as
    they passed through Baltimore on their way to his inauguration three years before. Lincoln said, “Madam, I owe
    you a debt. . . . You took my family into your home in the midst of a hostile mob. . . . You gave my family succor
    and helped them on their way. That debt has never been paid, and I am glad of the opportunity to do so now, for I
    shall save the lives of these men.” When Mrs. Gittings showed up once again, however, Lincoln ignored her plea
    for the life of another condemned Confederate officer. He felt that he already had liquidated his debt.

    After-hours or early-morning interruptions by members of his cabinet, political supporters, and even influential
    opponents were at least more understandable. “I go there, unattended, at all hours, by daylight and moonlight, by
    starlight and without any light,” said Secretary of State William Seward, rather poetically, if somewhat vainly. Both
    he and first-term vice president Hannibal Hamlin met with Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home until midnight more than
    once.

    For one summer, at least, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton occupied another house on the Soldiers’ Home
    grounds, which surely meant many meetings between the two men there. Senator Orville Hickman Browning was a
    long-time friend and confidant of the new president until the two men’s views on the advisability of an
    Emancipation Proclamation divided them. He visited the Soldiers’ Home four times, usually at night, in the summer
    of 1862. (He appeared at the White House almost every day.) Browning seemed inclined to bring others along
    with him to the Soldiers’ Home. One politician he brought had been so obviously hoping for advancement that
    Lincoln hurried Browning out to the steps of the house to talk about something else, ending their conversation by
    reciting a few verses from a popular poem, “Fanny,” which satirized a nouveau riche father and daughter those
    social pretensions caused their ultimate ruin. Browning could not understand why Lincoln found the “ludicrous
    conclusion” so amusing. Surrounded as he was by so many climbers and poseurs, it is not so surprising that
    Lincoln laughed.

    Perhaps the most important and interesting visitor Browning brought with him—for breakfast on June 18, 1862—
    was “the great New York Merchant,” philanthropist, and contractor for supplies to the Union Army and Navy,
    Alexander T. Stewart, an Irish immigrant, a brilliant businessman, and a staunch Republican with strong views on
    how the army was being led. He had no confidence in McClellan by that time, either. Stewart’s enormous “marble
    emporium” on Broadway, carrying the latest fashions and setting new and clever standards for service, provided
    him by that time with an average annual income of two million dollars. Mary Todd Lincoln had bought several
    thousand dollars’ worth of rugs and curtains there in one day the year before for her White House renovation, and
    Stewart had given her a dinner party. He also presented her with an expensive shawl, and as has always been the
    case with first ladies, it was difficult for Mary to distinguish between a gift, a bribe, and an expected purchase. She,
    of course, preferred to consider it a gift, but Stewart sent her a bill four months later. Henry James was certainly
    correct when he described Stewart’s store as “fatal to feminine nerves.” Mary couldn’t stay away, and ended up
    heavily in debt to Stewart after Lincoln’s assassination. He threatened to sue, but there is no evidence that he ever
    did.

    Washington was not considered a prestigious post for foreign diplomats in those days, but from Lincoln’s
    perspective, keeping Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy was vital. Relations with Britain were
    particularly volatile throughout the war, beginning as early as December 1861. Fortunately for Lincoln, her majesty’
    s representative in Washington was the seasoned, wily, albeit humorless Lord Lyons, Richard Bickerton Pemmell
    Lyons. He found the summer heat of the capital “abominable . . . overwhelming” and was undoubtedly grateful for
    the opportunity to feel the cool breezes at the Soldiers’ Home.

    Secretary of State William Seward had arranged for Lyons to visit Lincoln there at eight-thirty one Sunday evening
    in June 1863. It perhaps still rankled the president that, in order to avoid fighting a second war in December 1861,
    he had had to surrender two Confederate envoys whom an overly zealous United States Navy captain, Charles
    Wilkes, had taken from a British mail steamer, the Trent. Lyons had worked brilliantly to defuse that dangerous
    crisis. Confederate actions launched against the Union from the British possession, Canada, were a constant and
    dangerous irritant, and it didn’t help at all that British shipyards were building blockade runners and commerce
    raiders for the Confederate Navy, with devastating consequences for Union shipping. But Lincoln was in a good
    mood that Sunday, John Hay noted. In the morning, he’d even written an atrocious bit of doggerel about Lee’s
    retreat from Pennsylvania.  And by then, Lincoln and Lord Lyons had arrived at a relationship Lyons described as
    “affectionate.” Commissioner French noted that Lord Lyons “was received with peculiar distinction & seemed to
    be particularly pleased to be present.”

    Lyons kept himself extremely well informed through a powerful intelligence network that extended from Canada to
    Mexico to Cuba, softening up members of Congress with the best champagne (he’d come with a hundred bottles),
    which of course would not have worked with teetotaling Lincoln. But Lincoln must have recognized and
    appreciated that Lyons, too, was working himself to exhaustion to keep the two countries from colliding. “I have
    no time to think whether I am amused or not,” Lyons wrote the British foreign minister, Lord Russell. In just one
    year, his tiny legation had sent over eight thousand dispatches and letters, and had received six and a half thousand,
    most if not all of which Lyons had read and signed. Lincoln was not above teasing diplomats, and Lyons, a
    bachelor, came in for his share. When he announced formally to Lincoln that Queen Victoria’s daughter was now
    married, Lincoln responded, “Go thou and do likewise.” This was not to be. Despite the urgings of Queen Victoria
    herself, Lyons had long ago taken his position. “I am afraid marriage is better never than late. The American
    women are undoubtedly very pretty, but my heart is too old and too callous to be wounded by their charms.”

    Another victim of Lincoln’s teasing, said to be an unnamed foreign minister, had been assured by Lincoln that the
    fruit of the persimmon tree they were passing by (which Lincoln explained was “our golden yellow wrong-side-out,
    a very delicious plum imported from Patagonia”) was “far superior to pears. In order to get the exquisite ripeness
    you must eat very rapidly.” When the diplomat bit into the bitter fruit and realized he’d been tricked, Lincoln
    roared with delight, undiplomatically as that might have appeared to some. By mid-August 1864, it was obvious
    that Lincoln was half dead with war weariness and worry. “Careworn,” the adjective used most often to describe
    his appearance, was no longer adequate. There was good reason: Lincoln believed his defeat for reelection that
    November was a distinct possibility, and if he did lose, the victors would then agree to “the dismemberment of the
    Union.” Three years of death and destruction would have been in vain. Richmond had not yet fallen, and the
    hundred thousand casualties in the Army of the Potomac over the past three years had accomplished next to
    nothing. Criticism of his handling of the war was more intense than ever. Even his old friend Browning wrote, “I
    fear he is a failure.” After his victory in November, Lincoln told his dear old friend, Joshua Speed, “I am a little
    alarmed about myself; just feel my hand.” It was “cold and clammy,” Speed said, and Lincoln then put his
    stockinged feet so close to the fire they steamed. Would it have been less tragic for the nation had Lincoln not lived
    through his second term? Mary certainly thought that was a possibility.

    “Poor Mr. Lincoln is looking so broken-hearted, so completely worn out, I fear he will not get through the next
    four years.” So the Soldiers’ Home did not turn out to be quite the tranquil haven he and Mary had hoped for.
    Others who visited could see that: “Says Gov [Alexander] Randall,” wrote Judge Joseph Mills in his diary after the
    two Wisconsin politicians visited the Soldiers’ Home in mid-August 1864, “why cant you Mr. P seek some place
    of retirement for a few weeks. you would be reinvigorated. Aye said the President, 3 weeks would do me no
    good—my thoughts my solicitude for this great country follow me where ever I go.” And Willie was never far from
    his thoughts, either. Nor from Mary’s, who wrote to her friend Mrs. Charles Eames, a prominent Washington
    social leader, from the Soldiers’ Home in July 1862, “In the loss of our idolized boy, we naturally have suffered
    such intense grief that a removal from the scene of our misery was found very necessary. Yet, in this sweet spot,
    that his bright nature, would have so well loved, he is not with us, and the anguish of the thought, oftentimes, for
    days overcomes me.” Laura Redden, a deaf journalist who wrote under the name Howard Glyndon, saw Mary at
    the Soldiers’ Home months after Willie’s death, and found that “her affliction seemed as fresh as ever.”

    But Mary at least could leave town altogether, and hope that her own grief over Willie’s death and her worries
    about the war and her husband’s survival would stay behind. Every summer she and the boys escaped, leaving
    Lincoln alone at the Soldiers’ Home for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. This was quite the reverse of their
    experience in Springfield, where Lincoln’s law practice took him away for as much as a third of the year. Resentful
    though she had been back then, unconscious retaliation for those absences was surely not Mary’s motivation. She
    was terrified that the dreaded “miasma” permeating Washington in the summertime, and feared by everyone,
    would kill the two boys she had left. Robert was out of danger at college in Boston or visiting friends for much of
    the time, but Tad, their “troublesome little sunshine,” was frail, often ill, and affected by the death and tension all
    around him. Still, there was much all the Lincolns loved about the Soldiers’ Home—“that sweet spot”—that would
    keep them coming back to it.

    In her 1862 letter to Mrs. Eames, Mary added that “We are truly delighted with this retreat, the drives and walks
    around here are delightful.” Visits from Elizabeth Blair Lee, her gossipy “in the know” friend, must have been a
    pleasure. From Chicago in August 1865, Mary would write her, “How dearly I loved the Soldiers Home & I little
    supposed, one year since, that I should be so far removed from it, broken hearted, and praying for death, to
    remove me, from a life so full of agony.” Mary kept a photograph of the cottage in the Lincoln family album, the
    strongest evidence for the Lincolns’ occupancy. Mary had asked Commissioner French for three thousand dollars
    in May 1864 to fix it up. This is somewhat puzzling, because Lincoln’s chances of reelection that fall were so
    uncertain. It may have been Mary’s way of keeping her mind off her own troubles, which included serious debt her
    husband knew nothing about, but which would have been revealed had he been defeated. Her beautification attack
    on the Riggs cottage was as ambitious as her renovation of the shabby White House had been. It’s more than
    likely that the cottage had served a utilitarian function for the Soldiers’ Home institution itself in the wintertime, and
    at the very least, needed a thorough cleaning before Mary would move her family in. Commissioner French’s
    invoices to John Alexander, a local home furnishings merchant, listed “washing floors, windows and
    paint—$81.01, 4 large buckets $8.00, 3 large scrub brushes $3.60, 3 mops $6.50, cleaning chair covers
    $27.00.” Mirrors and paintings were rehung, chair covers repaired and cleaned. Then Mary went full tilt at the
    decoration.  If their Springfield home was any indication, the wallpaper she ordered from Alexander was the latest
    fashion, colorful, with lots of glitter. Years later, during her self-imposed exile in Europe, she would write to her
    daughter-in-law, Mary Harlan Lincoln, “papering is a great improvement—makes a house look homelike—use it
    all the different patterns . . . you never see a place in E[urope] which is not papered.” Mary ordered enough rolls
    to paper eight of the cottage’s many rooms! Yards and yards of expensive cocoa matting were also ordered, to be
    laid over the pine floors. Lincoln may have worn those loose carpet slippers that visitors commented on to keep
    from damaging the matting, or scratching his feet, which in any event, always gave him great discomfort. (He was
    overjoyed to find a foot doctor who was so effective that Lincoln wanted to send him into the field to minister to
    foot-weary troops.) The Alexander invoices mention carpeting for the halls and staircases. All the handsome
    marble mantelpieces in the cottage remained. So did the shellacked pine paneling in the library.

    Some hints do exist of the private, more social, even relaxed times at the Soldiers’ Home, perhaps evenings of
    whist, chess, singing, or checkers, assisted by a small staff (just a cook, a manservant, and a housekeeper). On
    September 30, 1862, Mary invited her controversial but “kind-hearted” friend, General Daniel Sickles, to come
    out to the Soldiers’ Home for a really good chat, because “we always have so many evening callers, that our
    conversations, necessarily are general.” Mary was restrained, she told Sickles, “because Mr. L. has so much to
    excite his mind, with fears for the Army, that I am quite considerate in expressing my doubts and fears to him
    concerning passing events.” (There is considerable evidence quite to the contrary in the Lincolns’ relationship;
    Lincoln knew very well Mary’s opinion of General Grant—“a butcher,” that Secretary of State Seward was not to
    be trusted, and that the cabinet was full of her husband’s enemies.)

    Mary encouraged other friends to visit the Lincolns at the Soldiers’ Home. To Brigadier General George Ramsay,
    Chief of Ordnance, in July 1864 Mary wrote, “It is such a pleasure, especially, at such a charming place as this, to
    receive one’s friends. I trust that Mrs. Ramsey [sic] Miss R. & yourself will favor me by frequently driving out
    these delightful evenings.” Secretary of War Edwin Stanton didn’t like Ramsay, and Mary didn’t like Stanton, so
    there was more to this invitation than meets the eye. Affable, courteous, courageous Ramsay, whom the president
    also admired and trusted, had risked his career in the second year of the war by disobeying Stanton’s order, just
    before the battle of Antietam, to ship all the weapons stored in his arsenal out of Washington to New York.

    Thanks to Ramsay’s not following the order, the arms were available for McClellan at that crucial battle, and
    Lincoln was able at last to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on the strength of it. But Stanton, in
    retaliation, then placed Ramsay in an untenable position as Chief of Ordnance, and soon after Mary’s invitation he
    got rid of him altogether.

    Several visitors actually did think it appropriate to use the word “entertainment” at the Soldiers’ Home, and the
    Lincolns were charming, experienced hosts. Lincoln liked to serve dinner guests himself. With the “elasticity of
    spirits” Judge Mills noted in his diary, Lincoln was able to turn quickly from their intense discussion that night of the
    disastrous consequences for the country if he were to be defeated for reelection, to pleasure. He “entertained us
    with reminiscences of the past . . . it is such social tete a tetes among his friends that enables Mr. Lincoln to endure
    mental toils & application that would crush any other man. The President now in full flow of spirits, scattered his
    repartee in all directions.” Stalwart family nurse Rebecca Pomroy saw the same quality: “The strong will of the man
    combined with his wonderful facility in extracting comfort out of the pleasant trivialities of everyday life.”

    Together with the theater—Shakespeare’s plays of civil war and succession quite understandably Lincoln’s
    preference by far—storytelling, even storytelling contests, were his favorite form of entertainment. Hugh
    McCulloch, who would become Lincoln’s third secretary of the treasury in 1865, visited the Soldiers’ Home one
    autumn evening in 1864. The postmaster general and a few of Lincoln’s personal friends were there. “For two
    hours there was a constant run of story-telling—Lincoln leading and [the postmaster] following— a contest
    between them as to which should tell the best story and provoke the heartiest laughter. The stories were not such
    as would be listened to with pleasure by very refined ears, but they were exceedingly funny. The verdict of the
    listeners was that, while the stories were equally good, Mr. Lincoln had displayed the most humor and skill.”

    Journalist Noah Brooks described several of those casual evenings: “A little party from the city was being
    entertained at Mr. Lincoln’s summer White House . . . the President, standing with his back to the fire and his legs
    spread apart, recited from memory” a story of the popular Civil War humorist Orpheus C. Kerr [Robert Henry
    Newell] that satirized Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, who, Kerr claimed, was very busy examining a model
    of Noah’s Ark with a view of introducing it into the United States Navy. Then Lincoln asked his guests not to tell
    Welles about the story because it might hurt his feelings, explaining later to a somewhat offended Brooks that one
    of the guests that evening was “a leaky vessel” and this was Lincoln’s subtle way of warning the man against
    repeating what he might hear at the Soldiers’ Home. On another evening at the Soldiers’ Home, Brooks wrote,
    Lincoln stood again before the fireplace and recited from memory one of his favorite “Petroleum V. Nasby”
    [David Ross Locke] letters, another character whose influence on public opinion of the day was significant. Lincoln
    lulled an overworked John Hay to sleep one evening there, reading “the end of Henry VI, and the beginning of
    Richard III, until my heavy eyelids caught his considerate notice & he sent me to bed.”

    Most listeners were sensitive enough to appreciate that storytelling in particular was Lincoln’s safety valve, as he
    had explained to Colonel Silas Burt, a nineteenth-century version of antidepressant medication, if you will.
    Pompous, hostile General McClellan, of course, thought Lincoln’s stories were “ever unworthy of one holding his
    high position, at least on public occasions.” Curiously enough, Frederick Douglass never saw that side of Lincoln.
    “I could as well dance at a funeral as to jest in the presence of such a man.”  It would not be correct to assume
    that when men came out to the Soldiers’ Home with their wives, conversations were any less freighted. Mary
    Todd Lincoln was not the only Civil War wife with political savvy who was intensely watchful of her husband’s
    reputation. Mrs. Margaret Heintzelman went to see Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home on August 8, 1862, at her
    husband’s request. At the time, General Samuel Heintzelman was commanding McClellan’s Third Corps during
    the ill-fated Peninsula Campaign. Margaret and her husband had been in constant communication in the weeks
    before her  appointment with Lincoln, sometimes with daily letters discussing his frustrations and concerns.

    Heintzelman was distraught over the prospect of withdrawal of Union troops from the Peninsula. “If it is done the
    country is ruined,” he wrote in his journal. “All we want is reinforcements that are within reach and we will
    advance. . . . It is sad to see the imbecility in Washington. . . . Reinforce us and we will take Richmond.” But he
    had not been able to get leave to argue his own case, and so Mrs. Heintzelman went instead, and the day after her
    visit, she sent Lincoln a long abstract outlining her husband’s views, which she had discussed with Lincoln in surely
    more politic but still strong terms the previous evening. But the Army of the Potomac was withdrawn, and
    Heintzelman was furious. As the troops retreated, he ordered the regimental musicians to “Play! Play! It is all you’
    re good for.  Play, damn it! Play some marching tune. Play Yankee Doodle, or any doodle you can think of, only
    play something!” The general’s only visit to the Soldiers’ Home the following summer was purely for pleasure, not
    to see Lincoln. Even during the war, the beautiful grounds were a favorite destination for sweltering city dwellers.
    But even that excursion backfired. “Warm! Warm! Clear 91 degrees. It was too dusty to be pleasant.”
    Heintzelman gets little attention in broad Civil War histories, but some of his colleagues felt his achievements
    throughout the war, including his defense of the capital, had been greatly underestimated. They wrote to Lincoln
    that he was “rust[ing] out” unfairly in one of his later backwater assignments. Mary Lincoln may have wanted to
    make some amends for all that by telling the general at the White House in April 1863 that his son Charles would
    indeed be going to West Point. In response to one of Lincoln’s classic equivocations about the appointment to
    Heintzelman earlier that year, the general wrote in his journal, “Was ever such an endorsement made?”

    Several officers in command at the Soldiers’ Home installation became friendly with the Lincolns over their three
    seasons, and they must have provided company for Lincoln when Mary and the boys were away. Deputy
    Governor Thomas L. Alexander had run the Home since 1858, and he was apparently a gem: a kind, modest man
    who put the soldiers’ welfare before his own. Shortly after Alexander resigned in 1864, having lost out on a
    promotion to the governorship of the institution, Lincoln wrote General-in-Chief Henry Halleck the next best thing
    to a recommendation: “The relations between Colonel Alexander and myself at the Soldiers’ Home have been very
    agreeable, and I feel a great kindness for him and his family.” It is difficult today, looking at the Home’s large,
    wellstocked library, for example, to appreciate how hard Alexander had to fight to get any amenities at all for the
    veterans, including basic reading material. He knew how dissatisfied they had been with their treatment. The year
    he arrived, for example, about a quarter of the men had complained to a United States senator that the funds they
    provided to the home were being misused, and that they felt imprisoned there. In 1862, there was even more to
    grouse about. The Board of Commissioners of the Home voted to discontinue the veterans’ tobacco allowance,
    and made other economy moves so unpopular they had to be rescinded the next month. Alexander tried to put in a
    bowling alley, a smoking room (no smoking was allowed in the men’s quarters), a laundry room, and a bathhouse.
    Only the latter two survived the board’s consideration. Alexander also wanted a decent library for the men, and
    was able to add historical works and novels to the Bibles and few newspapers already authorized. If there was any
    truth to the  accusations that Alexander was actually a rebel sympathizer and “his wife an avid secessionist,”
    Lincoln didn’t seem to notice, although the first deputy governor of the Home and the first secretary-treasurer had
    indeed resigned to serve in the Confederate army. Elizabeth Blair Lee, Mary’s good friend, wrote her husband that
    she’d had to assure Mary that [the Alexanders] “were the best & most loyal hearted people in the world,” and that
    Sallie Alexander had insisted, “If we were secesh I would be vastly more afraid of her, but as I am not I anticipate
    her residence there with great pleasure.”

    Mary was more than disappointed when the Alexanders left, but not so with the Home’s surgeon, Dr. Benjamin
    King, who was not the kind of man to hide whatever light he had under a barrel. King, who had been at the
    Soldiers’ Home in one capacity or another since its founding in 1851, was cantankerous, demanding, self-satisfied,
    and as opinionated as he was quarrelsome. He’d resigned in a huff more than once, declaring in his 1859 effort
    that “four-fifths of the inmates [or “members” as they were called by the time the Lincolns lived there] are good
    and excellent men while others are so bad as to put to shame a penitentiary convict.” But Lincoln took his chances
    with them. He sometimes ate with the veterans, and one of them said that Lincoln was very kind and familiar with
    them all. At any one time, between ninety-nine and a hundred and forty-two members resided at the Soldiers’
    Home over the five Civil War years.

    Journalist Brooks observed that “no family that ever lived in the Executive Mansion was so irregular in its method
    of living as were the Lincolns.” As Tad’s pet goat was able to find its way unhindered up the stairs to rest on the
    boy’s bed at the Soldiers’ Home cottage, life there was probably even more so. Mary and Tad were away at the
    time “Nanny” went exploring in the house, having eaten so many of the flowers in the garden she was ultimately
    exiled to the White House, but the tone of Lincoln’s letter describing the animal’s behavior is so playful, it’s clear
    he expected Mary to be just as amused as he was. (She never received the letter. Somehow it came into the hands
    of a soldier, who turned it over to a postmaster in upstate New York, who returned it to Lincoln the following
    spring.) Evidently a sizable menagerie (ponies, goats, cats, and once, perhaps, Jack the turkey) made the annual
    move from the White House to the Soldiers’ Home. Tad refused to leave the city until all were accounted for.
    Lincoln himself once went looking for Tad’s cat before the long wagon caravan of family, furniture, and pets could
    set off. Lincoln didn’t mind at all when the kittens Secretary Seward’s family had given his boys climbed all over
    him even as he worked. After all, as far back as 1848, while Lincoln was in Congress, Mary Todd Lincoln wrote
    to her “dear boy” from her father’s house in Lexington, Kentucky, “Boby [sic: Robert Todd Lincoln] came across
    in a yard, a kitten, your hobby.” When Mary’s stepmother found he’d brought it into the house, she ordered that it
    be thrown out, much to the boy’s and Mary’s distress. One account of Lincoln’s inaugural journey to Washington
    describes his stopping the train when he saw a terrapin beside the tracks. He had it brought into the train for Tad
    to play with. The two of them would play for hours with the pet goats on the White House lawn, which Lincoln
    insisted to Mary’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, would come when he called. Their antics provided him with
    some diversion. “‘See, Madam Elizabeth—my pets recognize me . . . there they go again; what jolly fun! And he
    laughed outright as the goats bounded swiftly to the other side of the yard.’” Lincoln’s thought then turned,
    according to Madam Keckley, to the real bounders, the bounty hunters and their agents, the men who “plunder the
    national treasure in the name of patriotism.”

    As for meals, when Mrs. Lincoln was away, “I generally browse around,” Lincoln told some visitors. His general
    disinterest in what he ate suggests a certain casualness about mealtimes, and perhaps explains Tad’s frequent
    appearances at Company K’s mess at dinnertime.

    The Lincolns were extraordinarily permissive parents by Victorian standards. Even their eldest son, the somewhat
    stuffy, publicity shy Robert (“all Todd”), could get annoyed at Tad’s constant and clever pranks. But Lincoln
    insisted, “It is my pleasure that my children are free—happy and unrestrained by parental tyranny. Love is the
    chain whereby to lock a child to its parents.” Neither he nor Mary had had a particularly happy childhood. (Mary’
    s was “desolate,” she said.) Lincoln’s was no better.

    Only seven years old when the Lincolns arrived in Washington, Tad was the focus of attention for the better part of
    the Lincolns’ life in the capital. Robert was studying at Harvard most of the time. For those who did not think Tad
    was a spoiled brat, he provided what we might call today comic relief—finding the mechanism that would set all
    the executive mansion’s bells ringing, driving his cart and goat through the public rooms during receptions, bringing
    street urchins in for dinner, waving the Confederate flag from the White House window. He could swear like a
    trooper, and even managed to appear several times as an extra on stage at the National Theater, much to his father’
    s amusement. Tad may not have been able to read or write well, but Noah Brooks saw that he “comprehended
    many practical realities that are far beyond the grasp of most boys . . . he knew much about the costs of things, the
    details of trade, the principles of mechanics, and the habits of animals, all of which showed the activity of his mind
    and the odd turn of his thoughts.” Tad was a fearless rider, a shrewd judge of character, imaginative,
    compassionate, and utterly devoted to both his father and mother. He and Lincoln were inseparable after Willie’s
    death, appearing together even in some situations others thought inappropriate. Lincoln believed Tad “will be what
    the women all dote on—a good provider.” The boy did later provide his mother with faithful companionship in
    Chicago and then Europe, staying with her loyally during her years of wandering, and turning with dogged effort
    into a handsome, quite literate young man. But eventually Tad became so homesick and “wild to come home” to
    see Robert, his wife, and their new baby girl, that mother and son set sail for the United States from Liverpool in
    May 1871. Tad caught a cold during the passage, which turned into “pleurisy, probably tubercular in origin,” and
    died on July 15, 1871. He was just eighteen.

    After his death Mary’s reliance on spiritualism—the great quasireligious phenomenon of its day—was still alive.
    Despite her increasingly pitiful physical condition, she tried to establish contact with Tad, as she’d done with
    Willie—sometimes without the help of a medium—after his death in 1862. During the war, she’d joined millions of
    other  Americans fascinated and given solace by the claims of spiritualists to communicate with the dead. Elizabeth
    Keckley, Mary’s closest confidant for years, reached her only son,  who’d been killed in an early battle. Secretary
    of the Navy Gideon Welles and his wife, Mary Jane, hoped to communicate with their six dead children, Harriet
    Beecher Stowe with her son who had drowned, and Horace Greeley with his. Mary’s faith in spiritualism had been
    bolstered when she learned that Queen Victoria and Empress Eugenie were believers. So was Commodore
    Vanderbilt, although he apparently felt this was a way he might get new business ideas, and perhaps exorcise the
    spirits of those killed while riding in his various conveyances.  Even Frederick Douglass was said to be interested in
    the phenomenon.

    A few years before the war began, there were more spiritualists in Boston than there were abolitionists, and an
    estimated forty thousand spiritualists were operating in that city alone during the war. Lincoln, of course, was
    among the skeptics, but he attended a few séances with Mary, who was convinced that a well-known medium in
    Georgetown had indeed “made wonderful revelations to her about her little son Willy,” the adored child who had
    been so promising, so like Lincoln himself. On a drive out to the Soldiers’ Home on New Year’s Day 1863, Mary
    revealed to Orville Hickman Browning that the Georgetown medium, Mrs. Laurie, had revealed to her that Lincoln’
    s cabinet was full of his enemies “working for themselves.” That was not altogether far-fetched, for Lincoln’s
    cabinet was indeed riven with rivalries, jealousies, and fundamental political differences.

    In the summer of 1862, after Willie died, Mary invited the medium “Lord Colchester” out to the Soldiers’ Home,
    where, in the darkened library, the journalist Noah Brooks  discovered, “he pretended to produce messages from
    the dead boy by means of scratcheson the wainscoating and taps on the walls and furniture.” Even Mary became
    suspicious when she came to realize that Colchester was actually threatening her with unpleasant rather than
    comforting revelations if she did not obtain a pass for him to travel to New York. Brooks was delighted to expose
    the man’s scam later, with Mary’s approval. He turned the tables and threatened Colchester instead with a stay in
    the Old Capitol Prison, and the “Lord” was not heard from again. Mary was far from being just one of a few
    neurotic or gullible misfits taken in by the spiritualist movement. From two million adherents in 1850, their numbers
    grew to seven million by 1863, and to an estimated ten million after the war. The losses of thousands upon
    thousands of sons, fathers, and husbands in the war, and the happy chance perhaps to hear from them in
    “Summerland” rather than wait for a reunion in heaven some time in the far future, was achingly tempting for the
    women left behind to cope with loss in the stifling ways demanded by society in those days.  This new movement
    was dominated by women practitioners, who seized upon these “other powers” to compensate for their lack of
    economic or political power. They gave their female adherents some relief from their heavy responsibilities as the
    primary caregivers to the sick and the dying, and as the most visible and custom constrained mourners for the
    dead. Always unorthodox, Mary refused to accept the conventional clergy’s monopoly on acceptable channels to
    the eternal. As her biographer Jean Baker says, she “easily adopted a therapy that flattered her intuition and
    histrionic talent, and depended on magic.” There was also a certain sensuality to the séances that may have
    appealed to her. The feasibility of this “spiritual telegraph” was strengthened by the success of the real telegraph,
    and the phenomenon gave some comfort in an age dominated not only by a terrible war but also by other social
    and technological upheavals. In Mary Lincoln’s case, it offered an explanation for some of her painful physical
    symptoms, such as “all the needles running through my body,” which, according to the spiritualists, might very well
    have been calls from beyond.

    Lincoln was said by some to be a practicing spiritualist himself, but any interest he  showed in the popular
    phenomenon was primarily intellectual. He could only be called a spiritualist, concluded historian Richard Current,
    if by that is meant “any person who has a sensitivity to the unseen and incorporeal, who looks for influences from
    other than rational sources, who is guided by the vision and the dream.” He reportedly asked the secretary of the
    Smithsonian Institution, his friend Dr. Joseph Henry, to figure out how Lord Colchester might have produced his
    particular sound effects. Henry concluded that by expanding or contracting his arm muscles with a device strapped
    to his arms, Colchester could have caused rappings at a distance, even while holding hands with participants on his
    left and right.

    By accompanying Mary to some séances, even going along with her holding some in the White House, perhaps
    opening himself up to ridicule, Lincoln was essentially  demonstrating his loyalty to and concern for his wife. Mary’
    s faithful friend, the well-born, well connected Washington socialite, Elizabeth Blair Lee, testified to that when she
    said, “Mary has her husband’s deepest love. This is a matter upon which one woman cannot deceive another.”
    First-hand observations at the Soldiers’ Home of the couple’s relationship to each other only confirm the opinion
    of those who agree with her, that the Lincoln marriage was a solid one.

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