By Angela Sontheimer
Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg
In celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth on February 12, we thought we’d share some insights into the 16th president.
For example, did you know that Lincoln had a special second home where he retreated for reflection, peace, and solace? Beginning in 1862, when the pressures of the war and the summer heat got to be too much, Lincoln would escape to a hilltop cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, just four miles from the White House.
There he would walk the grounds, read, and visit with soldiers. Some historians believe that he spent one-quarter of his presidency there. Now you, too, can visit Lincoln’s summer retreat, which was restored and opened to the public just last year. For more information visit www.lincolncottage.org.
In fact, one of our faculty members at the Lincoln Leadership Institute, Matt Pinsker, is the author of the book, Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home.
A Lincoln scholar and the Pohanka Chair for Civil War History at Dickinson College, Pinsker’s book provides a fascinating portrait of Lincoln’s stay in a hilltop cottage located just off Georgia Avenue in Washington, D.C., on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home.
“After the heartbreaking death of his son Willie, Abraham Lincoln and his family fled the gloom that hung over the White House, moving into a small cottage in Washington, D.C., on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, a residence for disabled military veterans,” Pinsker explains.
Although Lincoln lived at the Soldiers’ Home for approximately a quarter of his presidency — and for nearly half of the critical year of 1862 — interestingly, most Americans (including many scholars) have not heard of the place.
Pinsker connects this early “summer White House” to key wartime developments, including the Emancipation Proclamation, the firing of Civil War Gen. George B. McClellan, the evolution of Lincoln’s “Father Abraham” image, the election of 1864, and the assassination conspiracy.
“At his secluded retreat, the president complained to his closest aides, recited poetry to his friends, reconnected with his wife and family, conducted secret meetings with his political enemies, and narrowly avoided assassination attempts,” Pinsker writes. “Perhaps most important, he forged key friendships that helped renew his flagging spirits. The cottage became a refuge from the pressures of the White House, a place of tranquility where Lincoln could refresh his mind.”
For more insight into Lincoln, visit the David Wills House Museum
Located just a few floors down from the Lincoln Leadership Institute headquarters in Gettysburg is the David Wills House Museum. Since opening to the public on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in February 2009, museum manager Jennifer Roth has greeted more than 75,000 visitors to the museum / home where the 16th president spent the night before delivering his famous Gettysburg Address.
Roth has worked on a series of projects to raise awareness about the new museum, which is owned by the National Park Service. It features five museum galleries and two recreated rooms, the David Wills Law Office and the Lincoln Bedroom.
The museum will guide you through the days, weeks, and months after the battle of Gettysburg. It illustrates President Lincoln’s historic visit to the devastated town, the immortal words of the Gettysburg Address, and the legacy of hope and healing that they brought, and continue to bring, to our nation.
One of the most popular of those programs is Letters to Lincoln, where visitors are invited to share their thoughts on Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and the Civil War by answering a new question posed each month.
For more information, visit www.davidwillshouse.org.
About Angela Sontheimer
Sontheimer is managing director of Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, where she is responsible for overseeing operations, marketing, and curriculum design. She is a graduate of Gettysburg College and holds a master’s degree in leadership and liberal studies from Duquesne University.