Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lincoln Cottage / S.S. Institute Part # 3

PA Advanced Alliance Geography Institute
Journey Through Hallowed Ground
Summer 2009

 Lincoln Cottage Visitor's Center
Few people, including some historians, realize President Abraham Lincoln moved out of the White House during the warm summer months to a cottage on the Soldier's Home campus. The Soldier's Home was the first retirement home for veteran soldiers who had no family to care for them in their old age. The campus was funded by the federal government and was built on a hill about three miles from the capital. James Buchanan was the first president to accept an invitation to take up residence on the grounds in one of their spacious administrative cottages during the warm months. Washington D.C. was not a nice place to live during the hot humid days of summer. It was a tidewater region full of mosquitoes that multiplied in the various swamps of the city. The landscape did not resemble the Washington we visit today as the swamps and bogs have since been filled in and waterways altered. The Soldier's home offered a temporary escape from the hot and humid climate, political and otherwise.

 Veteran's Retirement Home
Abraham Lincoln grew up a country boy from the wilderness where he spent countless hours in deep thought in the quiet and solitude within his small and uncomplicated world. However, following his election to the presidency, he descended on the capital city of Washington D.C. which was consumed by a storm of turmoil that would soon engulf the country in civil war. Lincoln’s first year in the White House was one filled with national and personal tragedy. The nation had divided over the issue of slavery and then clashed back together again in violence. With the death of his young son Willie in 1862, the Lincoln family descended into mourning their loss. As Mary Lincoln observed, “When we are in sorrow, quiet is very necessary to us.” The family soon accepted an invitation from the Soldier’s Home to take up residence in a cottage located on the peaceful grounds of the home previously established for disabled and retired American veterans.

 Lincoln Cottage / Front View
Moving his family to the cottage at the Soldier’s Home offered a stark contrast to the setting of the busy White House full of political enemies and the overwhelming pressures of office. It is easy to imagine that the president was able to absorb a full view of the outside world while commuting between his two bookend residences. In transit, he could take in the people directly affected by his decisions and might try to absorb the meaning of their lives and how they were individually impacted by the war. His impressions were most likely diverse as he passed and possibly conversed with the local merchant stocking his wares, a farmer selling his harvest, soldiers running errands, a wagon master making a delivery, and the contraband slaves making their way to camp. This contact with the common man most likely helped keep Lincoln’s feet firmly on the ground and served as a reminder of whom he was working for as President of the United States. The commute gave the president a view of the people, who by a majority had given him the authority to lead them and hope he could deliver on his promises.

 The Lincoln / Horse Statue
At the cottage the president could perhaps, take his mind back to the slower pace of Springfield, where he could have a quiet place to think and rehearse strategy and outcomes through his mind. The cottage offered a small town setting but hardly solitude, as visitors frequently stopped to visit the commander in chief. Some were of a political nature but many were also of the social variety that involved story telling and recitals of favorite poetry and literature. Friends from Illinois called frequently to visit and socialize with the Lincoln family. Here he might be able to step out of the role of president and possibly talk freely with acquaintances he could trust outside the political prison of the White House. It is highly possible these private conversations and quiet free time to think, helped shape his slow development of key legislation such as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln Cottage / Front View
At the White House Lincoln received visitors who were trying to persuade his idea on emancipation one way or another. Lincoln’s only goal was to defeat the rebellion in the south by any means necessary. He was juggling the viewpoints of abolitionists, conservative politicians, radical republicans and everything in between. However, the one representative that really mattered concerning the issue of emancipation was the black population of African decent. A population that had the most to gain or lose on Lincoln’s evolving policy on the controversial subject. Lincoln’s encounters within the free salve contraband communities along his route commuting to and from the capital may have had the biggest and most influential impact of Lincoln’s continuous development of the ideas associated with emancipation. The encounters with the former slaves and their growing population within the city certainly had an impact on Lincoln’s policy on emancipation.

 Lincoln Cottage / Rear View
In time, the cottage would provide the Lincoln family a place to actually be a family, something not possible at the White House. Over time, the family would come together and find a balance that would provide some of their happiest years together. Mary Lincoln was able to take control at the cottage and run the household, which was obviously very important to her. At the bustling White House in the city, she had little ability to control what was happening and the possibility of having time as a family was nonexistent. Also, due to her family’s southern connections and the fact that her brothers were fighting and dying for the Confederate cause made her, an unpopular First Lady within the city limits of the nation’s capital. She wasn’t able to grieve the loss of her siblings publicly. Perhaps, the slower pace of the cottage, in contrast to the hectic White House, granted her the private setting she needed to pay respect to her fallen siblings and mourn their loss. Over time, her constant trips to the northeast would slow and the family would come together and have real time as a family during the evening hours of the day. Mary would later recollect, that her time at the cottage were some of the happiest of her life. The setting of the cottage helped bring a degree of peace and balance to the Lincoln family.

 Lincoln Cottage / Rear Porch
The cottage of the Soldier’s Home may have slowed the pace of Lincoln’s life during the remains of the day, but it did not offer an escape from the war. While at the cottage, Lincoln himself was flanked by enemies on two sides. The enemies in the form of extremely heavy burdens were within his line of sight on two sides of the cottage and served as constant reminders of the true cost of the Civil War. To one side was the Soldier’s Home, where the population of wounded veterans with no family to care for them increased by the day. On the opposite side of the cottage, was the ever-growing cemetery filling with the war dead on a daily basis. Together these burdens must have combined to create a powerful and constant image of the mounting human cost of the conflict. As Lincoln worked through his thoughts and digested what his course of action would become, he was surely shaped by the visual reminders that surrounded him at the cottage.

 National Cemetery Entrance
In conclusion, the Soldiers Home cottage offered President Lincoln a refuge to think, to consider outcomes and possibilities that may not have presented themselves inside the volatile presidential mansion of the capital city. A combination of visual reminders surrounding the cottage and the contacts made en route as he traveled to and from work everyday, certainly provided a setting that may have influenced and shaped his thinking on key decisions surrounding emancipation and the war itself. The “power of place” can have an enormous impact on how we perceive the world around us and the human element connected to the consequences of our resulting actions may come into focus. The cottage at the Soldier’s Home offered Lincoln a setting that may have helped shape the future of the nation and impact how all of us view and live within the modern world.

Did you Know...

Lincoln's Cottage is not a home tour, all rooms are mostly vacant because although the family spent a lot of time here, no written descriptions exist of the interior.  However, the tour allows you to really focus on the space and man rather than the furniture.

Lincoln commuted daily to the White House without military escort until someone took a shot at him knocking off his stove pipe hat.  The hat was later retrieved with a bullet hole through the middle.

From that point on, a cavalry unit was assigned to guard the president and the Lincoln family, camping on the grounds at the Soldier's Home.  Sometimes Lincoln was accompanied by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who also resided in a cottage on the grounds.

Union Civil War Markers

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 1 / John Brown’s Raid / Chambersburg

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 2 / John Brown’s Raid / Harper’s Ferry

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 3 / Lincoln’s Cottage at The Soldier’s Home

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 4 / Lincoln in Gettysburg / The Gettysburg Address

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Series
Part # 5 / Gettysburg Town and National Battlefield Park


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