Where Lincoln Sought Refuge in His Dark Hours (NYT museum review of Lincoln's summer cottage))





If you look out the windows of President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home — the idiosyncratic and intriguing museum that is opening to the public on Tuesday after a ceremonial event on Monday — you have to imagine what Abraham Lincoln might have seen during those summer evenings when he stood here. The cottage is on a hilltop, the third highest in the area. And when Lincoln first came here, seeking a respite from the summer heat, the swampy air and the incessant bustle of the White House, he could have looked out over the expanding city below him, with the unfinished Washington Monument and incomplete Capitol dome rising in the distance.

The departing president, James Buchanan, may have recommended this pastoral spot to Lincoln. The 34-room Gothic Revival “cottage” was built by a businessman, George W. Riggs, who, in 1851, sold it along with more than 250 acres to the United States government. It became part of a federal home for retired and disabled veterans, but, beginning in 1857, it also offered presidential refuge. After just a few months in the White House, Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, eagerly looked forward to their first retreat in 1861. “We will ride into the city every day, & can be as secluded, as we please,” she wrote.

Alas, it was not to be — the Civil War began in earnest — and when the Lincolns did come, the next summer, it was after the death of their 11-year-old son, Willie. At the same time the war dead were filling the military cemetery across the road; the wounded were being cared for in makeshift hospitals; cattle, used to feed the soldiers, grazed at the foot of the Washington Monument; and the Soldiers’ Home was no longer a place where only retired soldiers could be seen. Many were detailed here to provide security for the president. During his 45-minute horse ride from the White House, Lincoln passed tents of the Union Army, along with 4,200 escaped slaves who had set up what was called a contraband community....



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