18 Little Known Facts about America's Presidential Sweetheart, Abraham Lincoln
18 Little Known Facts about America’s Presidential Sweetheart, Abraham Lincoln

18 Little Known Facts about America’s Presidential Sweetheart, Abraham Lincoln

Larry Holzwarth - October 7, 2018

18 Little Known Facts about America’s Presidential Sweetheart, Abraham Lincoln
When Confederates attacked well defended Fort Stevens, one of the fortifications protecting Washington in 1864, Lincoln was present and briefly under fire. National Archives

16. He was the second president to observe American troops in battle while in office

In 1814 James Madison became the first American president to view American troops on the field of battle while serving in office, though the battle was a short one. Madison watched an army made up of mostly militia, supported by American sailors and a few regulars, as it was routed by British troops at the Battle of Bladensburg. The defeat of the Americans was so resounding and the flight of the troops so brisk that the battle came to be known as the Bladensburg races. So when Lincoln went to Fort Stevens to observe an attack by Confederate troops under Confederate general Jubal Early it was not without precedent for a president to be on a battlefield. It was Lincoln’s first opportunity to view a battle since his militia days during the Black Hawk War, when he served as a Captain of the militia.

Lincoln watched the assault from a parapet atop Fort Stevens, conspicuous as the tall, lean figure wearing a tall, stovepipe hat. The president came under fire, a Union officer, a surgeon with whom the president had been conversing was wounded, and the president was immediately ordered to take cover. Some accounts state that he was pushed back from the exposed position on the parapet. The attack on Fort Stevens remains the only time the President of the United States has been under fire on a battlefield while serving in office. Lincoln returned to the White House later that afternoon, after stopping at the Soldier’s Home to visit wounded. The story that while there he discovered a bullet hole in his hat is most certainly apocryphal.

18 Little Known Facts about America’s Presidential Sweetheart, Abraham Lincoln
Ward Hill Lamon was Lincoln’s long time friend, personal bodyguard, and an early biographer of the late president. Library of Congress

17. His sense of humor was legendary among his colleagues

Ward Hill Lamon related the story that once, when he was prosecuting a case before the circuit court in Bloomington, Illinois, he split the seat of his trousers. Without time to change he appeared before the court, where it was quickly apparent to the other circuit court riders in attendance that his attire was somewhat disheveled. One of the other lawyers present started a petition for each of the attending to donate a small sum with which the unfortunate Lamon could purchase new trousers, a joke on the embarrassed and exposed young attorney, which referred to his inability to properly wardrobe himself on his legal earnings. When the petition reached Lincoln, he scribbled on the paper, “I can contribute nothing to the end in view”.

Lincoln’s humor and wit remained with him through all but the darkest days of his lifetime, departing when he fell into depressive states, as when his sons died, or after another calamity on the battlefields of the Civil War. His taste for what some considered coarse tales contributed to his enemies depicting him as an uncultured and uneducated lout (he once called his own education “deficient”), but he continued to disarm and amuse visitors with tall tales and jokes, and loved hearing new stories from others. He once held up a receiving line of several hundred visitors when he encountered a visitor who had related a joke several days before, holding a lengthy whispered conversation. Later the visitor said that Lincoln remembered the joke, but had forgotten the punch line, and had desired his visitor to repeat it for his later use.

18 Little Known Facts about America’s Presidential Sweetheart, Abraham Lincoln
A circa 1900 slide depicting the Good Friday, April 14 1865 murder of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln died early the following day. Wikimedia

18. The last day of Abraham Lincoln’s life

April 14, 1865, should have been a day of triumph for Abraham Lincoln. He had recently visited the captured Confederate capital of Richmond, and Lee’s surrender, though not ending the war, promised that it would end soon. His meetings of that day were focused on the reconstruction of the South and the reentry of the southern states into the Union. His health was good, he didn’t need to take the mercury based blue mass pills which he used to control his chronic constipation, as the condition eased as he relaxed. He signed a few papers at his desk, one a pardon for a captured Union army deserter sentenced to death by a court martial, another legislation creating the Secret Service, which would protect currency from counterfeiting as its first role.

It has been written by many biographers and historians that Lincoln had premonitions of his own death. But that day, Good Friday, Lincoln enjoyed an afternoon carriage ride in Washington with his wife, and spoke of his desire to visit the Holy Land after leaving the White House, before returning to Springfield and the practice of law. That night he was shot in the back of his head as he watched a play. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had the derringer used by his assassin misfired, as that particular model had a habit of doing. How would John Wilkes Booth have dealt with the former wrestler, who had once fought off river pirates with little but his hands and wits, and avoided a duel by intimidating his more diminutive opponent? Unfortunately, there is no answer.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“What Lincoln Had. John Sotos reckons that Lincoln had a rare, cancer-causing genetic disease”. Brendan Maher, Nature International Weekly Journal of Science. November 30, 2007

“Lincoln the Lawyer”. Brian Dirck. 2007

“Congressman Lincoln”. Chris DeRose. 2014

“Lincoln’s Opposition to the Mexican War”. G. S. Boritt, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, February, 1974

“Lincoln as a Leader of Men”. Elihu Root. Teaching American History. August 28, 1920

“There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth”. William E. Bartelt. 2008

“Riding the Circuit with Lincoln”. Willard King, American Heritage Magazine. February, 1955

“Broadswords and Banks”. Kelsey Johnston, Civil War History, American Battlefield Trust. Online

“Abraham Lincoln: A Biography”. Benjamin P. Thomas. 1952

“Abraham Lincoln’s Religious Uncertainty”. Dan Gilgoff, US News and World Reports. February 12, 2009

“Did life with abusive wife push Lincoln into politics?” Associated Press, Deseret News. September 7, 1994

“Abraham Lincoln and the Doctrine of Necessity”. Allen C. Guelzo, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. Winter, 1997

“Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac”. Stephen W. Sears. 2017

“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”. Doris Kearns Goodwin. 2005

“The Unsuccessful Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln”. Daniel Stashower, Smithsonian Magazine. February, 2013

“The Battle in our Backyard: Remembering Fort Stevens”. Leah Binkovitz, Smithsonian Magazine. July 11, 2012

“The life of Abraham Lincoln: From his Birth to his Inauguration as President”. Ward Hill Lamon. 1872

“The Day Lincoln was Shot”. Jim Bishop. 1955

Advertisement