It’s typical for the president to get away from the White House from time to time, but how many presidents relocated to a U.S. Soldier’s Home or lived on the grounds of a military cemetery?
Some of our earlier presidents had homes in close proximity to the Capitol, which made trips home practical, even without the means we have today. But what did our early presidents do when they were not from the area?
President Lincoln’s escape from the White House was not a ranch or beach house, but rather a simple cottage located on the grounds of the U.S. Soldier’s Home, three miles north of the Capitol. The house and its accompanying 200 acres were donated to the federal government in 1851, by local bank owner George Washington Riggs Jr., for the purpose of establishing the nation’s first Soldier’s Home, and it remains in service to our Veterans today.
“We think that at Lincoln’s inaugural dinner, President Buchanan tipped him off to the fact that the Soldiers’ Home was a great place to spend the summers in Washington, D.C.,” said Erin Mast, the director at President Lincoln’s Cottage. The pre air-conditioning era presidents often relocated during the hot summer months.
However, due to the outbreak of the Civil War, it wasn’t until 1862 that President Lincoln and his family spent their first summer at the residence.
At first, the cottage may have seemed to be the perfect refuge from the White House and the perils of wartime decision-making. But, in reality, it was far from relaxing. As Mast puts it: “In coming out to the cottage, Lincoln was actually bringing himself closer to the war and the human cost of war.”
The U.S. Soldier’s Home cared for nearly 200 disabled Veterans from the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. Lincoln saw the consequences of his decisions firsthand every time he interacted with the Veterans, who were also his neighbors.
The cottage is also adjacent to the first designated national cemetery. Lincoln could literally watch out his back windows as the soldiers he had put into battle were buried. There were sometimes as many as 40 burials a day.
“There are several stories of Lincoln walking through that cemetery at night, during the day, and people seeing that he was visibly moved by seeing these burials of these young men who fought and died for their country,” Mast said.
Lincoln knew firsthand of the tolls that the Civil War had on the country. He lived right next to the evidence.
Learn more about Lincoln’s Cottage at http://lincolncottage.org/