Kindred’s Special: Sorrows of Lincoln’s 1862 Year–Tragic Soul Search

Feeling the need to lighten the burden of being the First Lady of the United States, Mary Lincoln in February organized a lavish ball at the White House. The timing rankled the radical senator from Ohio, Benjamin Wade, to reject his invitation to Mr. and Mrs. Wade: “Is the President and Mrs. Lincoln aware that there is a civil war? And if not, Senator and Mrs. Wade must, and for that reason decline to participate in feasting and dancing.”  Mrs. Lincoln was from Kentucky and was both frugal and spared no expense depending on her energy to let people know that her choice of the rather quiet man who was thought beneath her station in life by relatives and friends foresaw his potential. When he emerged as the President of the United States, she looked to rub their noses a bit.  At the ball, she had dressed in a beautiful low-cut gown that somewhat embarrassed Abe.  Furthermore, despite Abe footing the expense from his own account, as quickly pointed out by the White House staff, Mary enjoyed the festive mood.

Willie had come down with typhoid fever although they only knew he was very ill.  Both parents checked on Willie several times during the ball.  He died a couple of weeks later which added to the sorrow of the earlier death of their son Edward twelve years before in 1850.   She blamed Abe for letting Willie ride a horse and got wet in a rainstorm; she blamed herself for not caring enough for sick Willie spending much of her time entertaining during the ball; she blamed God for letting her son die.  She became depressed till Abe suspected she was losing her mind.

Such tragedy had given Lincoln strength to endure the early setbacks in war.  Willie’s passing reminded him how fragile life was; Mary’s mental condition made him see and appreciate how the trials of life can push anyone to the brink of a mental breakdown;  the trust in right and God’s will be done;  Their son Tad was eight when the war started and it was he that lifted the spirit of both Mary and Abe.  Such a huge burden on his shoulders had the effect of instilling sympathy that would shape his hopes for the nation. In addition, Mary’s close relationships with family who many represented those in the Confederacy began to alter his own views during the war.

Mary and Abe’s eldest son Robert was seventeen and wanted to join the Army but Mary sent him off to college where he eventually emerged a lawyer. After graduation he demanded of his father to be allowed to join the war before it ended. Mary wrote to her husband to not put him in harm’s way.  Lincoln negotiated with Grant to aid him  and Grant put Robert in a staff post.

Tad, who was eight years old when the war started became clever by conducting personnel to the White House by placing a guard at the foot of the staircase to collect 5 cents from each. They apparently felt it was a cheap price to pay to get a word with President Lincoln or his mother.  He was thought to be a slow learner and had a speech defect!

With Willie’s death, Lincoln wrote the following letter that shows how Lincoln perhaps was affected.  His staff had advised him that she had lost 5 sons in the war which prompted the following letter.

“Dear Madam,

I have been show in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

(Some claim this was not written by Lincoln but one of his staff. I tend to disagree although the somewhat length might suppose Lincoln did not compose it.)

One of the problems of the Civil War came from the many hillsides with women, men and children picnicking while watching military maneuvers being carried out below.  There was a sense in the beginning that it was a war that would end very soon.  Little did any know then that it was to become the longest and deadliest of wars and that history would live it, relive it, and great literature would be written about it and continue forever for the historian and makers of war conduct plans in military colleges.

Abraham Lincoln’s goal at the early rebellion was to preserve the union.  He had no interest in freeing the slaves. Writings by Frederick Douglas noted Black Scholar, points out this in expressing his feelings: “He was pre-eminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity for the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.”  Lincoln, like many, felt the war would be quick and shortly over either from bloodshed or return of human sanity. And before that, he and many of the North states questioned just what the sides were fighting for. For Lincoln it was preservation of the Union and for the South, it was to preserve the rights  of Slave Holders.

Today, when we look back on Lincoln’s 1862 year, it was a turning point in much of his thinking and led to his title as: The Emancipation President.

In his early rise he considered himself a moderate.  Had he just remained so in the belief that moderation reflected the position and moral fiber of “reasonableness in debating any topic” he came to recognize that his career would get nowhere.  His venturing into topics touching on radicalism which became conservative, a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Lets look back on what Frederick Douglas said.  It reminds me of the woman caller on c-span radio that used his words and more– viciously.  It seems a common enough thread among the modern Blacks who rave about the Whites in hateful terms.  Just what did Lincoln say as he began to sense a need for a conservative view of life.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe that this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I don’t expect the house to fall. But I do believe it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other….”.

It was the language of the Northern abolitionists.

The student who plays chess experiences growth in wisdom, time evaluation, judgment and planning that is often not seen at such age of enlightenment.  Putting forth the values that chess stimulates thinking offers the student greater reflection of Life.

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