Civil War Talk Radio: October 31, 2008

by Brett Schulte on October 31, 2008 · 1 comment

Air Date: 103108
Subject: President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home
Web Site:
Book: Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home
Guest: Matt Pinsker

Summary: Professor Matthew Pinkser of Dickinson College, author of Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home, discusses Lincoln’s Presidential retreat.

Brett’s Summary: Gerry mentioned at the top of the show that donations can be sent to via Paypal if you have enjoyed the show.

As is usually the case, Gerry asked guest Matthew Pinsker how he became a Professor of Civil War History.  Both men were at Harvard at the same time, and both were mentored by David H. Donald.  Pinsker indicated he always wanted to teach, so he knew he wanted to become a Professor.  He also spent some time at Oxford as well.  Interestingly, both of the professor’s parents were both teachers as well, and he indicated they had a strong influence on him.  At the time of the show, Pinsker was teaching at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which also happens to be home to the Army War College.

The Soldiers’ Home is a retirement community for armed forces veterans.  It began in 1851 and served as a home for disabled combat veterans.  It evolved into a Presidential retreat during the latter half of the 19th century.  It is located only three miles from Washington, D.C. and is located in a quiet area.  Lincoln used the retreat extensively.  The higher elevation of the location offered cooler temperatures and some wind, welcome deviations from the norm in low-lying, hot, swampy Washington, D.C.

In 1850s small government America, there was quite a bit of resistance to a home for retired military veterans, but eventually the Soldiers’ Home was authorized in 1851.  By 1857, there were several buildings up at the location.  President James Buchanan became the first President to spend time there in the late 1850s.  On Lincoln’s First Inauguration Day, Pinsker speculates that Buchanan recommended the Soldiers’ Home to the Lincolns, because both visited the site in the first week of Lincoln’s Presidency.  The Lincoln’s did not retreat to the Soldiers’ Home location in 1861 due to the First Bull Run Campaign.  After Willy Lincoln’s death in 1862, the Lincolns did spend quite a bit of time there in the summer.  It usually took Lincoln 20-40 minutes to commute to the area.  At first he used a military escort, but later he made the trip alone, something which wouldn’t happen today, obviously.  Interestingly, Pinsker indicated many people would make their way out to the Soldiers’ Home to see the President unannounced, and they often succeeded.  Walt Whitman indicated he saw Lincoln making the trip from the White House to the Soldiers’ Home daily.

After Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson (and also Ulysses S. Grant) declined to use the Soldiers’ Home as a retreat.  Pinsker noted that Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester Arthur made use of the retreat.  Over the last few decades of the 19th century, the population of the Soldiers’ Home exploded due to the presence of many Civil War veterans.  The cottage Lincoln stayed at was renamed Anderson Cottage in the 1880s.  IT went through many uses over the years until it became a National Monument at the end of the 20th century.  During that time, for the most part, people seemed to forget Lincoln had stayed there.  Pinsker said the National Trust, led by President Dick Moe, spearheaded the effort to save the site and restore it.

Gerry asked Professor Pinsker if Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation at the Cottage.  Pinsker answered with a qualified yes, indicating Lincoln developed the idea while living at the Cottage, but he believes Lincoln probably did the actual writing at the White House Library.

Another interesting anecdote involves Lincoln’s “four score and seven years ago” reference to the Declaration of Independence.  Apparently Lincoln was asked a question about independence while at the Soldiers’ Home, and his answer might have served as a basis for that reference.

Jubal Early’s assault on Fort Stevens north of Washington, D.C. in July 1864 occurred only a mile north of the Soldiers’ Home.  During the battle, Lincoln came under fire.  This led to the famous (and probably apocryphal) story about future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. telling Lincoln to “get down, you damned fool!”  Pinsker mentioned that Holmes DID spend time with Lincoln’s personal secretary John Hay the next day, and nothing in Hay’s diary indicated the story ever occurred.  In any event, said Pinsker, this was a fascinating event.

Gerry moved on to a story involving several soldiers approaching the Soldiers’ Home late one night hoping to drop in on Lincoln.  One inebriated soldier was supposed to tell Lincoln that the Governor of New York was only publically criticizing Lincoln but wasn’t serious about it.  The soldiers supposedly woke Lincoln up, and when Lincoln dozed off, the drunken one slapped him on the knee and asked him to tell a funny story in an attempt to “get him back into the conversation”, as Pinsker put it.  Lincoln was supposedly offended and stumbled off.

Gerry then mentioned C.A. Tripp’s laughable book which claimed Lincoln was gay, in which Tripp mentioned that a soldier guarding Lincoln slept in the same bed as Lincoln for several weeks in the spring of 1863.  Pinsker set the record straight by pointing out men slept in beds together in 19th century America, and nothing sexual was indicated by this.

For another look at Lincoln’s Presidential Retreat, see the January 4, 2008 episode of Civil War Talk Radio featuring Frank Milligan, Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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