Abraham Lincoln 16th President, 1861-1865

Birthplace, Sinking Spring, Hodgenville, Kentucky
In the fall of 1808, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln settled on the 348 acre Sinking Spring Farm. Two months later on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin near the Sinking Spring. Here the Lincolns lived and farmed before moving to land a few miles away at Knob Creek. The area was established by Congress on July 17, 1916. An early 19th century Kentucky cabin, symbolic of the one in which Lincoln was born, is preserved in a memorial building at the site of his birth
Like many other historic Lincoln sites, this one probably doesn’t match the picture in your imagination. When you arrive on the grounds, you see not a log cabin but a neoclassical granite and marble structure — a sort of Greek temple in the Kentucky woods. Fifty-six steps, one for each year of Lincoln’s life, lead to the huge double front doors. A reconstructed cabin stands inside this memorial building, but is not the original. Some oak and chestnut logs are believed to be of the period. Nevertheless, the one-room cabin does reflect Lincoln’s humble beginnings. It measures about 16×18 feet (smaller than the original), and includes one door and window, a stone fireplace, dirt floor, but no furnishings.

Beside the entrance to the memorial building is inscribed, “Here over the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born, destined to preserve the Union and free the slave, a grateful people have dedicated this memorial to unity, peace, and brotherhood among the states.” President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid Lincoln admirer, spoke when the cornerstone was laid in 1909, and President William Howard Taft dedicated the building in 1911. The memorial building and farm, managed by the National Park Service, became a national park in 1916. You can read the fascinating story of the park’s history in Merrill Peterson’s book, Lincoln in American Memory.

A few months before Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, his parents and sister moved from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to Sinking Spring Farm. His father paid $200 for 348 acres of stony ground on the south fork of Nolin Creek. The farm’s name came from a spring on the property, which emerged from a deep cave (you can still visit the spring). However, Lincoln did not remember living on the farm because his family moved down the road to Knob Creek Farm when he was only two years old.

Boyhood Home, Knob Creek Farm, Hodgenville, Kentucky
The Lincoln family moved from Knob Creek to Indiana in 1816 and their house was torn down in 1870. The cabin shown was reconstructed on the original site in 1931, possibly including logs from Austin Gollaher’s home (Lincoln’s schoolmate who rescued him from drowning in the creek). Some of the furnishings are period antiques donated by descendants of early settlers.

You’ll find this boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln in a beautiful setting several miles from his birthplace. When the Lincolns lived here, the road by the cabin was the main route from Louisville to Nashville. The family moved to the property in 1811, attracted by the fertile land. The 230-acre farm featured a creek running through rich bottomland bordered by steep hills that resembled knobs. In an 1860 letter Lincoln said, “The place on Knob Creek … I remember very well; but I was not born there…. My earliest recollection, however, is of the Knob Creek place.”

Lincoln was two when his family arrived at Knob Creek. His sister Sarah was four, and his brother Thomas was born the following year (he died a few days later and was buried on the property). In 1860, Lincoln recalled that during their stay, “he and his sister were sent, for short periods, to ABC schools, the first kept by Zachariah Riney, and the second by Caleb Hazel.” These were “blab” schools, where students learned by repeating their lessons aloud, over and over. Years later, Lincoln annoyed his law partner by reading the newspaper aloud in their office, but explained that he learned better by using two senses.

The Lincoln family moved from Knob Creek to Indiana in 1816 and their house was torn down in 1870. The cabin shown was reconstructed on the original site in 1931, possibly including logs from Austin Gollaher’s home (Lincoln’s schoolmate who rescued him from drowning in the creek). Some of the furnishings are period antiques donated by descendants of early settlers.

Boyhood Home, Lincoln City, Indiana
In 1816 the Lincolns moved to Indiana, “partly on account of slavery,” Abraham recalled, “but chiefly on account of difficulty in land titles in Kentucky.” Land ownership was more secure in Indiana because the Land Ordinance of 1785 provided for surveys by the federal government; moreover, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 forbade slavery in the area. Lincoln’s parents belonged to a faction of the Baptist church that disapproved of slavery, and this affiliation may account for Abraham’s later statement that he was “naturally anti-slavery” and could not remember when he “did not so think, and feel.” On this southern Indiana farm, Abraham Lincoln spent fourteen of the most formative years of his life and grew from youth into manhood. His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died and is buried here.

Home, New Salem, Illinois
A young Abraham Lincoln decided to live in the village of New Salem while co-piloting a flatboat down the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi waterways. New Salem was a growing community, boasting a sawmill and gristmill, a tavern, general stores, a post office, stagecoach stop and several craftsmen.

Lincoln considered the potential of the village boundless and decided to settle there. As the town developed, so did his career. Lincoln developed from a self-admitted “aimless piece of driftwood” to a merchant, surveyor, postmaster and captain of the local militia. And finally it was here, where by the flicker of candlelight, he began to study law.

Two years after Lincoln left the town, nearby Petersburg gained the county seat, causing New Salem to dwindle and die as rapidly as it once grew.

Home, Springfield, Illinois
It doesn’t impress like George Washington’s plantation on the Potomac or Thomas Jefferson’s mountain retreat, but Lincoln’s home in downtown Springfield has proved irresistible to visitors since it opened. Beautifully restored to its 1860 appearance, the Greek Revival house was Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s home for 17 years. In 1844 they bought it for $1,200 and some land from the Rev. Charles Dresser, who married them in 1842.

When the house was built, it was much smaller than you see it today. “The little home was painted white and had green shutters. It was sweet and fresh, and Mary loved it. She was exquisitely dainty, and her house was a reflection of herself, everything in good taste and in perfect order.”

The Lincolns enlarged the house to a full two stories in 1856 to meet the needs of their growing family. You’ll find the painted frame building in a shady residential neighborhood with wood plank sidewalks, ideal for a leisurely walk. The four-block area around it is being restored to the same time period.

Three of the Lincoln’s four sons were born here, and one (Edward) died here in 1850 at nearly four years of age. When Lincoln won the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination, he received a delegation of party officials in his parlor.

Although Mary loved flowers, neither she nor her husband devoted much effort to landscaping the grounds. A long-time neighbor said they never planted trees and only kept a garden one year. Mary’s sister, Frances Todd Wallace, apparently was eager to fill this horticultural vacuum, for she often came over to plant flowers in the front yard.

Until the Lincolns left Springfield for Washington, D.C., the house was a magnet for visitors, parades, rallies and other political festivities. After holding farewell receptions there, they rented it out, sold most of their furniture, and entrusted the family dog to a neighbor.

Summer White House, Soldier’s Home, Washington, DC
The Soldiers’ Home was established in 1851 as an “asylum for old and disabled veterans.” Four of the original buildings still stand and are listed as national historic landmarks. Two of the buildings, Quarters 1 and Anderson Cottage, served as the summer White House for U.S. Presidents Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Buchanan, and most notably, Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln lived at the Soldiers’ Home, in what is now called Anderson Cottage, during our nation’s most turbulent history, the Civil War. Not only was it a break from the hot, humid city, but also from the intense political pressures of being president. In fact, Lincoln spent one-fourth of his presidency at Soldiers’ Home, and it was here that he wrote the last draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1865, Lincoln’s wife, Mary, wrote to her friend Elizabeth Blair Lee, “How dearly I loved the Soldiers’ Home.”

Historic Anderson Cottage was constructed in 1842-43 as the home of George W. Riggs, who went on to establish the famous Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C. In 1851, the government to form the core of what is today the AFRH-Washington purchased the cottage and farmland surrounding it. The Cottage was named after Major Robert Anderson, who commanded the Union’s Fort Sumter where the Civil War’s first volleys were fired. Anderson, along with Jefferson Davis and General Winfield Scott, fought to establish a soldiers’ home for nearly 25 years.

Home, Peterson House/Ford’s Theatre, Washington, DC
America’s transfer from civil war to peace was made more difficult on April 14, 1865, when Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed, just five days after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. A well-known actor, John Wilkes Booth, desperate to aid the dying Confederacy, stepped into the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Booth’s decision to pull the trigger altered the nation’s power to reconstruct after the war. Booth escaped into the night as Abraham Lincoln was carried to the Petersen boarding house across the street. It was there that President Lincoln died early the next morning, and became the first American president to be assassinated.

Gravesite, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois
On April 14, 1865, as Abraham Lincoln watched Laura Keene’s light comedy, Our American Cousin, at Ford’s theater in Washington, D.C., a darkly clad figure burst through the door of Lincoln’s box in the balcony and shot the president point blank in the back of his head. Mary Todd Lincoln screamed and tried to shield Lincoln with her body. The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, leaped from the box to the stage to make his escape, shouting “Sic semper Tyrannis! The South is avenged!” Ten days later, after a near hysterical search by the army and the secret service, Booth was discovered hiding in a barn in rural Virginia. In the attempt to capture him the barn was set on fire and Booth either shot himself or was killed in the shoot-out.

The wound to Lincoln’s head took the president’s life early the next morning. For the citizens of the Union, Lincoln’s death muted the celebration of victory over the Confederacy. After seven days of official mourning in the capitol, Lincoln’s coffin was carried on a slow-moving funeral train back to Springfield, Illinois. All along the 1,700 mile route, in small towns and villages, in fourteen different cities, including New York, and across the midwestern countryside, people gathered to see the train pass and to offer their last respects to the “Great Emancipator.” Thousands of Americans remembered over the years the sight of the passing funeral train as one of the most deeply emotional events of their lives. Among the thousands watching Lincoln’s final journey to Springfield was a young Theodore Roosevelt who observed Lincoln’s coffin pass in parade from the upstairs window of his family home in Manhattan.

Oak Ridge Cemetery was dedicated on May 24, 1860, five years before Lincoln’s death, just outside the town where Lincoln lived most of his adult life. It is likely that he attended the ceremonies and heard his friend James Conkling deliver the main address. When Lincoln died in 1865, his Illinois friends immediately sought permission to bury his remains in Springfield. The committee that arranged his Springfield funeral also formed an association to build this tomb, which was dedicated in 1874. In 1895 the association deeded the tomb and surrounding grounds to the State of Illinois.

Lincoln’s body first arrived in the cemetery’s public receiving vault on the hill below the present tomb. The coffin of his son William, who died in the White House, also rested there. Both had traveled nearly 1,700 miles in a special railroad car by a circuitous route from Washington, D.C.

Memorial, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois
The 117-foot tall granite tomb contains the bodies of Lincoln, his wife Mary, and three of his four sons — Edward, William and Thomas (Tad). Robert, the oldest son, planned to be buried in this tomb with his parents and brothers. When his own son, Abraham Lincoln II (“Jack”) died in 1890, he brought the body to the Lincoln tomb. However, his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln, chose a gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery instead, where Robert was buried in 1928 and Jack was moved in 1930.

Designed by Vermont sculptor Larkin Mead, the tomb features famous Lincoln statuary. It’s worth a visit just to see the sculpture, both inside and out. Visitors often stop to rub the nose of this evocative bronze bust at the entrance. It’s the work of Gutzon Borglum, who is most famous for his rendition of Lincoln at Mount Rushmore. You can see the original marble bust in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. As you enter the building, you will see bronze statues and excerpts from some Lincoln speeches. A circular hallway leads to the marble burial chamber where Secretary Stanton’s famous words command your attention: “Now he belongs to the ages.” The terrible human cost of the Civil War has an immediacy here, as if Lincoln died yesterday.

A red marble marker stands above the area where Lincoln’s coffin lies. His body actually rests below the floor in a steel and concrete-reinforced vault. This change was made in 1899 when the monument needed reconstruction, partly to deter grave robbers, because an attempt on the body had been made in 1876.

Original Gravesite, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois
The remains of Abraham Lincoln and his son William Wallace “Willie” rested in the receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery from May 4, 1865 to December 21, 1865.

The receiving vault was built following Oak Ridge Cemetery’s dedication in 1860. The vault served as a temporary tomb while burial plans were made or if a grave could not be dug due to frozen ground. Most likely it had been used for interments prior to 1865.

On May 4, 1865, nineteen days after his death, the body of President Abraham Lincoln was placed here along with that of his son Willie, who had died at age eleven at the White House on February 20, 1862. The casket bearing his remains was carried to Springfield on the funeral train of the assassinated president.

On December 21, 1865, the two caskets were moved to a temporary vault located about halfway up the hillside. A week earlier the remains of another Lincoln son, Edward “Eddie” Baker had been transferred to the temporary vault. In 1871 the three were finally interred in the Lincoln Tomb.

According to cemetery records, the receiving vault was used at least twelve times from 1866 to 1873, when its use was discontinued. Conveyed to the state of Illinois in 1946, the vault is today administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as part of Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site.

Memorial, Washington, DC
In 1910, two members of Congress joined forces to create a memorial, which honored Lincoln. Shelby M. Cullom and Joseph G. Cannon, who had known Lincoln in Illinois, pushed through a Lincoln Memorial bill, which President Taft signed on February 11, 1911. The bill created the Lincoln Memorial Commission to oversee the project and set aside $2 million in funds (the final cost was $3 million).

Before the commission finalized plans to build in what was known as the Potomac Flats, it considered various locations and memorial ideas that ranged from a highway to a huge pyramid. John Hay, one of Lincoln’s White House secretaries, promoted the Potomac location, saying that the monument should stand alone, distinguished, and serene.

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1922, the building was dedicated, 57 years after Lincoln died. About 50,000 people attended the ceremonies, including hundreds of Civil War veterans and Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s only surviving son. The main speakers were President Warren Harding, former President William Howard Taft, and Dr. Robert Moton, principal of the Tuskegee Institute, who delivered the keynote address.

New York architect Henry Bacon modeled the memorial in the style of a Greek temple. The classic design features 36 Doric columns outside, symbolizing the states in the Union at Lincoln’s death. The building measures 204 feet long, 134 feet wide, and 99 feet tall, with 44-foot columns. It blends stone from various states: white Colorado marble for the exterior, Indiana limestone for the interior walls, pink Tennessee marble for the floor, and Alabama marble for the ceiling.

Daniel Chester French, the leading American sculptor of the day, created the famous statue of Lincoln, which dominates the interior. The memorial plans originally specified a 12-foot bronze statue, but it proved out of scale for the huge building. The finished statue is 19 feet tall, carved of 28 blocks of white Georgia marble. French later had special lighting installed to enhance the figure. Visitors sometimes ask if the hands have special significance (such as forming the letter “A” in sign language), but there is no indication French intended it.