10 People Who Visited Lincoln at the Soldiers' Home

By Jasper Collier

This is the 4th installment of “100 Things to Know about President Lincoln’s Cottage.”  Today’s list is a sampling of people who came to visit Lincoln at the Home. This list is by no means all-inclusive and does not include figures like Stanton, Hay, and Nicolay who worked with Lincoln regularly.  Future posts will explore other individual visitors, such as Joshua Speed, and explore their relationship with Lincoln in greater detail.  To see previous lists in this series, view the “100 Things to Know” category. -E. Mast
1. Robert Lincoln – Though the eldest Lincoln son was quite detached from the rest of his family, he did return to the cottage at the Soldiers’ Home for several brief visits. Matthew Pinsker (author of Lincoln’s Sanctuary) notes that Robert never spent “more than a few weeks with his father each summer.”
2. Senator Orville Browning of Illinois – Senator Browning visited the president and his family regularly, often bringing visitors to participate in discussions on topics ranging from the feasibility of emancipation to strategies for the 1864 election.3. General Montgomery C. Meigs – The Quartermaster General of the Army responsible for the National Cemetery on Mary Custis Lee’s ancestral home as well as many public works in Washington, DC came to the Soldier’s Home to discuss the failings of the Virginia Peninsula Campaign

4. Vice President Hannibal Hamlin – In the mid-19th century, the office of Vice President did not carry with it the same responsibilities it does today. As such, Hamlin rarely visited the President at the Soldiers’ Home. However, in one visit, Hamlin thoroughly discussed the benefits and difficulties of issuing an Emancipation Proclamation.

5. Elbert S. Porter, editor of the Christian Intelligencer – Porter, a noted abolitionist, came to discuss impending emancipation with President Lincoln.

6. Lincoln’s old Illinois friends, Leonard Swett, William Hanna and Ward Hill Lamon – It must have been a treat for Lincoln and his old friends to meet in the seclusion of the Soldiers’ Home and discuss old times, but the discussion certainly was not all jovial; Swett, Hanna, and Lamon’s primary purpose for the visit was to discuss the president’s safety.

7. General George B. McClellan – McClellan met with Lincoln at the Soldier’s Home after the Second Union defeat at Bull Run. Their topic of discussion was the strengthening of the defenses around Washington, DC. Three days after this 1862 meeting, Lincoln’s future opponent for the presidential race ordered a military guard to be stationed at the Soldier’s Home for the president’s protection.

8. General Daniel Sickles – Though he is notorious for his debatable actions at the battle of Gettysburg, Sickles was lauded during the war as one of the heroes of that battle. In October of 1863, this general, who is also noted for being the first man in the United States to be acquitted of murder on a temporary insanity defense, visited President Lincoln at the Soldier’s Home.

9. Joseph Henry (First Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution)–The Sherman Tower (formerly Scott Tower) on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home was ideal for sending military signals down into the city because of its height and location on one of the highest points in DC. During the Civil War, Professor Joseph Henry, the first secretary-director of the Smithsonian Institution, performed signaling experiments for the Army and Navy. President Lincoln was particularly interested in this scientific endeavor, taking time out of his already busy schedule to accompany Professor Henry to the tower of the Smithsonian castle building where signals were received. On at least one night, however, Lincoln and the professor stationed themselves in the tower of the Sherman Building to signal Morse code to the city below.

10. George Borrett – Borrett, an Englishman, traveled throughout the United States during his trip from England, but he felt it would not be complete without an audience with the highest in the land. The well connected traveler was finally granted the opportunity to meet with Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home, but was surprised when the Commander-In-Chief, awoken from his night’s sleep, entered the cottage drawing room in bed attire and slippers.

Most Notable Person Lincoln Invited to Soldiers’ Home Who Never Came:

Frederick Douglass

– Lincoln and Douglass met many times during the Civil War to discuss African-American military contributions. Though Lincoln was slow to accept Douglass’ assertion that black troops were vital to victory, the evidence soon prevailed, and Lincoln became a supporter of the recruitment and deployment of the forces then known as United States Colored Troops or USCT. Lincoln invited Douglass for tea at the Soldiers’ Home but Douglass respectfully declined due to another obligation. Douglass had assumed there would be other opportunities to visit the president at his summer home and later noted that regreted that he had passed up the invitation.

Mr. Collier is a 2008 Summer Intern at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
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