Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home


After the heartbreaking death of his son Willie, Abraham Lincoln and his family fled the gloom that hung over the White House, moving into a small cottage in Washington, D.C., on the grounds of the Soldiers' Home, a residence for disabled military veterans. In Lincoln's Sanctuary, historian Matthew Pinsker offers a fascinating portrait of Lincoln's stay in this cottage and tells the story of the president's remarkable growth as a national leader and a private man. Lincoln lived at the Soldiers' Home for a quarter of his presidency, and for nearly half of the critical year of 1862, but most Americans (including many scholars) have not heard of the place. Indeed, this is the first volume to specifically connect this early "summer White House" to key wartime developments, including the Emancipation Proclamation, the firing of McClellan, the evolution of Lincoln's "Father Abraham" image, the election of 1864, and the assassination conspiracy. Through a series of striking vignettes, the reader discovers a more accessible Lincoln, demonstrating what one visitor to the Soldiers' Home described as his remarkable "elasticity of spirits." At his secluded cottage, the president complained to his closest aides, recited poetry to his friends, reconnected with his wife and family, conducted secret meetings with his political enemies, and narrowly avoided assassination attempts. Perhaps most important, he forged key friendships that helped renew his flagging spirits. The cottage became a refuge from the pressures of the White House, a place of tranquility where Lincoln could refresh his mind. Based on research in rarely tapped sources, especially the letters and memoirs of people who lived or worked at the Soldiers' Home, Lincoln's Sanctuary offers the unexpected--a completely fresh view of Abraham Lincoln--through the window of a place that helped shape his presidency.


Lincoln is the miracle of democracy, and interest in him in the united States—and around the globe—seems insatiable. the reading public, however, also wonders how, after so many years and so many books on the Civil War president, new and important work continues to be written about him. It is a cliché that each generation needs to reinterpret Lincoln. It is also true. As new students enter the field, they bring the fresh perspective of a new generation and also substantial talents. We are rewarded not only by new voices and new emphases but also by new avenues explored and new understanding.

Matthew Pinsker proves to be a sparkling new voice and a careful historian. He constantly measures the reliability of his materials so that his readers secure fine lessons on how to read historical sources. With Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home, the young historian puts himself in the vanguard of a new generation of Lincoln scholars.

The literate public knows very little about the Soldiers' Home. Scholars have known that Lincoln spent some of his summers at the cool retreat of a “cottage” in the Washington suburbs, but how important a part that place played in his story is quite new. Pinsker's book suggests that the privacy afforded the president by the Soldiers' Home, the quiet it gave him to think deeply, and the interaction with common people that the place and the daily travel to and from the White House allowed provided Lincoln with an important part of the power he needed to lead as perhaps no other president has done before or since.

The house that came to be known as the Soldiers' Home was built in 1842 for George W. Riggs of banking fame; not much later the government acquired it. Surrounded by other buildings, the place provided a tranquil “asylum” for disabled veterans of old wars, the majority of whom turn out to be immigrants— . . .

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