Willie Lincoln Dies and Jefferson Davis Inaugurated

February 17, 1862/2012
Volume 3, Issue 7 (71 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Willie Lincoln Dies

February 20, 1862. President Lincoln’s sons, eleven-year-old Willie and eight-year-old Tad, have been sick for about two weeks with what doctors called a bilious fever, probably typhoid, a byproduct of poor sanitation in Washington. On February 20, Willie lapsed into a coma and died. In 1850, the Lincolns’ son Eddie had died at the age of three; now they had lost another son.

Willie Lincoln, age 12, taken shortly before his death on February 20, 1862 by Mathew Brady

Willie Lincoln, age 12, taken shortly before his death on February 20, 1862 by Mathew Brady

“My poor boy,” Lincoln said, “God has called him. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die.”

Lincoln said to secretary John Nicolay, “Well, Nicolay, my boy is gone — he is actually gone.” Then he broke down in tears. “He was too good for this earth.” Mary was devastated — so much so that Lincoln worried for her health. “She took to her bed for three weeks, and for months ‘the mere mention of Willie’s name sent her into paroxysms of weeping.’ She cloaked herself in black and brought Spiritualists to the White House in an effort to communicate with her dead son.”

The President was so devastated that people close to him wonder whether he would be able to carry on, but on February 24, the New York Evening Post reported, accurately or not, “Mr. Lincoln . . . is again at his ordinary duties, spending, not infrequently, eighteen out of the twenty-four hours upon the affairs of the nation.”

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council

SOURCES

Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Lincoln, An Illustrated Biography, p. 175;

John Stauffer, Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, p. 261

Richard Wheeler, Voices of the Civil War, p. 60


Jefferson Davis Inaugurated in the Rain

February 22, 1862. “[I]n a pouring rain, . . . Jefferson Davis was inaugurated for his second term, [having been selected as president of the Confederacy by delegates to the February 1861 convention of seceding states]. The rain-soaked crowds cheered, but Jeff knew that he lacked the support of many in his government and a growing number of his generals. [His wife] Varina recalled the day sadly, describing her husband as he stood, pale and emaciated, looking more like ‘a willing victim going to his funeral pyre’ than the leader of a new nation.” (1)

Jefferson Davis, ca. 1860 - 1865, Mathew Brady, National Archives

Jefferson Davis, ca. 1860 – 1865, Mathew Brady, National Archives

In his Second Inaugural Address, Davis said in part, “[O]ur colonial ancestors were forced to vindicate that birthright [to representative government] by an appeal to arms. Success crowned their efforts, and they provided for their posterity a peaceful remedy against future aggression.

The tyranny of an unbridled majority, the most odious and least responsible form of despotism, has denied us both the right and the remedy. Therefore we are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our fathers made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty.”

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council  

 

SOURCE

(1) Berkin, Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant, p. 164.

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1862

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