Cottage living, Lincoln style

Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home by Matthew Pinsker


Crap. I read the wrong book. How did this happen? I’m a professional, for the love of Mike!

(photo credit: Library of Congress)
Here’s what I did: Before visiting Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, I read Lincoln’s Other White House: The Untold Story of the Man and His Presidency by Elizabeth Smith Brownstein. That was a mistake. It was a bit of a weird book, which felt more like an apology for Mary Lincoln and a collection of snapshot biographies of various generals than it did an in-depth look at Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home. OK, I know that is snarky. But I truly was disappointed by that book.
This here bookLincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home by Matthew Pinsker—is the one I should have read. This one is the book about Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home.
So now I’ve read it, and I’m glad.
Here’s our “Who Knew?!” fact of the day: Abraham Lincoln spent about 1/4 of his presidency residing at the Soldiers’ Home on the (then-)outskirts of Washington, D.C., since it provided relief from the sweltering heat of the city and afforded the family a modicum of privacy. During the summers of 1862, 1863, and 1864, Lincoln commuted from the Soldiers’ Home to the White House for work. (Check me here: Can a person commute on horseback?)
Not only does author Pinsker stay on topic, but his writing is very nice. This fellow can assemble quite a fine sentence, which makes this book a pleasure to read.
He also beautifully combines the public and private elements of Lincoln’s life to show the president as an actual human being. For example, Pinsker mentions the spans of time when Mary Lincoln was away, surmising about the effects of her absence on the president.
Truly, for any presidential history geek, a visit to the Lincoln Cottage is highly recommended. When I was there, an amazingly good tour guide led the small group through the house, and it was totally worth the price of admission. (In D.C., with all those free museums, it’s almost weird to pay admission to anything, but I tell you, this place is worth it!)

One thought on “Cottage living, Lincoln style

  1. What a shame that you did not care for my book, "Lincoln's Other White House." You seem to have missed the points I was trying to make by using the Lincoln Cottage as the lens through which to introduce the reader to major figures of Lincoln's time (all visitors to the cottage) who have generally been slighted by historians, i.e., Montgomery Meigs, Edwin Stanton (no full biography since 1962), etc.; to give them a real taste of the humorists Lincoln so enjoyed, not the puzzling and passing references in most histories; to introduce fresh evidence about the positive qualities of the Lincoln marriage and the much maligned Mary Todd Lincoln; to delve a bit deeper into Lincoln's passionate interest in the weapons of war, about which there has not been a full treatment for over a half century; and to introduce readers to some influential poetry and satire of the era which are not usually included in most histories of the time. I don’t think readers will ever see a more poignant poem about war, past and present, than Walt Whitman’s “Pensive on Her Dead Gazing.”

    For readers who prefer a non-academic, more original approach to Lincoln and the Cottage, I do think that my book will be a refreshing surprise.

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