The Terrible Toll of a Presidency
Updated: Feb 18, 2020
On this President’s Day, Notes from the Frontier honors perhaps our greatest U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln. Much has been written about the dramatic aging process of President Lincoln during his four-and-a-half years in the White House. Considered by many scholars and historians to be our greatest president, his tenure was marked by the most deadly war in our nation’s history that shook the foundations of our republic’s unity. Only George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt had tenures even close in the degree of danger posed to the very survival of our nation.
Serving as President during a bloody Civil War would—alone—cause a leader to age. But other major factors also contributed to Lincoln’s aging. The first three years of the war were catastrophic for the Union. It lost many major battles in those first years, including Fort Sumter, First Battle of Bull Run, Battle of Seven Days, Second Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, and Cold Harbor.
Add to the war the many personal tragedies in Lincoln’s life. Foremost among them was the fact that his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was believed to be mentally ill and had several nervous breakdowns during their stay in the White House. (Some medical historians today believe that she actually suffered from pernicious anemia, not mental illness. Either way, she suffered severe symptoms similar to bipolar disorder, depression, extreme anxiety, irritability, delusions, and hallucinations.) Both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had to endure ruthless derision from the public for her unfortunate condition. Lincoln himself suffered depression all his life and struggled mightily through the many tribulations of his tenure as President.
Lincoln's first full year in office was very rough. In April 1861, Fort Sumter falls to the Confederacy. In May 1861 he loses his close friend, Elmer Ellsworth who is killed in Alexandria, VA. In July 1861, the Union suffers a devastating defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run.
The year 1862 was not any better. In February 1862, Lincoln tragically loses his young 11-year-old son Willie, whom he adores. In July 1862 the Union loses the Seven Days Battle. In September 1862, Lincoln issues the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to great controversary. And in December 1862, the Union loses the battle of Fredericksburg.
In late 1863 to early 1864 Lincoln contracted small pox, and it is during this period that his physical aging is most dramatic. It would not be until the Battle and Siege of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863 before the war would finally take a turning point in the North’s favor. But, even after that, the Confederacy would continue to win major battles at great cost to the Union.
Following are lists of the events that took place during the years corresponding with the images of Abraham Lincoln above and the train of events Lincoln endured during his presidency. At least he was able to see the end of the war and a Union victory. It was only nine days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox that Lincoln was assassinated. These images give us a glimpse of the debt of gratitude we owe such a man, who paid a tremendous cost not only with his health, but with “the last full measure of devotion”—his life.
Feb Delivers Cooper Union Address
May Nominated for President of the United States
Oct Receives suggestion from a young girl that he should grow a beard
Nov Elected President of the United States
Dec South Carolina secedes from the Union
Feb Confederate States of America is formed
Mar Inaugurated as 16th President of the United States
Apr Attack on Fort Sumter, SC-Union surrenders fort
May Family friend Elmer Ellsworth killed in Alexandria, VA
July Battle of First Bull Run (Manassas)- Union loses badly
Nov Trent Affair with Great Britain
Feb Battles of Fort Henry-first major win for Union and Grant
Feb Son William (Willie) dies from typhoid fever
Apr Battle of Shiloh—Union wins
May Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley – Union wins
June Battle of Seven Days’ – Confederate wins against McClellan
Aug Battle of Second Bull Run (Manassas) – Confederate wins
Sept Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) – Union wins
Sept Issues Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation
Dec Battle of Fredericksburg – Confederacy wins
Jan Issues Final Emancipation Proclamation
May Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederacy wins
July Battle of Gettysburg-Union wins but with huge losses
July Surrender of Vicksburg, MS- Union wins but at great cost
Sept Battle of Chickamauga – Confederacy wins
Nov Delivers Gettysburg Address
Nov Contracts smallpox
Nov Battle of Chattanooga – Union wins
Mar Appoints U.S. Grant Commander-in-Chief of Union Army
May Battle of the Wilderness – draw between North and South
June Battle of Cold Harbor-Confederacy wins in
June Siege of Petersburg, VA by Union army
Sept Battle of Atlanta-Union victory
Nov Re-elected President of the United States
Dec Battle of Nashville-Union victory destroys Army of Tennessee
Dec Capture of Savannah, GA by Union army
Jan Congress Passes 13th Amendment to the Constitution
Mar Delivers Second Inaugural Address
Apr Robert E. Lee Surrenders to U. S. Grant
Apr Nine days later, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated
See related post: The Gettysburg Address.
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