ECU professor leads efforts to restore presidential retreat

The Anderson Cottage, site of an assassination attempt on President Lincoln as well as some of Lincoln’s most important writing, needs a major restoration, according to an East Carolina University professor.

Dr. David E. Long, a history professor, is leading an effort by the newly formed Lincoln Forum of the Civil War Education Association to restore the cottage in Washington, D.C. Constructed in the 1840s, the building is at the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, about four miles north of the Capitol.

From 1862 to 1864 Lincoln and his family spent their summers at the 14-room house. Historians think the President wrote the second draft of the Emancipation Proclamation at this summer retreat. Three other U.S. Presidents also used the building.

Long is a member of the Lincoln Forum Advisory Board. At the board’s recent meeting in Gettysburg he was named chairman of a committee for the Anderson Cottage Restoration Project.

He said the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, a retirement community for war veterans, will continue to use the building for administrative offices but the restoration would add a museum and other attractions for visitors at the site. Money will come from private sources.

“It would be difficult to imagine a more significant historic preservation project anywhere on the planet,” Long said.

In a report prepared for the Lincoln Forum Newsletter, Long wrote that the President and Mrs. Lincoln first moved to Anderson Cottage in June 1862 to get away from the heat and humidity of the city and to escape the grief they experienced after the death of their son Willie in February. They returned to the White House in mid-November.

Their summer routine of moving to the Anderson Cottage continued until Lincoln’s death in April 1865. In those war years there were several noteworthy incidents, including an assassination attempt in August of 1864 as the President rode home on horseback unescorted from the Capitol.

As he neared the entrance, a shot rang out, causing the president to spur his horse until, breathless and hatless, he arrived at the gate to the grounds. Soldiers searched the area where Lincoln was fired on and found his hat on the ground with a bullet hole through the “stovepipe.”

A month earlier, Confederate troops engaged Union forces at Fort Stevens, about two miles from the summer residence. On this occasion, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton insisted that Lincoln leave the house and return to Washington

In July 1863, Mary Todd Lincoln suffered a fall from her carriage and was knocked unconscious near the house. It was believed at the time that sabotage caused the carriage seat to break

After treatment at a nearby hospital, she returned to Anderson Cottage. Mrs. Lincoln’s three-week recovery was complicated by a serious infection that at times rendered her incoherent and incapacitated. Her son, Robert Lincoln, later expressed the opinion that his mother “never quite recovered from the effects of her fall.”

“There are many other incidents associated with the Lincoln’s residence at the Anderson Cottage,” Long said. Even so, he said the historic building, until now, has been “almost ignored by historians and politicians.”