Abraham Lincoln was no stranger to loss throughout his life. Before his first summer at the Soldiers’ Home, or first visit to the National Cemetery, Lincoln had already lost several family members and close personal friends during the war. It’s not difficult to imagine Lincoln remembering the faces and memories of the following people as he paced the cemetery grounds throughout the war.
Colonel Elmer Ellsworth (1837-1861) was a close friend of Lincoln from before the war. Ellsworth worked in Lincoln’s law office in Illinois and assisted him during his campaign for President. As head of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves, he spearheaded the Federal occupation of Alexandria, Virginia, in May, 1861. On May 24th, 1861, local hotel owner James Jackson shot and killed Ellsworth after Ellsworth seized a Confederate flag flying from Jackson’s hotel. The loss of such a close friend devastated the Lincoln family.
Edward Baker, (1811-1861), an Oregon Senator, also served as a Colonel in the Union Army. A close personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, he was killed commanding a brigade of infantry during the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October, 1861, near Leesburg, Virginia. The Union forces suffered an embarrassing defeat there at the hands of their Confederate opponents. Many casualties from this and the earlier First Battle of Bull Run were among the first burials in the Soldiers’ Home National Cemetery. These mounting casualties frustrated Lincoln, as he sought the best strategy to end the war with Union victory.
William “Willie” Lincoln, (1850-1862), the Lincolns’ third son, was a smart boy, but prone to illness. Even during times of great stress for Abraham Lincoln, Willie and his brother Tad, could be seen playing and enjoying life in the White House. Tragedy struck, however, in February of 1862 when Willie became sick, probably from the consumption of contaminated water. He died on February 20th, 1862. President Lincoln could not control his grief, crying openly. Mary Lincoln was also devastated, spending several weeks alone in her room. In fact, she never quite got over Willie’s death, and believed moving to the Soldiers’ Home would help alleviate these feelings. “When we are in sorrow, quiet is very necessary to us,” she wrote a friend prior to the Lincolns’ move in 1862.