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Willie Lincoln

An early ambrotype of Willie (Chicago History Museum photograph)
William Wallace Lincoln ("Willie") was born on December 21, 1850. He was the third son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Willie was named after Dr. William Wallace who had married Frances, one of Mary's sisters. Willie was more like his dad than older brother Robert; he had the same magnetic personality of Abraham Lincoln. A 16-year-old girl, Julia Taft, described Willie as "the most lovable boy I ever knew, bright, sensible, sweet-tempered and gentle-mannered."

In Springfield Willie attended a private school operated by Miss Corcoran. Like his folks, Willie loved learning. Willie developed lots of interests including writing poetry and drawing up railroad timetables. He had excellent natural ability in math. Additionally, Mary said Willie was "a most peculiarly religious child." He was more studious than his younger brother, Tad.
In June of 1859 Willie went to Chicago with his father who had legal business in that city. Father and son stayed in the Tremont House. Willie wrote a letter to his friend, Henry Remann, about his wonderful experience. (The photographs of Willie are from the Chicago History Museum.)
In his letter Willie said, "This town is a very beautiful place. Me and father have a nice little room to ourselves. We have two little pitchers on a washstand. The smallest one for me the largest one for father. We have two little towels on a top of both pitchers. The smallest one for me, the largest one for father. Me and father had gone to two theaters the other night."

The Lincolns moved into the White House in March of 1861. Willie and Tad had a great time in their new home. Willie was calmer and more conscientious than his younger brother. The boys loved animals, and gifts of dogs, rabbits, goats, and ponies poured into the White House. Because of the times, war-related games were popular with the boys, and they even constructed a fort on the White House roof. Willie and Tad often accompanied their father when he reviewed the troops in their camps. Additionally, they went with their mother when she took fruit, books, papers, etc. to the soldiers.

Pictured to the left are Horatio Nelson Taft, Jr. ("Bud") and Halsey Cook Taft ("Holly") who were close friends and playmates of the Lincoln boys in 1861 and early 1862.

Mrs. Lincoln hired a tutor for the boys. Willie's mind was amazingly mature for his age. Whereas Tad seems to have disliked the lessons, Willie loved learning. Just before Christmas, 1861, Willie turned 11. His future seemed extremely bright.

Shortly thereafter Willie became ill. His condition fluctuated from day to day. Mostly likely the illness was typhoid fever. Gradually, Willie weakened. Both parents spent much time at his bedside. Finally, on Thursday, February 20, 1862, at 5:00 P.M. the young boy passed away. Abraham said, "My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!"

Willie lay in state in the Green Room adjoining the East Room. He was dressed as for the evening, his eyes closed, his hands crossed over his chest and holding a small bouquet of flowers. The funeral took place in the East Room on Monday, February 24. Reverend Phineas D. Gurley of Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church conducted the services. Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln's friend and seamstress, described the scene as follows:
"The funeral was very touching. Of the entertainments in the East Room the boy had been a most life-giving variation... He was his father's favorite. They were intimates - often seen hand in hand. And there sat the man, with a burden on the brain at which the world marvels - bent now with the load both at heart and brain - staggering under a blow like the taking from him of his child."

Willie's coffin was placed in a crypt of the Carroll tomb at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington. (The clerk of the Supreme Court, Thomas Carroll, offered space in the Carroll tomb for Willie.) After the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, Willie's casket was removed from the crypt, and his coffin was placed on the Lincoln funeral train that traveled back to Springfield. Willie's remains were placed in the public receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery along with his father on May 4, 1865. On December 21, 1865, the remains were moved to a temporary tomb. On September 19, 1871, the remains of Abraham, Eddie, and Willie were moved to the permanent tomb.

Sources: Lincoln's Sons by Ruth Painter Randall, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography by Jean H. Baker, and Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. Although the main focus of John D. Weaver's Tad Lincoln: Mischief Maker in the White House is Tad, the book also contains lots of information about Willie. The same is true for Julia Taft Bayne's Tad Lincoln's Father. Julia Taft Bayne was the older sister of the Taft boys pictured above, and her book is the source of that picture.


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