Army of Northern Virginia: February to September 1862

Unconditional Surrender U. S. Grant

How did the Lincolns recover from the loss of Willie?

In some ways they never did. Mary Lincoln was consumed by grief. Even months later, during the summer of 1862, she sharply insisted that the Marine Band not play anywhere near the White House lawn because the music reminded her of how much her son had loved it. Lincoln, typically, handled the loss with a more balanced approach, but his aides knew not to disturb him when he spent time in his deceased son’s room.

As the 2012 film Lincoln showed, the loss of Willie created a powerful rift between the first couple. The president thought his wife went too far in her grief; she claimed that he did not seem to care. As a result, Mary Lincoln was adamant that their eldest son, Robert, not be exposed to the war. Over time, this became something of a scandal, because so many young men—from all walks of life—were participating in the conflict.


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