Slate: Part Three: Shattered
Narrator: On the morning of February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln prepared to leave Springfield, Illinois for Washington. The President-Elect had grown a beard since election day -- and was still not quite comfortable with how he looked.
Mary Lincoln was just back from New York where she had bought so much finery she did not dare tell her husband how much she had spent. She had accepted lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry, too, and had kept that fact to herself, as well.
Despite the heavy rain, a sizable crowd turned out to see Lincoln off. Springfield had nurtured him. He had prospered there. Now, he was saying goodbye.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "My friends -- no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything."
"Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.
"I bid you an affectionate farewell."
Narrator: In 20 days, Abraham Lincoln would become President of the United States. But the Union he held sacred had shattered.
Slate: Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided
Narrator: The Lincolns had long dreamed of this moment: at the end of a 12-day swing through northern cities lay the Executive Mansion.
David E. Long, Historian: His Republican Party has won the White House for the first time. He is the first Republican President. He is thrilled about what has happened. He is looking forward to it, and yet he watches the country falling apart before he even has a chance to take the oath of office.
Narrator: Lincoln's election had been the signal for seven southern states to leave the Union: first South Carolina, then Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas. Eight more were teetering on the brink. One by one, federal forts had been turned over to the southern states without a shot being fired.
David Herbert Donald, Biographer: Lincoln kept thinking that reasonable people in the South would gradually come to their senses and say, "This is stupid. We must get back into the Union" as it was.
James M. McPherson, Historian: "They're not going to leave this country. They're patriots just as much as we are." Lincoln said that over and over again, and I think he really believed it. I think that was one of the mistakes that Lincoln and Northern Republicans made. They underestimated the depth and genuineness of Southern secessionist sentiment.
Narrator: The brand-new Confederate States of America had adopted their own Constitution and appointed Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as their new president.
Mark E. Neely Jr., Historian: The Southern view is that the Union is a matter of convenience. And when the Union became a nuisance instead of something that was helping them that they could just withdraw from it. They had created it, why couldn't they back out?
Narrator: Some in the North wanted force used to bring the southern states back into the Union. Others argued the states should be allowed to leave in peace. Still others hoped for some sort of compromise. No one knew what Lincoln would do. As his train moved east, he kept silent or told jokes. Many concluded he was a well-intentioned bumbler, not up to the job.
David E. Long, Historian: He's in a very tough position. He is not going to say anything provocative. He is not going to say anything that might cause other states to join with those seven states that have already acted. If he postures, if he rattles a saber, that may be all it takes to get those states to follow suit. So he's going to be a man walking on political eggshells.
Narrator: On February 22, Lincoln arrived in Philadelphia. At Independence Hall, where American freedom was first proclaimed, he raised the flag and swore allegiance to the promise of equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.... If this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle... I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it."
Narrator: Lincoln had just been told of a plot to kill him. He wanted to ignore the threat, but aides finally convinced him to slip secretly into Washington. When Mary heard the news, she was terrified.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: Mary's worries about her husband's physical safety began from the very moment that he was elected President. He received all kinds of hate mail at home. The hatred that was spewed out at her husband was unbelievable, and I think there was always an undercurrent of fear... from that very early time, a seed of dread.
Narrator: That evening, Abraham Lincoln and a loyal bodyguard quietly boarded a sleeping car. The bodyguard carried "a small arsenal of deadly weapons beneath his coat." Lincoln wore a cap and cloak, and pretended to be an invalid. The President-Elect was reluctantly heading for Washington undercover.
David Herbert Donald, Biographer: He was later ashamed of it and was embarrassed. He didn't think there had been a conspiracy ever, but he was talked into it.
Narrator: Lincoln traveled the rest of the night and arrived in Washington at six the following morning, took a carriage to his hotel and slipped inside through the ladies entrance. Mary and the boys joined him later in the day.
It wasn't long before newspapers got hold of the story. Many had already dismissed him as a boor and a country bumpkin. Now, they called him a coward, too. Never before had a President gotten off to a more humiliating start.
Lincoln's first order of business was to interview the long lines of Republicans looking for government jobs.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "I have more pigs than I have tits. But they don't want much and don't get but little. I must see them."
Narrator: At the same time, he met with the men who would make-up his cabinet-some of them rivals he had beaten for the Presidential nomination, all of them with more experience than Abraham Lincoln.
David E. Long, Historian: Lincoln has tremendous self-confidence... he's giving these positions to people like William Seward who resent him because he's won the nomination, to people who demean and diminish his capabilities, say that he is less qualified to hold this office than I am. Nobody in that cabinet has very high regard for Lincoln's abilities.
Narrator: Monday, March 4, 1861, was unlike any other Inauguration Day in history. As the Lincolns rode up Pennsylvania Avenue, uniformed sharpshooters stood guard on rooftops. With the unfinished Capitol looming above them, Mary and several relatives took their seats just behind the President-elect. One of her cousins remembered looking out upon a sea of upturned faces, representing every shade of feeling; hatred, discontent, admiration and anxiety. Americans, North and South, were waiting to hear at last what their new President planned to do. He began by reassuring the South.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."
Narrator: He also vowed to "hold, occupy and possess" all the Federal installations under Union control. How he was going to do that he didn't say, but there would be no compromise with secession.
David Herbert Donald, Biographer: Lincoln was very stubborn. He believed simply that the United States was the greatest country potentially in the world if it could hold together. And I think at no point did he ever seriously consider the possibility that Union could be destroyed.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "I hold that in contemplation of Universal Law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: The passionate belief that Lincoln has in the necessity of preserving the Union is because the Union is necessary to preserve the democratic experiment. And what that democratic experiment meant to him was the chance for a poor person with hard work and discipline to move from one rung in the ladder to another, because there was opportunity, because there was equality.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them...."
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine is the momentous issue of Civil War. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors..."
"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Narrator: As Lincoln spoke in Washington, a big crowd in Charleston, South Carolina, cheered as the flag of the Confederate States of America was hauled to the top of its pole. Out in Charleston harbor stood Fort Sumter, guarded by less than 100 federal soldiers. South Carolina troops trained cannon on the fort and demanded its surrender. With Sumter's defenders running out of food, South Carolina vowed to fire upon any federal ship that tried to reinforce or re-supply them.
Abraham Lincoln knew almost nothing about warfare, had never managed anything larger than his two man law firm -- but it was now up to him to decide how to respond to the Southern threat. Defend or surrender Sumter? To defend it, he knew, meant war.
Voice of Mary Lincoln, (Holly Hunter): "March 28, 1861, Washington is perfectly charming.... I am beginning to feel so perfectly at home and enjoy everything so much. Every evening our blue room is filled with the elite of the land."
Narrator: Mary Lincoln came to Washington with high hopes, determined to do her husband proud and also to make her own mark on the city, to live up to the brand-new title a British correspondent had coined for her -- "First Lady."
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: She was going to dress the part and she was going to act the part and she was going to shine and do her best for her husband and she was going to prove that this man was not a hick from the sticks and she was not some Midwestern small town frump.
Narrator: "She is more self-possessed than Mister Lincoln," one newspaper reported, "and has accommodated more readily than her taller half to the exalted station to which she has been so strangely advanced."
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: Here comes Mary Lincoln, all flags flying, standing up there beside her husband, presiding at teas, presiding at coffees, being charming, making political pronouncement. She burst upon Washington like fireworks on an empty sky, and she provided enormous copy for people who had never even thought of covering a President's wife before.
Charles B. Strozier, Historian: She loved being the center of attention, and it was her greatest dream. She was probably not psychologically cut out to be at the center of the storm in which she found herself.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: Though Mary's arrival in Washington should have been a moment of triumph, it must have been so hard for her knowing that so much of her strength came from her southern roots: the South has seceded. Her sisters and brothers are on the opposite side. She's cut off from those roots, and she's on a collision course with her very own past. The Southerners feel that she's a traitor for being married to Lincoln, and herself being a passionate defender of the Union cause. On the other hand, the Northerners are very suspicious. So she really becomes a woman without a country.
Narrator: On Mary Lincoln's first day in her new home, she and her children had gone from room to room. She was appalled by what she found.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: She said, "She never saw such abominable furniture in her life, that if she had lived in the humblest cabin she would never have given it house room. It was so awful."
Jean Baker, Biographer: It looked like a second-rate hotel. And there was broken furniture, stained rugs. So Mary Lincoln arrives. She's ambitious, she's energetic, and her idea is to make the White House into a statement. She intended to use it as a symbol of the Union power.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: The Union was breaking apart. The White House was the home of the President of the United States, and he deserved virtually a palace to live in, lest anybody think that the White House was falling apart along with the Union.
Narrator: Mary resolved to transform the old house, and Congress gave her the money to get the job done.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: Suddenly she had an appropriation of 20 thousand dollars to spend as she liked. And she loved stores and she'd loved shopping, and she was determined to turn this house into a fitting home.
Narrator: March 5, 1861. On his first day in the Executive Mansion, Lincoln found a message on his desk from Fort Sumter. The Federal Garrison was growing desperate. Without food and supplies, it could not hold out much longer.
David E. Long, Historian: Fort Sumter was the symbol. It was in Charleston harbor, the birthplace of the rebellion. To give Fort Sumter up at this point would have dealt a devastating blow to Northern morale in this crisis.
Narrator: The President summoned the Commander of the United States Army, the hero of the Mexican War, Winfield Scott.
James M. McPherson, Historian: Winfield Scott said it would take 20,000 troops and a whole fleet of naval ships to reinforce Fort Sumter, and it would start a bloody war that would destroy this country. So Scott says, "Pull out."
David E. Long, Historian: And yet, Lincoln had promised in his Inaugural Address that he would yield no Federal property or installations to the rebels.
Narrator: Lincoln seemed trapped. To fire in defense of Sumter risked driving more states out of the Union. To do nothing meant surrendering to the Confederacy. He asked his cabinet for their advice. On March 16 -- 10 days after the Sumter crisis had begun -- they gave him their recommendations: all but two urged him to give up the fort. If Federal ships tried to shoot their way in, they told him, you will be accused of starting a war.
Lincoln listened but did not act. Wait, he said, give the Confederates time to come to their senses. One more week went by, then two. The Union soldiers inside the fort grew increasingly desperate for food. Still Lincoln hesitated.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: Here's this new President getting such strong advice from almost everybody against what he feels he should do. And somehow holding those contradictions inside himself, he says, "I'm not ready to make this decision yet."
Narrator: As Lincoln waited, he grew more and more depressed. Sleepless, tormented by migraines, he was, he said, "in the dumps." The strain was so great, Mary noted, that at one point, her husband "keeled over" -- fainted dead away. Then Secretary of State William Seward made an astonishing proposal. He told the President that Sumter should be abandoned, and if the President wasn't willing to make policy, he was.
All along Seward had been playing a shadowy game, leaking hints to the press that the fort was about to be given up, even secretly passing the word to the Confederates that he would soon be empowered to negotiate its surrender. Lincoln put Seward in his place.
The President -- and no one else -- would make policy, Lincoln told his Secretary of State. Five weeks after Lincoln's Inauguration, a clash at Fort Sumter now seemed inevitable.
A Union fleet was preparing for action outside Charleston Harbor. The President had finally devised a shrewd plan. He warned the Governor of South Carolina:
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "An attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only. If such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms or ammunition will be made without further notice."
Narrator: If the rebels wanted a war so badly they were willing to open fire on boats carrying "food for hungry men," Lincoln said, "then the blame would be theirs alone."
David E. Long, Historian: It was an ingenious solution because now the Confederates had to fire the first shot. "We will not be the aggressors." He promised that in his Inaugural Address. "You will have to be the aggressors and as the aggressors, you will leave us the moral high ground."
Narrator: At 4:30 in the morning on April 12, 1861, South Carolina batteries opened fire. The shelling went on for more than 33 hours. Finally, the Union soldiers surrendered. The rebel flag now flew over Fort Sumter. The American Civil War had begun.
Voice of Lincoln, (David Morse): "I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution hereby do call forth, the militia of the several states of the Union, in order to suppress said rebellious combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed...."
Narrator: Lincoln hoped the rebellion would be over soon. He called upon the loyal states to supply 75,000 militiamen. Each man would need to serve just 90 days.
James M. McPherson, Historian: Lincoln was convinced that a majority of people in the Confederate states really were unionists and that they were being swept out of the Union by the passion of the moment.
Narrator: Within weeks, four more southern states left the Union -- Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina. Lincoln now feared that the slave-holding border states of Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky -- the state where he and Mary had both been born -- would leave, too.
But Lincoln clung to the hope that one big Union victory could still bring the South to its senses and end the rebellion. In the days immediately following Fort Sumter, Washington seemed like a ghost town. Hundreds of Southern-born clerks left their jobs with the Federal Government and slipped away into Confederate Virginia.
Using a spyglass from the upstairs windows of the White House, the Lincolns could see rebel flags flying over Alexandria, just across the Potomac. A Confederate attack could come at any time. A band of nervous civilians patrolled the White House grounds. Washington was almost defenseless. Lincoln waited impatiently for reinforcements. But as Union soldiers attempted to march through Baltimore to relieve the Capital, mobs of secessionists attacked them. Four soldiers were killed.
Lincoln paced his office, muttering, "Why don't they come! Why don't they come!" Rumors of an imminent attack on the President himself were kept from Mary for fear her nerves would fail her.
Finally, on April 25, the 7th New York regiment marched briskly past the White House. The men brought word that more regiments were right behind them. As Lincoln hurried out to greet them, they cheered his wife, who quickly gave way to tears of relief, while the President, one observer wrote, seemed to "smile all over."
Two days later, to make sure secessionists could not stand in the way of Union troops again, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus: now American citizens could be arrested without knowing the charges made against them. The President argued that by suspending one part of the constitution, he would save the rest. Those people, North or South, who had thought Lincoln was a weakling, were learning how wrong they had been.
On May 10, Mary Lincoln and three companions set out on a shopping expedition to Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Shopping had always helped to soothe Mary's anxieties, and her plans for re-doing the President's house now consumed her.
"Her chief enjoyment," her sister would later write, "consists in purchasing and storing."
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: It was Lincoln who suggested that Mary make this trip to get her away from the tension of Washington and to give her some sort of joy back in her own life again... And it didn't seem like a very unreasonable trip at the start. She needed a new carriage for them in Washington. She wanted a new dinner service for the White House.
Narrator: She was horrified to find that reporters followed her from store to store, quizzing sales clerks about every purchase she made. They reported that she had ordered costly bedsteads, carpets, curtains, wallpaper, glassware, and two sets of dinnerware -- at $1100 each.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: She invited, unwittingly, criticism of the press by even taking such a trip in the midst of such a terrible time. It is the hour of self-sacrifice. The hour of death. It's the time when the country is undergoing this severe struggle.
Narrator: Newspapers accused her of tasteless extravagance. "She evidently has no comprehension," wrote the Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch, "that Jeff Davis will make good his threat to occupy the White House in July." The criticism only made Mary more anxious -- and more eager to shop. There would be more trips, more "purchasing and storing."
On Sunday morning, July 21, while the Lincolns attended services at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, a great battle was about to begin just 25 miles from Washington, along Bull Run Creek in Virginia.
The President had ordered the action over the protests of the Union commander who had said that his men were not yet ready for combat. If they didn't do battle soon, Lincoln warned, their 90-day enlistment would be up.
As the President and his family walked home, they could just hear the distant sound of artillery. The first dispatches were encouraging. A Union victory, Lincoln hoped, might end the war.
Relieved, the Lincolns went for a carriage ride. Then, a rider caught up with them with an ominous message from the battlefield: the tide had turned. Union troops were now streaming back toward Washington in full retreat. Soon the streets were filled with ambulances and stumbling, weary soldiers.
It was the first full-scale battle of the war, and the Union had lost.
David E. Long, Historian: Lincoln's very surprised, not just by the defeat, but by the extent of the defeat. I mean it was not just a battlefield defeat; it was turned into a rout. I mean they called this "the great skedaddle" as the Union army fled from the field.
Narrator: Lincoln did not go to bed that night. He lay on a sofa in his office, instead, listening to eyewitnesses describe the disaster: 625 boys dead, more than 2,000 wounded or missing. It was now clear that this war would take more than 90 days to win.
The Capital had become the most heavily fortified city on earth and the sound of drums was everywhere. A new General was turning 100,000 untrained volunteers into a mighty, disciplined force, the Army of the Potomac. His admirers called him "the Young Napoleon."
Lincoln had appointed General George Brinton McClellan, a little man with impressive credentials, a 35-year-old West Pointer, who had studied tactics in Europe. He promised to make short work of the Confederacy. "I can do it all," he told the President.
David E. Long, Historian: McClellan was a genius. As a man who could prepare an army to perform the task it's required to perform in wartime, McClellan has no peer. McClellan had a relationship with his troops. There was an affection, an intimacy. McClellan regarded them as though they were his sons and he was their father. They revered him.
Narrator: As McClellan prepared his army for battle, huge crowds turned out to watch him. The General had become enormously popular.
But as Summer turned to Fall, he showed no signs of moving against the enemy. Lincoln wanted action. The North needed a victory. But McClellan refused to take his men into battle. They weren't ready, he said. The General insisted he knew better than the President.
Donald L. Miller, Historian: McClellan thought of himself as a man who was deeply superior to the President. He was a northern aristocrat, well-schooled, well-educated, spoke a number of languages. And he saw Lincoln as a backwoods, backwater politician, crude, unlettered. He hated his humor. He hated the style of his dress. They were exact opposites. And he would have nothing do with Lincoln.
Narrator: McClellan even refused to let the Commander-in-Chief in on his plans. Lincoln, McClellan, wrote his wife, is "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon... the original gorilla." Aides urged the President to fire the General. Lincoln said only "he would gladly hold McClellan's horse if it brought victories." Fall turned to Winter. There were countless parades and grand reviews, but there were no victories. McClellan kept on drilling.
Lincoln worked every day, from seven in the morning till late at night. He took no holidays, often failed to take time to eat. Mary did her best to make her distracted husband's life bearable.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: At the start Mary was able to ease his burden slightly. She would invite friends of his to breakfast hoping they could distract him from the problems of the day. But as the war progressed, his willingness to take these moments of relaxation diminished. And Mary really felt that she had less time with him than ever before in their marriage. In the past Lincoln could always break away from the law offices to go home and comfort Mary in one of her difficult moments, in a thunderstorm, in one of those times when she was upset. But now his workload was of such great nature that he could not provide that comfort or calmness to her. And she had a temperament that depended upon his calmness to bring it back into balance.
Charles B. Strozier, Historian: She had not calculated on the absorption of Lincoln in the affairs of state and the effect that that would have on her. He was gone every minute of every day, and when he was there he wasn't there 'cause he was trying to run a war. She felt alone and abandoned
Voice of Mary Lincoln, (Holly Hunter): "I consider myself fortunate if at eleven o'clock, I once more find myself in my pleasant room and very especially if my tired and weary husband is there, waiting... to receive me."
Narrator: Back in Springfield, Mary had prided herself on offering her husband political advice, but she did not know Washington, and he had little time to listen to her.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: Their shared partnership was something that I think that had kept them together even with difficulties in their marriage. Now the ground on which that had rested is crumbling little by little.
Narrator: Mary threw herself into her campaign to refurbish the Executive Mansion. She was almost finished now. The private rooms upstairs were all done over. The public rooms were filled with splendid new furnishings, covered in silk and damask. In the East Room, the vast new Belgian carpet looked, one visitor wrote, "as if the ocean, in gleaming and transparent waves, were tossing roses at your feet."
But the bills had also begun to arrive. Mary Lincoln had overspent her $20,000 budget -- by almost half.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: What had begun as a reasonable project to make the White House a more livable, lovely place for both her husband and the country became an obsessive pursuit. And as her expenditures got higher and higher, she needed people to protect her.
Narrator: Mary turned to John Watt, the White House head gardener, for help. He showed her how to pad expense accounts, even suggested she quietly appropriate funds meant for others for her own use. She was desperate to keep her besieged husband in the dark, afraid of how he would react to a scandal so close to home.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: She's not telling Lincoln the truth. She not only lies about how much she's spending but feels compelled to keep doing it.
Narrator: She tearfully implored a friendly government Commissioner to ask the President for a supplemental appropriation from Congress. Her husband would not hear of it.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "It never can have my approval.... It would stink in the nostrils of the American people to have it said that the President of the United States had approved a bill overrunning an appropriation of $20,000 for flub-dubs for this damned old house when the soldiers cannot have blankets.... The house was furnished well enough, better than any one we ever lived in... Well, I suppose Mrs. Lincoln must bear the blame, let her bear it, I swear I won't!"
Narrator: He vowed to pay the extra costs himself, but the Republican Congress eventually came to his rescue, burying the surplus in the next year's appropriations bill.
"I wish they wouldn't stare at us so," 11-year-old Willy Lincoln once complained. "Wasn't there ever a President who had children?"
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: There was a motto in the White House during those years, "Let the children have a good time." The kids were allowed to run through the house into Cabinet meetings, at State Dinners they were present, throwing strawberries around. And outsiders could not understand how the parents were not keeping these kids under wrap.
Narrator: Robert, the oldest of the Lincoln boys was away studying at Harvard. His two younger brothers more than made up for his absence. Lincoln called them "my blessed fellows."
Jean Baker, Biographer: Can you imagine anything more exciting than having troops stationed in your living room? Troops who let you shoot their guns off sometime?
Narrator: Tad and Willy made a soldier doll from rags, named him Jack, sentenced him to be shot for falling asleep on duty, then appealed to the President for clemency.
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "The doll, Jack, is pardoned. By order of the President. A. Lincoln."
Narrator: Tad hanged Jack, anyway. The doll was a "traitor and a spy," he said.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: When it came to the upbringing of their children, they both had similar ideas because they had had unhappy childhoods themselves in very different ways.
Mary Genevieve Murphy, Todd Family Friend: Mary, I think, was a little more the disciplinarian. Lincoln just let them do as they pleased.
Charles B. Strozier, Historian: He was infinitely tolerant of children. He did not care at all whether children were disciplined. He didn't want children to be disciplined.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: They would scatter papers and climb on the furniture and make a mess of things.
Charles B. Strozier, Historian: It didn't bother Lincoln at all. He just would keep writing whatever document he needed to write.
Narrator: Tad, as one of his father's Secretaries put it, was "full of merry mischief." When he opened fire with a toy cannon on one of his father's cabinet meetings, Lincoln just laughed. "Let him run," he said. "There's time enough yet for him to learn his letters and get poky."
Willy, Tad's older brother, was more serious. When Tad smashed a mirror with his ball, Willy Lincoln gave him a lecture: "That mirror does not belong to Pa," he said, "it belongs to the United States Government."
Charles B. Strozier, Historian: The child Lincoln was closest to was Willy. Willy was the most sensitive, the most like him, the most poetic.... And he loved having him around. He loved having him sit on his lap and, you know, read to him. There seemed to be a very deep connection between Lincoln and Willy.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: Willy always seemed, even as a young kid, wiser and older than his years. Everyone said he had the gentlest, sweetest temperament. Willy seemed to combine the best traits of both of his parents, having the soul, the spirit, the intellect, and the thoughtfulness of his father, but having a certain kind of natural exuberance and an ability to enjoy life that his mother at her best had.
Narrator: Willy, Mary liked to say "will be the hope and stay of my old age."
By New Year's Day of 1862, it had been almost six months since Lincoln had placed McClellan at the head of the army, and the general still refused to say where or when, he would attack. While northern newspapers demanded action, the South hunkered down. Time was on their side.
Donald L. Miller, Historian: The North had to go into the South, conquer all the southern armies, conquer and hold territory to win the Civil War. What the South had to do is fight a war of attrition. They had to wear down the will to fight of the North, and that was a much easier task than what the North faced.
Narrator: A frustrated Lincoln borrowed books on military strategy from the Library of Congress and began pouring over maps. He knew nothing about tactics, but he was determined to learn.
"If General McClellan didn't want to use the army," he said, he might borrow it himself.
Donald L. Miller, Historian: He said, "I never wanted to dabble deeply in military affairs. I never wanted to be that kind of President, but I was forced in that direction."
Narrator: Lincoln confided to an old friend that "we could lose this war," that there was now at least "the bare possibility of our being two nations."
Voice of Lincoln (David Morse): "The people are impatient. The bottom is out of the tub. What shall I do?"
Narrator: Finally, on January 27, 1862, the President took matters into his own hands and ordered all land and sea forces to move against the enemy on Washington's Birthday, February 22.
"I don't care, gentlemen, what plan you have," he told his commanders, "all I ask is for you just to pitch in."
David Herbert Donald, Biographer: It was a meaningless kind of order from a military point of view. Clearly it couldn't be done, and, indeed, I don't think Lincoln expected it to be done. But it was, in effect, a quick kick in the pants to McClellan. "You've got to get going or somebody else is going to do it for you, and that somebody may have to be me, President of the United States."
Narrator: On the evening of February 5, 1862 Mary Lincoln organized a glittering reception in the East Room. Her lavish renovation would at last be on display while the Marine Band entertained with music specially composed for the occasion "the Mary Lincoln Polka."
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: Mary Lincoln's Grand Gala Levee was plotted for months and months and months. And it was such a grand party that it was the kind that people invented an excuse to be out of town if they weren't invited. On the table were models out of spun sugar of Fort Pickens and another one of the Ship of State and then over here was the terrapin and over there was the turkey and there was the ham and there were the shrimps and there were the oysters.
Narrator: Mary herself appeared in a white satin dress with a neckline so low that her admiring husband asked her if some of what he called its "tail" shouldn't be sewn to the top. She had hoped that this splendid evening would finally make her not only the "First Lady" of the land -- but the Queen of Washington Society, as well.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian: The reception had glittering men and women, fine dining. It was the moment of triumph that Mary had so yearned to find. This would be her crowning glory.
Narrator: The festivities went on 'til three in the morning. One newspaper called the ball "a brilliant success": "Primarily we must remark the exquisite taste with which the White House has been refitted under Mrs. L's directions... Mrs. L. possesses as rare a beauty as the Empress of the French."
But Mary and the President spent much of that evening upstairs in 11-year-old Willy Lincoln's bedroom. Their son was ill with what the doctors called "bilious fever" -- typhoid.
During the days and nights that followed, Mary never left Willy's side. As she nursed him, some newspapers savaged her for having entertained so lavishly in the midst of war. "Disgraceful frivolity, hilarity, and gluttony," said one.
Another charged that the evening had been worthy of "a woman whose sympathies are with slavery and with those who are waging war."
All the while, her son grew weaker. At five in the afternoon on February 20, Willy Lincoln died.
"The President lifted the cover from the face of his child," a friend remembered, "and gazed at it long and earnestly, murmuring, 'It is hard, hard to have him die.'" Willy, he said, "was too good for this world, but then we loved him so."
Mary Lincoln did not attend her boy's burial. As Lincoln rode with Robert through a fierce storm to the cemetery, she remained in bed, inconsolable, weeping so steadily she sometimes suffered convulsions. A nurse was in constant attendance. Mary refused to see visitors, could not answer the letters of sympathy pouring in from all over the country.
Linda Levitt Turner, Biographer: She couldn't bear even to hear the mention of Willy's name. She couldn't enter his room. Tad was sick with the same disease, although a milder case, for days and days and days. She couldn't even bear to face Tad.
Narrator: Willy's toys were given away. Even flowers he had liked were barred from the White House. His mother could not bring herself to look at them. Mary would not leave her room for nearly a month. All the old fears that had haunted her life reasserted themselves: her mother, her father, her son Eddy, now Willy --those she loved best would be snatched from her.
And this time, she saw it as a punishment from God.
Voice of Mary Lincoln, (Holly Hunter): "I had become so wrapped up in the world, so devoted to our own political advancement, that I thought of little else besides. Our Heavenly Father sees fit...to visit us at such times for our worldliness.... How small and insignificant all worldly honors are when we are thus so severely tried."
Narrator: Lincoln, too, was distraught. "I never saw a man so bowed down with grief," a friend said. But unlike Mary, Lincoln did not collapse. He did not have the time. Though devastated by his own tragedy, he would never lose sight of the greater tragedy that gripped the whole country.
Charles B. Strozier, Historian: It's a civil war, and the central emotional experience of the country is that of loss. That touched him directly in February of 1862 with the death of Willy, his favorite child dying. But he also felt everybody else's suffering. And he found the means of giving that personal and collective suffering some kind of voice and meaning in his role as leader.
Narrator: Much of the time from now on, as the President labored to restore the shattered Union, the woman he loved would be just one more of the many burdens he had to bear.
As the war went on, Mary would retreat more and more into herself, while Lincoln would somehow find the strength to merge his own grief with the grief of his countrymen.
My American Experience
Of America's first 25 presidents, who is your favorite? From George Washington to William McKinley, which of the new country's leaders most helped shape America in its first century of existence?