Abraham Lincoln in Photos: How the Presidency Aged Him


Abraham Lincoln aged considerably during the Civil War, unsurprisingly to his loved ones. “[H]”We were in mind, body, and nerves a very different man” in 1865 than in 1861, wrote his secretary, John Hay. The war was not his only burden. He was struggling, politically and morally, with how to eradicate slavery, an issue that deeply divides the nation. And in early 1862, the death of his 11-year-old son Willie in the White House caused the President deep sadness. Photographs taken of Lincoln between 1859 and 1865 reveal how increasingly concerned he became.

October 4, 1859

Abraham Lincoln, Chicago, Illinois, October 4, 1859.

Lincoln may have lost the 1858 U.S. Senate race to rival Stephen Douglas, but their famous debates had raised his national profile. So while returning to his Illinois legal practice in 1859, Lincoln also spent time that year campaigning for his fellow Republicans in the Midwest, increasing his political influence as he increasingly decried the expansion of slavery into new territories.

In autumn, Lincoln sat for this photo in a Chicago gallery. His wife thought it was the best likeness she had ever seen of her husband.

“It shows him as he was, before his first nomination [as president]and just as his old friends remember him,” said DB Cook, co-owner of the gallery, after Lincoln’s death.

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June 3, 1860

A photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken the month after his Republican presidential nomination in May 1860.

A photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken the month after his Republican presidential nomination in May 1860.

Shortly after winning the Republican presidential nomination as the dark horse candidate, a beardless Lincoln sat down for four photographs of Alexander Hesler. The young candidate did not grow a beard until after his election in November 1860.

“This photo gives a very accurate representation of my simple face,” Lincoln told a reporter.

Months later, Lincoln was still young in body and mind. “His hair and mustache are very dark, as are his eyebrows, which are heavy,” writes a New York newspaper. “…He smiles at the slightest provocation, and unloads a battery of pleasant sayings, in an antiquated manner, almost ceaselessly.”

READ MORE: 10 things you might not know about Abraham Lincoln

May 16, 1861

abraham lincoln

Abraham Lincoln joined the Republican Party in 1858 and was elected president two years later.

In this famous image by Mathew Brady – one of six taken by the President that day – Lincoln poses pensively. A month earlier, southern rebels had bombed Fort Sumter, sparking civil war. Two months into his presidency, nine states had already seceded to form the Confederacy.

Two days after the bombing, the president called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, a conflict that many Americans thought would be over by Christmas. Until now, few had died in battle.

But the bloodshed at the first major battle of the war, at Bull Run (4,878 casualties) on July 21, will stun Lincoln and the public. Much worse was to come.

WATCH: Abraham Lincoln: His Life and Legacy in HISTORY Vault

October 3, 1862

President Abraham Lincoln (C), flanked by Major Allan Pinkerton (L) of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and General John A. McClernand (R), visits the Union camp at Sharpsburg, Maryland in October 1862, a few weeks after the battle of Antiétam.

President Abraham Lincoln (C), flanked by Major Allan Pinkerton (L) of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and General John A. McClernand (R), visits the Union camp at Sharpsburg, Maryland in October 1862, a few weeks after the battle of Antiétam.

Nearly three weeks after the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War, Lincoln visited the battlefield in western Maryland. Freshly dug graves and burnt horse corpses presented a horrifying picture.

Later that day, Lincoln reviews Union troops and poses for Alexander Gardner for a series of group photographs with his commanders and others near the Antietam battlefield. Nearly 18 months into the war, soldiers were struck by the appearance of the president.

“We could see the deep sadness on his face,” recalled a Union officer, “and feel the burden on his heart.” Not only was the President deeply grieved by the massive losses of young American men on the battlefield, but in February of that year he had lost his young son Willie to typhoid fever – his second child to die. For Lincoln, prone to depression all his life, the anguish of grief had made 1862 a dark year.

The frustrations of commanding the war from within the White House weighed on Lincoln, who was eager to end the conflict. When General-in-Chief George McClellan ignored his directive to aggressively pursue Robert E. Lee’s retreating forces after Antietam, Lincoln dismissed him.

And if all that wasn’t enough, less than two weeks earlier, Lincoln had issued a draft of his Emancipation Proclamation, which promised freedom to the nearly 4 million enslaved black Americans. He knew that the decree, which reflected his deep moral convictions, would trigger a violent political reaction.

November 8, 1863

Abraham Lincoln, photographed Alexander Gardner.

Abraham Lincoln, photographed Alexander Gardner.

Gettysburg address, Lincoln posed for this portrait of Alexander Gardner. Deep wrinkles creased his forehead and heavy bags appeared under his eyes.

The war dragged on much longer than he had ever anticipated. Although Union forces were victorious at Gettysburg that summer, and Ulysses S. Grant’s successful siege of Vicksburg effectively gave the Union control of the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two, the outcome of the war was far from certain. The Confederate army had besieged Knoxville, Tennessee, and Lee’s army remained a major threat in the East. Personally, war hit home in September when Lincoln lost his brother-in-law, a Confederate officer, at Chickamauga.

Walt Whitman, the poet and journalist, often saw the president riding in horse-drawn carriages through Washington during this period. “I see Abraham Lincoln’s dark brown face very clearly, with the deep lines, the eyes, still to me with deep latent sadness in the expression,” he wrote in his diary.

READ MORE: How Lincoln and Grant’s partnership won the Civil War

February 9, 1864

Abraham Lincoln, February 9, 1864.

Abraham Lincoln, February 9, 1864.

At 3 p.m., Lincoln and artist Francis B. Carpenter left the White House for a shoot at Mathew Brady’s Pennsylvania Avenue studio. Among the created photographs of the president was this one, later printed on the $5 bill.

At the time, Lincoln wasn’t just facing military challenges. As the war dragged on, anti-Lincoln sentiment grew in the North and South. The president wasn’t even sure if he would be nominated by his own Republican party to run for president again in November.

“If it should be made to appear in any way that the elements on which the salvation of the country depends can be better combined by dismissing me, the country will have no difficulty in getting rid of me,” he said in a statement. February letter. 1864 speech in Philadelphia.

In 1895, Robert Lincoln, the president’s eldest son, called this image of Brady “the most satisfying likeness” of his father.

February 5, 1865

Lincoln photographed the year of his assassination.

Lincoln photographed the year of his assassination.

When Lincoln sat for this photograph at Alexander Gardner’s studio on the 7and Street in Washington, the Civil War was rushing to its conclusion. The immense stress of his job had clearly taken its toll on the president, who had won his second term and would be 56 in seven days.

“His face was haggard with care and strewn with thoughts and troubles,” Lincoln’s friend, Horace Greeley, a newspaper publisher, remarked of this period. “It looked neatly plowed, storm-tossed and weather-beaten.”

On the battlefields, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army marched through South Carolina as forces under Ulysses Grant, the overall commanding Union Army, threatened Petersburg, Virginia. If he were to fall, the nearby Confederate capital of Richmond would not be far behind.

After the fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865, Lincoln appeared refreshed, with “neatly combed hair and mustache”. Twelve days later, the president was dead.


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