Friday, May 10, 2019

The Premature Aging of Abraham Lincoln from 1860 thru 1865.

No face in American history is more recognizable than Abraham Lincoln. His profile appears on the penny, and an engraved portrait appears on the $5 bill. His image was included among the four presidents carved on the cliff face of Mount Rushmore.
A Pen-and-Ink Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Leopold Grozelier (1860).
Abraham Lincoln’s physical appearance changed dramatically during his tenure as President of the United States, from March 4, 1861 to April 14, 1865. The magnitude of his apparent aging is often demonstrated by showing a photograph from the start of his first term compared to one taken a few months before his death.
NOTE: Abraham Lincoln had malaria at least twice. The first time was in 1830 (21 years old), along with the rest of his family. They had just arrived in Illinois that year. The second episode was in the summer of 1835 (26 years old), while living in New Salem, Illinois. Lincoln was then so ill, he was sent to a neighbor's house to be medicated and cared for. Malaria, during that time period, would often rear its ugly head throughout ones lifetime. 
RUMOR: Lincoln had Marfan syndrome. Today geneticists consider the diagnosis unlikely. 
UNFOUNDED: Lincoln's son, Willie, died from typhoid fever. It is only speculation that Lincoln suffered from typhoid fever at the Gettysburg address. But it is more likely that Lincoln had a mild case of smallpox, as his valet William H. Johnson develop smallpox caring for Lincoln after the Gettysburg address and he died from it.
FACT: Abraham Lincoln used "Blue Mass" (mercury pills) to treat some of his health issues.
These photographs reveal how increasingly careworn he became over the years, especially during the Civil War (April 12, 1861 - April 9, 1865), where he struggled to restore the Union. 
This photographic series from 1860-1865 is illustrative of the quick aging process experienced by Lincoln.
But a simple comparison of those two extreme photographs does not show the evolution of the change nor the stressful events that induced the striking transformation. In particular, note the significant change in the brief interval from November 1863 to February 1864, a part of which may have resulted from Lincoln's smallpox infection during that period. 
Oil painting of Lincoln giving his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. It's reported that Lincoln had a mild case of smallpox. Lincoln was feeling weaker during the enitre 2 hours he sat on the stage while waiting to be called to speak. Observers called Lincoln's color "ghastly." Lincoln felt so sick that when it was his turn he spoke only 271 words, in ten sentences, in just over two minutes, and immediately got helped off the stage.
Timeline of notable Lincoln events from 1860-1865.

February        Delivers Cooper Union Address
May                Nominated for President of the United States
October         Receives suggestion from a young girl that he should grow a beard
November     Elected President of the United States
December     South Carolina secedes from the Union

February        Confederate States of America is formed
March            Inaugurated as 16th President of the United States
April               Attack on Fort Sumter, SC
May                Family friend Elmer Ellsworth killed in Alexandria, VA
July                Battle of First Bull Run (Manassas) 
November     Trent Affair with Great Britain

February         Battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson
February         Son William (Willie) dies from typhoid fever
April                 Battle of Shiloh 
May                 Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley
June                Battle of Seven Days’
August            Battle of Second Bull Run (Manassas)
September      Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg)
September      Issues Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation
December       Battle of Fredericksburg

January           Issues Final Emancipation Proclamation
May                  Battle of Chancellorsville
July                  Battle of Gettysburg
July                  Surrender of Vicksburg, MS 
September      Battle of Chickamauga
November       Delivers Gettysburg Address
November       Contracts mild case of smallpox
November       Battle of Chattanooga

March              Appoints U.S. Grant Commander-in-Chief of Union Army
May                  Battle of the Wilderness
June                 Battle of Cold Harbor
June                 Siege of Petersburg, VA begins
September      Battle of Atlanta
November       Re-elected President of the United States
December       Battle of Nashville
December       Capture of Savannah, GA

January           Congress Passes 13th Amendment to the Constitution
March              Delivers Second Inaugural Address
April                 Robert E. Lee Surrenders to U. S. Grant
April                 Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. between the stress that normally accompanies being President, having to deal with health issues, personal tragedies, I can see the toll it took on him during those times in office. He must have had an incredible will and stamina to continue his chosen path. We were very fortunate to have him at the right time

  2. I’ve seen side-by-side photos of him through this presidency years and it always amazes me. Under such obvious mental stress he was still able to hold the Union together. He’s definitely one of the strongest and focused people to ever have lived. I’m sure we are all forever greatful for having him on this earth.

  3. After reading a book on Lincoln I was amazed at his insight of people at that time. He was amazing.


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