On July 2, 1863, while Mary was traveling on Rock Creek Road from the Soldiers' Home back to the White House, the driver's seat became detached, and he was thrown to the ground. Mary jumped from the carriage when she realized that the horses were running off.
|Abraham Lincoln's Barouche Carriage (1861-1865)|
The accident occurred near Mount Pleasant Army Hospital where the road bent into Fourteenth Street. A little past that was Carver Army Hospital — just about where Mary hit the ground. Help rushed to her immediately. She was personally cared for by a Dr. Judson C. Nelson, a surgeon with the Seventy-Sixth Regiment of New York Volunteers, who was on temporary assignment to the U.S. General Hospital Department in Washington. The name of this doctor was discovered because a newspaper reporter of the day erroneously printed his first and last name.
Mrs. Lincoln suffered bruises and a severe cut to the back of her head. She was treated at Carver Army Hospital. Dr. Nelson then drove her back to the White House. All this was going on while the President was monitoring the Battle of Gettysburg. Mary's wound became infected and had to be lanced on July 9 to release the large amount of pus that had built up. By July 20, the First Lady was sufficiently healed to desert Washington and head for the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Years later, son Robert would say that she was never the same after she hit her head in the carriage accident.
Here are some other thoughts about Mary Lincoln's carriage accident.
From what I gathered, the Lincolns had continued "issues" with the stable personnel. These issues involved behaviors such as excess drinking, tardiness, and not carrying out requests. It is told that Lincoln once asked one of the coachmen to get the morning paper. Although the coachman told Lincoln he'd do it, he didn't because he didn't think it was 'his job to run errands.' Lincoln was not pleased.
Coachman Patterson McGee was fired by Mary Lincoln on February 10, 1864. That night there was a suspicious fire in the White House stables that tragically killed several horses and ponies, one pony was Willie's pony (William Wallace Lincoln at 11 years of age, died on February 20, 1862). McGee was arrested but released because of a lack of evidence. It seems likely there were ongoing issues between the stable personnel and Mary.
So who loosened the bolts on the driver's seat? Why was it done? Could have it some sort of assassination attempt? There may be other possibilities. Perhaps the coachmen themselves had an argument, and one secretly tried to give another a "surprise jolt." Perhaps the anger was actually directed at Mary, and this was a purposeful attempt to hurt her.
The accident remains suspicious. But the possibilities and speculation it was an assassination attempt seem plausible.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.