In November 1860 Abraham Lincoln won a highly contested presidential election in a nation on the brink of war. Perceiving Lincoln as a threat because of his opposition to slavery, southern states began seceding in January 1861. In April 1861, not long after his March inauguration, the Civil War began. The North (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy) entered into a conflict over multiple issues, with states’ rights and slavery among the most hotly debated. Although both sides thought it would be a short war, it lasted four long years, finally ending in April 1865. During the conflict, the Union Army lost over 300,000 men and the Confederacy suffered over 250,000 deaths. This was approximately 20% of the country’s population at the time and today would be equivalent to five to six million people. The fighting, destruction, and death took a toll on both President Lincoln and the country.
As president, Lincoln felt a great deal of pressure throughout the Civil War. Fortunately, there was a place he could go. The Army was trying to raise visibility for its new Soldiers' Home by inviting presidents to stay there. Lincoln spent time at the Soldiers’ Home in the warmer months of 1862, 1863, and 1864 in order to find relief from the stress of the presidency. The Soldiers’ Home had been established by the federal government in 1851 as a retirement home for wounded and disabled enlisted military veterans. President Buchanan was the first president to stay on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, and he was likely the person that recommended that Lincoln to use the cottage as a retreat. After Lincoln, Presidents Hayes and Arthur also spent time on the grounds.