He was the only child of Abe and Mary Lincoln to survive into adulthood – with his three brothers having died from illness at young ages. Believe it or not, Robert lived until 1926, dying at age 83. But along the way, he sure lived a remarkable life.
For starters, he begged his father for a commission to serve in the Civil War, with President Lincoln refusing, saying the loss of two sons (to that point) made risking the loss of a third out of the question.
But Robert insisted, saying that if his father didn’t help him, he would join on his own and fight with the front line troops; a threat that drove Abe to give in.
But you know how clever Abe was. He gave Robert what he wanted, but wired General Grant to assign “Captain Lincoln” to his staff, and to keep him well away from danger.
The assignment did, however, result in Robert’s being present at Appomattox Court House, during the historic moment of Lee’s surrender.
Then – the following week, while Robert was at the White House, he was awakened at midnight to be told of his father’s shooting, and was present at The Peterson House when his father died.
Below are Robert’s three brothers; Eddie, Willie, and Tad.
Little Eddie died at age 4 in 1850 – probably from thyroid cancer. Willie (in the middle picture) was the most beloved of all the boys. He died in the White House at age 11 in 1862, from what was most likely Typhoid Fever.
Abe grieved the hardest over Willie’s death. It took him four days to pull himself together enough to function as President again. Lincoln had a temporary tomb built for Willie, until they could return home with his body to Springfield , and he often spent long periods of time at the tomb.
I guess Tad was a real hellion. None of his tutors could control him, which is why he grew up unable to competently read or write. He was a momma’s boy, he had a lisp and was probably mildly retarded.
He died at age 18 in 1871, most likely from the same thyroid cancer Eddie had died from, suggesting a genetic flaw.
Robert, shown at age 22 above, following his father’s assassination, he moved to Chicago with his insane mother, and brother Tad, who was 12 at the time. Robert finished law school and practiced the craft for a time, while constantly struggling to keep crazy Mary in check.
As she had done as First Lady, Mary went on shopping binges that far exceeded common sense, driving what was left of the family fortune into bankruptcy, and leading to violent disputes between Robert and she.
Robert also had torrid battles with Mary to keep her from destroying Lincoln’s private papers, not just for their financial worth, but for their historic value also, with Mary forever trying to tear them apart and burn them in fireplaces.
In fact, her irrational behavior (she was probably schizophrenic) grew so destructive that Robert had to have her put away, with his signature signing her into a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed locked up for three months. Mary never forgave him for it – and they remained estranged from then on – until Mary died at age 63 in 1882.
Worth noting, as a deceased President’s wife, Mary had petitioned Congress for a pension, and by God, she got one! She received $3,000 a year, a sizable sum back then.
Of profound interest, as an adult Robert wrote there was a lot of distance between his father and he – caused mainly by Abe’s being absent so much of the time during Robert’s formative years. Abe was forever gone on state wide judicial circuits, or campaigning for office – or serving in the state legislature.
Robert writes that his most vivid memories of his father were seeing him pack his saddle bags to be off again. Nonetheless, Robert respected his father – and he wept obsessively the night he was killed.
In 1868, Robert married a senator’s daughter and they had three kids – two girls and a boy, Abraham Lincoln’s only grandchildren. Their son, whom they named Abraham Lincoln II (but whom they called “Jack”) would die in 1890 from an infection arising from having a boil pierced under his arm. He was 15 at the time, and at left is a blurry, but still remarkable photo of his lying in bed, shortly before he died.
The two daughters, however, lived fairly long lives, one living until 1938 to die at age 69, and the other until 1948, dying at age 72.
The last direct descendent of Abraham Lincoln would be the child of one of Robert’s daughters – Abe Lincoln’s great grandson – a guy named Bud Beckwith, who died married but childless, in 1985.
In his own right, Robert made quite a life for himself. He got into politics and was highly regarded in those circles. In fact – he served as Secretary of War under President Garfield – and, incredibly, was with him when Garfield was shot at the Washington train station!
And then – some years later, Robert would also be present when President McKinley was gunned down in Buffalo ! I’m telling you, if I were President, I’d be leery about having him around me – wouldn’t you?
In later years, Robert would grow a beard, as shown at left. He would serve in other political appointments and ambassadorships, and later became president of the Pullman train car company, a booming enterprise back then, and a position he would hold for the rest of his life.
Worth noting, Robert was an avid amateur astronomer, and even had an observatory built into his Vermont home, which is better described as a mansion, really; but anyhow – the telescope was so well built and powerful that’s it’s still used today by a local astronomy club!
In his 20’s, Robert was standing on a train platform in Jersey City – buried among a crowd of passengers attempting to buy sleeping births from a haggard conductor – when the train moved. Robert was standing so close to the train that it spun him around and sent him dropping into the space between the train and the platform – a perilously tight place to be – against a moving train threatening to crush him!
Suddenly – a hand grabbed Robert by the neck of his coat and pulled him up onto the platform, a quick action by a solidly strong man that may well have saved Robert’s life.
And you know who that man was? It was Edwin Booth – the brother of John Wilkes Booth … who had murdered Robert’s father.
Below is Robert’s sarcophagus at Arlington National Cemetery , where he’s buried with his wife and son Jack.