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Lincoln at Antietam Oct.3, 1862 "In The Darkest Hour"

On October 2, 1862, two weeks after the battle of Antietam (still the bloodiest day in U.S.Military history) Abraham Lincoln came to visit the Union Army where it was camped in the valley of Antietam and along the Potomac River.  For two nights the president stayed in a military tent next to that of General George B. McClellan.  Lincoln spent several days visiting the troops and the wounded and conferring with the general.  He was shown where some of the fiercest fighting took place and paid a visit to a local farmhouse holding wounded confederate soldiers.  Lincoln was deeply moved by the suffering and sacrifices made by the soldiers. He was also frustrated by General McClellan’s reluctance to move. In fact the President was on the verge of removing the commanding General when he came to visit in the fall of 1862. The fate of the nation and the weight of the world seemed to be on Lincoln’s shoulders at this time. He had his own private suffering as well, for his young son Willie had died of Typhus earlier that year in the White House. His wife Mary suffered an emotional breakdown as a result so that even she could not provide support for the care worn President.

This painting depicts Lincoln at the end of one of those long days.  With the burden of the war on his shoulders and frustration over General McClellan’s reluctance to move, Lincoln seeks reprieve and wisdom from a small soldier’s Bible (something he had been witnessed doing on other occasions).  On the field desk is a picture frame with an Amberotype photograph of Lincoln’s son Willie. it includes a lock of Willie’s hair and is based on one actually owned by Abraham and Mary. On the bed is Lincoln’s stove pipe hat which still has a wide black mourning band on it, in memory of Willie, which can be seen in actual photographs taken of Lincoln’s visit by photographer Alexander Gardner.  Next to Lincoln is an officer’s chest with the name Major G.O. Haller stenciled on the side.  According to David Hunter Strother, aid to general McClellan: “Another telegram brings the news that Abraham Lincoln and suite will visit us tonight.  Major Granville O. Haller went to work in haste and pitched three large tents and borrowed bedding enough to furnish the party with lodging.”  On the chest is a captured confederate flag and officer’s sword.  Through the tent flap can be seen soldiers of the 93rd New York gathered around a campfire as the moonlight reflects off rows of Sibley tents.  Lincoln had always been an avid reader and had a thorough knowledge of the scriptures.  As the war progressed he became more deeply convicted that the “Hand of Providence” was involved in the events of the war, his presidency and eventually the end of slavery.

“I have felt his hand upon me in great trials

and submitted to His guidance.”   Abraham Lincoln

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