The third child of Mary and Abraham Lincoln, Willie, was born on December 21, 1850, in the family home in Springfield. He was named for his Uncle William Wallace, who married Mary Todd Lincoln's sister Frances. Willie was described as being amiable, cheerful, mature for his age, and the son who was the most popular with his playmates. His mother said that Willie "was a very beautiful boy, with a most spiritual expression of face." However, the use of the word "spiritual" here does not mean that he was not ready to join his younger brother Tad in pranks and mischief whenever the occasion presented itself.
Willie wrote his only lines about his father, in a letter to a friend named Henry Remann. In the note, the child touchingly described a trip the two were sharing to Chicago, where Lincoln was appearing in a legal case. This is how life with his father at the Tremont House appeared to a wide-eyed William Wallace Lincoln on 3 June 1859.
"This town is a very beautiful place. Me and father went to two theatres the other night. Me and father have a nice little room to ourselves. We have two little pitcher[s] on a washstand. The smallest one for me the largest one for father. We have two little towels on top of both pitchers. The smallest one for me, the largest one for father. We have two little beds in the room. The smallest one for me, the largest one for father. We have two little wash basin[s]. The smallest one for me, the largest one for father. The weather is very very fine here in this town. Was this exhibition on Wednesday before last."
Willie died in the White House on February 20, 1862, at the age of 11, while his father was President. His death was a devastating blow to his parents, and it cast a dark shadow over the remaining years of Lincoln's Presidency, already made tragic by the Civil War.
The Willie letter is from Lincoln as I Knew Him, by Harold Holzer.
William Wallace "Willie" Lincoln
Last updated: April 10, 2015