When Eddie Lincoln died of tuberculosis on February 1, 1850, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were devastated — but it wouldn't be the last time they’d lose a child.
The story of Abraham Lincoln’s life is threaded with tragedy. And one of the most powerful blows that the president suffered came when he lost his young son, Edward Baker Lincoln, in 1850.
Edward, also called Eddie or Eddy, died just a month shy of his fourth birthday. His death devastated both his parents, especially his mother Mary, and foreshadowed future family tragedies.
For Eddie Lincoln wasn’t the only son of Abraham Lincoln who would die young, though he was painfully the first.
The Short Life Of Edward Baker Lincoln
The second son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, Edward Baker Lincoln was born on March 10, 1846, in Springfield, Illinois. His parents named him for Abraham’s friend, Edward Dickinson Baker.
“He is very much such a child as Bob [his older brother] was at his age — rather of the longer order,” Abraham wrote a friend of his second child.
Abraham lived in Washington, D.C., while serving in Congress for much of Eddie’s childhood, whereas Mary split her time between Washington, Kentucky, and Springfield. And though historians know little of Eddie’s short life, his parents often discussed their sons in letters they exchanged.
In April 1848, Abraham wrote Mary and noted that “Dear Eddie thinks father has gone ‘tapila'” — possibly toddler talk for ‘the Capital’ — and asked, “What did [Bobby] and Eddie think of the letters father sent them? Don’t let the blessed fellows forget father.”
And in May 1848, Mary wrote Abraham about an incident in Kentucky when a kitten wandered into the house. Of Eddie, she said: “his tenderness broke forth, he made them bring it water, fed it with bread himself, with his own dear hands, he was a delighted little creature over it…”
She finished her letter by saying, “Do not fear the children, have forgotten you… Even [Eddie’s] eyes brighten at the mention of your name.”
Tragically, Edward Baker Lincoln fell ill in December 1849.
How Abraham Lincoln’s Son Died
For fifty-two days, Eddie lingered between life and death. He coughed endlessly, developed a high fever, and seemed uninterested in food. Though Mary Lincoln rubbed balsam on his chest and tried to nurse him back to health, Edward Baker Lincoln died of likely tuberculosis on Feb. 1, 1850.
His parents were devastated. Overcome with grief, Mary Lincoln tore out her hair and couldn’t even bring herself to eat.
“Mr. Lincoln said, ‘We must eat, Mary, for we must live,’ and he sat down and forced himself to eat, but she wouldn’t,” Mary’s great-niece remembered.
The entire town of Springfield seemed to mourn their loss. A service was held for Edward Baker Lincoln, and an anonymous poem for Eddie was published in the Illinois Daily Journal. It reads, in part:
“Angel boy—fare thee well, farewell
Sweet Eddie, we bid thee adieu!
Affection’s wail cannot reach thee now
Deep though it be, and true.
Bright is the home to him now given,
For “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
And as the family prepared to move to Washington D.C. in 1861, Abraham Lincoln made it clear that he’d never forgotten Eddie. Of Springfield, he said:
“Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried.”
But tragedy would follow the Lincoln family to the nation’s capital.
More Lincoln Family Tragedies After Eddie Lincoln’s Death
After Eddie Lincoln’s death, his family suffered several new losses.
First, Willie died of typhoid fever in 1862 at the age of 11. His death drove Mary nearly mad with grief.
“[Willie] comes to me every night, and stands at the foot of my bed with the same sweet adorable smile he has always had; he does not always come alone; little Eddie is sometimes with him,” a distraught Mary Lincoln told her alarmed half-sister following Willie’s death.
After losing two sons, Mary lost her husband too — an assassin’s bullet killed Abraham in April 1865. And she lost Tad less than ten years later when he succumbed to likely tuberculosis at the age of 18 in July 1871. Just her eldest, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived into old age.
But of all the tragedies the Lincolns suffered, Edward Baker Lincoln’s death stands out. Not even four years old when he died, his death dealt the family an early blow — and foreshadowed the losses yet to come.