The Tragic Life Of Edward Baker Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s Son Who Died When He Was Only Three

Published February 17, 2022
Updated May 31, 2024

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.

Edward Baker Lincoln

Public DomainEdward “Eddie” Lincoln died just shy of his fourth birthday after suffering for months from tuberculosis.

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 Lincoln wrote a friend about Eddie.

Abraham Lincoln

Library of CongressAbraham Lincoln in 1846 or 1847, shortly before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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.”

Mary Todd Lincoln

Public DomainMary Todd Lincoln around 1846, the year Eddie Lincoln was born.

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…”

The tranquility of the moment, Mary told her husband, was broken when her mother ordered the kitten to be thrown outside. “Ed — screaming & protesting loudly against the proceeding, she never appeared to mind his screams, which were long & loud, I assure you,” Mary wrote.

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.”

But Eddie was always a sickly child. His health was so fragile that Mary could not leave his side when her own father fell ill and died in July 1849. She later noted that there was “no time, nor room to grieve.” Then, in December of that year, Edward Baker Lincoln’s health got even worse.

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 gave him medicine, rubbed balsam on his chest, fed him oatmeal and gruel, and otherwise tried her best to nurse him back to health, Edward Baker Lincoln died on Feb. 1, 1850. He was three years old.

He likely died of consumption, or tuberculosis.

Eddie Lincoln Tombstone

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.Eddie Lincoln’s tombstone, which is preserved at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.

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. Though the poem was not written by Mary or Abraham — as some sources state — the University of Michigan reports that it was probably requested by someone close to the family:

Those midnight stars are sadly dimmed,
That late so brilliantly shone,
And the crimson tinge from cheek and lip,
With the heart’s warm life has flown –
The angel of Death was hovering nigh,
And the lovely boy was called to die.

The silken waves of his glossy hair
Lie still over his marble brow,
And the pallid lip and pearly cheek
The presence of Death avow.
Pure little bud in kindness given,
In mercy taken to bloom in heaven.

Happier far is the angel child
With the harp and the crown of gold,
Who warbles now at the Savior’s feet
The glories to us untold.
Eddie, meet blossom of heavenly love,
Dwells in the spirit-world above.

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.

In the aftermath of their loss, Mary and Abraham went on to have two more sons, William ” Willie” Wallace in 1850 — named for the doctor who helped treat Eddie — and Thomas “Tad” in 1853.

Both children seemed to help alleviate the grief in the Lincoln household. Mary raved that Willie was “a very beautiful boy, with a most spiritual expression of face” who was also “a most peculiarly religious child.” Abraham joyfully described Thomas as being as “wriggly as a tadpole,” which is where he got his nickname, Tad.

But 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

Abraham Lincoln Son

Public DomainMary Lincoln with her youngest sons, Willie, left, and Tad, right.

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 — John Wilkes Booth 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.

After learning about the short life of Eddie Lincoln, read about the last living descendent of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith. Or, discover the little-known story of Edwin Booth, the famous actor brother of John Wilkes Booth.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Adam Farley
Adam Farley is an Assistant Editor at All That's Interesting. He was previously content director of and deputy editor of Irish America magazine. He holds an M.A. from New York University and a B.A. from the University of Washington.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "The Tragic Life Of Edward Baker Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s Son Who Died When He Was Only Three.", February 17, 2022, Accessed June 16, 2024.