The Little Corporal began publication after the death of Abraham Lincoln, but the magazine took the opportunity in its first issue to honor him and to remind readers of one of the sadnesses in his life: the death of his son, Willie, on February 20, 1862. Here, Willie becomes the child-angel leading his father to Heaven—an image of influential innocence not uncommon at the time.


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“Willie Lincoln,” by Emily J. Bugbee (from The Little Corporal, July 1865; p. 11)

A child name that will ever be sweetly linked with the undying memory of our martyred President. For, together they went, out in life, from their quiet peaceful home in Illinois to the lofty halls of the presidential mansion, and together they came back, with silent lips and folded hands, sleeping peacefully in death; the mission of each accomplished, the work of life all done. The little boy, and the great statesman! There is something beautiful in the thought of the sweet mission Willie’s death may have accomplished; how far-reaching in its influence, who shall tell. His life of joy and gladness faded out in troublous times, and the shadow of a great sorrow was added to that heart already burdened with the weight of a periled nation’s care. It seems to me that, as his spirit went upward, the door of heaven was left ajar to the spiritual eye of Abraham Lincoln, and that often, amid his weariness and toil, he caught glimpses of the glory to be revealed; and above the jar and tumult of earth’s discordant passions, came often—to soothe his troubled spirit—a sound of the heavenly harmony, in which was mingled the voice of his departed child. and that noble heart, always tender and generous, grew more and more softened and subdued, under this silent, unseen influence, and he wrought, and wept, and prayed unceasingly, for the great good of the nation, and the world; his warm sympathies gushing out even toward his murderous enemies.

Willie, though absent, was ever present with his Father, for he said upon one occasion to an officer in the army, “D[o] you ever find yourself talking with the dead? Since Willie died I catch myself talking to him every day as though he were with me.” Ah! who knows what precious spirit communings were those? Who knows how silently and sweetly the Angel Boy was leading the Father onward, and showing him the mysteries of the Kingdom? And who knows what sure foreshadowings thrilled that great yearning heart, of the not distant time, when, on the other shore, he should clasp again the hand of his boy, and together they should stray by the “still waters, and in the green pastures,” of the better land?

But three years were they divided; to Willie, wandering amid the glories of Heaven, they were but so many golden hours; to his Father, such years as no man ever lived before; in which the heart-throbs of a lifetime were condensed, and a sublime mission was accomplished. And then another shadow fell upon the presidential mansion, in comparison to which, the shadow Willie’s coffin had cast there was oh! so small. That fell darkly on the hearts of parents and brothers, but this fell dark and black over a great nation, aye, and over the world. But they took up the sleeping boy tenderly, and laid him by the mighty dead, and brought them onward, while cannons boomed, and bells tolled, and tears fell like autumn rain; and pure white flowers were strewn over all the long funeral way, till at last they rest side by side near the dear home they left four years ago, in life, and happiness, and health. Loving in their lives, and in their deaths not divided.

Copyright 1999-2017, Pat Pflieger
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