Rare Photos Of Abraham Lincoln That Give Us A Glimpse Into His Life

Although he wasn’t a Founding Father, Abraham Lincoln is arguably one of the country’s most admired historical figures. After working as a statesman and a lawyer, he became the 16th president of the United States during one of the darkest times in American history, the Civil War. Through his work and dedication to saving the country, he managed to preserve the Union, establish the modern United States economy, and abolish slavery. Unfortunately, he was assassinated on April 14, 1865, by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Here are some pictures that show a different part of his life than we’re used to seeing.

The First Picture Taken Of Him

Picture of Abraham Lincoln
Nicholas Shepherd/Getty Images
Nicholas Shepherd/Getty Images

Clearly still in his youth, this is likely the first picture ever taken of Abraham Lincoln. It was captured by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois, in 1846. Some historians claim that it wasn’t just the first photo of his political career, it was his first photo ever and was taken after winning his seat in the United States Congress.

His Congress position wasn’t all that successful as he only held it for one term. One of the reasons for this was that he was firmly against the Mexican-American War.

A Battle Of Politics And Women

Picture of Lincoln
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Upon his return to politics in 1854, he frequently butted heads over slavery with his political adversary, Democrat Stephen Douglas. While the two never got along in politics, they also had issues regarding romance that went far back. The two shared the same love interest, who was a Kentucky woman named Mary Todd.

Unsurprisingly, the suave and well-spoken Lincoln won her over. This image was taken in 1854 by J.C.F. Polycarpus von Schneidau. When this was captured, Lincoln had already been married to Todd for 12 years.

He Had A Sense Of Humor

Lincoln with messy hair
Alexander Hesler/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Alexander Hesler/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

On top of all of his political triumphs and being a respected president, he was also known for having a great sense of humor. Alexander Helser took this image, and apparently, Lincoln kept ruffling his hair when the photographer kept trying to keep it in order.

One of his acquaintances once commented, “Mr. Lincoln abounded in anecdotes, of which he seemed to possess an inexhaustible fun. His stories, though rude, were full of wit. He generally laughed as loudly as others at his own witticisms, and provoked laughter as much by the quizzical expression of his homely features.”

Growing A Beard To Gain Votes

Picture of Lincoln
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Lincoln’s image can be found on two pieces of United States currency: the penny and five-dollar bill. His likeness can also be seen on Mount Rushmore, countless postage stamps, and across pop culture. He is usually depicted with a beard.

Apparently, the suggestion to grow his facial hair came from 11-year-old Grace Bedell, who suggested it would help him gain votes for the presidency. She wrote him a letter which stated, “all the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” He was the first of the 16 initial presidents to do so.

Spotting President Lincoln

Picture of the Gettysburg Address
Library Of Congress
Library Of Congress

Although there are plenty of pictures of Lincoln that were taken of him while he was alive, he’s not always the easiest to find. Especially in pictures taken of him in a crowd, it can be borderline impossible to locate Honest Abe. For example, can you spot him in this photo? If not, don’t feel bad, because it took eagle-eyed historians around 150 years to do so.

This was eventually accomplished by Disney animator Charles Oakley. This photograph was taken on November 19, 1863, and shows the crowd preparing to listen to Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg Address. It is considered to be one of the most monumental speeches in American history.

A Needle In A Haystack

Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address
Public Domain
Public Domain

While it may seem impossible to find him among all the people and with the grainy quality of the photo, someone still did! After being able to pinpoint Secretary of State William Seward, historical records tell us that he was standing next to Lincoln.

After a closer look at Seward’s surroundings, the mystery was solved. Lincoln is seen wearing his signature stovepipe hat, which makes people sure it was him. It’s incredible this image was captured because the speech only lasted two minutes and there was only one photographer.

He Was Captured In A Photo Again

Lincoln giving his speech
National Archives
National Archives

In another photo taken of the Gettysburg Address, which was found in the National Archives, we can see Lincoln once again. In this one, however, we can see Lincoln actually giving his landmark speech.

Lincoln had a rather unusual way of giving speeches and would write brief ideas on a scrap of paper that he would bring with him. This was no different at Gettysburg, and even though Lincoln didn’t think much of his speech, at his funeral, Senator Charles Sumner stated, “The battle itself was less important than the speech.”

His Presidential Campaign Photo

ABC Television documentary file photo: Abraham Lincoln, Feb., 1864 photograph by Matthew Brady
Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

While preparing for his upcoming presidential re-election in 1864, he hired photographer Matthew Brady to take his official photo. The result was one of the most iconic pictures of Lincoln ever captured.

On November 8, 1864, with 400,000 popular votes, Lincoln also had the electoral college, and therefore, won the re-election. It’s assumed that he won because of the fall of Atlanta on September 1, 1864, when the Confederates finally surrendered.

Lincoln And His Boy

Picture of Lincoln and his son
Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Over the years, Lincoln formed a bond with photographer Alexander Gardner and commissioned him to take pictures of more than just himself. Gardner took pictures of Lincoln on seven different occasions, including snapping this photo of Lincoln with one of his sons, Thomas, in February 1865.

In total, Lincoln had four sons: Thomas, Robert, Eddie, and Willie. Unfortunately, only two of his sons outlived him, with Thomas, nicknamed “Tad,” dying just six years after his father’s assassination.

Lincoln’s Most Valuable Photo

Picture of Abraham Lincoln
Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain

Not too long after receiving little Grace Bedell’s letter, he decided to write her back, asking, “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?”

Nevertheless, Grace Bedell turned out to be right. After this picture was taken in 1961, it became one of the best-known photos of the president. Today, it is the most valuable photo taken of him and was auctioned for more than $200,000 in 2009.

The Final Photographs

Picture of Lincoln
Alexander Gardner/Getty Images
Alexander Gardner/Getty Images

There has been a division among scholars regarding which was the last picture taken of Abraham Lincoln. For decades, it was believed to have been taken by Alexander Gardner on April 9, 1865. Others are convinced that it was taken in February of the same year.

If it was indeed taken on April 9, that means it was only days before his death. On April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C., Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play.

Another Photo From 1865

Picture of Lincoln
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Years later, experts discovered that there indeed was another picture that has since been considered the president’s final picture. In 1894, the picture was published to prove that it was the final photograph taken of Lincoln.

According to Lincoln’s personal secretary, John G. Nicolay, the picture was taken five days before his assassination, on April 10, 1865. He also revealed that his Lincoln’s friend Alexander Gardner didn’t take it, but Henry F. Warren. It was taken at the White House, the day after Robert E. Lee surrendered.

It Was Clear He Had Been Through A Lot

Picture of Lincoln
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Because photos during those days required people to stay still for an extended amount of time, it’s obvious why not everyone smiled for pictures. In almost all of Lincoln’s photographs, he has a very stern and solemn expression except for a few in which he has a slight smirk.

The famous poet Walt Whitman, who lived during Lincoln’s time, once described his face as containing “a deep latent sadness,” and it’s totally understandable considering all that he had gone through during his presidency.

Smiling Because Of His Jacket

Abraham Lincoln
Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images
Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images

This picture of Lincoln was taken by Samuel Alschuler, and historians believe they know exactly why there appears to be a smirk on Lincoln’s face. Supposedly, Alschuler didn’t that Lincoln’s jacket wasn’t entirely appropriate for the photo, so he lent him his own velvet-collared one instead.

As most know, the president stood at 6′ 4″ and the photographer was a whole foot shorter, so Lincoln had quite the laugh when he put on the ridiculously small coat and had a hard time not laughing during the picture.

A More Serious Look

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Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images
Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images

This is a picture taken by Samuel Alschuler in 1858, and it’s clear in this photograph that Lincoln means business. This is most likely because it was taken around the time that he had been nominated to become the Senator of Illinois.

Although the speech he gave on June 16, 1858, has become an integral part of history, including lines such as “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” it didn’t produce the results that he wanted. Unfortunately, he would lose to his long-time rival, Stephen Douglas.

Photographing The Funeral

Picture of the funeral procession
APIC/Getty Images
APIC/Getty Images

Another project that photographer Alexander Gardner was commissioned to cover was Lincoln’s funeral. He was hired specifically to take pictures of the funeral procession.

The procession was held five days after the assassination, on April 19, 1865, and traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Lincoln’s body remained in the capital for a week until it was eventually moved to Springfield, Illinois, for burial. The event was a huge deal because he meant so much to the citizens of the country.

Taking The Train Home

Picture of the train
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

On April 21st, Lincoln’s body was transferred by a train called “The Lincoln Special” to its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. This was no ordinary train either, but was outfitted for the president. It had a large picture of Lincoln on the front over the cowcatcher.

It would travel through seven states and 180 cities in which citizens packed the train stations to say their farewells and pay respects to their former leader.

Arriving In Philadelphia

Picture of the train in Philadelphia
Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images
Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Here is a picture of “The Lincoln Special” arriving in Philadelphia. The train procession in this city was different than the others. The president’s body was laid out in his coffin in Independence Hall because nearly 90 years before Lincoln arrived in Philadelphia, the Declaration of Independence was signed there on August 2, 1776.

This was an important site not just to Lincoln, but any American citizen that enjoyed the privileges granted to us by the Declaration Of Independence.

Lincoln’s Wasn’t The Only Coffin On The Train

Picture of the boys
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images

Although the funeral procession was for the fallen president, his wasn’t the only coffin aboard the train going to Springfield. With him was his deceased son Willie, who had passed away of typhoid fever in the White House three years prior.

Unfortunately, the boy was just eleven during his father’s second term. His coffin had to be disinterred in order to be buried alongside his father. Pictured above are Willie, his younger brother “Tad,” and their cousin Lockwood Todd.

It Was A Closed Funeral

Picture of Lincoln being buried
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Traveling the 1,654 miles from Washington D.C. to Springfield took two weeks before the train arrived at its destination on May 3, 1965. The next day, Lincoln was buried in his hometown. Surprisingly, the only two of his relatives who attended the actual funeral were his son Robert and his cousin John Hanks.

Unfortunately, his widow had to stay behind at the White House. Considering the country’s respect for him, it’s surprising the funeral wasn’t made into a public event.

Building The Memorial

Picture of its construction
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Considering that Abraham Lincoln saved the country and ended the worst war ever to take place on its soil, it’s no surprise that many American citizens adored him. It was only right that he was honored with his own memorial that would symbolize the impact he had on the country, and that it was located in Washington D.C.

Construction on the Lincoln Memorial began in 1915, and when it was unveiled on May 30, 1922, over 50,000 people came to see it. Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s only surviving son, was also in attendance.

A Lot Of Thought Went Into The Project

Men building the memorial
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Construction of the Lincoln Memorial was no easy task. Designed by Henry Bacon, it has 36 columns representing the number of states in the Union at the time of his death.

The mammoth statue of Lincoln himself, designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French, is 19 feet high and made out of Georgia white marble. It had to be assembled in 28 separate pieces before it could finally be completed and dedicated.

People Think His Childhood Home Still Exists

Picture of a cabin
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For nearly 100 years, people were under the impression that the log cabin in the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park was the exact spot where he was born. Yet, Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, and this picture of the cabin was taken in 1900, so there’s little evidence that Lincoln was actually born inside.

Furthermore, records indicate that the cabin wasn’t even there at the time of his birth, and wouldn’t be built until the 1840s, which would have made Lincoln in his 30s.

His Wife Had A Favorite Picture

Picture of Lincoln
Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Like most wives or girlfriends, Mary Todd Lincoln had a personal favorite picture of her husband. This photograph was shot in 1859, not long after he was defeated by his rival, Stephen Douglas, for a seat in the Senate.

However, the Republican party was still getting its bearings, and Lincoln had plans to use it to his advantage. So, when still planning what he was going to do, he had his portrait taken. The photographer that owned the studio claimed, “Mrs. Lincoln pronounced [it] the best likeness she had ever seen of her husband.” It showed his determination and ambition.

Lincoln Had His Favorites, Too

Picture of Lincoln
Matthew Brady/Rischgitz/Getty Images
Matthew Brady/Rischgitz/Getty Images

Most people have a favorite photograph of themselves, and this was no different for “Honest Abe.” This photo was taken on February 27, 1860, the same day he gave a speech at New York’s City’s Cooper Union, which eventually helped him win the Republication nomination for president.

Lincoln would later go on to say that “Brady [the photographer] and the Cooper Institute made me president,” as he used this photo during his campaign.

Helping Out A Friend

Picture of Lincoln
The Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Although Lincoln was completely devoted to politics by 1858, he went back into the courtroom to help his friend William “Duff” Armstrong. He had been accused of murder and Lincoln took on the case pro bono.

When Lincoln cross-examined the witness who claimed to see the murder, he used an almanac to prove that there wouldn’t be enough moonlight on the night of the death to have been able to see the distance the witness claimed. Duff was acquitted and this photo was taken after the trial was over.

A Tense Conversation

Picture of Lincoln and McClellen
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When Lincoln was inaugurated in January 1861, he already had a lot on his hands since seven states had already seceded from the Union over the results of the presidential election. Just three months later, the Civil War began when the Confederate States of America attacked the Union Stronghold in Charleston Harbor.

This is a picture of Lincoln with his least favorite general, George McClellan. While Lincoln insisted on attacking the Confederates, McClellan defied his orders and continued to do so, resulting in him being removed from his position.

After The Battle Of Antietam

Picture of Lincoln after the battle
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This is a photo of Abraham Lincoln with General McClellan after narrowly winning the Battle of Antietam and failing to chase after the Confederates. Also featured in the picture is George Armstrong Custer, who is standing the furthest to the right.

The battle took place on September 17, 1862, and although it was a close victory, it helped Lincoln to establish the Emancipation Proclamation three months later. To further the feud between the president and the general, McClellan ran against Lincoln in 1864 but lost by a significant amount.

Lincoln And His Assassin

Picture of the speech
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

After defeating George McClellan in the 1864 election, this picture was taken of Lincoln giving his second inaugural address. What makes this photo so interesting is that in the grandstand, behind Lincoln’s left shoulder, is his future assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

For those wondering why he didn’t assassinate him at that perfect moment, it’s because he was involved in a previous plot to kidnap the president and bring him to Richmond. However, when the plan failed, they resorted to assassination.

Lincoln And His Secretaries

Picture of Lincoln
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Historians have noted that Lincoln typically enjoyed entertaining guests in the Red Room in the White House after he ate dinner. Supposedly, this picture was taken during one of these occasions, and feature Lincoln along with his personal secretary John G. Nicolay on his left and his Assistant Secretary John Hay on his right.

Both his secretaries had been friends since childhood and became great friends with Lincoln, even publishing a 10-volume biography about the president.

He Was Gardner’s First Subject At His Studio

Photo of Lincoln
Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images
Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

When the photographer Alexander Gardner first opened up his studio in Washington D.C., he begged Lincoln to be his first subject. Lincoln agreed and had to sneak into the studio on a Sunday in order not to be recognized. Gardner took this photograph of the president, and the two became friendly.

After the war and Lincoln’s assassination, Gardner gave up photography. Following his death, his other pictures focusing on the Civil War came under scrutiny after some claimed that he moved bodies on the battlefield for a better shot.

The Campaign Button

Picture of Lincoln
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

In 1860, election pins were released that featured a tintype photograph of then-candidate Lincoln on one side, and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, on the other.

What makes the picture of him special on the pin is that it was copied from an ambrotype that was done by Roderick M. Cole of Peoria III. Smart man that he was, Lincoln always used the latest in photography technology during his campaigns to gain an edge over his opponents.

A Picture To Show The People

Picture of Lincoln
Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This is a portrait of Lincoln taken by the now-famous photographer of the time, William Marsh, on behalf of Marcus Lawrence Ward. What makes this portrait particularly special is that it is one of the only five photographs taken by Ward.

The photo served a purpose. While many people in the eastern part of the country had read Lincoln’s impressive speeches, few had actually seen what their potential representative looked like. So, this provided them with an image of the man they had been reading about.

The Portrait During An Impressive Speech

Picture of Lincoln giving a speech
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

This picture is assumed to have been taken by Preston Butler shortly after Lincoln delivered one of his best speeches. Taking place in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln condemned racism, claiming that it was going to lead the human race to “ultimate extinction.”

In his speech, he also attacked his long-time rival Stephen Douglas, stating that he supported the principles of equality that are outlined in the Declaration of Independence. He had further debates with Douglas over the years.

The Second Time’s The Charm

Picture of Lincoln
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

During the summer of 1860, a photographer by the name of M.C. Tuttle sent a letter to Lincoln requesting that he had a negative taken of him and sent in order to use it for his campaign. President Lincoln agreed and had a negative sent to Tuttle.

Unfortunately, the negative was accidentally broken during transit, so Lincoln was willing to have has his picture taken again. When he sent it again, he included a note that said, “got a new coat.”

His Time In Decatur

Picture of Lincoln
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

At one point, Abraham Lincoln was in Decatur in order to attend the Illinois State Republican Convention. Also there was photographer Edward A. Barnwell, whose goal was to take a picture of “The Biggest Man.”

The next day, Lincoln met the “Rail Splitter,” which was a convention of delegates that unanimously endorsed Lincoln for the presidency. Then, on May 18, the National Republican Convention meeting in Chicago nominated him as the party’s candidate. This is a picture of the time when he was there.

The Second Earliest-Known Photograph

lincoln
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Taken around October 27, 1854, this is considered to be the second earliest photo ever taken of Lincoln. This picture was originally owned by George Schneider, who was the former editor of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung, considered the most prominent anti-slavery newspaper in the west.

In 1864, Isaac N. Arnold invited Lincoln to dine with him and after dinner, the two took a walk downtown where Arnold insisted that Lincoln had his picture taken to remember the occasion.