to put down David Von Drehle’s novel Rise to Greatness. I find myself waking every two or three hours to read ‘just a few more pages.’
Not surprisingly, Lincoln was in a prickly frame of mind the next day when he received several visitors, including the eminent New York physician Horace Green. Green was in Washington after a trip to the peninsula, where he had surveyed conditions in the army’s temporary hospitals. Because of the rising temperatures and swampy conditions, the medical service faced a growing problem of infection and disease, Green explained. The doctor’s suggestion, shared by a growing number of Republican abolitionists, was to convert a mansion on a verdant hill beside the Pamunkey River into a proper hospital. The U.S. Army had taken possession of this beautiful property on the peninsula, but McClellan’s high command resisted the idea of filling it with sick and dying soldiers. Green wanted Lincoln’s support.
“Gentlemen, I understand all this matter perfectly well,” Lincoln snapped in reply. “It is only a political raid against General McClellan.” The president believed that this squabble over a mansion on the peninsula was but a small piece of a larger struggle. The war in Virginia was taking the Union army into a treasure house of American history, and McClellan’s conciliatory policy called for preserving its gems, no matter who owned them. The mansion Green had his eye on, called White House, had been the home of Martha Dandridge Custis until her marriage to George Washington. Descendants of the original first lady grew up in that house, including her grandson George Washington Parke Custis, who became the father-in-law of Robert E. Lee. Earlier in the war, Union troops had also seized Lee’s own estate, called Arlington, on the heights overlooking Washington, D.C. McClellan was protecting that property as well.