The Changing Face of Lincoln

Lincoln AgeAbraham Lincoln’s physical appearance changed dramatically during his tenure as President of the United States. The magnitude of his apparent aging is often demonstrated by showing a photograph from the start of his first term compared to one taken a few months before his death. But a simple comparison of two extreme photographs does not show the evolution of the change nor the stressful events that likely induced the striking transformation. The following photographic series with accompanying timeline of notable events from 1860-1865 may be more illustrative of the aging process experienced by Lincoln. In particular, note the significant change in the brief interval from November 1863 to February 1864, a part of which may have resulted from his smallpox infection during that period.  


Lincoln 1860cap



Lincoln 1861cap







Lincoln 1863cap



Lincoln 1864cap




Lincoln 1865cap


February      Delivers Cooper Union Address

May                Nominated for President of the United States

October         Receives suggestion from a young girl that he should grow a beard

November    Elected President of the United States

December     South Carolina secedes from the Union




February       Confederate States of America is formed

March             Inaugurated as 16th President of the United States

April                Attack on Fort Sumter, SC

May                  Family friend Elmer Ellsworth killed in Alexandria, VA

July                  Battle of First Bull Run (Manassas) 

November      Trent Affair with Great Britain





February        Battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson

February        Son William (Willie) dies from typhoid fever

April                Battle of Shiloh 

May                  Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley

June                 Battle of Seven Days’

August             Battle of Second Bull Run (Manassas)

September      Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg)

September      Issues Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

December       Battle of Fredericksburg



January           Issues Final Emancipation Proclamation

May                   Battle of Chancellorsville

July                   Battle of Gettysburg

July                   Surrender of Vicksburg, MS 

September      Battle of Chickamauga

November       Delivers Gettysburg Address

November       Contracts mild case of smallpox

November       Battle of Chattanooga



March             Appoints U.S. Grant Commander-in-Chief of Union Army

May                 Battle of the Wilderness

June                Battle of Cold Harbor

June                 Siege of Petersburg, VA begins

September     Battle of Atlanta

November      Re-elected President of the United States

December      Battle of Nashville

December      Capture of Savannah, GA



January           Congress Passes 13th Amendment to the Constitution

March              Delivers Second Inaugural Address

April                 Robert E. Lee Surrenders to U. S. Grant

April                 Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth


Third Column
Two Thirds Column


  1. A retired colonel had the following response to this analysis and I was curious as to your reaction.
    “How can the author of this summary neglect to mention the hypothesis that Lincoln had Marfan’s syndrome? Like acromegaly, Marfan’s involves bone growth in adulthood, something that can easily change one’s facial appearance. “

    • Although Lincoln had some skeletal marfanoid features, I personally do not believe he had Marfan syndrome. It’s not been proven either way, but what I understand of the disease as a physician leads me to discount the diagnosis in Lincoln’s case.

    • I believe the chances Lincoln had MEN2B are even more unlikely than Marfan syndrome. There are simply too many inconsistencies with what we know of the disorder and what we know of Lincoln to justify the conclusion. Incidentally, the National Geographic program to which you refer was a documentary of DNA testing performed on a sample of Lincoln’s blood. They were looking specifically for the MEN2B gene mutation and did not find it.

  2. Why is MEN2B unlikely? I have read a book about this hypothesis called “The Physical Lincoln” and it makes a very strong case. After reading the book, there is only one potential objection that I can see, and that is that Lincoln lived so long. However, the book explains this, too, citing data from the medical literature. After reading your comment I also watched the National Geographic special. It looks to me like they really did not get a very good sample. Even before they sequenced the DNA, the scientists were surprised at the sample that produced the DNA and thought it was a contaminant. The book and you agree that Marfan syndrome is basically not a possibility.

    • I have read Dr. Sotos’ book, and although thought provoking, I believe he makes too many assumptions based on photographs and anecdotal descriptions to make a legitimate case for MEN2B. His arguments are based first on his supposition that Lincoln must of had some, as of yet undiagnosed, genetic disease based on his physical characteristics and, therefore, MEN is the most likely explanation. While the age factor remains one large hurdle in making the diagnosis in this case, there are other points that can be refuted but would require a much more lengthy response. Suffice it to say that based on my medical analysis, I believe the evidence supporting Lincoln having a rare variant of an extremely rare disease is lacking.

  3. The photograph in question has not been photoshopped in the sense that new characteristics were added or removed to alter the picture. With today’s digital high resolution photo techniques in improving definition, contrast, magnification, etc., features that were present but not evident in the 150 year-old negative are more easily revealed. Although the photograph has been “digitally enhanced,” whether that constitutes an inaccurate image of life is debatable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.