By Joann M. Ringelstetter
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a log cabin in Kentucky. His birthday is a legal holiday in several US states. In other states, Lincoln’s birthday is celebrated on President’s Day, which is the third Monday of February.
Lincoln only attended school for a few months as a child, so he educated himself by borrowing and reading books. In 1830, when Lincoln was 21, he moved with his family to Illinois and served in the Blackhawk War in 1832. He received a license to practice law in 1836. In 1842, he married Mary Todd and two years later they bought their first home in Springfield. It was the only home Lincoln ever owned. The Lincoln’s had four children. Robert was the only child who lived to adulthood.
Lincoln served for 12 years in the Illinois House of Representatives and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. In 1860, he was elected as the first Republican president who represented a party that opposed the spread of slavery in US territories.
Before Lincoln even took office, all the states of the Deep South had seceded from the Union. On April 12, 1861, Southern forces fired upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina, marking the beginning of the Civil War. During the four long years of this war, Lincoln dedicated himself to the proposition that all men are created equal. He preserved the Union and put an end to slavery.
On April 14, 1865, five days after the Civil War ended with the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, an exhausted President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, decided to attend a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. At 10:13 p.m., in the middle of the performance, John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln in the head. Lincoln was taken across the street to the Petersen House, where he died at 7:22 the following morning.
On April 19, a funeral was held for the assassinated President in the East Room of the White House. On April 21, “The Lincoln Special” funeral train left Washington, D.C. on a 1,654-mile journey to Springfield, Illinois where Lincoln was to be buried. Other than a few changes, the train traveled the same route back to Springfield that Lincoln had taken to Washington for his inauguration in 1861.
Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert, was on the train for the first part of the trip, but Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was so distraught over his death that she remained in Washington, D.C. Approximately 300 mourners and a Guard of Honor were also on the train. The funeral car carried an ornate black and silver coffin containing the body of President Lincoln, and draped with a 36-star American flag. It also carried a second coffin containing the body of Lincoln’s son, Willie, who had died three years earlier at age 11 of typhoid fever.
The train stopped in state capitals and other major cities, where Lincoln’s coffin was taken off the train and transported in specially constructed horse-drawn hearses to public buildings for viewing.
In Philadelphia, an estimated 500,000 people were on the streets when the funeral train arrived at the depot. In New York, the line of people waiting to view the President’s body stretched for three-quarters of a mile, with an estimated 120,000 making it in to view the coffin.
This was followed by a huge procession through Manhattan where 75,000 citizens marched through the crowded streets. Chicago’s procession was similar in size. These numbers would be large even for current populations, so they were astronomical for 1865. The Chicago viewing took place from 6:00 p.m. May 1 through 8:00 p.m. May 2 at a rate of 7,000 mourners per hour.
The funeral train left Chicago at 9:30 p.m., passing through more than 30 towns before it arrived in Springfield around 9:00 a.m. on May 3. During the entire 12-day journey from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, the funeral train passed through hundreds of cities and small towns. It passed depots where people were mourning his assassination, and also the lost family members who had left from these depots to fight in the Civil War, never to return.
Although Springfield’s, population at that time was around 12,000, Lincoln’s body was viewed by nearly 75,000 people over the 24-hour period that it was displayed in the Old State Capitol building. It is estimated that over one million people viewed Lincoln in his coffin and 25 million attended memorial services around the country. On May 4, the day began with a 36-gun salute (one for each state, including the Confederate states). At 10:00 a.m., Lincoln’s coffin was closed and sealed, then placed in an ornate black ostrich-plumed hearse loaned to Springfield by the city of St. Louis.
Nearly 150,000 mourners attended the funeral procession from the Old State Capitol past Lincoln’s home to Oak Ridge Cemetery. The procession was led by Major General Joseph Hooker, the Marshal-in-Chief, and Brigadier Generals John Cook and James Oakes.
The procession was the largest public display that people in the Midwest had ever witnessed. It was a scorching day for early spring and the route covered about two and a half miles, much of it along a country road leading to the wooded cemetery. As the hearse and procession participants made their way to the cemetery, thousands gathered on the wooded hillsides to get a glimpse of their President for the last time.
When the hearse finally arrived and passed through the arched entrance, Lincoln’s coffin was transferred from the hearse to a marble slab inside a receiving vault that was built into the side of a hill. The vault had been built in the early 1860’s to hold a person’s remains until a permanent tomb could be dug or constructed.
The funeral ceremony was held in front of the vault. It consisted of prayers, hymns, and the reading of Lincoln’s last inaugural address. The graveside sermon by Bishop Matthew Simpson included these words, “Hushed is thy voice, but its echoes of liberty are ringing through the world.”
Please note that the facts I included in this blog post are as accurate as possible considering the mounds of information I gathered and read, much of it conflicting. I hope you’ll return to read my future post about my experiences at the Lincoln Funeral Reenactment in Springfield on the 150th Anniversary in May 2015.
Until then, Happy Shunpiking!