Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Springfield Says Goodbye To Abraham Lincoln

(Author's Note: This year marks the 145th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. For the past three weeks, I have been writing a series of posts about Lincoln's death, as well as the mournful journey of his Funeral Train as it brought his body from Washington, D.C. back home to Springfield, Illinois. I began this series for two reasons. First, to inform others who might wish to learn more about one of the darkest periods in our nation's history. Second, and more importantly, to offer my own contribution to remembering Mr. Lincoln. To those of you who have read all or part of this series, I offer my thanks and gratitude. Hopefully you've taken from this series an even deeper respect for what Abraham Lincoln meant, and continues to mean, to our nation.)

At daybreak in Springfield, Illinois on May 4, 1865, thirty-six guns from Battery K of the Missouri Light Artillery were fired in a national salute to Abraham Lincoln. The guns, one for each state in the Union at the time (including the Confederate states), marked the beginning of the last of the thirteen funerals for the fallen leader. A single gun was fired every thirty minutes after that until nightfall, when another thirty-six gun salute was fired.

The Illinois State Capitol had remained open all night so that as many mourners as possible could walk past the remains. Below is a photo of the coffin laying-in-state in the Capitol, with the lid not yet removed. It was placed at an angle so viewers would have a better angle at which to see the remains.

Accounts I've read vary, but the Capitol doors were closed at either 10:00 that morning, or at 1:00 p.m. Undertakers then made the final "cleaning" of the burial suit and sergeants from the Union army carried the casket to the waiting hearse. The hearse, which is shown at the beginning of this post, was as magnificent as those in the other funeral cities. It had been lent to the town of Springfield by the mayor of St. Louis, Mo. because Springfield felt it didn't possess a hearse grand enough for Mr. Lincoln. The hearse was built in Philadelphia, and cost $1,000 which was a huge sum of money in those days.

On the Capitol steps that day a 250-voice chorus was waiting to burst into a hymn as the president's remains were placed into the lavish hearse. As the choir sang, a 21-gun salute was fired. Then the last funeral procession began to slowly pull away from the Capitol, on its way to Oak Ridge Cemetery and the waiting receiving tomb.

Leading the procession that day in Springfield was Major General Joseph Hooker, who had been in charge of the military during the funeral journey from Cleveland onward. Ironically, it had been nearly two years to the day since Hooker led Union forces in a disastrous defeat at the Battle Of Chancellorsville (Virginia). Lincoln had removed Hooker from command after that defeat, replacing him just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. Hooker had been selected by Secretary of War Stanton for the duties of the funeral command, which he performed with great ability and honor.

The procession made its way from the Capitol past the Lincoln home and Governor's mansion, and finally to the road which led to the cemetery, then in the countryside outside Springfield. Behind Hooker marched one thousand soldiers. Then came the hearse, pulled by six huge matched black horses.

Behind the hearse was Lincoln's horse, "Old Bob", dressed smartly in mourning with a black blanket covering him. The horse had been used by Lincoln as he rode the law circuit in that part of Illinois, and had served Lincoln for more than ten years through the Illinois countryside. See the below image to see how "Old Bob" looked that day.

Also riding in the procession was the president's oldest son, Robert, accompanied by a cousin. As was the case with the previous eleven funerals, Mary Todd Lincoln did not attend any of the services. Indeed, she still remained in The White House, too emotionally distraught to leave her bed, let alone make the long journey to Springfield. It would be three more weeks until she could summon the strength to leave for her new (and temporary) home in Chicago, bringing along her younger son, Tad.


The procession at last entered Oak Ridge Cemetery and approached the public receiving vault carved into a hillside. It was meant to be a temporary "final" resting place for Lincoln (and Willie) until Mary Lincoln could return to Springfield to pick a more suitable location in the cemetery for her husband and son. That the "burial" was happening in this particular cemetery at all was somewhat of a fluke.

Immediately after Lincoln's death, a battle of wills erupted between the president's widow and the city leaders in Springfield. They had passed a "resolution" claiming Lincoln's remains, stating that the president deserved to be buried there. Mrs. Lincoln, though, had many enemies in Springfield (as she did in Washington) and was not, at first, willing to have her husband laid to rest in the town which harbored unhappy memories for her. Her original first choice was Chicago, followed by her second choice of the crypt which had been originally built for George Washington in the U.S. Capitol.

Then she remembered that her husband had once told her that he wanted to be buried in a simple, quiet place in the country and decided that Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield would fulfill his wish. That wasn't good enough for the Springfield city fathers, who immediately moved to erect Lincoln's Tomb in the center of town. When Mrs. Lincoln heard that construction on such a tomb was underway, indeed nearly complete, she immediately fired off a telegram threatening to have her husband buried in Chicago. Finally, they relented, and Oak Ridge Cemetery was used per her wishes.

The temporary vault, seen in the print below, was in a lovely location. Surrounded by trees and with a babbling brook in front as it looked over the valley, the setting satisfied Lincoln's wish for a "quiet place."

Mourners lined the hillside above the vault as Lincoln's casket was removed from the hearse and put inside. Earlier, the casket of his dear son Willie, who had died of typhoid in 1862, had been placed in the same vault. Robert Lincoln and some of the president's closest friends and advisers flanked the doors during the placement.

The Final Services

At long last the final funeral services for Abraham Lincoln began. A huge choir (300 voices) performed hymns, prayers were offered, and an official read President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, originally spoken only six weeks previously. Now those words took on a new meaning as they were read at this service. "With malice toward none; with charity for all;...let us...bind up the nation's wounds." Lincoln himself considered this speech to be his finest; many historians of our time agree with his self-assessment."

Now stepped forward Bishop Matthew Simpson of the Methodist Church to give the main funeral oration. Simpson, a native of the same Ohio village of Cadiz, where Stanton had worked for ten years, was a leading orator of the day in spite of his harsh speaking voice.

As he spoke that afternoon of May 4, 1865 the mourners gradually forgot the tone as they listened to the beauty of his words. Simpson described the president in this way: "He made all men feel a sense of himself - a recognition of individuality - a self-relying power. They saw in him a man who they believed would do what is right, regardless of all consequences. It was this moral feeling that gave him the greatest hold on the people, and made his utterances almost oracular."

Simpson's funeral sermon that day is considered by many to be one of the greatest eulogies ever given in American history. It moved the mourners to both applause at certain points; to tears at others. The speech may be accessed here if you'd like to read it.

When Simpson's oration closed, the Lincoln family pastor, Dr. Phineas Gurley of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, gave the final benediction. One last hymn was sung. The vault doors were closed and locked. The crowd slowly dispersed.

And with that, the greatest display of mourning this country has ever seen was over.


Jade Margaret said...

I just wanted to say that I'm so happy i found your blog. I started extensively studying Lincoln in 2008 (So I'm quite the newbie compared to you) and I never tire of reading these things. I found you because I'm writing a review of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire hunter and I was searching for any evidence as to whether or not he and Poe actually met. You gave me my answer, sir! Thanks, and great work on the blog!

Mini Choco-Pretzels said...

Something I never knew until a couple of years ago was that Lincoln's body was moved seven times over 36 years until finally being buried in cement. Sheese.

Geoff Elliott said...

Hello Mini,

That is quite correct. Lincoln's body was moved many times within the tomb before it was finally buried under 10-12 feet of cement.

That's a topic for another post.

Thanks for reading!

Mini Choco-Pretzels said...

Crazy that he was buried temporarily in a dank basement under 2 x 4's and other debris with volatile and nutsy Mary. For years. She got her comeuppance in some small way.

True, it would be a great topic; as would Lincoln's shoddy relationship with Robert. I'm not sure why Robert wound up in Arlington, exhumed in 1930 (if I recall) and moved. I don't know why off the cuff. You?

The way Lincoln doted on all of his kids save Robert is big time quirky. Who is to say if he saw something of his own father in him, but he loved John Hay like nobody's business (for example) while ignoring Robert emotionally. A crappy White House Dad. Another subject, too.

The Lincoln grandchildren actually did exceptionally well, if I recall. Wealthy.

Geoff Elliott said...


Robert Todd Lincoln was interred in Arlington because he was a veteran of the U.S. Civil War. Well, barely a veteran. He served on Grant's staff as a Captain in the last few weeks of the war and was present at Appomattox when Lee surrendered. His mother Mary didn't want him in the war, much to the embarrassment of Lincoln.

Robert was much more like the Todd family than the Lincolns. He was serious and extremely formal, almost to the point of being stiff. Abraham was of course nothing like that. On top of that, Abraham was nearly always riding the "circuit" as a lawyer during Robert's formative years. They simply didn't have a lot of contact while Robert was growing up. There is a book coming soon about Robert from the author Jason Emerson. He's the author of "The Madness Of Mary Lincoln". She was bitchy, yes, but she was also very mentally ill and may have had uncontrolled diabetes which can mess with the mind.

Robert deeply admired and loved his father. He openly wept as Abraham lay dying in Washington.

The Lincoln grandchildren and great-grandchildren were wealthy because Robert was wealthy. He made a fortune as a lawyer and as president of the Pullman Car company (train cars). The grandchildren and great-grandchildren were somewhat dysfunctional and tried to downplay their name.

If you're interested, you should pick up a copy of "The Last Lincolns" by Charles Lachman. It's the story of Lincoln's descendants, the last one of whom died in 1985.


Unknown said...

This article was nominated by a reader and selected as one of the best history articles on the net between May 1 and August 1, 2010 at

Unknown said...

This article was nominated by a reader and selected as one of the best history articles on the net between May 1 and August 1, 2010 at

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great history lesson. Details of the funeral in my home town of Columbus was especially interesting for me. I had previously thought that the funeral train had merely passed through. Great stuff.

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