(Author’s note: This year marks the 145th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. To help commemorate this occasion, I have begun writing a series of posts which will mark the anniversary of the assassination, his death, and the journey of his remains from Washington to Springfield. Today is the 145th anniversary of the start of the long trip home to Springfield.)
The persons chosen to escort the body of Abraham Lincoln to the funeral train in Washington gathered early in the Capitol rotunda on the morning of April 21, 1865. In the crowd were new President Johnson; Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant and his staff; other high-ranking generals and admirals; the pall-bearers; and clergy members. After a brief prayer was said, twelve sergeants carried the casket to the waiting hearse for the short drive to the main depot of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. There was no accompanying music or drum beats as the mourners quietly traveled to the depot.
The train depot was heavily guarded by a ring of soldiers and all approaches were blocked, with only authorized personnel permitted to enter. The waiting funeral train consisted of nine cars, all to be pulled buy a brand-new locomotive (steam-powered, of course). Also new were all the cars, each draped in heavy black mourning. The most elaborate car was of course reserved for Lincoln’s remains. Pictured above, the car had been built a short time before in Alexandria, Virginia at the U.S. Military Railroad car shops. Designed for Lincoln’s use while president, there is no indication that he had ever seen it, let alone use it. The car would forever be known from this point forward as The Lincoln Funeral Car as it transported the fallen leader to Springfield. (Unfortunately, the Lincoln Funeral Car no longer exists. It was lost in a fire in 1911 and only fragments of it remain.)
The Funeral Car had three main sections: a state room; dining room; and parlor. An aisle connected the dining room and parlor, but the state room (bedroom) was completely private. The outside of the car was brown with a carved eagle on each side (visible in the photo). By the standards of the day, the Funeral Car was extraordinary in its luxury. The woodwork was black walnut, tea sets were silver; and chandeliers dazzled. Now, the furniture was draped in black, the windows framed in mourning. Waiting Mr. Lincoln’s arrival was a small coffin, carrying the body of his son Willie, who died in 1862. He had been removed from the cemetery in Washington to accompany his father back home. Lincoln’s coffin was placed in the front of the car, with Willie’s at the opposite end.
Lincoln’s son Robert rode in the final car of the train, accompanied by Lincoln’s personal secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. Other dignitaries such as governors, pall-bearers, mayors, the Honor Guard, and friends road in other cars, some riding as far as Springfield, others departing along the way. In all, about 250 people were on the train that morning.
At 8:00 a.m., the funeral train sounded its muffled bell and pulled away from the depot as the long and mournful journey back to Springfield began. Soldiers stood at attention and saluted as the train slowly departed.