(Author’s Note: This post is the third in a series of blog articles I began on April 14, 2010, documenting the assassination, death, and final journey to Springfield of Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president. In the first, I described the assassination at Ford’s Theater on the night of April 14, 1865. The second documented his death early the following morning. This post describes the funeral and procession held in Washington, D.C. on April 19, 1865.)
In April 1865, approximately 75,000 people inhabited Washington, D.C. Now with the tragic assassination of Abraham Lincoln just days before, at least 25,000 (some estimates had it as much as 100,000) more people poured into the city in order to catch a glimpse of the martyred president. A grand funeral display, the likes of which had never been witnessed in the United States, was to be held on Wednesday, April 19, 1865, 145 years ago today. Hotels overflowed capacity, so much so that it’s estimated that 6,000 people slept on the floor in the lobbies. People arrived by train, wagon, carriage, and any other possible means of transportation in order to pay their respects.
The previous day of April 18 saw Lincoln’s body lying in state on a huge catafalque in the East Room of The White House. The catafalque towered over the floor to a height of nearly eleven feet. Armed soldiers stood guard at each corner, honoring their fallen commander-in-chief. At 9:30 that morning, the doors to The White House were open for the public to file past the remains. The line quickly grew to one mile in length, with 6 or 7 people abreast. As the visitors would approach, the guards directed them to two single-file lines so they could file past the coffin. Lincoln’s body was partially visible, his face fixed in a partial smile, his dark features made a sickening gray by the embalmers make-up. Keeping in the custom of the day, loud sobs were heard as that was the proper way to display grief. The crowd continued filing in until the doors were closed to the public at 5:30 p.m. so special visitors, such as wounded soldiers, could attend.
The State Funeral April 19, 1865
Wednesday April 19, the day of the State Funeral, dawned with the sound of cannons firing from the forts ringing Washington. Church bells tolled continuously, along with firehouse bells. Enormous crowds began lining the funeral procession route along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The funeral was to be held in the East Room, with the official mourners limited to about 600 people. All the major branches of Christianity were represented by at least 60 clergy members, including the four officiants. The new President, Andrew Johnson stood close to the coffin along with members of the cabinet. Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son, sat at the foot of the coffin, flanked by his uncles. Lincoln’s widow Mary and his youngest son, Tad, did not attend and remained in seclusion in the family quarters. At the head of the coffin, General Ulysses S. Grant sat quietly, with tears in his eyes. He later said of Lincoln, that he was “Incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.”
Other dignitaries attending included governors from various Northern states; U.S. senators and congressmen; members of the foreign diplomatic corps; heads of government departments; and members of the press.
The funeral began at 12:10 p.m. that gloriously beautiful afternoon with the first of the four ministers intoning an Episcopal burial service. He was followed by the famous Methodist Bishop, Matthew Simpson, who compared Lincoln to Moses. According to all reports, everyone was in tears when Simpson had finished. Lincoln’s pastor, Dr. Phineas Gurley of the Presbyterian Church on New York Avenue (where Lincoln occasionally attended services) gave the main funeral sermon. The services closed with the Chaplain Of The Senate reciting prayers.
Church services were held simultaneously across the United States and even some in Canada. It’s estimated that around 25 million people were honoring Lincoln’s life and memory while the State Funeral was taking place.
The Funeral Procession
Once the services in the East Room concluded, the mourners filed out while Lincoln’s remains were prepared for the procession to the U.S. Capitol, where he would lay in state until April 21st.
Lincoln’s coffin was transported to the funeral hearse, which I’ve shown above. It was pulled by six gray horses along the mile and half journey to the Capitol. The hearse was topped by a golden eagle. Behind the hearse was a riderless horse with reversed boots in the stirrups depicting the fallen leader. Following the hearse were carriages, one each for Robert and his brother Tad, while others were for cousins, brothers-in-law, and Lincoln’s two private secretaries.
Following the carriages were approximately 40,000 people, including soldiers, former slaves, military bands playing dirges, and various members of trade unions.
The funeral procession was led, quite by accident, by the 22nd U.S. Colored Infantry. It had been trying to reach the procession when its way was blocked. When it finally found entrance to Pennsylvania Avenue, it somehow ended up at the front of the procession. Somehow, it seemed fitting.
The image at the beginning of this post is from the May 6, 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly, a leading paper of the time. It shows the hearse and the huge cortege in front of the procession, leading from The White House to the Capitol.
The funeral car didn’t arrive at the Capitol until 3:30 p.m. After a few minutes struggle, eight soldiers carried the heavy coffin up the portico steps to the rotunda, where Lincoln would lay in state until the morning of April 21. The family, four clergymen, President Johnson, and General Grant were among the few who paid respects to Lincoln inside the Capitol that day.
The next day at 8:00 a.m., the doors were opened to the public, who once again streamed past to pay their last respects to Abraham Lincoln. Approximately 25, 000 more people viewed Lincoln’s remains until the doors closed on April 20, 1865. The next day, April 21, would be the day Abraham Lincoln would forever leave Washington, beginning his long journey back to Springfield.