The Lincoln Funeral

April 19, 1865 – Funeral services for Abraham Lincoln took place at the White House.

After the doctors pronounced Lincoln dead on the 15th, bells tolled throughout Washington and the news quickly spread across the country. Lincoln’s body was draped in a flag and brought to the White House, and within an hour government buildings throughout the capital were draped in mourning black. First Lady Mary Lincoln was confined to her room, overwhelmed by grief.

News of Lincoln’s death caused profound sorrow throughout the North, where many revered him as the savior of the Union. According to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“From every part of the country comes lamentation. Every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor. Profuse exhibition is displayed on the public buildings and the dwellings of the wealthy, but the little black ribbon or strip of black cloth from the hovel of the poor negro or the impoverished white is more touching.”

Even those who had criticized his unconstitutional measures expressed shock and condemned the crime. But admiration for Lincoln was not universal, as the London Standard opined the day after his death: “He was not a hero while he lived, and therefore his cruel murder does not make him a martyr.”

The Navy Department ordered the firing of guns every half-hour on the 17th in honor of Lincoln’s memory. Flags on all ships and at all naval installations would fly at half-mast until after the funeral, and all naval officers would wear black mourning badges for six months.

Lincoln became the first president to lie in state in the White House. In the crepe-decorated East Room, the casket was placed upon a platform with four pillars holding a black canopy overhead. An estimated 25,000 people filed past the casket on the 18th.

Some 600 dignitaries including President Andrew Johnson, the cabinet, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, military leaders, and diplomats in full “court dress” attended the funeral at 12 p.m. on the 19th in the East Room. Welles wrote that the service “was imposing, sad, and sorrowful. All felt the solemnity, and sorrowed as if they had lost one of their own household. By voluntary action business was everywhere suspended, and the people crowded the streets.”

Correspondent Noah Brooks noted that Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, standing at the head of the catafalque, “was often moved to tears.” Chairs had been placed at the foot of the catafalque for Lincoln’s family, but only Robert was there; Mrs. Lincoln was too grief-stricken to attend. People throughout the North attended church services in their hometowns.

After Senate Chaplain E.H. Gray delivered the closing invocation, Lincoln’s coffin was placed in a carriage draped in banners. Soldiers escorted the carriage from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, and thousands of people lined Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the procession pass. According to Welles:

“There were no truer mourners, when all were sad, than the poor colored people who crowded the streets, joined the procession, and exhibited their woe, bewailing the loss of him whom they regarded as a benefactor and father. Women as well as men, with their little children, thronged the streets, sorrow, trouble, and distress depicted on their countenances and in their bearing. The vacant holiday expression had given way to real grief.”

The Lincoln Funeral Procession | Image Credit:

Bands played mournful songs, bells tolled, guns boomed, and some 40,000 people filed past Lincoln’s coffin in the Capitol rotunda over two days. On the 21st, Lincoln’s body was placed aboard a special train bound for its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Also on the train were the disinterred remains of his son Willie, who had died in 1862.

The train stopped in several northern cities as it nearly retraced the route that Lincoln had taken from Springfield to Washington in 1861. Five men who made that initial journey with Lincoln were on this train: David Hunter, David Davis, Ward Hill Lamon, John Nicolay, and John Hay.

The roofs of many railroad stations had to be torn down to accommodate the massive railroad car designed by George Pullman. The locomotive and other cars were periodically changed to give different railroad companies a chance to take part. A specially built hearse conveyed Lincoln’s casket from the railroad depots to the viewing sites. The casket was opened in larger cities so mourners could see the president.

The funeral train steamed through Maryland into Pennsylvania, where some 30,000 mourners passed the coffin at the state capital of Harrisburg. From there, the train chugged through Lancaster, where former President James Buchanan watched it pass on the way to Philadelphia. The coffin lay in state in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The double-line to view the body stretched three miles, and several people were injured in a rush to the casket.

The train steamed through New Jersey and was then ferried across the Hudson River into New York City. The hearse was pulled to City Hall by a team of 16 horses wearing black plumes and blankets. Local officials allowed Lincoln’s body to be photographed while lying in state in the City Hall rotunda. Mrs. Lincoln bitterly protested until Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered all prints destroyed. One survived.

The next day, the funeral procession went up Broadway. It consisted of 75,000 civilians and 11,000 soldiers. Blacks were required to march in the rear. About a million people witnessed the event. The funeral train left the Hudson River Railroad depot and steamed north to the state capital of Albany. From there it continued on to Buffalo, where mourners included former President Millard Fillmore and future President Grover Cleveland.

The train steamed west into Ohio, with stops at Cleveland and Columbus. In Cleveland, an estimated 50,000 people filed past the coffin in pouring rain. The body lay under a canopy in Monument Square because no public building could hold such a large crowd. The funeral train then proceeded to Columbus and reached Indianapolis by month’s end.



Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 223-24; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 479;; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 118-19; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 559-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 585-86; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 678-81, 683-84; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 853; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 386-91; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265


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