Lincoln Returns to Springfield

May 4, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln and his son Willie were laid to rest at Oak Ridge Cemetery in their hometown of Springfield, Illinois, nearly three weeks after Lincoln had been assassinated.

The procession that had begun in Washington continued its westward journey, arriving at Chicago as May began. Residents gathered along Lake Michigan as Lincoln’s funeral train entered the city. The bearing of Lincoln’s coffin and hearse began at 12th Street and Michigan Avenue; some 50,000 people joined the procession while thousands more lined the streets as it passed. The escort included 36 schoolgirls dressed in white, representing the 36 states of the Union.

The Chicago procession | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly; May 20, 1865; Vol. IX, No. 438

The procession stopped at the Cook County Courthouse, where Lincoln’s body lay in state for two days. A courthouse sign read, “Illinois Clasps to Her Bosom Her Slain, but Glorified Son.” By nightfall on the 2nd, some 125,000 people had passed by the coffin to pay last respects. The funeral train then continued southward via the Alton Railroad, traveling through Joliet around midnight and arriving at Springfield on the morning of May 3.

The mayor of St. Louis loaned an ornate carriage valued at $6,000 and decorated in gold, silver, and crystal. Springfield officials used this carriage to convey the president’s coffin to the Illinois Statehouse. Lincoln’s body lay in state where he had argued over 200 cases as a trial lawyer and inflamed passions in both North and South with his famous “House Divided” speech. Over 75,000 people paid last respects while others gathered at Lincoln’s former home at 8th and Jackson streets.

The Lincoln Funeral Car | Image Credit:

On the 4th, Major General Joseph Hooker, former commander of the Army of the Potomac, led three divisions through the rain from the Statehouse to Oak Ridge Cemetery. They escorted the bodies of both Lincoln and his son, who had been disinterred in Washington to be buried with his father. The bodies were placed in a receiving vault as a choir sang, “The Dead March in Saul.” Prayers were offered and more songs were sung, and Lincoln’s second inaugural address was recited. Bishop Matthew Simpson delivered the eulogy. He began:

“Fellow-citizens of Illinois, and of many parts of our entire Union, near the capital of this large and growing State, in the midst of this beautiful grove, and at the mouth of this vault which has just received the remains of our fallen chieftain, we gather to pay a tribute of respect, and to drop the tear of sorrow around the ashes of the mighty dead.”

The bishop noted the enormous crowds that had come out to pay their final respects to Lincoln throughout the journey from Washington and declared that they all shared a common bond: a love for the president. He then turned to the war and the North’s supposed reason for fighting it:

“There are moments which involve in themselves eternities. There are instants which seem to contain germs which shall develop and bloom forever. Such a moment came in the tide of time to our land when a question must be settled, affecting all the powers of the earth. The contest was for human freedom. Not for this republic merely. Nor for the Union simply, but to decide whether the people, as a people, in their entire majesty, were destined to be the government, or whether they were to be subject to tyrants or aristocrats, or to class-rule of any kind.”

The bishop predicted that Lincoln’s everlasting legacy would be to have worked so hard to abolish slavery:

“But the great act of the mighty chieftain, on which his fame shall rest long after his frame shall moulder away, is that of giving freedom to a race. We have all been taught to revere the sacred characters. We have thought of Moses, of his power, and the prominence he gave to the moral law; how it lasts, and how his name towers high among the names in heaven, and how he delivered those millions of his kindred out of bondage. And yet we may assert that Abraham Lincoln, by his proclamation, liberated more enslaved people than ever Moses set free, and those not of his kindred. God has seldom given such a power or such an opportunity to man.”

Simpson noted the benevolence that Lincoln had expressed in his second inaugural address, but he did not follow Lincoln’s example of extending goodwill toward the South. The bishop grimly declared:

“Let every man who was a Senator and Representative in Congress, and who aided in beginning this rebellion, and thus led to the slaughter of our sons and daughters, be brought to speedy and to certain punishment. Let every officer educated at public expense, and who, having been advanced to position, has perjured himself, and has turned his sword against the vitals of his country, be doomed to a felon’s death. This, I believe, is the will of the American people. Men may attempt to compromise and to restore these traitors and murderers to society again, but the American people will rise in their majesty and sweep all such compromises and compromisers away, and shall declare that there shall be no peace to rebels.”

The bishop clarified that the harsh retribution he called for should only be brought against Confederate leaders. According to Simpson, the southern people themselves should fall under Lincoln’s umbrella of “malice towards none, charity for all.” The bishop announced:

“But to the deluded masses we shall extend arms of forgiveness. We will take them to our hearts. We will walk with them side by side, as we go forward to work out a glorious destiny. The time will come when, in the beautiful words of him whose lips are now forever sealed, ‘the mystic cords of memory which stretch from every battlefield and from every patriot’s grave shall yield a sweeter music when touched by the angels of our better nature.’”

In all, as many as seven million people had witnessed some part of the funeral procession along its journey from Washington to Springfield. This ended 20 days of national mourning, and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln passed into history.


References; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 118-19, 125; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 565-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 589; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-85; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 386-92; 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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