The Lincolns Leave Springfield

February 11 was the day that President-elect Abraham Lincoln and his family would leave Springfield. That morning, Lincoln had breakfast at the Chenery House and then tended to the luggage by tying the trunks with rope and labeling them “A. Lincoln, White House, Washington, D.C.” He and son Robert then took a carriage to the Great Western Station, where “a powerful Rogers locomotive” waited.

In addition to Lincoln, the passengers would be secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, and Colonel Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth, a young soldier to whom Lincoln had taken a liking while studying law in Lincoln’s office. The War Department assigned four soldiers to guard the president-elect on the trip: Colonel Edwin V. Sumner, Major David Hunter, and Captains George W. Hazzard and John Pope. Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln and sons Robert, Willie, and Tad would board the train at a later stop.

Over 1,000 people gathered in the morning rain to bid farewell. Lincoln shook hands and spoke with friends and neighbors in the station waiting room before boarding the train at 7:55 a.m. Amidst family, friends, secretaries, politicians, newspaper reporters, and military officers, Lincoln addressed the crowd from the platform of his private car:

“Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

The train had three cars for baggage, smoker, and coach, and according to a reporter, it had plenty of “refreshments for the thirsty.” It chuffed out of the station on the first leg of the journey and stopped at Decatur to refuel. There Lincoln was greeted with “enthusiastic cheers” from “several thousand people, gathered from the surrounding country.” Lincoln met with old friend Richard Oglesby and cousin John Hanks. The next stop was Tolono, where roaring cannon and a cheering crowd “bullied” Lincoln into an unrehearsed speech. He said: “I am leaving you on an errand of national importance, attended, as you are aware, with considerable difficulties. Let us believe, as some poet has expressed it: –Behind the cloud the sun is still shining.”

The train’s last Illinois stop was at Danville, where Lincoln acknowledged “his old good friends” before crossing into Indiana around noon. Stops were made at Lafayette and Lebanon, and the last stop of the day was at the state capital of Indianapolis at 5 p.m. There Lincoln was greeted by Governor Oliver P. Morton, and a 34-gun salute (one gun for each state) was fired in honor of the president-elect. To the gathering crowd, Lincoln asked: “Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?” He was answered by a “long and prolonged applause.”

A throng of some 20,000 people escorted the governor and president-elect to the Bates House. According to the New York Herald, Lincoln had to shove his way through the crowd to get into the hotel, as “no precautions had been taken to protect him from insolent and rough curiosity.” Lincoln delivered his first official speech since his election from the hotel balcony, declaring: “It is your business to rise up and preserve the Union and liberty, for yourselves, and not for me.”

Lincoln said he opposed “coercion,” an example of which would be if an army marched into South Carolina without prior consent of its people. But then he asked if it would be coercion “if the Government, for instance, but simply insists upon holding its own forts, or retaking those forts which belong to it?” If that was coercion, then “the Union, as a family relation, would not be anything like a regular marriage at all, but only as a sort of free-love arrangement.”

This was an awkward speech that was sure to intensify the rage already burning among the secessionists. It was condemned by the Democratic press and applauded by the Republicans. It may have been better delivered had Lincoln not had such an exhausting day. Later that night, Lincoln delivered a second speech from the balcony which proved more moderate in its tone.

The next day was Lincoln’s 52nd birthday, and it would be just as exhausting as the day before. Lincoln started by breakfasting with Morton at the Governor’s Mansion, and then he visited the state legislature. He returned to the Bates House and delivered another speech from the balcony before meeting up with Mary, Willie, and Tad around 11 a.m. The presidential party boarded a new, elaborately decorated train that featured bunting, white stars, and lithographs of the past U.S. presidents.

Stops were made at Morris, Shelbyville, Greenburg, and Lawrenceburg, where Lincoln delivered short, informal speeches to the crowds. At Lawrenceburg, Lincoln spoke in a different tone than he had the night before:

“I have been selected to fill an important office for a brief period, and am now, in your eyes, invested with an influence which will soon pass away; but should my administration prove to be a very wicked one, or what is more probable, a very foolish one, if you, the PEOPLE, are but true to yourselves and to the Constitution, there is little harm I can do, thank God!”

The final stop of the day was around 3 p.m. at Cincinnati. After a welcome from the mayor, Lincoln addressed both the Ohioans in the crowd and the people of his home state of Kentucky, just across the Ohio River. To the Kentuckians, he said: “We mean to leave you alone, and in no way to interfere with your institution; to abide by all and every compromise of the constitution. We mean to remember that you are as good as we are; that there is no difference between us, other than the difference of circumstances.”

Lincoln then attended a rally of German workers and acknowledged that the German vote was vital in getting him elected. Sidestepping the sectional question, Lincoln railed against immigrant oppression and echoed his party’s support for a homestead law: “I am in favor of cutting up the wild lands into parcels, so that every poor man may have a home.”

A carriage then took Lincoln to the Burnet House, where more crowds and a large reception awaited him. He delivered a rambling speech in which he told the crowd that their greeting “could not have occurred in any other country on the face of the globe, without the influence of the free institutions which we have increasingly enjoyed for three-quarters of a century… I hope that while these free institutions shall continue to be in the enjoyment of millions of free people of the United States, we will see repeated every four years what we now witness… I hope that our national difficulties will also pass away.”

In two days, Lincoln had given nearly two dozen speeches in three different states. The pace would not let up.


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  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.
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