President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s tour through the North on the way to Washington continued, as the special train bearing the presidential party left Cleveland at 10 a.m. on the 16th and headed east. Stops were made at towns such as Willoughby and Geneva, where Lincoln made some brief remarks to the crowds of people who had gathered at the various train stations to see him and cheer him on.
The train then entered New York and stopped at Westfield, home town of a little girl who had written to Lincoln and urged him to grow a beard. Addressing the crowd from the back of his railroad car, Lincoln said that “acting partly on her suggestion, I have done so; if she is here, I would like to see her.” The blushing girl was brought up to meet him, and a disapproving newspaper reporter wrote: “There seems to be something supremely ridiculous in these troublous times when our very national existence is imperiled, in having a President elect who devotes his energies to cultivating his whiskers, and otherwise improving his personal appearance.”
The Lincoln train moved along the Lake Erie shoreline until stopping at Buffalo around 4:30 p.m. An estimated 10,000 people greeted the president-elect at the station, including former President Millard Fillmore. The crowd was so large that “the wildest confusion ensued,” and Major David Hunter, one of the army officers assigned to protect Lincoln, sustained a dislocated shoulder amidst the chaos. The rest of the entourage managed to force their way through the crowd to the carriages waiting for them.
The party rode through an enormous parade up Main Street and stopped at the American House, where Lincoln delivered a speech from the balcony. He thanked the people for the warm welcomes they were giving him “on my rather circuitous route to the Federal Capital.” He declared that he had faith in the “Supreme Being who has never forsaken this favored land,” and he assured the crowd that if cooler heads prevailed, “the clouds which now arise in the horizon will be dispelled.” A large reception was held for the president-elect that night.
Lincoln attended church services with former President Fillmore at the First Unitarian Church at Franklin and Eagle streets on the 17th. The Lincolns dined at Fillmore’s home, and then Lincoln attended a second church service to hear a sermon from Indian preacher John Beason. During the day, Lincoln received a letter from Illinois Senator Orville Browning, who had been given a draft of Lincoln’s inaugural address and was offering some advice: “In any conflict which may ensue between the government and the seceding States, it is very important that the traitors shall be the aggressors, and that they be kept constantly and palpably in the wrong.”
The odyssey continued the next morning, with the train heading out of Buffalo and steaming through towns such as Batavia, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse, and Utica, before finally arriving at the state capital of Albany at 2:30 p.m. A large crowd gathered at the station, but since Albany was largely Democratic, the welcome for Lincoln was more subdued. Lincoln disembarked before a banner that read: “Welcome to the Capital of the Empire State—No Compromise.”
He was escorted to the State Capitol, where Governor Edwin D. Morgan assured him: “If you have found your fellow citizens in larger numbers elsewhere, you have not found, and, I think, will not find, warmer hearts or a people more faithful to the Union, the constitution and the laws than you will meet in this time-honored city.” Addressing the New York legislature, Lincoln noted: “It is true that while I hold myself without mock modesty the humblest of all individuals that have ever been elected to the Presidency, I have a more difficult task to perform than any one of them.” Lincoln dined at the Governor’s Mansion with Morgan, and then attended a reception at the Delavan House that was “crowded to suffocation.”
The first sign that the trip may run into problems came in a letter Lincoln received at Albany from Worthington Snethen, a Republican politician from Maryland. Snethen informed the president-elect that the mayor and city council of Baltimore had decided not to officially welcome Lincoln to their city. There were many secessionists in Baltimore, and to avoid provoking them, Snethen advised against “any organized public display on our part.”
The next morning, Albany’s Corps of Burgesses escorted Lincoln’s party to the railroad station, where the journey would continue south to New York City. Henry Villard, reporting for the New York Herald, wrote: “Fatigued, unwell, ill at ease… Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln left Albany with feelings of gratitude for their safe appearance… several gunners made frantic attempts to explode a second hand cannon by way of salute.” From this point on, the journey to Washington took a decidedly less celebratory turn.
- Catton, Bruce, The Army of the Potomac: A Stillness at Appomattox. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
- Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.