By Scott D. Trostel
Author of the “THE LINCOLN FUNERAL TRAIN”
A snap shot of history from 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln was able to hold the Republic together at the conclusion of the terrible War Between the States.
On April 14, 1865, he was mortally shot while attending a play at Ford’s Theater. He expired the next morning, sending a shock wave across the land and setting a series of events in motion that would include Miami County. Mary Todd Lincoln agreed to a conditional burial of her husband in Oak Ridge Cemetery at Springfield, Illinois. She was less understanding of the extensive route proposed for a funeral train, but gave in after four days of intense negotiations. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, was getting things lined up for the train and its arrangements. He appointed co-chairmen, John Garrett of Baltimore, Maryland and Ohio Governor John Brough, both railroad men, to handle details of the train’s movement over the 1,700 mile route.
Included in the train was the first executive car named UNITED STATES, it carried the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln and a second coffin, containing the body of his 12 year old son, William “Willie” Lincoln. A list of guests were generated and announcements were made to hold ten state funeral en route, including two in Ohio.
The long and sorrowful journey from Washington City commenced April 21, 1865, neither Mary Lincoln, nor her son, Captain Robert Lincoln were on the nine car train. No one knew how strong the public showing of grief and respect for the slain president would be. At the first stop in Baltimore, Maryland, the streets were packed, and roof tops were lined with mourners. The stop of a few hours found that after the funeral train had left for Harrisburg, Pa., mourners continued to come just to pass by the place where the coffin had lain for just a few hours. This process of mourners continued for nearly four weeks, and it happened at all ten planned stops. A crush of mourners at Harrisburg nearly broke the doors down to the state capitol that evening. People came from near and far by every conveyance to mourn the loss of a great man.
As the train departed the next morning, people began throwing cut flowers in front of the train and at certain intermediate stops, floral wreaths were set upon the funeral car.
At Philadelphia tens of thousands came. When the coffin was removed to the hearse, a Piqua man, Vice-Admiral Stephen Clegg Rowan acted as an honorary pall-bearer in the procession. Lincoln’s coffin lay in Independence Hall, the place where the birth of a nation was hammered out and a place Lincoln himself found sacred. Near riots took place as people tried to enter the Hall. The mourners passed by the coffin in two lines, twelve abreast and at a brisk walking pace.
A stop was made for 30 minutes at Trenton, New Jersey, then the train moved on to Jersey City, New Jersey, where everyone was removed from the train and ferried across the Hudson River to Lower Manhattan. Only two cars of the train made the entire trip, the funeral car UNITED STATES and the Officers Car carrying the 29 Veteran Reserve Guard of Escort.
After an extended stay at City Hall, the largest processional parade up to that time took place with over 125 bands and hundreds of marching units included. The journey up the east side of the Hudson River included a stop across for West Point for the Cadets to salute the slain president and the first of only two stop where the general public was admitted.
The train stopped at East Albany, New York for the fifth state funeral, across the river at Albany, and the whole process of guest transport was repeated with the ferrying of all passenger and the coffin. The empty train was taken further north and crossed the Hudson River on a bridge.
Albany was engulfed by mourners. The railroads ran out of passenger cars, so be boarded box cars. This is the town where burglars and pick-pockets plied their evil craft.
Albany is also the town where the train went from day-time to night-time operation for the balance of the trip. Lincoln’s body had begun to decay and after the 15 hour trip west to Buffalo, New York, the balance of the journey was on a day by day basis, with the committee agreeing to move his burial from May 6 to May 4.
The train entered Ohio at Conneaut on April 27 with a destination of Cleveland. This was the only city along the route to build a special reception gazebo used exclusively for the one day the remains lay in-state. The funeral procession followed the same route as his 1861 inaugural parade, along Euclid Avenue. It rained all day, but it did not detour the mourners. At 10 p.m. that night the train left for Columbus. As the sun rose bright, they passed by Delaware, then Worthington and ultimately into Columbus, where the coffin was again removed to lay in-state at the Ohio capitol for the day. This is the first place where a woman was present when the coffin was carried into the rotunda. Nearly 50,000 mourners passed by the coffin on April 29, 1865. Early that evening the train commenced west, the engineer was an Irish immigrant, James Gormley. He was 25 years old, and just a short time after the funeral train’s passage, he moved his family to Piqua, where they resided for several years.
The train made four stops across Champaign county that night, taking on many florals and adding a second locomotive at Urbana for the climb up the Mad River Valley to St. Paris. The train passed into Miami County just before midnight. Conover was passed, as local residents and veterans stood in silence in a light rain. The train started down the Miami River grade at Fletcher as the calender turned another day. Piqua was entered at 20 minutes past midnight on April 30, 1865. The train was stopped here for servicing, and the changing of locomotives. A memorial service was held on the Wayne Street station grounds that not less than 10,000 mourners attended. It was conducted by the Rev. Granville Moody, a friend of Lincoln, with whom he first discussed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The train then moved on, making a brief stop for wood at Richmond Junction (current day Bradford), then moving on, making a brief stop at Greenville then south to New Paris, where Governor Oliver Morton received the remains on behalf of the State of Indiana.
It rained hard all day at Indianapolis, Indiana and mourners were described as looking drown rats. A processional parade was canceled as streets turned into mud. The train left at midnight, but the next mourning thousands of mourners were still on the streets awaiting a funeral procession. City officials gather an empty coffin, laid on the hearse and marching units were gathered, and the parade was conducted.
The train made stop at Michigan City, Indiana for breakfast, and while the many guests were still eating the train left. It was stopped ten miles west and the guests were put on other locomotives and sent west. In grand style the funeral train entered Chicago, where the largest parade was held. The coffin was deposited in Cook County Court House, greeted by long lines of mourners.
Mary Lincoln would make Chicago the last of May, it was she and Abraham had intended to retire when he was out of office.
On the evening of May 2, the train left Chicago for the last leg of its journey, to Springfield. It was not without incident. Several wooden walkways on scaffold collapsed in Chicago, injuring hundreds. The funeral train had grown to five trains. A deceased person was found along the tracks the next morning, her cause of death has never been determined.
The train pulled into Springfield the next morning, it was sunny and the coffin of Abraham was taken to the State House for a final state funeral, but not without some serious controversy. The burial was to be at Oak Ridge Cemetery. The Springfield Committee for Reception of the Remains had decided to build a mausoleum about two miles away from the cemetery against Mary Lincoln’s wishes. When Robert arrived later that day, he quizzed the poeple about what was being built on the Mather farm. It prompted a quick telegraph back to his mother, advising that they were not going to bury Abraham per her specific wishes. She sent a telegram back telling the Committee that if he was not taken to Oak Ridge, she would have his body removed to Chicago when she came out later that summer. On May 4, 1865, the remains of Abraham Lincoln were placed into a reception vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery. There were not buried until December of that year. Formal burial in the Lincoln Tomb did not occur until 1901.