On April 21, 1865, a locomotive slowly pulled out of the depot in Washington D.C. carrying about 300 people. Those who saw the train generally bowed their heads. Many of them cried. The train was carrying the remains of President Abraham Lincoln who had been assassinated a week earlier and Willie Lincoln who had died in 1862 back to Springfield, IL.
The Lincoln Special
The train consisted of the funeral car, baggage cars and coaches and the engine, which had a photo of Lincoln mounted on the front of the train over the cowcatcher. The funeral car was decorated with black garland and silver tassels and had a U.S. coat of arms painted on the side of it.
“With sixteen wheels for a smoother ride, rounded monitor ends, fine woodwork, upholstered walls, [and] etched glass windows” this funeral car surely was a sight to behold,” Scott Trostel wrote in The Lincoln Funeral Train: The Final Journey and National Funeral for Abraham Lincoln.
The journey would essentially retrace Lincoln’s trip as President-elect from Illinois to Washington in reverse. The only change was that it deleted a stop in Pittsburgh and added one in Chicago.
Coming to Harrisburg
The first stop on the journey had been in Baltimore. From there, the train headed to Harrisburg. Gov. Andrew Curtin and a delegation from Pennsylvania met the train at the state line just south of Shrewsbury. They joined the Maryland delegation in the front car and rode to Harrisburg allowing for a short stop in York.
The train arrived in the capital city amid a hard rain around 8:30 p.m. on Friday, April 21. As the it passed the west end of the Northern Central Railway bridge, a cannon fired and church bells pealed across the city.
The train halted only when the funeral car sat on Market Street. The heavy rain was joined by thunder and lightning as members of the Veterans Corps carried the coffin from the coach to a hearse that had been specially made by Harrisburg undertakers, W. W. Boyer and Peter R. Boyd, for the occasion.
Four white horses then pulled the hearse down Market Street to the square, north on Second Street to State Street, and then up State Street to the capital building. The procession that followed the hearse was led by Col. Henry McCormick and included city ministers, Mayor Augustus Roumfort and some of the city’s leading citizens. A band playing a funeral dirge led the next group of mourners that included Gov. Curtin, his staff, state officials, another band, two regiments of Pennsylvania soldiers and one unit of New York soldiers.
“The entire procession was lit by the city’s new chemical streetlights, which gave off a deep orange glow,” George F. Nagle wrote in The Bugle, the Camp Curtin Historical Society newsletter.
At the capital, the President’s coffin was placed in a catafalque in the House of Representatives chamber. The catafalque was made from lots of black cloth placed over the clerk’s desk and speaker’s dais so that neither could be seen.
A public viewing began at 9:30 p.m. and for two and a half hours, an estimated 10,000 mourners waited in the storm outside the capital for an opportunity to pay their last respects to the man who had lead the country through the Civil War.
They entered the chamber in two lines. The lines separated at the foot of the coffin so that a line filed along either side of the coffin to view the President’s body.
“Each line exited through specially rigged doorways through the large windows on opposite sides of the chamber. So many filed through that the undertaker had to re-chalk the visibly discoloring face and dust the body before the chamber could be reopened the next morning,” Nagle wrote.
Another public viewing began on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. and ran until 9 a.m. The doors to the chamber were then closed and the funeral procession reformed to take the President’s coffin back to the funeral train.
At 8:30 a.m., church bells began tolling and cannons were fired to notify the city to prepare for the funeral procession. An estimated 40,000 people lined the streets of Harrisburg along the route and waited for the procession to pass. This was roughly twice as many people than lived in the city at the time.
Once the procession passed, many of the mourners followed behind to accompany the procession back to the train.
The Journey Continues
The funeral train pulled out of the Harrisburg depot at 11:15 a.m. heading for Philadelphia. As the train left the city, it passed a large American flag that had been spread across a field where it could be seen from the train. Crowds of people stood on either side of the flag and removed their hats as the train passed, according to the New York Herald.
The journey to Lincoln’s final resting place would take two weeks and pass through Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.