By Colm Power
Although Abraham Lincoln died on 15th April, 1865, it wasn’t until 4th May that he was laid to rest after a remarkable funeral journey during which his body travelled by train through 180 cities and seven states on its way from Washington to Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.
After Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth while he was attending Ford’s Theatre, many people didn’t believe the President was dead. Some were saying it was all a rumour put out by the President’s enemies. It took some time for the truth to spread. Not surprisingly, a great many people mourned, but others celebrated, believing Lincoln to be responsible for dividing the country.
There was a lengthy debate on the question as to where the President was to be buried, and his wife Mary finally agreed that his final resting place should be at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.
A sum of fifty thousand dollars was donated for the construction of a temporary vault where the remains would be held until a proper monument could be erected. Work on the vault began right away with men working day and night to have it ready for the burial.
Following the death of the President, the body was taken to the White House. Four days later the remains were taken from the White House to the Capitol, and the line of soldiers, officials and citizens following the hearse stretched well over a mile. The funeral carriage was drawn by six grey horses, each attended by a groom. One reporter described the scene as ‘the grandest procession ever seen on this continent’.
Two days later the train carrying Lincoln’s remains set out from Washington to Springfield, Illinois. It was a sombre journey as the train retraced the route Lincoln had travelled to Washington as the president-elect on his way to his first inauguration.
Millions of people viewed the train along the route, but Lincoln’s wife, Mary, remained at the White House because she was too distraught to make the trip. She returned to Illinois about a month later.
The funeral train consisted of nine cars, including a baggage and hearse car.