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Lincoln's Springfield Funeral and Burial

"In the mellow air and bright sunlight of this May morning, sweetened by the rain of last night, when those prairies are clothed in flowers, and the thickets of wild fruit trees, and blossoming orchards are jubilant with birds, he comes back."

The arrival of President Abraham Lincoln's body on May 3, 1865, in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, evoked this poetic response from a reporter covering the event. Although Lincoln was born in Kentucky, grew up in Indiana, and served the nation in Washington, he was buried in Illinois where he had developed strong community ties. Two years before his assassination he wrote, "Springfield is my home, and there, more than elsewhere, are my life-long friends."

In 1861 Lincoln said farewell to his Springfield friends and neighbors with a short but affectionate speech before leaving on his inaugural journey to Washington. Standing outside a train car by the Great Western depot he wondered "when, or whether ever, I may return..." Some of the men who left town with Lincoln that day now returned with his remains, including Major General David Hunter, Supreme Court Justice David Davis, and Ward Hill Lamon.

After a circuitous, 12-day journey which retraced much of Lincoln's inaugural route and included funerals in major Eastern and Midwestern cities, the train pulled into the Chicago & Alton station near Springfield's business district. The nine-car train included a presidential car for Lincoln and his son Willie, who died in the White House three years earlier, a baggage car, and seven Pullman sleeping cars for the funeral entourage. Years later Lincoln's eldest son Robert would become president of the Pullman company, based in Chicago.

The reporter watched as the train "moved slowly into the town, moved slowly through masses of 'plain people' who had come from all the country round about." Springfield, with its 15,000 residents, now welcomed more than 100,000 visitors on this historic occasion. As the train stopped and pallbearers approached it, "The stillness among all the people is painful; but when the coffin is taken from the car, that stillness is broken, broken by sobs, and these are more painful than the stillness."

Soldiers from the Veteran Reserve Corps loaded the president's coffin into an elaborate borrowed hearse, "splendidly adorned" with "A.L." engraved on a silver plate surrounded by a silver wreath, two inverted torches, and 36 stars symbolizing the states in the Union. While a band played funeral music, six black horses slowly pulled the hearse in a formal procession toward the city square.

On the west side of the square stood a building which housed the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office. Now it wore a banner: "He Lives in the Hearts of His People." Just before Lincoln left for Washington he told his law partner William Herndon, "If I live I'm coming back some time, and then we'll go right on practising law as if nothing had ever happened." Years later Herndon wrote, "He always contended that he was doomed to a sad fate, and he repeatedly said to me when we were alone in our office: 'I am sure I shall meet with some terrible end.'"

In April 1865 when General Lee surrendered his army to General Grant, effectively ending the Civil War, the city square had been alive with noisy, jubilant, grateful citizens. One of those residents recalled, "Within a few days came the word, 'Lincoln was assassinated last night.' Again businesses and homes were abandoned and the people gathered again in the square huddling together like cattle in a blizzard trying to shield themselves from the pelting storm of grief."

Last Viewing at the State House

The hearse stopped on the north side of the black-draped state Capitol where the soldiers carried the coffin upstairs to Representatives' Hall. Starting at 10 a.m. and continuing for 24 hours, approximately 75,000 mourners passed through this "solemnly impressive" room. The coffin rested on an elegant catafalque covered with black velvet, trimmed with silver and satin, and bordered with evergreens and white flowers. The ceiling, lined with white lace, glittered with gold stars which twinkled in the gas lights. High above the crowds were two inscriptions: "Sooner than surrender this principle, I would be assassinated on this spot" -- remarks by Lincoln at Independence Hall -- and "Washington the Father, Lincoln the Saviour."

Reporters noted that Lincoln's features "have very much changed since they left Washington." The open-coffin policy had taken such a toll during the funeral journey that a writer watched mourners searching Lincoln's face anxiously. "Many will not know the poor, chilled, shrunken features for his, for the beautiful soul that transfigured them into all loveliness no longer illumines this bit of clay." In fact, deterioration of the remains caused the funeral journey to be shortened by two days.

No location in town could be more appropriate than this legislative chamber, which has become a restored visitor site. Lincoln served four terms in the Illinois House of Representatives and gave speeches in this room, including the famous "House Divided" speech which launched his 1858 senatorial campaign against Stephen Douglas. To his contemporaries, memories of Lincoln permeated the entire building, from the Supreme Court chamber where he argued cases to the Governor's Reception Room, where he greeted visitors as president-elect.

Procession to the Cemetery

The public viewing concluded the next morning, which dawned bright and unusually warm. Relatives and close friends gathered for one last look at Lincoln's face. Then the coffin was closed, the lead lining was soldered shut, and it was returned to the flower-covered hearse waiting outside. Just behind the hearse stood Lincoln's former horse, riderless and covered with silver-trimmed black cloth.

While final arrangements proceeded inside the Capitol, a 250-voice choir on the outside steps sang the hymn, "Peace, Troubled Soul." As the coffin approached the hearse, they sang "Children of the Heavenly King." The procession to Oak Ridge Cemetery began around noon with a 21-gun salute, followed by single guns every ten minutes. The band struck up "Lincoln's Funeral March" and played the "Dead March" from Saul along the way.

Marshal-in-Chief Major General Joseph Hooker led the procession, which numbered about 10,000 government officials and private citizens who marched or rode in carriages. Visitors on the route could see state governors, congressional representatives, state and local municipal officials, judges, military officers and units, officiating clergymen, civic and fraternal groups, relatives and friends. Of President Lincoln's immediate family only his 22-year-old son Robert joined the procession, who reluctantly arrived at the insistence of David Davis, Lincoln's longtime friend and executor of his estate. A very distraught Mary Lincoln and her youngest son Tad remained in Washington.

Major General Grenville Dodge later called the procession "the saddest sight of my life." He explained, "Those streets were lined with thousands and thousands of people, evidently in great distress and sorrow, and at every step we could hear the sobs of the sorrowing crowd and every little while a negro would come out and drop down on his knees and offer a prayer. There was hardly a person who was not in tears, and when I looked around at my troops I saw many of them in tears."

Had the procession traveled directly to the cemetery, it would have covered under two miles. Instead, the route led east on Washington Street to Eighth Street, the better to pass the Lincoln home, heavily draped in mourning fabric. From there it went south to Cook Street and by the Governor's Mansion before heading north to the cemetery.

The Unused Tomb

If Springfield's city fathers had their way, the funeral procession would have ended much sooner at a downtown site where the present statehouse would rise later. Their intentions and Mrs. Lincoln's clashed, resulting in a power struggle which would take many weeks to resolve. Two days after Lincoln's death, Mrs. Lincoln gave permission to bury her husband in Springfield, but it was not until the funeral journey was well underway that she insisted on Oak Ridge Cemetery as the site.

By then the Springfield committee handling the arrangements had spent $55,000 on an eight-acre plot called the Mather Block where construction of a temporary vault proceeded feverishly, in hopes that someday a large permanent monument would rise on the site. Located near a train line, it seemed like an ideal tourist attraction. But Mrs. Lincoln rejected turning the tomb into what a New York paper wryly called "the chief advertisement of a smart and growing city."

Queried again through her son Robert, Mrs. Lincoln turned down the request to allow even temporary burial in the downtown tomb, knowing that her husband wanted to rest "in some quiet place," which Oak Ridge offered on the city's outskirts. Her telegram arrived just before the funeral procession set out for the cemetery.

But several weeks after Lincoln's burial, members of the National Lincoln Monument Association, comprised of prominent Springfield citizens, continued to press for a downtown location. Mrs. Lincoln refused them once again, causing an emergency vote of 8-7 in favor of Mrs. Lincoln's wishes. She warned them that the alternative was having the president's body placed in the U.S. Capitol crypt. On June 22 the association announced that the permanent monument would be built at Oak Ridge. The downtown tomb remained mostly intact but later became covered by the new statehouse landscaping and is no longer visible.

Arrival at Oak Ridge Cemetery

When the hearse rolled into the cemetery, thousands of mourners already stood near the public receiving vault, a temporary holding place for Lincoln's body. It would be almost 10 years before a permanent tomb would appear on the hill above. Oak Ridge, located near the town's northern limits, had been dedicated five years before. The rural setting seemed to satisfy Lincoln's wish to be buried in a quiet location, although his fame eventually would attract millions of visitors, making the cemetery the second-most visited American burial ground.

A reporter described the surroundings on Lincoln's burial day: "The vault is at the foot of a knoll in a beautiful part of the ground, which contains forest trees and all other varieties. It has a Doric gable resting on pilasters, the main wall being rustic. The vault is fifteen feet high, and about the same in width, with semicircular wings projecting from its hillsides. The material is limestone, procured at Joliet, Illinois."

The vault was flanked by a hastily-built platform for the choir and instrumental musicians on one side and a speakers' stand on the other. To the accompaniment of "Unveil Thy Bosom" from the Dead March from Saul, Lincoln's flower-strewn coffin arrived inside the velvet-lined vault next to his son's. "The scene was one of intense solemnity," as Robert Lincoln approached the entrance, along with Lizzie Grimsley, his mother's cousin, Ward Hill Lamon, his father's friend, and others close to the family.

The Service Begins

At least six Protestant clergymen participated in the service: four from Springfield and two from the East Coast. Over the years the Lincoln family attended two Old School Presbyterian churches: the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, and the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.

Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, the family's Washington pastor, led a White House funeral service for 11-year-old Willie in 1862. After the president was shot he provided care at the deathbed, preached the sermon at the president's White House funeral, and led the private service at the U.S. Capitol before boarding the funeral train for Springfield. Now at the tomb, he would contribute the benediction and a hymn of his own composition.

The Rev. Albert Hale, the 65-year-old pastor of Springfield's Second Presbyterian Church, offered the introductory prayer. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, he knew Lincoln before the presidency. During his prayer he recalled Lincoln as someone to emulate: "Merciful God, bless us, and we pray Thee help us to cherish the memory of his life, and the worth of the high example he has shown us. Sanctify the event to all in public office; may they learn wisdom from that example, and study to follow in the steps of him whom Thou hast taken away."

He was followed by a choral rendition of "Farewell Father, Friend and Guardian," composed for the occasion by George Root and L. M. Dawn. Rev. Noyes W. Miner, pastor of the local First Baptist Church and former neighbor of the Lincolns, read Scripture passages from the gospel of John and a Pauline letter. The choir then sang "To Thee O Lord" by George F. Handel.

Rev. Andrew C. Hubbard, the 26-year-old pastor of Springfield's Second Baptist Church, read Lincoln's eloquent Second Inaugural Address, which the president delivered two months earlier. The sound startled Lawrence Gobright of the Associated Press, who was nearby. As he explained, "The door of the vault stood open, and, while the reading was progressing, it seemed that the voice came from that tomb! This was one of the most impressive features of the day."

The Oration by Simpson

Just before the lengthy oration, the choir sang another dirge: "When at Thy Cross Was Bleeding," with lyrics by George F. Wright, a local artist. The vast audience, sweltering in the afternoon sunshine, heard from Bishop Matthew Simpson of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Simpson, who now lived in Philadelphia, met Lincoln before the president-elect left Springfield and witnessed his Farewell Address.

Lincoln apparently developed an affectionate regard for the affable Simpson, who made occasional White House visits, mostly to promote Methodist interests. Simpson, known as an eloquent speaker, sometimes saw the president in his Washington audiences. Two weeks earlier Simpson gave the opening prayer at Lincoln's White House funeral; three years later he would officiate at the marriage of Robert Lincoln and Mary Eunice Harlan, daughter of a prominent Methodist politician.

Bishop Simpson began his message with a recollection of Lincoln's farewell to Springfield and the shocking contrast of his return in death. He noted, "never was there in the history of man such mourning as that which has accompanied this funeral procession," attributing the reaction partly to the war and the euphoria when it ended, followed by the stunning news of the president's assassination.

Simpson explained that "the great cause of this mourning is found in the man himself. Mr. Lincoln was no ordinary man; and I believe the conviction has been growing on the nation's mind, as it certainly has been on mine, especially in the last years of his administration, that by the hand of God he was especially singled out to guide our government in these troubled times. And it seems to me that the hand of God may be traced in many of the events connected with his history." Simpson' remarks paralleled sentiments expressed earlier by Dr. Gurley during the White House funeral: "God raised him up for a great and glorious mission, furnished him for his work, and aided him in its accomplishment."

Recognizing that his oration would be read widely, Simpson covered many topics he considered important to his audience: how Lincoln's funeral procession compared to others in history, the historical context of the war and its effects, Lincoln's various legacies, vengeance and forgiveness, ultimate justice and national destiny.

Although Simpson celebrated Lincoln's intellectual strength in some detail, he concluded that Lincoln's character proved more impressive: "It was not, however, chiefly by his mental faculties that he gained such control over mankind. His moral power gave him pre-eminence. The convictions of men that Abraham Lincoln was an honest man, led them to yield to his guidance."

Simpson also touched on Lincoln's spiritual side, although he admitted, "As to his religious experience, I cannot speak definitely, because I was not privileged to know much of his private sentiments." No doubt realizing that his audience wondered where Lincoln was spending eternity, he continued: "This I know, however, he read the Bible frequently; and he tried to be guided by its precepts. He believed in Christ the Saviour of sinners; and I think he was sincere in trying to bring his life into harmony with the principles of revealed religion."

Simpson's sermon was followed by another dirge by Wright called "Over the Valley the Angels Smile," using the music of Eberhard Storch. Rev. Dr. Simeon W. Harkey, a theology professor at a local school where Lincoln had been a trustee and his son Robert once attended, offered the closing prayer. The choir followed this with the requiem "Peace, Troubled Soul." Dr. Gurley gave the benediction, and the funeral hymn he composed for the Springfield service, "Rest, Noble Martyr," was sung next.

After the choir and audience sang a Doxology, a local writer said, "the vast multitude melted away and sought the railroad depots, from which the trains bore them to their homes in all parts of the nation -- east, west, north and south. Thus ended the most grand and sublime funeral pageant the world ever saw."

John Carroll Power, first custodian of the future Lincoln tomb, noted, "I feel justified in saying that more than one million men and women must have looked upon the dead face of Abraham Lincoln; an event which has no parallel in the history of the world."

One of the Springfield papers offered its own benediction: "To-day we lay him reverently to rest, amid the scenes he loved so well. Millions will drop a tear to his memory, and future generations will make pilgrimages to his tomb. Peace to his ashes."

Public Viewing at Old Capitol
Public Viewing in Springfield Statehouse
Harper's Weekly

Musical Tributes

In contrast to President Lincoln's Washington funeral, the Springfield service included many musical selections. The choral pieces are listed here in the order in which they were performed. Some were written expressly for the occasion, while others had been in the standard repertoire for many years. One of them, "Rest, Noble Martyr," was composed by President Lincoln's Washington pastor on the funeral train to Springfield.

"Peace, Troubled Soul" by Samuel Ecking and Lowell Mason

Peace, troubled soul, thou need'st not fear;
Thy great Provider still is near;
Who fed thee last, will feed thee still:
Be calm, and sink into His will.

The Lord, who built the earth and sky,
In mercy stoops to hear thy cry;
His promise all may freely claim;
Ask and receive in Jesus' name.

Without reserve give Christ your heart,
Let Him His righteousness impart;
Then all things else He'll freely give;
With Him you all things shall receive.

Thus shall the soul be truly blest,
That seeks in God His only rest;
May I that happy person be,
In time and in eternity.

"Children of the Heavenly King" -- by John Cennick and Ignaz Pleyel

Children of the heavenly King,
As we journey, let us sing;
Sing our Saviour's worthy praise,
Glorious in His works and ways.

We are traveling home to God,
In the way the fathers trod;
They are happy now, and we
Soon their happiness shall see.

Lord, obediently we go,
Gladly leaving all below;
Only Thou our Leader be;
And we will still follow Thee.

"Unveil Thy Bosom, Faithful Tomb" -- Music by George F. Handel and Text by Isaac Watts, from the Dead March of Saul

Unveil thy bosom, faithful tomb,
Take this new treasure to thy trust,
And give these sacred relics room
To seek a slumber in the dust;
And give these sacred relics room
To seek a slumber in the dust.

Nor pain, nor grief, nor anxious fear
Invades thy bounds, no mortal woes,
Can reach the lovely sleeper here,
And angels watch her soft repose;
Can reach the lovely sleeper here,
And angels watch her soft repose.

So Jesus slept; God's dying Son
Passed through the grave, and blessed the bed:
Rest here, fair saint, till from His throne
The morning break and pierce the shade;
Rest here, fair saint, till from His throne
The morning break and pierce the shade.

Break from His throne, illustrious morn!
Attend, O earth! His sovereign Word:
Restore thy trust: a glorious form
She must ascend to meet her Lord;
Restore thy trust: a glorious form
She must ascend to meet her Lord!

"Farewell Father, Friend and Guardian" -- by George F. Root and L.M. Dawn

All our land is draped in mourning,
Hearts are bowed and strong men weep;
For our loved, our noble leader,
Sleeps his last, his dreamless sleep.
Gone forever, gone forever,
Fallen by a traitor's hand:
Though preserv'd his dearest treasure,
Our redeem'd beloved land.
Rest in peace.

Through our night of bloody struggle,
Ever dauntless, firm and true,
Bravely, gently forth he led us,
Till the morn burst on our view --
Till he saw the day of triumph,
Saw the field our heroes won:
Then his honor'd life was ended,
Then his glorious work was done.
Rest in peace.

When from mountain, hill and valley,
To their homes our brave boys come,
When with welcome notes we greet them,
Song and cheer and pealing drum;
When we miss our lov'd ones fallen,
When to weep we turn aside;
Then for him our tears shall mingle,
He has suffer'd -- he has died.
Rest in peace.

Honor'd leader long and fondly
Shall thy mem'ry cherished be;
Hearts shall bless thee for their freedom,
Hearts unborn shall sigh for thee;
He who gave thee might and wisdom,
Gave thy spirit sweet release;
Farewell, father, friend and guardian,
Rest forever, rest in peace.
Rest in peace.

"To Thee O Lord" -- by George F. Handel

To Thee, O Lord, I yield my spirit,
Who break'st in love this mortal chain;
My life I but from thee inherit,
And death becomes my chiefest gain;
In Thee I live, in Thee I die,
Content, for Thou art ever nigh.

"As When Thy Cross was Bleeding" -- by Otto and George F. Wright

As when Thy cross was bleeding,
The earth is draped in gloom!
Our brows are bound in ashes,
Our hearts are in the tomb!

O, God, our sovereign Savior!
Thy saving grace reveal;
O, stay Thy people's anguish,
And let Thy mercy heal!

"Over the Valley the Angels Smile" -- by Eberhard Storch and George F. Wright

Over the valley the angels smile,
Glory awaits him, they welcome so kindly;
Finished his labor, tho' ne'er so blindly,
Perfidy vaunts the deed of his guile.

Over the valley the angels smile,
Tho' we must grieve thee,
Our God will receive thee,
Blessing thy labor,
Our friend and our neighbor;
Crowning thee bright as the babe of the Nile.

"Rest, Noble Martyr" -- by Phineas D. Gurley

Rest, noble martyr! Rest in peace;
Rest with the true and brave,
Who, like thee, fell in Freedom's cause,
The Nation's life to save.

Thy name shall live while time endures,
And men shall say of thee,
"He saved his country from its foes,
And bade the slave be free."

These deeds shall be thy monument,
Better than brass or stone;
They leave thy fame in glory's light,
Unrival'd and alone.

This consecrated spot shall be
To Freedom ever dear.
And Freedom's sons of every race
Shall weep and worship here.

O God! before whom we, in tears,
Our fallen Chief deplore;
Grant that the cause, for which he died,
May live forevermore.

Doxology

To the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom we adore,
Be glory as it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.


Soldiers at the Lincoln Tomb
Photo courtesy private collector

Related Reading

  • Coggeshall, William Turner. Lincoln memorial: The journeys of Abraham Lincoln: from Springfield to Washington, 1861, as president elect; and from Washington to Springfield, 1865, as president martyred; comprising an account of public ceremonies on the entire route, and full details of both journeys. Columbus: Ohio State Journal, 1865.
  • Coggeshall, William Turner. Abraham Lincoln: His Great Funeral Cortege, from Washington City to Springfield, Illinois with a History and Description of the National Lincoln Monument. Columbus: Ohio State Journal, 1865.
  • Daily National Republican, May 4 & 5, 1865.
  • Hart, Richard E. The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln. Springfield, Illinois: Abraham Lincoln Association, 2015.
  • Illinois State Register, May 3, 1865.
  • Kunhardt, Dorothy Meserve and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. Twenty Days: A Narrative in Text and Pictures of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Reprint edition, 1994.
  • New York Tribune, May 5, 8 & 11, 1865.
  • New York Times, May 4 & 5, 1865.
  • Power, John Carroll. Abraham Lincoln: His Great Funeral Cortege, from Washington City to Springfield, Illinois with a History and Description of the National Lincoln Monument. Springfield, Illinois, 1872.
  • Power, John Carroll. Abraham Lincoln: his life, public services, death, and great funeral cortege: with a history and description of the National Lincoln Monument, with an appendix. Chicago: H.W. Rokker, 1889
  • Power, John Carroll. History of Sangamon County, Illinois. Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Company, 1881.
  • Temple, Wayne C. Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet. Mahomet, Illinois: Mayhaven Publishing, 1995.

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