May 1865

Farewell to President Lincoln

Most Illinoisans learned of the shooting and death of President Lincoln within hours of his last breath. In many towns public meetings held on April 15 adopted formal statements of outrage and sorrow. Some ministers worked to replace the sermons they planned to deliver on Easter Sunday (April 16) with talks that pondered the tragedy, its origin, and its meaning for the future. Many other clergymen and local leaders delivered memorial addresses on April 19, the date of the White House funeral service.


On April 21 the president’s remains began the journey to Springfield, Illinois, for burial. The funeral train stopped in several cities so that memorial processions and viewings of the remains might be held.

Home again
The train bearing 
the president’s remains arrived in Chicago,before noon on May 1. The coffin was removed from the railroad car and placed on the platform of an immense hearse built for the occasion. It soon departed for the Cook County courthouse,where the remains would lie in state. At the beginning of the procession the hearse passed beneath an elaborate decorated archway. Viewing of the remains began late in the afternoon. Thousands streamed through the courthouse to view the remains, which lay on a decorative catafalque.

The funeral train pulled out from Chicago at about 9:30 on the night May 2, beginning the final leg of the president’s trip home. The two-hundred-mile route to Springfield, which Lincoln had ridden during his lifetime as lawyer and politician, passed through a number of cities and small hamlets. Virtually every one presented some sign of mourning. (The train’s route in Illinois is that of today’s AMTRAK Chicago-Springfield corridor.) An itinerary of the funeral train developed in the 1870s by John C. Power, then custodian of the Lincoln tomb in Springfield, follows here.

                    “At Bridgeport, in the very suburbs of Chicago, the people had kindled bonfires, and with torches lighted the way as the train moved slowly along. Crowds of spectators were at Summit and Willow Springs stations, and at the town of Lemont.
Lockport, 11:33 p. m., Tuesday, May 2. An immense bonfire was burning, minute guns firing, and the track lined with people holding torches. The glare of light revealed the mourning drapery on almost every building, and many mottoes expressive of the feelings of the people. None elicited more sympathetic feeling than the simple words, ‘Come Home.’
Joliet. It was midnight and raining. At least twelve thousand people were assembled at the depot. Bonfires lighted up the scene, and the cortege was greeted by minute guns, tolling of bells, and funeral dirges by a band of music. An immense arch spanned the track, decked with flags, evergreens and the insignia of mourning. The arch was surmounted by a figure representing the Genius of America, weeping. Among the mottoes, the most impressive was,

‘Champion, defender and martyr of liberty.’

As the train moved away, a number of ladies and gentlemen, on an elevated platform, were singing,

‘There is rest for thee in heaven.’

At Elwood and Hampton both very small places the people had kindled large bonfires to enable them to take a passing view of the funeral train. Wilmington, one o’clock, a. m., Wednesday, May 3. Minute guns announced the arrival of the train, and a line of men with torches was drawn up on each side of the track. The depot was draped in mourning and about two thousand people were present to view the grand funeral cortege. At Gardner all the houses to be seen were draped in mourning and illuminated, while crowds of people were at the depot.
Dwight, two o’clock, a. m., May 3. Minute guns and the tolling of bells announced the arrival of the cortege. The American flag was displayed, and all the buildings in view were draped in mourning. The entire population appeared to be out of doors desirous to pay their respects to the memory of Lincoln. Some of the escort recognized this as the place where the Prince of Wales and his royal party were entertained. Minute guns, tolling of bells, bonfires, funeral dirges and the insignia of mourning made up the demonstrations at Odell, Cayuga, Pontiac, Chenoa and Lexington.
Towanda, 4:30 a. m., May 3. A large assemblage of people were at the depot anxious to testify their sorrow and respect for the distinguished martyr. This is the highest point between Chicago and St. Louis, being one hundred and twenty-eight feet above the water of Lake Michigan.
Bloomington, five o’clock, a. m., May 3. A large arch over the track bears the inscription,

‘Go to thy Rest.’

The depot was handsomely draped in mourning, and about five thousand persons were assembled to testify their respect for the distinguished statesman.
There would, no doubt, have been greater demonstrations at Bloomington, but a considerable number of the citizens visited Chicago, and a very large delegation had already gone, or were then on the point of going to Springfield to participate in the procession and other demonstrations of respect and mourning.
At Shirley, a large number of people were present, with sad countenances, to view the imposing funeral cortege as it glided by.
At McLean, minute guns, tolling bells, and singing by a choir of ladies contributed with mournful effect to the occasion, which called out almost the entire population.
Atlanta, six o’clock, a. m., May 3. Minute guns and the fife and muffled drum greeted the funeral cortege at this place, just as the sun arose in splendor over the beautiful prairies. A large number of people had assembled, and portraits of Abraham Lincoln with emblems of mourning were everywhere visible. Among the mottoes were,

‘Mournfully, tenderly, bear him to his grave.’
‘He saved our country and freed a race.’

Lincoln, 7 a. m., May 3. This town was named for Abraham Lincoln, by some personal friends before he was known to fame. The depot was appropriately draped in mourning, and ladies dressed in white, trimmed with black, sang a requiem as the train passed under a handsomely constructed arch, on each column of which was a portrait of the deceased President. The arch bore as a motto:

‘With malice to none, with charity for all.’

The national colors were prominently displayed, and a profusion of evergreens, with black and white drapings, completed the artistic decorations.
At Elkhart, a beautiful arch spanned the track, ornamented with evergreens and national flags, all draped in mourning. The arch was surmounted by a cross formed of evergreens and bearing the motto:

‘Ours the cross, thine the crown.’

At Williamsville, the houses were nearly all draped in mourning, with a profuse display of small flags and portraits of the late President. An arch spanned the track here, also, which bore the inscription:

‘He has fulfilled his mission.’

Back in Springfield
The funeral train arrived at the Chicago, St. Louis, and Alton Railroad passenger depot in Springfield at about 9:00 on the morning of May 3. The coffin was removed from the train to the magnificent hearse loaned by the city of St. Louis and carried to the statehouse for the final lying-in-state.

Mourners began to enter the building at about 10:00 A.M. on May 3, continuing on until 9:00 the next morning. At about 11:00 P.M. a group of women belonging to the Springfield Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society placed on the coffin a cross of evergreen dotted with small flowers. About midnight a passenger train arrived at the Great Western depot, “and the whole body of passengers filed at once down to the Capitol , and passed through. Trains were continually arriving, bringing thousands more. . . .” At day light “a salvo of twenty-one great guns was fired; after this, one every ten minutes, till the procession moved, when they ceased till sunset.”

The final farewell was at hand. In just under twenty-four hours an estimated seventy-five thousand persons had passed by the coffin to pay their respects. And then, in the words of a Springfield resident,

“At about 10 o’clock A.M. the coffin was closed, and the beloved features were shut out from the people forever.”

The coffin was borne by the Veteran Reserve Corps troops to the hearse waiting on Washington Street to begin the final journey, to Oak Ridge Cemetery. A reporter noted that “While the eight sergeants were carrying the coffin out on their shoulders [a choir] sang, after a prelude by the band, Pleyel’s beautiful hymn:

‘Children of the Heavenly King,
As ye journey sweetly sing;
Sing our Savior’s worthy praise,
Glorious in His works and ways.’

The execution of this noble chant was grand above description.”

The procession from the statehouse (today the Old State Capitol State Historic Site) began about 11:30 A.M. The day was a hot one—one participant reported the temperature as 82°. The head of the procession arrived at Oak Ridge at about 1:00 P.M. The funeral ceremonies began after the arrival the major (but not all) divisions of the procession. The announced program:

Remains placed in vault
Choir sings the dead march from Saul–“Unveil Thy Bosom”
Long opening prayer by the Rev. Albert Hale of Springfield (Presbyterian)
Choir sings new composition “Farewell, Father, Friend, and Guardian”
Reading from Job by the Rev. Noyes W. Miner of Springfield (Baptist)
Choir sings “To thee O Lord” from the Oratorio of St. Paul
Reading of the Second Inaugural
Choir sings “As When Thy Cross was Bleeding” by Otto
Eulogy by Bishop Matthew Simpson of Evanston, Illinois (Methodist)
Choir sings “Over the Valley the Angels Smile,” written for the occasion
Choir sings “Funeral Hymn” and Doxology
Benediction by the Rev. Phineas D. Gurley


After the close of services military officers presented the key to the tomb to Robert Lincoln, the president’s eldest son and only immediate family member to attend the final service.

Illinois African American reaction
African Americans felt a special connection to President Lincoln. In Illinois as across the nation black church and other groups met to discuss the meaning of his death and officially express their sorrow. They also marched in processions in several cities. African American leaders in Chicago determined that they should have representatives in their own city and at the burial service in Springfield, where they would march as a separate division at the end of the marching order.

“Ruth,” a black woman who wrote from Chicago for a Philadelphia newspaper, described the fears and the hopes felt by many Illinoisans, black and white:

“We can only look on in breathless silence, and think of the great change. When the news of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln first reached us, we felt as if all our hopes were lost. But when we saw our citizens meeting in such masses that no two halls in the city could hold them, and swearing eternal vengeance against the spirit that strengthened the hand of Booth, and speaking united words of justice to loyal mankind, white or black, we began to feel, in the language of Fred. Douglas, ‘that we would yet, in this country, have a country under our feet, a government around us, and the old Flag of Freedom floating proudly over us.’ Let us lift up our hands, and say, ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will toward men,’ – not black men nor white men, but all mankind.”