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1865 April 29: The National Calamity—Funeral of President Lincoln in Washington, D.C.

April 30, 2015

The following articles on the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln come from The Polk County Press and The Prescott Journal of April 29, 1865.  The Journal also had an article titled “The National Calamity” on this date, which is about the details of the assassination.

From The Polk County Press:


Funeral of President Lincoln.


The solemn funeral rites and obsequies of the late President Lincoln, were paid to-day in the Capital of the country.  No greater fealty to the memory of the illustrious dead was ever demonstrated in the annals of civilization.

The dawn that was ushered in by the heavy boom of minute guns from the fortifications around the city, never broke purer, or brighter, or clearer, than on this day.  The morning that succeeded, all the day that followed, to the setting of the sun, was the loveliest of the season ;  the heavens were undimmed by even a passing cloud.

Between 10 and 11 A. M. the military escort arrived and formed in line on Pennsylvania Avenue, the left resting on Fifteenth street.  The escort consisted of two regiments of infantry, two battalions of cavalry eight pieces of artillery and one battalion of marines.  The marines were headed by a full marine band ;  and the other military companies were also accompanied by bands.  By 12 o’clock Pennsylvania Avenue was lined from street to house-tops, all the way to the White House, with people of all ages.

At that hour the ceremonies commenced in the east room where the ceiling was draped with crape, and the resplendent mirrors are hung on the borders with emblems of mourning, while the drapery gave the room a dim light that added to the solemnity of the scene.  All that remained of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, lay in a grand and gloomy catafalque,¹ which was relieved, however, by choice flowers.

Lincoln Lying in State, from

President Lincoln’s Funeral—Service at the White House—April 19, 1865 , from “Harper’s Weekly²

Cards of admission to the executive mansion were issued to the number of six hundred, of which 40 were to the clergymen and twenty to the members of the press ;  the rest included Governors of nearly all the northern States, friends of the family and officials.  Perhaps the most touching grief, and which moved all present, was that of little Thaddeus Lincoln, the favorite son.  He and his elder brother were the only mourners of the family present during the funeral ceremonies.

President Johnson [Andrew Johnson] stood beside the remains of his lamented predecessor during the funeral oration.—Gen. Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] sat at the head of the corpse, while members of the Cabinet and ex-Vice President Hamlin were grouped about these eminent personages.  Rev. Dr. Hall, rector of the church of Epiphany, rose and read portions of the Episcopal service, for the burial of the dead.

Bishop Simpson, of the Methodist church, then offered prayer, in which he fervantly [sic] alluded to emancipation and other noted acts of the President.  Rev. Dr. Gurley then read a funeral oration.  [Phineas Densmore Gurley (1816-1868), was minister of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, a few blocks east of the White House, where the Lincolns rented a pew; he had conducted Willie Lincoln’s funeral three years earlier]

At 2 P. M. the funeral procession started.  All the bells in the city were tolling while minute guns were fired.  Pennsylvania avenue from the Treasury to the Capitol was entirely clear from curb to curb.  The procession moved, headed by a colored regiment with arms trailed.  From the house-tops, where thousands were congregated, the sight was the most sublime and magnificent one ever seen in this city or country.  The fires across the Potomac sent up their curling smoke with the echo of minute guns that were in the city limits.  Preceeding [sic] the hearse was a military escort over one mile long.  At short intervals bands discoursed dirges, and drums beat muffled sounds.

After the hearse came the family, consisting only of Robert Lincoln and his little brother and their relatives.  Mrs. Lincoln did not go out.  The procession was two hours and ten minutes passing a given point, and was about three miles long ;  the center of it had reached the Capitol, and was returning before the rear had left Willard’s.

To-morrow the remains will lie in state and the next day they will go, under escort, to Illinois, via Baltimore, Harrisburgh [sic], Pittsburgh and Chicago to Springfield, and thus will end the funeral of Abraham Lincoln.

From The Prescott Journal:


A Very Imposing Demonstration.

Extracts from Sermon and Prayers.

A Washington Dispatch dated the 19th, gives the following account of the funeral obsequies of President LINCOLN at the capital on that day :

The day was beautiful and quite warm.  Business was suspended and every available spot filled with people to witness the ceremonies.

In the immediate neighborhood of the mansion [the White House] a dense crowd had assembled during the forenoon.  Various bodies met at the Treasury department, separate rooms having been assigned them there by Assistant Secretary Harrington, who had charge of the admission to the Executive Mansion.  They included the Assistant Secretaries, the Assistant Postmaster Generals and the Assistant Attorney General, Senators and Representatives in Congress, Governors of the several States, the Judiciary and others of prominence.  None could enter the mansion without tickets, room having been provided for six hundred persons only upon the raised platform and steps on the east, north and south sides of the room.  The corpse lay about the centre, space being reserved all around the catafalque with chairs for the occupation of the family of the deceased.  It was here, in the east room, that the bodies of Presidents Harrison and Taylor ay in state, but the arrangements on these occasions were far inferior to the present.

At 11 o’clock the guests began to arrive, a body of about 60 clergymen being the first to enter, then the heads of government bureaus, governors of states, member of municipal governments, prominent officers of the army and navy, the diplomatic corps, &c., &c.

At noon, the President of the United States, in company with his cabinet, except Secretary Seward [William H. Seward], approached the catafalque and took a last but brief look at his illustrious predecessor, and then retired to a position immediately on the east and in full view of the coffined remains.

At 10 minutes past 12 o’clock, amid profound silence, Rev. Dr. Gurley, approaching the head of the catafalque, announced the order of the religious services, when Dr. Hall, Episcopalian, read a portion of the Scriptures according to the form of that church.  [Dr. Charles H. Hall (d. 1895), rector at the nearby Church of the Epiphany]

The opening prayer was made by Bishop Simpson, (Methodist Episcopal,) who, in the course of it, said that in the hands of God were the issues of life and death, and that our sins had called for His wrath to descend upon us, as individuals.  For the sake of our blessed Redeemer thanks were returned for the gift of such a man as our Heavenly Father had just taken from us, and for the many virtues which distinguished all his transactions ;  for the integrity, honesty and transparency of character bestowed upon him, and for having given his counsellors [sic] wisdom to guide our nation through a period of unprecedented sorrow.  Thanks were also returned that his arm was strengthened, and wisdom and firmness given his heart to pen a declaration of Emancipation, by which were broken the chains of millions of the human race.  [Matthew Simpson (1811-1886), from Philadelphia, was a leading Methodist]

He concluded as follows :

God be thanked that the assassin who struck down the Chief Magistrate had not the hand to again bind the suffering and oppressed.  The name of the beloved dead would ever be identified with all that is great and glorious with humanity on earth.  May the spirit of rebellion soon pass away.  God grant that the sun may soon shine on a free people from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Lakes to the Gulf.  May He not only safely lead us through the struggle, but give us peace with all the nations of the earth.  God bless the weeping widow, as in her broken heartedness she bows under a sad stroke, more than she can bear.  Encircle her in thy arms.  God be gracious with the children left behind.  Endow his sons with wisdom,

“We pray Thee to make the assassination of personal profit to our hearts, while by the remains of the deceased, whom we had called a friend, we pray Thee that our Republic may be made the stronger for this blow, while here we pledge ourselves to set our faces as a flint against every form of opposition which may rise up for its destruction, so that we the children may enjoy the blessed advantages of a government delivered from our fathers.”

He concluded by repeating the Lord’s Prayer.

The Rev. Dr. Gurley then delivered a sermon, standing on the steps near the head of the coffin.  He commenced by saying :

“We recognize and we adore the sovereignty of God.  His throne is in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all.  It was a cruel hand, that dark hand of the assassin that smote our honored, wise and noble President, and filled the land with mourning ;  but above this hand there is another, which we must see and acknowledge.  In the midst of our rejoicing we needed this stroke, this discipline, and therefore God has sent it.  Our affliction has not come forth from the dust, and our trouble from the ground.  Beyond the act of assassination let us look to God, whose prerogative is to bring light out of darkness, and good out of evil.  He who had led us so far and prospered us so wonderfully during the last four years of anxiety and conflict will not forsake us now.  He may chasten but will not destroy.”

Rev. Dr. Gray, Baptist [Dr. Edwin H. Gray, pastor of the E Street Baptist Church and chaplain of the U.S. Senate], closed the solemn services by delivering a prayer, concluding

“God of the bereaved, comfort and sustain this mourning family ;  bless the new Chief Magistrate, let the mantle of his predecessor fall upon him.  Bless the Secretary of State and his family.  Bless all the members of the Cabinet, endow them with wisdom from above.  Bless the commanders in our armies and navy, and all the brave defenders of the country.  Give them continued success.  Bless the embassadors [sic] from foreign courts, and give us peace with all the nations of the earth.

“Oh, God let treason that has deluged our land with blood and desolated our country and bereaved our homes and filled them with widows and orphans, which has at length culminated in the assassination of the nation’s chosen ruler,—God of justice and avenger of the nation’s wrong,—let the work of treason cease and let the guilty perpetrators of this horrible crime be arrested and brought to justice.  Oh, hear the cry and the prayer and the wail rising from the nation’s smitten and crushed hearts, deliver us from the power of our enemies, and send speedy peace unto all our borders through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lincoln Funeral Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Library of Congress³

The corpse was then removed to the hearse in front of the door of the executive mansion, and at 2 o’clock the procession was formed it took the line of Pennsylvania avenue.  The rooms, portico, and windows and all elevated points were occupied by interested spectators.  As the procession started minute guns were fired, in the rear of St. John’s church, the City Hall, and the Capitol.  All the bells were toiled.

First in the order of the procession was a detachment of colored troops.  Then followed white regiments of infantry, bodies of artillery and cavalry, the navy and marine corps, and army officers on foot, and the pallbearers in carriages.  Next the hearse, drawn by six white horses, the coffin prominent to every beholder.  The floor on which it rested was strewn with evergreens and white flowers.  Then followed the president and cabinet, the diplomatic corps, members of congress, governor of states, the delegations from various states, fir companies, civic associations, clerks of departments, and others, together with many public and private carriages, closing up with a large number of colored men.

The body was conveyed to and deposited in the rotunda of the capitol.

This was the largest and most imposing funeral procession ever in Washington.  An hour and a half was occupied in passing a given point.  The nearest relatives of the late president’s family now here are the two sons of the deceased—Capt. Robert ad Thaddeus Lincoln, N. W. Edwards and C. N. Smith, of Springfield, brother-in-law of the president, and Dr. Lyman Todd, of Lexington, Ky., and Gen. J. B. Todd of Dakotah, cousins of Mrs. Lincoln.

Mrs. Lincoln was not present at the funeral.  It is said that she has not even seen her husband’s corpse since the morning of his death.

1.  A catafalque is a raised bier, box, or similar platform used to support the casket, coffin, or body of the deceased during a funeral or memorial service. The Lincoln catafalque was hastily constructed to support the casket of Abraham Lincoln while the president’s body lay in state. The catafalque has since been used for all those who have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda, including President John F. Kennedy. The Lincoln catafalque is a simple bier of rough pine boards nailed together and covered with black cloth. Although the base and platform have occasionally been altered to accommodate the larger size of modern coffins and for the ease of the attending military personnel, it is basically the same today as it was in Lincoln’s time.
2.  “President Lincoln’s Funeral—Service at the White House—April 19, 1865,” from the May 6, 1865, issue of Harper’s Weekly. The University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ Chalmer Davee Library has microfilm copies of Harper’s Weekly for 1858-1865 (UWRF online catalog).
3.  “Lincoln’s Funeral on Pennsylvania Ave.,” unknown photographer. This digital image is available at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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