This month marks the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination. Given the historical distance, though, it’s hard for us to really appreciate how traumatic this event was — especially when, in the days preceding it, there was so much to celebrate. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the Civil War. But ten days later, the colors of victory faded black as the president’s hearse moved solemnly through the streets of Washington.
The St. Cloud Democrat (Minnesota: April 27, 1865) ran an account of the three-mile-long procession, which I’ve reprinted below. As you read it, imagine for a moment what it must have been like watching the carriages move past. Though the war was over, tremulous times lied ahead. The reconstruction of a nation began with a tomb for its moral compass.
PRESIDENT LINCOLN’S FUNERAL
The solemn funeral rites and obsequies of the late President Lincoln were performed today in the capital of the country. No greater love for the memory of the illustrious dead was ever demonstrated in the annals of civilization.
The dawn that was ushered in by the heavy booming of the salutes of minute guns from the fortifications surrounding the city, never broke purer or brighter or clearer than on this day.
The morn that succeeded, all the day that followed, even to the very setting of the sun, was the loveliest of the season. The heavens were undimmed by even one passing cloud.
Between 10 and 11 o’clock 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 marines. The marines were headed by a full marine band, and the’other military companies were a’so accompanied by bauds.
By 12 o’clock Pennsylvania avenue was lined from street to housetop, all the way to the White House, with thousands of people of all ages.
At that hour the ceremonies commenced in the east room, where the ceiling was draped with crape, and where resplendent mirrors were hung with borders composed of emblems of mourning, while the drapery gave the room a dim light that added to the solemnity of the mournful scene.
All that remained of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, sixteenth President of these United States, lay in a grand and gloomy catafalque, which was relieved, however, by choice flowers.
Cards of admission to the executive mansion was issued to the number of 600—forty of which were to the clergymen and twenty to the members of the press. The rest included the Governors of nearly all the loyal States, friends of the family, and those mentioned already.
Perhaps the most touching grief, 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 solemnities.
President Johnson stood beside the remains of his lamented predecessor during the funeral oration.
Gen. Grant stood at the head of the corpse, while the members of the Cabinet and ex-Vice-President Hamlin were grouped about these eminent personages.
Rev. Dr. Hall, Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, rose and read a portion of the Episcopalian service for the burial of the dead.
Bishop-Simpson, of the Methodist Church, then offered a prayer, in which he fervently alluded to the emancipation proclamation and other noted deeds performed by President Lincoln.
Rev. Dr. Gurley then read a funeral oration. At 2 p. M. the funeral procession started. All the bells in the city were toiled, while minute guns were fi-ed. Pennsylvania avenue, from the Treasury building to the Capitol, was entirely clear from curb to curb.
The procession moved, headed by a colored regiment with arms trailed, pretty much in the order of the published programme.
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 forts across the Potomac sent up their curling smoke to join the echo of the minute guns that were fired in the city limits.
Preceding the hearse was the 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, being about three miles long. The centre of it had reached the Capital 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 by way of Baltimore, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Chicago, to Springfield, and thus will end the funeral of ABRAHAM LINCOLN.