Two days in May: The funeral of Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln's casket being carried into the receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery, drawing by William Waud for Harper's magazine (Sangamon Valley Collection)

President Lincoln’s casket being carried into the receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery, drawing by William Waud for Harper’s magazine (Sangamon Valley Collection)

As the funeral train carrying the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln pulled into Springfield’s Chicago & Alton station the morning of May 3, 1865, dozens of special trains had already disgorged visitors from all points of the compass. Thousands more were on their way. Mourners were gathering to get a last glimpse at the assassinated president or to attend his funeral the next day.

No one really knows how many people came to Springfield to honor their assassinated president over those two days. The most common estimate is that 75,000 mourners passed through Representatives Hall of the then-Statehouse (today’s Old State Capitol) during the 24 hours when Lincoln’s open casket was on display.  Whatever the number, the spectacle was unrivaled at the time in Springfield. It remains so today.

Here is an annotated timeline of the President Lincoln’s funeral ceremonies in Springfield.

May 1, 1865

The Committee on Invitation and Reception, a subcommittee of the Springfield Committee on Arrangements (which organized the local ceremonies) issues an alert in which it projects funeral attendance of from 75,000 to 150,000 people.

It is manifest, however, that a city of 12,000 people will be utterly unable to entertain or care for the tens of thousands that will be here … It is therefore respectfully urged upon our fellow citizens to club together, and to come fully prepared for sleeping and eating arrangements, and also to be watchful against pickpockets and thieves, who, it is understood will be here in large numbers from abroad.

May 2, 1865

7:30 p.m.: The funeral cortege, involving at least four special trains, begins to leave Chicago for Springfield. Included are two 10-car trains with food service and sleeping cars for 400 dignitaries who did not have passes or could not fit in the funeral train itself.  A third train bearing Chicago’s delegation to the funeral pulls out of Union Station at 8 p.m.

9 p.m.: The funeral train leaves the station. Passengers include the 44-man Springfield delegation* appointed to escort President Lincoln’s body back to his home town, which had met the funeral train in Chicago.

*Escort delegation: Gov. Richard Oglesby and his private secretary, George Harlow; W.J. Conkling; A.L. Babcock; A. Johnson; W.D. Crowell; James C. Conkling; D.L. Gold; G.M. Brinkerhoff; N.W. Miner; Albert Hale; A.A. Brackett; F.W. Tracy; J.P. McCoy; H.G. Fitzhugh; T.A. Raysdale; G.H. Souther; E.L. Gross; E.B. Hawley; T.S. Whitehurst; A.B. McKenzie; Cyrus Vandever; S.M. Parsons; R.P. Johnston; Charles Dunn; J.E. Roll; S.D.B. Salter; B. Wright; Col. William A. Smidt; E.L. Conkling; C.S. Zane; S.G. Nesbit; J.J. Lord; F.K. Whitmore; W.W. Watson; A.T. Barnes; P.C. Kennedy; John Armstrong; Joel Johnston; G. Keyes; J.M. Burkhardt; S. Holiday; Hon. James H. Beveridge; Ed. S. Multimer.

May 3, 1865

The hearse owned by Jesse Arnott of St. Louis, which the city of St. Louis loaned to Springfield for Lincoln's funeral (SVC)

The hearse owned by Jesse Arnott of St. Louis, which the city of St. Louis loaned to Springfield for Lincoln’s funeral (SVC)

A 21-gun salute is fired at daybreak, followed by a single gun every half-hour until sunset.

Mayor T.J. Dennis orders all saloons “and places where spirituous or vinous liquors are sold” to be closed May 3-4.

7 a.m.: The first of the four funeral cortege trains reaches Springfield’s Chicago & Alton station (the current Amtrak station on Third Street between Jefferson and Washington streets).

9 a.m.: The funeral train arrives at the station only an hour behind schedule. It is met by a military escort, a “committee of invitation and reception,”* 14 honorary pallbearers, and, according to New York Daily Tribune correspondent Charles Page, “masses of ‘plain people’ who had come from all the country round about…”

*Committee of invitation and reception: Jesse K. Dubois, O.H. Miner, Benjamin S. Edwards, George M. Brinkerhoff, James H. Beveridge, Col. A. Schwartz, George W. Shutt, Dr. B.F. Stephenson, O.M. Hatch, Sharon Tyndale, William Herndon, William Jayne, H.G. Reynolds, Thomas J. Dennis, Robert Rudolph and Gen. M.K. Anderson.

President Lincoln’s casket was put into an ornate hearse borrowed from St. Louis and carried two blocks east to the Statehouse and into the House of Representatives Hall on the west side of the second floor. The coffin was opened, and an undertaker using “rouge chalk and amber” worked to hide the discoloration of Lincoln’s face, which had deteriorated as the funeral train moved across the country.

Mourners lined up to enter north doors of Capitol (SVC)

Mourners lined up to enter north doors of Capitol (SVC)

10 a.m.: The public viewing begins. John Carroll Power, later the first custodian of Lincoln’s Tomb, described the viewing procedure:

A few minutes after ten o’clock, all being in readiness, the doors were opened and the vast multitude began to file through the hall to view the remains. They entered the State House at the north door, ascended the stairway in the rotunda and entered Representatives’ Hall at the north door, passed by the catafalque, out at the south door, then down the stairway and made their exit from the south door of the State House.

William Herndon, Lincoln’s last law partner, added a personal touch in his 1888 biography, Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life.

All day long and through the night a stream of people filed reverently by the catafalque. Some of them were his colleagues at the bar; some his old friends from New Salem; some crippled soldiers fresh from the battle-fields of the war; and some were little children who, scarce realizing the impressiveness of the scene, were destined to live and tell their children yet to be born the sad story of Lincoln’s death.

Sunset: The day officially concludes with a 36-gun “national salute,” although viewing of the president’s remains continues through the night of May 3-4.

Mourners on the south side of the Capitol following viewing (SVC)

Mourners on the south side of the Capitol following viewing (SVC)

Meanwhile, special passenger trains continued to pour mourners into Springfield. Railroad managers ran out of passenger cars; some resorted to carrying visitors in boxcars, the Chicago Tribune reported. With local hotels full, private homes were opened to travelers, and some Pullman rail cars were converted to overnight quarters. The Masons set up a dining hall for their members, “but many others partook of their bounty also,” the Illinois State Journal reported.

“As for sleeping, there was not much of that done in Springfield on the night the remains of Lincoln were exposed to view,” the Journal added.

May 4, 1865

Daybreak: Another national salute of 36 guns (one for each state, counting the Confederate states) begins the day.

More trains pull into Springfield – the Journal reported the scheduled arrival of four special trains from the west and three from the east. “Extra trains will also arrive both from the north and the south by the Chicago and Alton road, but we have not learned the time of arrival.” Businesses are closed.

8 a.m.: Military units scheduled to participate in the funeral procession arrive from Camp Butler. Groups – firefighters, Masonic orders, Odd Fellows, the German Reading Association and many others – begin to gather at predetermined meeting points.

9 a.m.: Relatives and friends are afforded a final viewing of the president’s body.

10 a.m.: The coffin is closed and sealed. “It is computed that over one million of people have seen his dead face,” Charles R. Page reports for the New York Tribune.

10:45 a.m.: The casket is carried down the steps to the north (Washington Street) entrance of the Capitol and placed in the hearse as a 250-person choir sings hymns – “Peace, Troubled Soul” and “Children of the Heavenly King.”

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker

The funeral procession, drawn up in eight divisions, was headed by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, marshal-in-chief, and Brig. Gens. John Cook and James Oakes. Lincoln had promoted Hooker to command the Army of the Potomac in early 1863 despite Hooker’s active undermining of his predecessor, Gen. Ambrose Burnside. In doing so, Lincoln wrote a letter in which he counseled Hooker to avoid rashness, but “bring us victories.” Lincoln also wrote:

 I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.

Hooker was replaced as commanding general after botching the battle of Chancellorsville; a few days later, under Gen. George Meade, the Army of the Potomac won the battle of Gettysburg. (Hooker made an impression on Springfield when the funeral train arrived May 3; spying a pickpocket in the crowd, Hooker reportedly “gave the thief a kick that sent him no less than ten to fifteen feet”).

The order of march was:

  • First Division – Military escort, Guard of Honor, Local Guard of Honor (the 146th Illinois Infantry), and the 146th Illinois Regimental Band, among others.
  • Second Division – Officers and enlisted men, Army and Navy, not otherwise assigned. Procession grand marshal Maj. Gen. John McClernand was in the Second Division.
  • Third Division – The hearse bearing President Lincoln’s remains, officiating clergymen, the pallbearers (a slightly different group from those of May 3), Lincoln’s horse, “Old Bob,” and Lincoln family members in carriages. Robert Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln’s cousin and youthful cohort John Hanks were the only blood relatives in attendance
  • Fourth Division – U.S. and state “civil authorities” and foreign ministers.
  • Fifth Division – Municipal officials from Springfield and elsewhere.
  • Sixth Division – Members of Civil War Christian and sanitary commissions and representatives of universities, the clergy, lawyers, physicians and the press.
  • Seventh Division – Masons, Odd Fellows and other fraternities, firemen.
  • Eighth Division – “Citizens at Large. Colored Persons.” Thousands of African-Americans, including Lincoln’s barber and friend, William Fleurville, participated in the procession, and many more lined the streets to watch. “Every kind of society, every grade and color were there in that solemn line,” wrote one black participant, Charles S. Jacobs of Decatur.

From end to end, the procession was some two miles long. On a hot day – the temperature reportedly reached 82 degrees – it was also too much for some participants. Among those reportedly affected by sunstroke was Mayor Dennis.

Some people found vantage points where they could watch the march.  Katherine Ramstetter, interviewed by her granddaughter Catherine Baum in the early 1920s, remembered viewing Lincoln’s remains in the Capitol. The next day, however, she chose to watch rather than walk in the procession.

“His funeral procession was very long,” she said. “It lasted over two hours, if not more. I saw the funeral from the roof of a three-story building as the streets were so crowded.”

11:30 a.m.: The march begins. The funeral procession route covered about 2½ miles. From the north side of the Capitol, the procession went: east on Washington Street to Eighth Street; south on Eighth Street past the Lincoln Home to Cook; west on Cook to Fourth; north on Fourth, passing the Executive Mansion and later the Benjamin Edwards house (now Edwards Place) to Union Street; east one block on Union to Third Street; and north on Third to the entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Uniformed soldiers kept the streets open along the route.

1 p.m.: First elements of the procession reach Oak Ridge Cemetery. President Lincoln’s casket was to be housed temporarily in the receiving vault, a vault built into the side of a hill that had been designed for just that purpose: to hold a person’s remains until a permanent tomb could be dug or constructed. The vault, built in the early 1860s, previously had housed the remains of only two people; it was never used again for its original purpose. (The body of Willie Lincoln, Abraham and Mary’s third son who had died in Washington and was also returned to Springfield on the funeral train, had been moved into the vault prior to President Lincoln’s funeral.)

The funeral ceremony was held at the vault. Two stands were built, one east of the vault to hold speakers and one on the west designed to accommodate the choir, a 130-person male chorus from St. Louis accompanied by a brass band. (Most photos and drawings of the ceremony, done facing the vault and the hill, show the speakers’ platform on the left and the choir platform on the right.)

Bishop Matthew Simpson

Bishop Matthew Simpson

The ceremony apparently began before the rear elements of the procession reached the cemetery because it was finished by about 3 p.m. The program was:

  • Remains placed in vault
  • “Dead March from Saul” – choir
  • Opening prayer – Rev. Albert Hale of Springfield
  • “Farewell, Father, Friend and Guardian,” composed for the funeral – choir
  • Scripture reading (from Book of Job) – Rev. N.W. Miner of Springfield
  • “To Thee O Lord” – choir
  • Reading of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address – Rev. A.C. Hubbard of Springfield
  • “As When Thy Cross Was Bleeding” – choir
  • Eulogy – Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson of Evanston
  • Prayer – Rev. S.W. Harkey of Springfield
  • “Funeral Hymn” and Doxology – choir
  • Benediction – Rev. Phineas Gurley of Washington, D.C.

In his eulogy, Simpson cited Lincoln’s call in the Second Inaugural for “malice toward none,” but he went on to suggest that forgiveness should apply only to “the deluded masses” of the Confederacy. The rebellion’s leaders, he said, deserved no clemency.

Let every man who was a Senator and Representative in Congress, and who aided in beginning this rebellion, and thus led to the slaughter of our sons and daughters, be brought to speedy and to certain punishment. Let every officer educated at public expense, and who, having been advanced to position has perjured himself, and has turned his sword against the vitals of his country, be doomed to a felon’s death. This, I believe, is the will of the American people. Men may attempt to compromise and to restore these traitors and murderers to society again, but the American people will rise in their majesty and sweep all such compromises and compromisers away, and shall declare that there shall be no peace to rebels.

Guards outside the closed and locked receiving vault (SVC)

Guards outside the closed and locked receiving vault (SVC)

About 3 p.m.: Following the service, the iron gates and wooden doors of the vault were closed and the key presented to Robert Lincoln. He then passed them on to John Todd Stuart, Lincoln’s first law partner and a cousin of Mary Lincoln. Soldiers from Camp Butler were posted at the cemetery entrance and the vault itself to guard against vandalism and over-eager visitors.

The crowds quickly melted away. “(I)n a few hours after the ceremonies the streets became less crowded and the faces of those we met were more familiar,” the Illinois State Register reported.

Sunset: A last salute of 36 guns was fired to end the day.


May 11: The 15-member National Lincoln Monument Association is formed to build a permanent memorial. Springfield officials had hoped to locate Lincoln’s burial place near downtown Springfield, but Mary Lincoln was adamant that the tomb and any monument to her husband be at Oak Ridge. The results of that dispute were in some doubt almost up to the moment of the burial ceremony, and the argument continued afterwards. What has been called “the Battle of the Gravesite” finally concluded on June 14, 1865, when the NLMA voted, 8-7, to accede to Mary’s wishes.

Dec. 21, 1865: The remains of Abraham and Willie are moved to a temporary tomb built southeast of the receiving vault (the temporary tomb no longer exists). On the same day, Mary, accompanied by Robert, visits Oak Ridge. It is the only time Mrs. Lincoln is known to have done so.

Sept. 19, 1871: The bodies of Abraham Lincoln and his sons Willie and Edward are moved to the permanent tomb, which is still under construction. Tad, the Lincolns’ youngest son, who died on July 15, 1871, was interred in the permanent tomb July 17.

Oct. 15, 1874: A dedication ceremony is held for the permanent Lincoln Tomb.

July 19, 1882: The remains of Mary Lincoln are interred in the tomb with those of her husband and three sons.

Source note: Lincoln’s Springfield: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Hart (2015), while not a traditional narrative of the funeral, contains reproductions or transcriptions of many original documents. It is also valuable because of its extensive sourcing and Hart’s wide-ranging research, which unearthed several non-traditional accounts of the funeral. As of April 2015, the book was available at the gift shops of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

Other sources included: Springfield newspapers; Oak Ridge Cemetery and the Lincoln Funeral, prepared by Mark Johnson of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency for Lincoln Tomb volunteers (unpublished paper, 2015); Abraham Lincoln Online; and others noted or linked in text.

Related information: See the following SangamonLink entries: Destruction of the Sarcophagus; Fleetwood Lindley and the Reburial of Abraham Lincoln; Mary Lincoln letters about Lincoln Tomb site; Larkin Mead, Lincoln Tomb designer; John Carroll Power, first Lincoln Tomb custodian; Lincoln Tomb reconstruction and rededication, 1930-31; Lincoln Tomb statuary and symbolism.schs logo (2)

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This entry was posted in African Americans, Historic Sites, John T. Stuart, Lincoln Tomb, Lincoln, Abraham, Local government, Railroads. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Two days in May: The funeral of Abraham Lincoln

  1. Jen Peterson says:

    Very interesting and thorough timeline. Where can I find the primary sources for this information? Thanks.

    • editor says:

      Ms. Peterson: As the entry indicates, Dick Hart’s Lincoln’s Springfield: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln cites a wide variety of primary sources. A copy of that would be your best guide to those sources. If the two gift shops mentioned are out of stock, Mr. Hart is a lawyer with the firm of Hart, Southworth and Witsman in Springfield; the firm’s number is (217) 753-0055. I’m sure he could find you a copy. You also can read the Illinois State Journal and Illinois State Register for the period online through

      Thanks for your interest.

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