The Civil War, 1861-1865

Author: James G. Blaine  | Date: 1865

The Funeral of Lincoln

The remains of the late President lay in state at the Executive Mansion for four days. The entire city seemed as a house of mourning. It was remarked that even the little children in the streets wore no smiles upon their faces, so deeply were they imprest by the calamity which had brought grief to every loyal heart. The martial music which had been resounding in glad celebration of the national triumph had ceased; public edifice and private mansion were alike draped with the insignia of grief; the flag of the Union, which had been waving more proudly than ever before, was now lowered to half-mast, giving mute but significant expression to the sorrow that was felt wherever on sea or land that flag was honored.

Funeral services, conducted by the leading clergymen of the city, were held in the East Room on Wednesday, the 19th of April. Amid the solemn tolling of church-bells, and the still more solemn thundering of minute-guns from the vast line of fortifications which had protected Washington, the body, escorted by an imposing military and civic procession, was transferred to the rotunda of the Capitol. The day was observed throughout the Union as one of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. The deep feeling of the people found expression in all the forms of religious solemnity. Service in the churches throughout the land were held in unison with the services at the Executive Mansion, and were everywhere attended with exhibition of profound personal grief. In all the cities of Canada business was suspended, public meetings of condolence with a kindred people were held, and prayers were read in the churches. Throughout the Confederate States where war had ceased but peace had not yet come, the people joined in significant expressions of sorrow over the death of him whose very name they had been taught to execrate.

Early on the morning of the 21st the body was removed from the Capitol and placed on the funeral-car which was to transport it to its final resting-place in Illinois. The remains of a little son, who had died three years before, were taken from their burial-place in Georgetown, and borne with those of his father for final sepulcher in the stately mausoleum which the public mind had already decreed to the illustrious martyr. The train which moved from the National Capital was attended on its course by extraordinary manifestation of grief on the part of the people. Baltimore, which had reluctantly and sullenly submitted to Mr. Lincoln’s formal inauguration and to his authority as President, now showed every mark of honor and of homage as his body was borne through her streets, Confederate and Unionist alike realizing the magnitude of the calamity which had overwhelmed both North and South.

In Philadelphia the entire population did reverence to the memory of the murdered patriot. A procession of more than a hundred thousand persons formed his funeral cortege to Independence Hall, where the body remained until the ensuing day. The silence of the sorrowful night was in strange contrast with the scene in the same place, four years before, when Mr. Lincoln, in the anxieties and perils of the opening rebellion, hoisted the national flag over our ancient Temple of Liberty, and before a great and applauding multitude defended the principles which that flag typifies. He concluded in words which, deeply impressive at the time, proved sadly prophetic now that his body lay in a bloody shroud where his living form then stood: "sooner than surrender these principles, I would be assassinated on this spot."

In the city of New York the popular feeling was, if possible, even more marked than in Philadelphia. The streets were so crowded that the procession moved with difficulty to the City Hall, where, amid the chantings of eight hundred singers, the body was placed upon the catafalque prepared for it. Throughout the day and throughout the entire night the living tide of sorrowful humanity flowed past the silent form. At the solemn hour of midnight the German musical societies sang a funeral hymn with an effect so impressive and so touching that thousands of strong men were in tears. Other than this no sound was heard throughout the night except the footsteps of the advancing and receding crowd. At sunrise many thousands still waiting in the park were obliged to turn away disappointed. It was observed thatevery person who passed through the hall, even the humblest and poorest, wore the insignia of mourning. In a city accustomed to large assemblies and to unrestrained expressions of popular feeling, no such scene had ever been witnessed. On the afternoon appointed for the procession to more westward, all business was suspended, and the grief of New York found utterance in Union Square before a great concourse of people in a funeral oration by the historian Bancroft and in an elegiac ode by William Cullen Bryant.

Similar scenes were witnessed in the great cities along the entire route. Final obsequies were celebrated in Oakridge Cemetery near Springfield on the fourth day of May. Major-General Joseph Hooker acted as chief marshal upon the occasion, and an impressive sermon was pronounced by Bishop Simpson of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Perhaps in the history of the world no such outpouring of the people, no such exhibition of deep feeling, had ever been witnessed as on this funeral march from the National Capital to the capital of Illinois. The pomp with which sovereigns and nobles are interred is often formal rather than emotional, attaching to the rank rather than to the person. Louis Philippe appealed to the sympathy of France when he brought the body of the Emperor Napoleon from St. Helena twenty years after his death; but the popular feeling among the French was chiefly displayed in connection with the elaborate rites which attended the transfer of the dead hero to the Invalides, where the shattered remnants of his valiant and once conquering legions formed for the last time around him. Twelve years later the victorious rival bywhom the imperial warrior was at last overcome, received from the populace of London, as well as from the crown, the peers, and the commons of England, the heartiest tribute that Britons ever paid to human greatness.

The splendor of the ceremonials which aggrandize living royalty as much as they glorify dead heroism, was wholly wanting in the obsequies of Mr. Lincoln. No part was taken by the Government except the provision of a suitable military escort. All beyond was the spontaneous movement of the people. For seventeen hundred miles, through eight great States of the Union, whose population was not less than fifteen millions, an almost continuous procession of mourners attended the remains of the beloved President. There was no pageantry save their presence. There was no tribute but their tears. They bowed before the bier of him who had been prophet, priest, and king to his people, who had struck the shackles from the slave, who had taught a higher sense of duty to the free man, who had raised the Nation to a loftier conception of faith and hope and charity. A countless multitude of men, with music and banner and cheer and the inspiration of a great cause, presents a spectacle that engages the eye, fills the mind, appeals to the imagination. But the deepest sympathy of the soul is touched, the height of human sublimity is reached, when the same multitude, stricken with a common sorrow, stands with uncovered head, reverent and silent.


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Chicago: James G. Blaine, "The Funeral of Lincoln," The Civil War, 1861-1865 in Great Epochs in American History, Vol.9, Pp.1-5 Original Sources, accessed December 7, 2022,

MLA: Blaine, James G. "The Funeral of Lincoln." The Civil War, 1861-1865, in Great Epochs in American History, Vol.9, Pp.1-5, Original Sources. 7 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Blaine, JG, 'The Funeral of Lincoln' in The Civil War, 1861-1865. cited in , Great Epochs in American History, Vol.9, Pp.1-5. Original Sources, retrieved 7 December 2022, from