The end of President Lincoln’s life is nothing short of amazing, it took place on Good Friday exactly 150 years ago. In his death, the Lord allowed his legacy to be cemented in history and our Godliest President has become our most beloved. There have been more books written about President Lincoln than all the other Presidents combined. Like Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament, God gave our country a man to lead us when we needed it the most. Here is how Dr. Wheeler describes the night he died and the most famous funeral in American history…
THE DEATH OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
The president was carried across the street to the Peterson house. All through the night, family, close friends, and Cabinet members came in and out of the room that held Lincoln. The doctors told them there was no hope: the wound was mortal. All they could do was wait. The first words out of Mary’s lips after Booth’s attack were, “The dream was prophetic!” In the room with Lincoln, Mary went into hysterics and had to be moved into an adjoining room.
The president never regained consciousness. Senator Sumner came in and wept, like so many others. Stanton took charge, and for the rest of that terrible night was acting president of the nation, setting up a police and military network to track down the killer or killers – since no one yet knew for sure who they were.
At 7:22 A.M. Saturday, April 15, Abraham Lincoln breathed his last breath. Stanton, who had earlier declared “There lies the most perfect leader of men who ever lived,” now spoke again, this time with words that have become immortal: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Lloyd Lewis notes that:
Just as the joyous news of Lee’s surrender had come smashing into the cities of the north on the tongues of bells Palm Sunday night, so did the awful word of Lincoln’s death come on Good Friday night. And the religious folk who saw in one the triumph of Jesus, saw in the other the crucifixion. Where the bells of Sunday had exalted, the bells of Saturday tolled a funeral song.
By Saturday morning the entire North was in mourning. The flags, arches, and bunting that had gone up five days before as the people celebrated their jubilation were now taken down and replaced with black crêpe. When the stores sold out of black fabric, old black dresses were cut up for bunting. Anyone who failed to drape his home in black was accused of being a traitor.
The people of Washington wanted Lincoln to be buried there. So did the people of New York. But in the end the prairie people of Illinois staked their claim, and Mary Lincoln, ever after a recluse, confirmed that the president had yearned to return to the serenity of the plains he so loved.
The longest funeral in world history – seventeen hundred miles long – was orchestrated by Stanton. On Tuesday, April 18, the White House doors were opened, and the people flooded in. The masses inched past the coffin, many weeping: 25,000 filed past before the doors were closed.
On Wednesday came the military funeral, attended by every dignitary with rank high enough to gain admission. By the casket stood Grant, the hero of Appomattox, wearing a white sash across his breast, indicating that he was the head pallbearer. Beside him stood Admiral Farragut and other top generals, flanked by foreign ambassadors. Lonely and lost in the august assemblage were Robert Lincoln, in his captain’s uniform, and Tad, his face swollen from tears. With them were many of the Todds – but not Mary.
After the service, according to Lloyd Lewis (the best chronicler of this period), “Abraham Lincoln’s trip to mythland began.”
The instant the pallbearers came through the White House doors, all the church bells in Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria began to toll. From the fortresses ringing the city, minute guns began to boom. A vast crowd gathered along Pennsylvania Avenue. At 2:00 P.M., the black-tassled hearse, pulled by six white horses, began to move, accompanied by drums, the clanging bells, the minute guns, the pop of horses’ hooves on cobblestones, and the tramp, tramp, tramp of soldiers’ shoes. So enormous was the pressing crowd that it took an hour for the hearse to reach the Capitol building, where the pallbearers carried the casket up into the rotunda.
At 10:00 A.M. on Thursday, wounded soldiers were the first to enter, followed by 3,000 people an hour – 25,000 were allowed in before the doors closed. Before sunup on Friday, seven days after Lincoln’s death, the coffin was closed, and Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, Lincoln’s pastor, prayed.
In the train yards the funeral train was ready: eight coaches swathed in black (six for the mourners, one for the guard of honor, one for the bier). At the foot of the big casket rested the little coffin of Willie Lincoln. It had been disinterred in order for the son to accompany his father back to Illinois. Between regiments at present-arms, the funeral train began to move, with a pilot engine ten miles ahead to ensure a clear track. For the entire 1,600-mile journey, the train would move at a steady pace of twenty miles per hour.
As the train slowly moved through Maryland, not even Stanton had any idea of what awaited them. At 10:00 A.M., the Edward H. Jones engine slowed to a stop in Baltimore, the city having been packed since dawn. In the three hours permitted, ten thousand people shoved their way pas the coffin. Stanton had insisted Lincoln’s face not be prettied up, but marks of the wound would remain. All during this time, bells tolled and guns boomed once every minute.
As the train moved out of Maryland into Pennsylvania, crowds thickened along the tracks. Farmers stood with their wives and children, silently staring; each crêpe-bedecked town was a sea of people with town bands playing dirges. The official party in the train was stunned as the crowds increased with every mile, and every farmhouse wore black. At Harrisburg, a huge crowd waited through torrential rain. All day they streamed by the bier – until midnight. Armies of farmers from outlying regions sat up all night in order to be there when the doors opened at 7:00 A.M. Lancaster, too, was a sea of black.
As the cortege neared Philadelphia, solid walls of people lined the tracks. In the city, half a million mourners jammed the streets. Outside Independence Hall, a line of mourners three miles long waited to see the bier. And, as continued to be true for the entire journey, in every city were the everlasting bells and minute guns. At midnight the doors were closed, but thousands remained outside all night. By 3:00 A.M. on Sunday morning, the crowd was even larger than it had been the day before. The crush was so great that many fainted in line. Hundreds were injured. Nor had the crowds decreased by 2:00 A.M. the following morning, when the hearse was taken to the railroad amid the resuming bells and guns.
The country had gone wild. Newspaper editors and writers were stunned. By dawn, all New Jersey appeared to have gathered along the tracks. In Jersey City, a great choir of Germans sang hymns as the casket was carried onto a boat for its journey to New York, where an even bigger crowd awaited.
For hours the streets of New York had been so jammed that nothing moved. The police and military fought desperately to keep lanes open. A giant new hearse pulled by sixteen white horses carried the casket onto Broadway, where the funeral party gasped. It was the greatest sight New York had ever seen: 160,000 people marched in the parade itself. Incredibly, except for the incessant bells and guns, the crowd was deathly silent as the catafalque passed. In City Hall, 150,000 looked at Lincoln’s face.
On Monday night, embalmers restored Lincoln’s face. It had become unlifelike through exposure. For twenty-four hours crowds poured through City Hall in double file. When at noon on Tuesday the casket was closed, three hundred thousand people were turned away. At 12:30 P.M., a parade of one hundred thousand people accompanied the catafalque, with half a million looking on. No one would ever know just how many people jammed those New York streets, but the general estimate was upwards of 1.5 million.
At the station waited the locomotive Union, the same engine that had brought Lincoln into New York in 1861. At Albany, sixty thousand people waited – four thousand an hour went by the open coffin all afternoon and all night. By now, each city, hearing about all that had gone on before, tried to outdo what any other city had done. “The thing had become half circus, half heartbreak,” concluded Lewis.
By the time Lincoln’s casket was opened in Springfield, well over 7 million people (a third of the total population of the nation) had looked upon the hearse or the coffin, with 1.5 million having looked upon his face.
But now, in Illinois:
In the House of Representatives where Lincoln, long before, had pronounced doom upon slavery… for twenty-four hours, was heard the steady tramp of feet – the feet of prairie people, farmers, atheistic lawyers, fanatic circuit-preachers, rail-splitters, crippled soldiers, shysters Lincoln had tricked, mothers he had protected, politicians he had disappointed, bullies he had whipped, girls to whom he had sold sugar, loafers who had laughed at his stories – the feet of prairie people.
It was 10:00 A.M. on May 4, 1865, and time for the last service, then the last parade. General Joe Hooker rode ahead of the hearse, and “Old Bob,” the aging bay horse that had borne Lincoln over the circuit, was led behind, riderless.
A long parade, bannered, mottoed, costumed like the rest, but with some new and terrible woe, as of family grief in it, wound out two miles to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Prayers, oratory, religious hymns, boys falling with breaking boughs, apple blossoms in the wind.
And the long journey was over. Abraham Lincoln had come home.