The Last Ride: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train and the Nation’s Unyielding Grief

The epic 1,700-mile funeral pageant honoring the fallen president brought millions of Americans together to pay their respects and bid farewell to the beloved leader.

In the wake of President Abraham Lincoln’s tragic assassination on April 15, 1865, the United States was plunged into mourning. However, instead of allowing the fallen president to rest in peace immediately, the country embarked on an extraordinary funeral journey spanning nearly 1,700 miles. This somber procession became a symbol of national grief and unity, as millions of Americans from different walks of life came together to pay their respects to their departed leader.

Lincoln’s house draped in mourning with his horse “Old Robin” in front, Springfield, Illinois, 1865

1. A Nation Grieves: The Decision for a Grand Funeral Procession

When President Lincoln was fatally shot, the nation was stunned, and the call for a proper funeral to honor the great leader was resounding. Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, believed that Lincoln’s final journey should be an opportunity for the country to unite and heal after the turmoil of the Civil War. Despite Mary Lincoln’s initial wish for a direct route home to Springfield, Illinois, Stanton convinced her to approve a more elaborate railroad journey, retracing the steps of Lincoln’s inaugural whistle stops.

2. The Funeral Train Departs: A Moving Procession

As the sun rose over Washington, D.C. on April 21, 1865, the funeral cortege began its solemn journey. Lincoln’s black mahogany coffin was carried from the U.S. Capitol to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad station, where it was placed inside a luxurious presidential railcar featuring crimson silk upholstery and elegant finishing. Sadly, Lincoln never had the opportunity to see or ride in this newly constructed railcar, as his presidency had been consumed by the Civil War.

East Room of White House

3. A Son’s Journey Home: Lincoln’s Family in Mourning

Inside the funeral car, the president’s coffin was joined by a smaller one, containing the body of his beloved son, Willie, who had passed away three years earlier. The untimely death of Lincoln’s son had been held in a vault in Georgetown, awaiting burial in Springfield at the end of his father’s presidency.

4. A Nation Pays Respects: Public Viewings Along the Way

To give Americans the chance to bid farewell to their fallen leader, Stanton arranged for public viewings in ten cities along the route. Thanks to advancements in embalming during the Civil War, Lincoln’s body was preserved, and it was solemnly presented to the grieving crowds. However, the limitations of embalming in that era became evident as the days passed, and Lincoln’s appearance began to change.

1865 steropscopic image of 1865 Lincoln funeral procession in Baltimore

5. A Journey of Unity: A Country United in Grief

As the funeral train made its way through the rain-soaked streets of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, immense crowds gathered to pay their respects. The outpouring of grief was profound, transcending racial lines, as both Black and white mourners came together to honor their beloved president.

6. The Midwest’s Embrace: A Deeper Intensity of Feeling

Moving through the Midwest, where Lincoln was particularly beloved, the crowds swelled even more. People from all walks of life and political affiliations united in their sorrow and reverence for the fallen leader.

President Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City

7. Lincoln’s Final Resting Place: A Nation United

After its long and emotional journey, the funeral train finally arrived in Springfield, Illinois, on May 3, 1865. Lincoln was finally home. The funeral procession had passed through 400 cities and towns, and approximately one million Americans had viewed his body, while millions more witnessed the train’s passage. This monumental funeral journey not only united northern white Democrats and Republicans but also offered African Americans protected access to public life at a time of great danger for them.

Lincoln’s tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery

The funeral train that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body on its final journey became an unforgettable chapter in American history—a testament to the nation’s profound grief, unity, and resilience in the face of tragedy. The epic procession brought together millions of Americans from diverse backgrounds, united in their reverence for the fallen leader. As Lincoln’s coffin was laid to rest, the country found solace in knowing that, though departed, his legacy would live on forever in the hearts of the American people.

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