Lincoln, Going Home


by Terry Hogan


Lincoln had a long history with the railroads, mostly in Illinois. As a young Springfield attorney, he became to some degree or another, a "corporate attorney" for the railroads, before, I suppose, the term was invented. This isn't part of the popular Lincoln lore, as it appears to conflict with our wishful image of him always being "one of the people".  Although most of his railroad cases were representing the railroads, a few cases represented folks involved with litigation against the railroad, but only a few. One of the "perks" of being a railroad attorney was the free passes that were issued to him so that he could travel on that particular railroad for free. During those years before Lincoln became President, he probably gave little thought about the possibility that his last ride would also be by rail. And it would be a long, slow ride, with frequent stops, many different railroads, and the occasional ferry ride to cross a river. By my count, Lincoln rode at least 11 different railroads to get home to Springfield from Washington, D.C.


Probably most of us know that Lincoln's Tomb is in Springfield. And most of us who knew that, probably also know who is buried in Lincoln's tomb.  We even probably know that Lincoln's body was transported by railroad from Washington D. C. to Springfield for his burial. But probably very few of us know the route and the difficulties of his last ride home.


Lincoln's Death

We know that Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth. Perhaps we might recall it was in 1865. Specifically, it was on Friday, April 14, 1865 which also happened to be Good Friday. Secretary Stanton took on the responsibility for organizing and overseeing Lincoln's last trip home. Lincoln's first stop was the East Room of the White House where the funeral services were held on Tuesday, April 18th. On the afternoon of the 18th, Lincoln's remains were taken to the Capitol where they remained in the Rotunda until the 21st of April, when the casket was placed on the train to begin the trip home.


Lincoln's most famous biographer, and Galesburg's own, wrote this about Lincoln's remains in the East Room:

"On a pillow of white silk lay the head, on plaited satin rested the body, dressed in the black suit in which the first inaugural was delivered, with its references to 'fellow citizens,' to 'my dissatisfied countrymen’, to 'better angels,’ as though even among angels there are the worse and the better. The chandeliers at each end of the East Room drooped with black alpaca. The eight grand mirrors of the room spoke sorrow with night-shade silk gauze. The doors, the windows too, draped with black alpaca." (Sandburg, 1939).


The role of Stanton

It was no small task. Some historians indicate that Lincoln's trip home followed the path he took when he went to Washington to become President. This is generally true, but not completely. In 1861, he went to Cincinnati and to Pittsburgh on the way east. These cities were omitted on his way home, and Chicago was added. The remains of Lincoln's son, Willie, who died in the White House on February 20,1862 also made the trip home with his father. Willie had been buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, but was exhumed to accompany his father for burial in Springfield.


The Trip Home

The long trip home began with Lincoln' body being moved from the Rotunda to a special train provided by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The casket was moved to the train at about 6 or 7 AM on the 21st of April. The depot was closed down for this period except for those passengers who had tickets for a scheduled train departing at 7:30AM to Baltimore and those who had special passes to accompany the President on the funeral train.


Washington to Baltimore

The special train was scheduled to leave Washington for Baltimore at 8AM. It consisted of a new locomotive and nine new cars, which included the special car that carried Lincoln's casket. All the cars were draped for mourning. A special "pilot engine" went before the special train to ensure that the track was clear. This pilot engine approach was used during the entire trip to Springfield. The military guard that had direct responsibility for Lincoln's remains was from the "Invalid Corps” - injured veterans from the Civil War. The train arrived at Baltimore at about 10AM. Lincoln's remains were then transported off the train to the rotunda of the Exchange Building where the casket was viewed by "tens of thousands".


Harrisburg, PA

Lincoln was next loaded on a new train for transportation to Harrisburg via the Northern Central Railway. This was accomplished at the Northern Central Railway depot.  The train arrived in Harrisburg at about 8PM. It was raining so hard that the local ceremony was given up and Lincoln was transported from the train to the House of Representatives at the State House. Viewing was allowed from 9PM until midnight, at which time, his remains were secured for the night. In the morning, Lincoln was next transported to yet another railroad, the Pennsylvania Railroad. At about 11AM, this train left for Philadelphia.


Philadelphia, PA

The special train arrived at Philadelphia at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Lincoln's remains were once again removed and this time placed in Independence Hall for viewing. Lincoln's remains were at Independence Hall from Saturday the 22nd until Monday the 24th when they was again moved back to the train for transport to New York. The funeral train left Philadelphia at 4 AM.


New York City

It seems strange by today's standards, but the train could not make it to New York. Its track ended at Jersey City, New Jersey. At this point, Lincoln's remains were transported from the funeral train to a ferry that carried Lincoln across the Hudson River to Desbrosses Street.  The special funeral car was also carried across the river by a different ferry. Once in New York, the casket was moved to City Hall where it was viewed by a reported 1/2 million mourners. Retired General Winford Scott, former Commander of the Army, was reported to be among those who viewed Lincoln.


Albany, New York

On the 25th of April, Lincoln was placed on yet another railroad, being transported by the Hudson River Railroad from New York City to near Albany. This leg of the journey was at night and the track followed the east shore of the Hudson River Valley, hemmed by the river and the steep mountains. It is recorded that at each little town along the way, the track side was lighted by torches and citizens sang hymns and prayed. Among the larger towns that saw Lincoln's funeral train pass through were Yonkers, Peekskill and Poughkeepsie. Upon arriving at East Albany, the railroad reached the end of its line. Lincoln was again transported across the Hudson River at about 11PM. At some time after midnight, the coffin was transported to the state Capitol in Albany and arrangements were being made to move the funeral car back across the Hudson as well. On the 26th, the former railroad lawyer was loaded up on yet another railroad for his next stop in Buffalo.


Buffalo, New York

The New York Central Railroad had the honor and responsibility to transport the late President to Buffalo. Lincoln arrived in Buffalo at 7AM on the 27th of April. Again, his remains were downloaded from the train and transported to another viewing location. This time it was at St. James Hall.


Cleveland, OH

Lincoln was reloaded on the train and his westward travel led him to Cleveland, Ohio for another offloading and a viewing at the City Park. There was a special building, constructed for the viewing, which was probably a good thing as there was once again a very heavy rain. At least one source has estimated that Lincoln was viewed by 180 people per minute (a hard number to believe- 3 per second).


Columbus, OH

Alas, poor Lincoln was reloaded onto another railroad system for travel from Cleveland to Columbus. This was accomplished by the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati Railroad. It took 7 1/2 hours for the train to travel from Cleveland to Columbus, where it arrived at 7:30 in the morning. Not surprising at this point, Lincoln's remains were again removed from the train and placed in the state capitol for the Buckeyes to view the late President. After about 12 hours of viewing, Lincoln was again loaded on a train for travel to Indianapolis.


Indianapolis, IN

For this leg of his journey home, Lincoln was placed on yet another railroad line. This time it was the Columbus and Indianapolis Central Railway. This line delivered Lincoln to Indianapolis at about 7 AM on Sunday, April 30. Lincoln had been dead for over two weeks at this point. Again, he was removed from the train and placed in the state capitol for viewing by the Hoosiers. As you may recall, Lincoln lived in southern Indiana for a number of years, before moving to Illinois. Thus, Indiana was the first "home state" that Lincoln's remains reached. The next leg of the journey perhaps set a record for railroads used between two destinations.


Chicago, IL

Three different railroads were used to get the special funeral car from Indianapolis to Chicago. The Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroad carried Lincoln from Indianapolis to Lafayette (IN). The Louisville, New Albany and Chicago Railroad carried Lincoln from Lafayette to Michigan City (IN). Finally, the Michigan Central Railroad transported Lincoln's remains from Michigan City to Chicago. In Chicago, Lincoln spent two days in the Court House rotunda, before being taken back to be loaded on a funeral train provided by the Chicago and Alton Railroad. The train left Chicago at 9:30 on Tuesday night, heading for his home - Springfield.


Springfield, IL

The Chicago and Alton Railroad had the special honor of carrying Lincoln through Illinois from Chicago to Springfield, where he would finally find rest with his son, Willie. Springfield was reached on Wednesday, May 3, 1865.


The Chicago and Alton Railroad published a time schedule for the "funeral train", as had several earlier railroads. The funeral train was scheduled to leave Chicago at 9:30PM on Tuesday, May 2 and arrive in Springfield at 6:30 AM on Wednesday, May 3. At this point in history, the times that it passed through various locations are not particularly important, but the listing of the locations that the train passed through may be of interest.


Bridgeport          Gardner              Funk's Grove

Summit               Dwight               McLean

Joys                    Odell                           Atlanta

Lemont               Cayuga               Lawn Dale

Lockport             Pontiac               Lincoln

Joliet                   Ocoya                          Broadwell

Elwood               Chenoa               Elkhart

Hampton            Lexington           Williamsville

Wilmington                 Towanda            Sherman

Stewart's Grove  Bloomington               Sangamon

Braceville           Shirley                         Springfield


It is too bad that the train didn't pass through Galesburg. It would seem to have made the life and connection between Sandburg and Lincoln and Galesburg more complete. But in 1865, who would have known that a small prairie town not all that far from Bloomington and Springfield would become the birthplace of the best known Lincoln biographer.


According to one source, Lincoln traveled through 445 cities and 9 states on his trip home. Such was the last railroad ride by Lincoln. Of course since then, the railroads went through some hard times and there was a major consolidation through buyouts and bankruptcy. Railroads built bridges across the Hudson, the Ohio, the Mississippi, eliminating the need to ferry across rivers to climb onto another railroad.


In some ways, it is almost ironic, given all the changes in railroads, and the ferrying activities required to get Lincoln home. As part of Lincoln's great adventure of forming the Union Pacific Railroad to connect California with the United States, Lincoln had the task (at least first) of standardizing the width of the tracks. He also was involved with representing a railroad case that ultimately wasn't resolved until after he was in the White House. This case established the clear right of railroad bridges to cross navigable rivers in such a manner that they would not interfere with river commercial traffic (steamboats). It was an Illinois case.


But Lincoln's travels were not quite done, even after he was buried in Springfield. Due to attempted theft of his body and numerous rumors of other planned attempts, Lincoln had one more trip to his current tomb, safely buried under lots of concrete. I don't believe a railroad was involved in this final relocation. But his casket was opened and his remains were viewed by approximately 15 men who attested that Lincoln was, in fact, the individual buried in Lincoln's tomb. This was done to quiet rumors that his remains had already been stolen.


 One of those men was Galesburg's own Moses Ocean ("M.O.") Williamson who was Treasurer of the State of Illinois at that time. Not too many years after Lincoln's relocation from one Springfield tomb to another, his special funeral car came to a fiery death. On March 19, 1911, The Minneapolis Sunday Journal reported that on the previous day, Lincoln's funeral car was consumed in flames during the rage of a prairie fire.


It is only fitting that Sandburg (1939) should get the last word on Lincoln. His combination of poetry and prose painted an image of Lincoln's trip home that few others could ever attempt:

"THERE was a funeral.

It took long to pass its many given points.

Many millions of people saw it and personally moved in it and were part of its procession

The line of march ran seventeen hundred miles.

As a death march nothing like it had ever been attempted before….

The people, the masses, nameless and anonymous numbers of persons not listed nor published among those present-these redeemed it.

They gave it the dignity and authority of a sun darkened by a vast bird migration.

They shaped it into a drama awful in the sense of having naēve awe and tears without shame.

They gave it the color and heave of the sea which is the mother of tears.

They lent to it the color of the land and the earth which is the bread-giver of life and the quiet tomb of the Family of Man."




Anon. 1935. Obituary of M. O. Williamson. February 25, 1935.

Minneapolis (Minnesota) Sunday Journal March 19, 1911 issue.

Sandburg, Carl. 1939. The War Years. Volume 4. Harcourt, Brace & Co. New York.

Starr, John. 1927. Lincoln and the Railroads. Dodd, Mean & Company. New York. 325 pages.