Monday, May 4, 2015

150 Years Ago: May 4

The doors of the State House in Springfield had remained open through the night to allow mourners to pass by the open coffin. At 10 a.m. on May 4, 1865, the doors were closed, and the undertaker and the embalmer prepared Lincoln's body for burial. A chorus of three hundred voices waiting on the Capitol steps began singing a hymn as the Lincoln's coffin was carried out and placed in an elaborate hearse. The hearse, "finished with gold, silver, and crystal," had been borrowed from the City of St. Louis. The officials in Springfield felt there wasn't a hearse in the city grand enough to transport the body of the President.

The route of the funeral procession passed Lincoln's home and the Governor's Mansion on its way to the country road that led to Oak Ridge Cemetery. The hearse was drawn by six huge matched black horses. Immediately after the hearse, Lincoln's horse, Old Bob, was led riderless, wearing a mourning blanket. The procession was said to have been the largest the Midwest had ever seen.

Lincoln's son Robert attended the funeral in Springfield, and at least one source says that Tad was also there. Mary Todd Lincoln, however, was still in mourning in Washington, unable to leave her bed much less make the journey to Illinois.

When the procession arrived at the cemetery, Lincoln's coffin was laid on a marble slab inside a receiving vault. His son Willie's coffin, which had been exhumed and transported from Washington on the funeral train, was placed beside his father's. Three years would pass before Lincoln's tomb in Springfield was completed.

At the cemetery, the choir of three hundred voices sang hymns, prayers were offered, and an official read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, the speech Lincoln himself had delivered only six weeks earlier and the one he considered to be his finest. The funeral sermon was delivered by Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson. The Abraham Lincoln Blog notes that Simpson was a leading orator of the time, despite the fact that he had a harsh speaking voice. His sermon at Lincoln's funeral in Springfield is considered to be one of the greatest eulogies ever given in American history. It moved mourners both to applause and to tears, and it concluded in this way:
Chieftain, farewell! The nation mourns thee. Mothers shall teach thy name to their lisping children. The youth of our land shall emulate thy virtues. Statesmen shall study thy record and learn lessons of wisdom. Mute though thy lips be, yet they still speak. Hushed is thy voice, but its echoes of liberty are ringing through the world, and the sons of bondage listen with joy. Prisoned thou art in death, and yet thou art marching abroad, and chains and manacles are bursting at thy touch. Thou did fall not for thyself. The assassin had no hate for thee. Our hearts were aimed at, our national life was sought. We crown thee as our martyr, and humanity enthrones thee as her triumphant son. Hero, Martyr, Friend, FAREWELL!
After Simpson's sermon, Dr. Phineas Gurley, of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, the Lincoln family pastor who had delivered the sermon at the funeral in Washington, gave the final benediction. One last hymn was sung. Then, as the crowd watched, the iron gates and the heavy wooden doors of the vault were closed and locked. The greatest display of mourning the country had ever experienced came to an end at last.

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