Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Abraham Lincoln's Funeral 145 Years Ago Today

John Wilkes Booth shot the President on the evening of April 14 and on April 15 Lincoln died. That was just six days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate army to General Grant. Preparations began for an elaborate funeral demanded by a grieving country, a sort of national expression of all the personal griefs caused by the Civil War.

The President's body was embalmed, a procedure that had advanced considerably in technique during the War Between the States when so many bodies of soldiers were being sent home. Still, an embalmer traveled with the body all the way to Springfield, Illinois and frequently applied chalk dust and rouge to Lincoln's face and hands in an effort to mask the signs of decay.

25,000 people walked through the East Room where President Lincoln lay in state, standing in line for six hours to do so. The actual funeral service was held on Wednesday, April 19 and was attended by approximately 600 guests.

Platforms had been built in the East Room: one, a heavily draped bier supported and protected the coffin, and another large, stepped stage filled most of the rest of the room for the standing mourners. The mirrors were all shrouded, as was the custom, and white flowers sent by groups and individuals surrounded the bier, which was a somewhat new custom.

The darkened room was lit only by candlelight and "at the head and foot and on each side of the casket of their dead chief stood the motionless figures of his armed warriors," according to Noah Brooks, a contemporary journalist.

Following the funeral, the casket was taken to the the Capitol Building in a hearse pulled by six white horses and followed by thousands and thousands of dignitaries, Union soldiers and freed blacks. The procession was led by a platoon of black soldiers who had arrived a little too late to join the end of the line and simply turned around to become its head.

Another 25,000 or so filed into the Capitol to pay their respects 145 years ago today, April 20. Then on April 21, the bodies of the President and his beloved son Willie began the long train journey back to Springfield.

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