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May 11, 2021

President Abraham Lincoln’s Hearse in Springfield, Illinois, in 1865

On May 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was laid to rest in Springfield, Illinois. The body of the murdered president was taken from the train station to the cemetery in a hearse brought to Springfield by Jesse Arnot of St. Louis. It was the only four-horse hearse in the Midwest. Arnot knotted his reins so that he could drive the four horses with one hand, and he tied a similar knot in his tie; this knot is now known at the four-in-hand. The hearse was destroyed in a fire at the stables in 1887.

A photo taken by Samuel Montague Fassett of the hearse that carried Lincoln’s body while in Springfield, Illinois. (Library of Congress)

The arrival of President Abraham Lincoln's body on May 3, 1865, in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, evoked this poetic response from a reporter covering the event. Although Lincoln was born in Kentucky, grew up in Indiana, and served the nation in Washington, he was buried in Illinois where he had developed strong community ties. Two years before his assassination he wrote, “Springfield is my home, and there, more than elsewhere, are my life-long friends.”

After a circuitous, 12-day journey which retraced much of Lincoln’s inaugural route and included funerals in major Eastern and Midwestern cities, the train pulled into the Chicago & Alton station near Springfield’s business district. The nine-car train included a presidential car for Lincoln and his son Willie, who died in the White House three years earlier, a baggage car, and seven Pullman sleeping cars for the funeral entourage. Years later Lincoln’s eldest son Robert would become president of the Pullman company, based in Chicago.

The reporter watched as the train “moved slowly into the town, moved slowly through masses of ‘plain people’ who had come from all the country round about.” Springfield, with its 15,000 residents, now welcomed more than 100,000 visitors on this historic occasion. As the train stopped and pallbearers approached it, “The stillness among all the people is painful; but when the coffin is taken from the car, that stillness is broken, broken by sobs, and these are more painful than the stillness.”

President Lincoln’s casket being carried into the receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery, drawing by William Waud for Harper’s magazine (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Receiving vault Containing the Remains of Abraham Lincoln, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.

Soldiers from the Veteran Reserve Corps loaded the president’s coffin into an elaborate borrowed hearse, “splendidly adorned” with “A.L.” engraved on a silver plate surrounded by a silver wreath, two inverted torches, and 36 stars symbolizing the states in the Union. While a band played funeral music, four black horses slowly pulled the hearse in a formal procession toward the city square.

On the west side of the square stood a building which housed the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office. Now it wore a banner: “He Lives in the Hearts of His People.” Just before Lincoln left for Washington he told his law partner William Herndon, “If I live I’m coming back some time, and then we’ll go right on practicing law as if nothing had ever happened.” Years later Herndon wrote, “He always contended that he was doomed to a sad fate, and he repeatedly said to me when we were alone in our office: ‘I am sure I shall meet with some terrible end.’”


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