- Historic Sites
Had there been a Warren Commission exactly a century ago, when Abraham Lincoln was shot, its report might have read like the somber, moving, and impressively researched book from which the following narrative is taken
April 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 3
President Johnson stood at the east side of the coffin and behind him, the Cabinet. Standing neatly in their appointed squares were the clergy, the Supreme Court justices, governors of states, officers of the Army and Navy, a tremendous New York delegation, members of the Senate and House, members of the boards of the Christian and sanitary commissions, forty mourners from Kentucky and Illinois, the pallbearers, heads of bureaus, assistant secretaries, the diplomatic corps, and many others, such as the nurse who had taken care of Willie Lincoln in his last illness. At the time of the assassination she herself was ill in a hospital, of typhoid fever. But she was determined to look for a last time on Mr. Lincoln’s face, and she was carried down the hospital stairs and brought to the White House.
Just before the first of the four ministers who were to conduct the service began speaking, Johnson and Preston King stepped up to the coffin, mounted the loot-high ledge at its side, looked down intently at the face for a moment, then retired to their places a few feet back. Johnson had been visited by many delegations in his office in the Treasury Building since Lincoln’s death, and he was trying to show everyone that he was going to be a strong President. He began all his interviews by praising Lincoln, lamenting his loss, and saying that all his own efforts would go to carrying on the great work his predecessor had begun—Lincoln’s policies would be his policies. This he invariably followed up by a statement that treason was the most vicious of all crimes, and those guilty of it must be punished. “Very vigorous,” said some. “Vindictive,” said others. “We will have no trouble now,” said all those who had opposed Mr. Lincoln’s gentle and forgiving attitude toward those who had rebelled.
At exactly ten minutes past twelve Dr. Hall began the Episcopal burial service: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
Bishop Simpson of the Methodist Episcopal Church delivered a prayer in which he likened Lincoln to Moses, who brought his people to the edge of the Promised Land but was not permitted to enter it. When lie was done, all six hundred listeners were in tears.
Lincoln’s pastor, Dr. Gurley, gave the funeral sermon, speaking of the “cruel, cruel hand, that dark hand of the assassin, which smote our honored, wise and noble President, and filled the land with sorrow. …”
While the funeral was going on, twenty-five million people all across the nation and even in Canada were hearing similar sermons and prayers in their churches, hearing that Lincoln’s work on earth was finished and that God had removed him purposefully; hearing how regrettable it was that Lincoln had died in such low surroundings; hearing him likened to Washington, the savior of his country; to Moses, deprived of his reward; even to Christ—for Lincoln had been murdered on the anniversary of the Crucifixion.
After the White House services the six hundred people went outside, blinking in the sudden strong sunlight. Twelve Veteran Reserve Corps sergeants, who were to be the only ones ever to lift the coffin until it reached the Springfield tomb, now carried it, lid closed, outdoors and placed it on the funeral car waiting behind its six white horses at the mansion’s front door. The platform on which the coffin rested was eleven feet off the ground, high enough so that everyone in the crowd along the streets would see the object of greatest interest. Much of the height was accounted for by the wheels of the car (right), which were enormous though seemingly frail, with spokes that looked too spindly for the important journey they were to make.
As the procession began to move, the minute guns took up their regular booming, and again the church and firehouse bells began to toll. Lincoln’s old friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, had made the arrangements for the great procession, and he had done it well. Some of the units had been waiting for hours on side streets, and they joined the marching lines just as had been planned. Leading the procession and preceding the coffin on its high black car along Pennsylvania Avenue—full of ruts and potholes made from dragging heavy war supplies over it for four years—was a detachment of Negro troops. They had been the second unit to enter Richmond at its surrender. Officers of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps followed. Then came the marshals, the clergymen who had conducted the funeral, the doctors who had attended the President on his deathbed, the twenty-two pallbearers, General Grant and Admiral Farragut, and finally the civilian mourners.
Just behind the hearse walked Mr. Lincoln’s favorite horse, branded U.S., bearing his master’s boots reversed in the stirrups. Many people who had seen the President riding this horse now remembered the tall figure with the plug hat slipped back on his head, his feet in the long stirrups. Behind the hearse Robert Lincoln and Tad rode in a carriage together, with doorkeeper Tom Pendel up behind. The two brothers rode close enough to their father’s body to see the men’s hats in the crowds along the sidewalks being removed by the hundreds as the colossal coffin with all its silver ornaments shining in the bright sunlight passed by.