- Historic Sites
Journey’s End: 1865
Two humble memories—a brakeman‘s and a carpenter’s—bring back the human moments of a nation’s tragedy
February 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 2
In Washington, the distraught Mary Todd Lincoln had been unable to decide where her husband should be buried. The citizens of Springfield proposed to erect a tomb on the spacious, wooded Mather place, site of the present Illinois Capitol, on Second Street between Monroe and Edwards. Mrs. Lincoln demurred, and while the funeral train was crossing Indiana she came to a decision. The burial should be in the Oak Ridge Cemetery on a prairie knoll beyond the northern edge of Springfield.
On the first of May, Ed Beall and the other carpenters climbed onto lumber wagons and creaked out to Oak Ridge to build a speakers’ stand and seats for a three-hundred-voice choir. For two days and a night the saws and hammers sounded under the oak trees, where leaves had just begun to bud. On the morning of the third their work was done.
From Chicago the railroad officials sent orders over the line. At every creek and river, watchmen guarded the bridges. Regular trains were sent onto sidings an hour before the funeral train would pass. Two locomotives, No. 40 and No. 57, were assigned to the special train. Both were wood burners with balloon stacks, iron jackets, brass domes, brass sandboxes, and brass bell-frames—all polished like the sun. Both were decorated from the cowcatcher to the rear drawbar with flags and bunting intertwined with crepe. Under the headlight each engine carried a crayon portrait of Lincoln in a five-foot wreath of flowers. No. 40 served as a “pilot,” going ahead to test the safety of the track. Veteran engineer Jim Cotton took the throttle of No. 57.
With its own slow clangor lost in the tolling of church bells, the train passed through Joliet, Wilmington, Bloomington, and Lincoln, where acres of people stood in silence. The cars crept through villages where people had waited in the midnight hours with lanterns, flags, and torches. At every crossroad families stood bareheaded in the fitful light of bonfires. But finally sunrise warmed the prairie, and from the top of the train brakeman Porter saw the glint of water through the wooded bottoms of Salt Creek. The next downgrade carried across the Sangamon, and Springfield showed in the distance.
After all night on his carpentry job at Oak Ridge, Ed Beall climbed onto an empty lumber wagon and jolted into Springfield. The streets were filled with horses, vehicles, and people on foot—all pressing in toward the C & A depot. Three blocks north Ed jumped off the wagon and shouldered through the crowd. His workman’s badge got him past the guards and onto the observation platform. He was there when the pilot engine, puffing pale woodsmoke, its brasswork gleaming under the black shroud, panted past the station. Then, while the buzzing of the crowd ceased, the funeral train steamed slowly past—the black-dressed engine, the coaches with sentries at each platform, the catafalque car with its emblems of office and of mourning. When the train stopped, the crowd surged forward. Ed Beall saw pickpockets at work below the platform. From the rear coach stepped General Joe Hooker, a straight, brisk-striding man with a face as red as an Indian’s. Fighting Joe broke his stride when he saw a pickpocket reaching for a spectator’s wallet. One of his feet shot out and sent the thief sprawling.
Eight tall sergeants carried the coffin to the hearse, and the honor guard fell in behind. Drums throbbed and the procession moved through the bright May morning to the Statehouse. Ed Beall followed the casket in and took his position near its foot. He divided the crowd that came, sending them in two files, six abreast, past the dais where the coffin rested.
All that day and that night the lines moved through the Representative Hall. These were the folk from Lincoln’s own country—from Petersburg, Jacksonville, Beardstown, Towanda, Metamora, Charleston; people who had known Lincoln the axeman, the boatman, the surveyor; people from the Eighth Circuit towns who had known Lincoln the lawyer, who had heard his drawling stories in the tavern and his arguments and summations in the courtrooms.
Among that endless line of mourners was lean, longfaced William H. Herndon. He had first seen Lincoln on a horseback trip along the Sangamon, when Lincoln was piloting the steamer Talisman over the ruined dam at New Salem. He had gone stump-speaking with him, had ridden with him on the circuit court, and had been his law partner for twenty-one years; their names were still together, “Lincoln & Herndon,” on the office door now hung with crepe. During all that time they were “Billy” and “Mr. Lincoln,” and now Bill Herndon stood with his own thoughts above the open coffin. “We who had known the illustrious dead in other days,” he wrote, “and before the nation laid its claim upon him, moved sadly through and looked for the last time on the silent upturned face of our departed friend.”
All night long the streets were thronged with people, as though no one could sink to rest, and church bells tolled hour after hour through the darkness. After a warm, windless night, the morning of May 4 brought a burning sunrise in a cloudless sky. It was the beginning of a blazing day—the hottest day ever known in Illinois, old residents said. By mid-morning hundreds were prostrated, and Mayor Dennis of Springfield had to be carried away from the crowded Statehouse square.