The Traveling Funeral of Abraham Lincoln

The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was tragically shot on April 14, 1865. He died the next day. 

Lincoln’s assassination deeply impacted the entire nation, already reeling from the effects of the Civil War. That’s why it isn’t surprising that his 1,700-mile journey home was packed with millions wanting to pay their respects.

Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to have a train funeral. 

Keep reading to learn more about this solemn passage that served as an emotional catharsis and united the nation in grief.

The Traveling Funeral of Abraham Lincoln

The History of Traveling Funerals

Traveling funerals, or funeral trains, existed before Lincoln’s passing. They were just never used to escort a dignitary to their final resting place. 

These types of funerals started when city cemeteries reached their limits, so the deceased had to be buried on the outskirts. However, a horse-drawn hearse couldn’t navigate the dirt roads at the time. Instead, the deceased’s body was placed on a train and transported out of the city’s center.

Some cities, like Chicago, even constructed separate tracks for specific cemeteries. As the traveling funerals grew, specialized railroad cars were built to allow the entire funeral party to travel with the casket.

After Lincoln’s passing, the funeral train became less about practicality and more about staging a proper sendoff. Several U.S. presidents would go on to be carried to their final place via a funeral train, including the following:

  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • James A. Garfield
  • William McKinley 
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt 
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Former President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, was the last to be placed on a funeral train to his burial site in Texas.

Tracing the Funeral Procession of Abraham Lincoln

Mary Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, wanted her husband to go directly to Springfield, Illinois, for his funeral. However, Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War at the time, believed that the nation wasn’t ready for such a swift sendoff. So, he convinced Lincoln’s widow to delay the funeral procession and allow public viewings.

Being too distraught to make the journey, Mary didn’t board the train carrying her late husband to his final resting place.

From Capitol to Resting Place

Lincoln’s funeral train left the railroad station in Washington, D.C., on April 21, 1865. The goal was to retrace the route he had taken over four years earlier on his way to his first inauguration.

In total, the funeral train passed through six states before reaching Illinois, where Lincoln’s body was to be interred:

  • Maryland
  • Pennsylvania 
  • New Jersey 
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Indiana

New Jersey was the only state where Lincoln’s body wasn’t viewed. In other states, however, millions of grief-stricken people gathered to say goodbye to the leader who got them through some of the most trying times in U.S. history. Interestingly, Lincoln’s farewell was attended by two future U.S. presidents – Grover Cleveland in Buffalo and Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

A Sea of Grief

Lincoln’s funeral train made several stops during its 1,700-mile journey, allowing people to view his open coffin and pay their respects. The coffin would be placed in a public building for several hours before being loaded back on the train and continuing the journey.

City after city, huge crowds gathered along the tracks, expressing their sorrow in myriad ways. Some made bonfires, some sang hymns, while others watched in silent grief. In Richmond, Indiana, thousands of people waited as late as 3 a.m. for the train to pass.

On May 3, Lincoln’s coffin reached Springfield and was on display for 24 hours before it was finally closed and Lincoln laid to rest.

Fighting Against Time

Among the many passengers on Lincoln’s funeral train, there was one who virtually made the open-casket viewings possible – an embalmer. Though he proclaimed that “the body of the president will never know decay,” the reality was much different. After all, this was the age before refrigeration and embalming could only go so far.

Approximately mid-journey, after the funeral train left New York City, it was reported that Lincoln’s face was starting to change. Although the embalmer did his best, not even the best makeup and perfume could conceal the inevitable decay. 

United in Grief: The Impact of Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral on the American Nation

Though Lincoln was a beloved president, people were seemingly grieving more than just him during the funeral train procession. They also lamented the hundreds of thousands of lives taken by the Civil War. This experience united the nation’s north, which wanted to continue Lincoln’s efforts toward a more inclusive society.

A Worthy Farewell

At Hollywood Forever, we believe every person deserves to be buried with grace and dignity. Reach out to us to ensure a worthy funeral for your loved one.


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