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Lincoln's Funeral At Albany

Nov 29, 2017
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(Author’s Note: By April 26, 1865 five cities had already held funerals for the assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Washington, Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and New York had honored the late president with prayers, hymns, and processions. Between the cities, tens of thousands of mourners lined the tracks, simply to doff their hats or kneel in prayer as the Funeral Train passed by. Albany, New York was the next city to hold services for the martyred president, 145 years ago today.)

The Funeral Train of Abraham Lincoln arrived in Albany, New York (that state’s capital) at around 11:00 p.m. on the night of April 25, 1865. It had traveled that day from New York City, where a stunning procession which took almost four hours to complete had taken place just nine hours earlier. Upon arrival in Albany (actually East Albany), the coffin was transported across the Hudson to Albany proper where it was taken to the capitol.

Like New York City, Albany had hosted Abraham Lincoln four years before on his inaugural trip to Washington. He had spoken on February 18, 1861 to a joint session of the New York legislature in the capitol building, thanking the politicians for their support, expressing hope that the sectional crisis would be solved by “cooler heads.” Now but a few feet where he had spoken that day full of hope, the remains of Abraham Lincoln lay in state.

The Funeral Train had taken longer than expected to bring the fallen president from New York to Albany. In small towns and big, mourners lined the tracks by the thousands in order to see the train and to pay their respects. Towns such as Peekskill fired cannons while the train halted there. Men lined up and simultaneously raised their hats in respect in other towns as the train passed. Near West Point, uniformed Army cadets, many with tears in their eyes, boarded the Funeral Car and filed silently past to honor their late commander-in-chief. As daylight gave way to darkness, bonfires, torches, and other illuminations lit the way for the train. The engineers were so moved that the train slowed or stopped far more often than planned, so that the people could say goodbye to Mr. Lincoln.

Once the coffin was placed in the state capitol rotunda, the doors were opened to the public at the early hour of 1:15 a.m. on April 26. Mourners filed past at a rate of about 60 per minute. They continued through the entire night, past dawn, and until the capitol doors were closed at 1:30 p.m. Even then, the line of mourners hoping to see Lincoln’s remains was at least one mile long, disappointing many thousands.

The procession was not as majestic as that in New York or Washington, of course, because Albany was a far smaller city than those. But it was still special. In this procession, the specially built hearse was pulled by six white horses. Every other participant, the requisite officials, governor, bands, and so on walked behind the hearse. There were no carriages, banners, or portraits of Lincoln present. The 250-300 mourners who had been riding The Funeral Train chose not to participate in this procession as by then they were exhausted emotionally and physically, and had stayed in a hotel for the night, paid for by the city. They re-boarded the Funeral Train at the depot for the 4:00 p.m. departure to the next funeral city, Buffalo, New York.

The image above shows one of two American flags which flew from the engine which pulled The Funeral Train from Albany to Utica, New York the day of the Albany services. It is housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington. I couldn’t find any photos of the procession in Albany.

April 26, 1865 also brought some joyful news when for twelve long dark days only grief and horror had filled the papers. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton announced that day that Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had been cornered and shot to death in Virginia early that morning. The hunt for the most notorious murderer in U.S. history was, at long last, over.

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