Page images
PDF
EPUB

times. He would undoubtedly have killed him, had he not been seized around the body by the nurse of Mr. Seward, a soldier named Robinson. While the assassin was struggling with Robinson, Mr. Seward summoned sufficient strength to roll himself off the bed. The murderer, inflicting severe wounds upon Robinson, burst away from him, rushed to the door, forced his way down stairs, stabbing Major Augustus Seward and one of his father's attendants on the way, and escaped into the street. He had stabbed no less than five persons. This conspirator, known afterwards to the public by the name of Payne, was Lewis Payne Powell.

The effect of these two tragedies upon the popular feeling in the city of Washington may possibly be imagined, but it cannot be described. Some cried for retaliation upon the leaders of a rebellion that could inspire such deeds, and for revenge even upon the helpless prisoners in our hands. Others were possessed by a sense of horror; others by emotions of terror; others by an overwhelming grief; and all by a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. How wide was the conspiracy? How comprehensive was the plot? Who were the designated victims? What would be the next development? There was po sleep in Washington that night. A terrible solemnity took possession of the noisy capital. Only the military were busy. All the drinking shops of the city were closed, the outlets of the city were guarded, and every necessary step was taken for the protection of the persons of the other members of the government.

The effect of these terrible events upon the popular heart throughout the country was touching in the extreme. From the sunniest hills of joy, the people went down weeping into the darkest valleys of affliction. The long, sad morning of the President's death was full of the sound of tolling bells. It was everywhere the same. By a common impulse the bells from every tower in the land gave voice to the popular grief; and from every dwelling and store and shop, from every church and public building, the insignia of sorrow were displayed. The markets were literally cleared of every fabric that could be used for the drapery of mourning. Men met in the streets, and pressed each other's hands in silence, or burst into tears. The whole nation, which, the previous day, was jubilant and hopeful, was precipitated into the depths of a profound and tender woe. Millions felt that they had lost a brother, or a father, or a dear personal friend. It was a grief that brought the nation more into family sympathy than it had been since the days of the Revolution. Men came together in public meetings, to give expression to their grief. The day on which the murder was announced to the country was Saturday; and on Sunday all the churches were draped with mourning; and from every pulpit in the land came the voice of lamentation over the national loss, and of eulogy to the virtues of the good President who had been so cruelly murdered. There were men engaged in the rebellion who turned from the deed with horror. Many of these had learned something of the magnanimity of Mr. Lincoln's character; and they felt that the time would come when the South would need his friendship. These regarded his death as a great calamity; but it must seem doubtful whether those who could starve helpless prisoners, and massacre black soldiers after they had surrendered, and murder in cool blood hundreds of Union men, for no crime but affection for the government which Mr. Lincoln represented, could have been greatly shocked by his assassination. They made haste, however, to disown and denounce the deed; and pretended to regard it, not as an act of the rebellion, but as the irresponsible act of a crazed desperado.

After the death of the President, his body was removed to the White House, from which he had gone on the previous evening, under such happy circumstances. A room had been prepared for its reception; and there it was placed in a coffin, which rested upon a grand catafalque. The affection and grief of the people were manifested by offerings of flowers, with which the room was kept constantly supplied. On Monday, the seventeenth, a meeting of congressmen and others was held at the Capitol, presided over by Hon. Lafayette S. Foster of Connecticut. A committee, of which Senator Sumner of Massachusetts was chairman, was appointed to make arrangements for the funeral; and this committee reported at an adjourned meeting, held at four o'clock in the afternoon, that they had selected as pall-bearers Messrs. Foster, Morgan, Johnson, Yates, Wade, and Conness, on the part of the Senate, and Messrs. Dawes, Coffroth, Smith, Colfax, Worthington, and Washburne, on the part of the House. They also presented the names of gentlemen, one from each state and territory of the Union, to act as a congressional committee, to accompany the remains to their final resting-place in Illinois.

Meantime, the body of the President had been embalmed; and, at ten o'clock, on Tuesday morning, the White House was thrown open, to give the people an opportunity to take their farewell of the familiar face, whose kind smile death had forever quenched. At least twenty-five thousand persons availed themselves of this liberty; and thousands more, seeing the crowd, turned back unsatisfied. Hundreds of those who pressed around the sacred dust, uttered some affectionate word, or phrase, or sentence. The rich and the poor, the white and the black, mingled their tokens of affectionate regard, and dropped side by side their tears upon the coffin. It was humanity weeping over the dust of its benefactor.

On Wednesday, the day of the funeral, all the departments were closed, all public work was suspended, flags were placed at half-mast, and the public buildings were draped with mourning. The funeral services were held in the East Room, which was occupied by the relatives of the deceased (with the exception of Mrs. Lincoln, who was too much prostrated to leave her room,) and by governmental and judicial dignitaries, and such high officials from the states as had gathered to the capital to pay their last tribute of respect to the illustrious dead. The ceremonies were conducted with great solemnity and dignity. The scriptures were read by Rev. Dr. Hale, of the Episcopal church; the opening prayer was made by Bishop Simpson, of the Methodist church; the funeral address was delivered by Rev. Dr. Gurley, of the Presbyterian church which Mr. Lincoln and his family had attended; and the closing prayer was offered by Rev. Dr. Gray, the chaplain of the Senate, and the pastor of a Baptist church. Among those present from the states were Governors Fenton of New York, Andrew of Massachusetts, Parker of New Jersey, Brough of Ohio, Oglesby of Illinois, and Buckingham of Connecticut. Dr. Gurley's tribute was a noble one--entirely worthy of the occasion. "Probably no man since the days of Washington," said he, “was ever so deeply and firmly imbedded and enshrined in the hearts of the people as Abraham Lincoln. Nor was it a mistaken confidence and love. He deserved it; deserved it well; deserved it all. He merited it by his character, by his acts, and by the tenor and tone and spirit of his life. *** His integrity was thorough, all-pervading, all-controlling and incorruptible.” Speaking of the great national emergency in which Mr. Lincoln was called to power, he said: “He rose to the dignity and momentousness of the occasion; saw his duty as the chief magistrate of a great and imperiled people; and he determined to do his duty and his whole duty, seeking the guidance, and leaning upon the arm, of Him of whom it is written—He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Yes, he leaned upon His arm. He recognized and received the truth that the kingdom is the Lord's.”

At the close of the ceremonies in the White House, the august personages present, and various bodies of civil and military officials, joined in the procession which accompanied the sacred remains to the Capitol. It was the most impressive procession that ever passed through the grand avenue which leads from the presidential mansion to the Capitol. The avenue was cleared; and every piazza, window, veranda, and house-top, was filled with eager but mournful faces. Funereal music filled the sweet spring air; and this was the only sound, except the measured tread of feet, and the slow roll of wheels upon the pavement. This procession was so long that the head of it had begun to disperse at the Capitol, before the rear had passed the Treasury Department. As the hearse, drawn by six gray horses, reached the Capitol grounds, the bands burst forth in a requiem, and were answered by minute-guns from the fortifications.

The body of the President was borne into the rotunda, where Dr. Gurley completed the religious exercises of the occasion. Here the remains rested, exposed to public view, but guarded by soldiery, until the next day. Thousands who had had no other opportunity to take their farewell of the beloved dust thronged the Capitol all night. The pageant of the day, in many of its aspects, was never paralleled upon this continent. Nothing like it--nothing approaching it—had ever occurred in this country, if, indeed, in the world.

While these funeral services and ceremonies were in progress in Washington, similar ceremonies were observed in every part of the country.

Churches were thrown open, where prayer and sermon and music united in the expression of affection for the dead, and lamentation for the national loss. Great public gatherings were held, in which the memory of the good President was celebrated in impulsive speech or studied eulogy. The whole nation suspended its business, and gave itself up to the mournful services and associations of the day. Never had such a funeral been given to a national ruler. Never had died a man who received such testimonials of universal affection and grief. A whole nation mourned its dead. One thought enthralled every heart—the thought of a great, good man–the father of his people-cruelly murdered; and all animosities were overwhelmed in the general grief. All detraction was hushed; and every heart that had done him wrong, made its amends to his memory, and won peace for itself, by awarding to him his just meed of praise.

As there was never such a funeral as this, so there was never such a procession. That which moved from the White House, on the nineteenth, was but the beginning of a pageant that displayed its marvelous numbers and its ever-varying forms, through country, and village, and city, winding across the territories of vast states, along a track of more than fifteen hundred miles. The President was to be borne back to

« PreviousContinue »