Lincoln’s death at the hands of an assassin was met with rejoicing in some parts of the country. In the newly occupied former Confederate states, many celebrated the killing as an act that could undo defeat. In St. Augustine, Florida’s oldest city, whites taunted freed blacks with the news and the promise that they would be re-enslaved. In New Orleans, a former slave owner told blacks that they would now be hung. United States Colored Troops faced the jeers of former Confederates who shouted that “Your father is dead.” 1
Pictures of Lincoln being lifted up to Heaven proliferated after Lincoln’s Good Friday death. Mourners compared Lincoln to Washington and Jesus.
Unionists sought to quiet dissent through violence. In St. Louis, soldiers shot people celebrating the assassination. A New York hotel fired its Irish waiters for their “Celtic talk approving Lincoln’s murder.” San Francisco Republicans rioted and attacked Democratic newspapers and the city was placed under military control. 2
Those who dissented from the “universal” mourning risked grave bodily harm. At least two hundred people were beaten, shot, assaulted or lynched for being seen by their neighbors as sympathetic to the assassin. One Union general even forbade the sale of images of John Wilkes Booth. 3
If Lincoln was now divine, his assassin was in league with the devil.
The assassination had a deep emotional effect on many immigrants in the Union army. Many felt a close personal tie to Lincoln. When Lincoln was running for reelection German immigrant Major General Carl Schurz wrote to a friend about his feelings for the president. Although Lincoln was now at the head of a triumphant army, Schurz wrote, “he will never be dangerous to a liberal government.” Far from wanting to set himself up as a dictator, Schurz said, “he personifies the people, and that is the secret of his popularity.” Schurz offered his friend a “prophecy”:
In fifty years, perhaps much sooner, Lincoln’s name will be inscribed close to Washington’s on this American Republic’s roll of honor. And there it will remain for all time. The children of those who persecute him now will bless him. 4
Three days after Lincoln’s death, Schurz wrote home to his wife that he could not send a letter to her sooner because of a “gloom that has settled upon me since the arrival of the news of the murder of Lincoln.” In what must have been a cry from the heart, he scribbled “Our good, good Lincoln!” He told his wife that a “thunderclap from the blue sky could not have struck us more unexpectedly and frightfully.” Although the Union armies had now subdued the main Confederate armies, Schurz wrote that “Our triumph is no longer jubilant.”5
Mourning ribbons were sold or made so that people in all parts of the country could show their participation in the national sorrow.
Schurz was in occupied Raleigh, North Carolina and he wrote that the city was put under a curfew because the officers feared that the soldiers would “vent their rage by setting fire to the city.” With bitter anger, Schurz wrote that:
The people of the South may thank God that the war is over. If this army had been obliged to march once more…not a single house would have been left standing in their path… It is fortunate that it is over. If the war were continued now, it would resemble the campaigns of Attila. 6
While Schurz’s letter was still on its way to his wife, she wrote to him that her community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania held a memorial service for Lincoln in the local cemetery followed by a procession to church. “We were all dressed in black, and I felt as though we were following an old, faithful father to his last resting- place. I could cry my heart out.” She told her husband that she had been suffering from an “overwhelming, irrepressible sorrow.” She said that she consoled herself by recalling that Lincoln was “the greatest of all emancipators.” 7
This mourning ribbon was worn in New York.
Francis Lieber, the German law professor who had written Lincoln’s laws of war, wrote that the reason the president was assassinated was “Slavery! Slavery!” Lieber had lived for many years in South Carolina and he said that slavery “had perverted the minds of the Southerners.” Its cruelties and violence had made them into “fiends and fools,” people who could contemplate assassination to force political change.8
News of Lincoln’s shooting had arrived in the North just as Jewish immigrants were beginning their Passover observances. Many Jews had joined other immigrants in voting against Lincoln in the 1860 election. The Republicans were tainted by their association with evangelical Protestantism and the Know Nothings. In his first term as president, Lincoln had consistently championed Jewish equality against Anti-Semitic institutions like the YMCA and prejudiced officials including Union hero Ulysses Grant. The president’s actions forced a reexamination of loyalties by immigrant Jews. In a tear-filled sermon after the assassination, the prominent Philadelphia Rabbi Isaac Leeser said that “Lincoln recognized in full our claims to an equality before the law.”9
The engine for the Lincoln Funeral Train.
After the assassination, Lincoln’s body had lain in state in Washington and there were two funerals in the capital city, but these would not be the only ceremonies. Lincoln was to be buried in Springfield, Illinois, where he had first come to national prominence as an anti-slavery advocate. The president’s body would be transported on a grand Funeral Train.10
At every large city it passed through by train, Lincoln’s body would be given a new funeral. The Funeral Train left Washington on April 21, 1865 and stopped first in Baltimore, where black mourners were harassed by racist crowds. It next went to Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and on April 24, the train reached New York.11
The Funeral Train at Harrisburg.12
There had been concerns that the Irish immigrant community in New York would boycott the Lincoln funeral procession when it came to the nation’s largest city. Instead the Irish came out in such great force to mourn Lincoln that a nativist diarist, Ellen Kean, complained that the Irish marched in “inconceivable numbers, they were never ending.” She was equally annoyed at the large numbers of Germans, Jews and Scots who paid their respects to the dead president. 13
New York City Hall on April 24, 1865. Lincoln’s body had been taken into the building shortly before this photo was taken.
Immigrants played a prominent role in the elaborate ceremonies in New York. When the body was brought to City Hall, a German immigrant chorus of nine hundred sang the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Wagner’s Tannhauser.14
Henry Raymond of the New York Times described the scene as the Germans “filled the charmed air with its sadly enchanting melody, the coffin was borne up the steps of the city Hall, and placed under the dome, draped, decorated, and dimly lighted, upon the place prepared for its reception.” 15
Immigrants and native-born, black and white, lined up outside City Hall for the chance to view the body. Raymond described the vast democratic wake:
Soon the doors were opened, and entering, one by one, in proper order, the citizens of the great metropolis came to look upon the illustrious dead. All through that day and the succeeding night the endless stream poured in, while outside the Park, Broadway, and the entire area of Printing House Square, reaching up Chatham Street and East Broadway as far as the eye could see, a vast throng of people stood silent and hopeless, but still expectant, of a chance to enter and see the body of the murdered President. Not less than one hundred and fifty thousand persons obtained admission, and not less than twice that number had waited for it in vain. 16
This is the only authenticated photo of Lincoln after his death. His body is in the rotunda of New York City Hall.
When the time came for Lincoln’s body to leave the city, a giant procession consisting of eight Divisions of marchers assembled to accompany the martyr. One entire Division was made up of the Irish. 17
Lincoln’s hearse after it left City Hall.
Twenty Jewish congregations and organizations joined in the procession. A Jewish newspaper estimated that 7,000 Jews marched. Roughly two-thirds of the city’s Jews were immigrants. 18
Police Chief John Kennedy, himself the son of an Irish immigrant, stationed a police guard around the African American contingent in the procession. He had been stabbed two years earlier by Irish rioters and he feared an attack on this most solemn of days. Fortunately the reception of the blacks was not as feared. “The part of the line which contained the colored citizens was almost everywhere greeted with irrepressible cheering and waving of handkerchiefs,” wrote the New York Post. “The populace spontaneously recognized the meanness and cruelty of the prejudice that would have shut them away from the equalizing sorrows of the bier….Fifth Avenue awarded them a continuous ovation.” 19
The funeral procession at Union Square. The two boys in the open window in the building in the upper left of the photo are believed to be Teddy Roosevelt and his brother, the father of Eleanor Roosevelt.
The sorrow was not confined to the route of the Funeral Train. In cities around the United States immigrants joined in mourning processions and memorial services. In San Francisco, fifteen thousand people processed through the streets, including a long line of prominent Chinese merchants in their carriages.20
The mourning went beyond the shores of the United States. In Clontarf in Ireland, a mass outdoor meeting was held “to express the sympathy of the people of Ireland with the…people of America.” Similar meetings were held in Dublin and Belfast which adopted resolutions expressing “sorrow” and “indignation” at the murder. The resolutions were sent to Irish communities in the United States. 21
Video: New York Reacts to the Lincoln Assassination
Video: The Pilgrim’s Chorus by Wagner Was Sung at Lincoln’s Funeral by a German Chorus
1. Mourning Lincoln Hardcover by Martha Hodes published by Yale University Press (2015) Kindle Location 1374 to 1384.; Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History Hardcover by Richard Wightman Fox published by W.W. Norton (2015); Bloody Crimes by James Swanson published by Harper (2010).
2. Mourning Lincoln Kindle Location 1459-1485
3. Swanson p. 240
4. Carl Schurz Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers Vol. 1 p. 251.
5. Carl Schurz Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers Vol. 1 p. 252-253.
6. Carl Schurz Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers Vol. 1 p. 252-253.
7. Carl Schurz Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers Vol. 1 p. 253-254.
8. Mourning Lincoln Kindle Location 2240-2267.
9. Lincoln’s Body page 67
12. The Funeral Train was one of the most photographed aspects of the mourning period.
13. Mourning Lincoln Kindle Location 2808.
14. Lincoln’s Body p. 71
15. Henry Raymond, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 709-710
16. Henry Raymond, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 709-710
18. Lincoln and the Jews: A History by Jonathan D. Sarna, Benjamin Shapell published by Thomas Dunne (2015) Kindle Location 4257-4272
19. New York Evening Post, April , 1865)
20. Lincoln’s Body p. 105
21. New York Irish American May 27 and June 10 1865; NY Irish American June 3, 1865 page 2.
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.