Friday, April 19, 2013

Abraham Lincoln's Body Lies in State, Capitol Rotunda, April 20, 1865

Abraham Lincoln's Coffin

On Tuesday, April 19, 1865,  pallbearers carried Lincoln's coffin to the Capitol rotunda.  Baskets of flowers were then brought in and arranged around the coffin, left in charge of an Honor Guard for the night. 

The next morning the Honor Guard was relieved by another detail and doors were thrown open to the public. Throughout the day a continuous stream of people, some 3,500 per hour, went up the steps of the eastern entrance to the rotunda. They ascended a platform surrounding the catafalque, passed to the head of the coffin and on to the west exit of the building. About forty thousand viewed the martyred President's body at the Capitol.

Union officer William Gamble wrote to his wife of his experience supervising the honor guard at the Capitol: 
Two generals with their staff officers were detailed every 24 hours to guard the corpse. I was detailed with another General for duty at 6 o'clock P.M. day before yesterday for 24 hours, and had charge of the body until six o'clock last evening, while it was lying in state in the rotunda of the capitol.
During my time of duty 39,000 people passed through and viewed the corpse, the front of the lid being open. The coffin was covered with flowers, and a staff officer stood at the head and another at the foot to keep people from touching the coffin or the corpse, and I assure you it was difficult to prevent it. I never saw such a variety of emotions in human nature in my whole life. Some would burst into tears and sobs, others would flush up with fire and indignation and mutter curses loud and deep on the cowardly assassins and their instigators.
While I was standing at the head of the coffin preventing people from touching it, one old lady over sixty years old watched me closely, and quick as thought darted down her head and kissed the President in spite of me. I could not find it in my heart to say a word to her, but let her pass on as if I did not see it. You can form no idea of the scenes I saw.
William Gamble

During the public viewing, Journalist Noah Brooks went "up the winding stairs that lead to the top of the great dome of the Capitol. Looking down from that lofty point, the scene was weird and memorable. Directly beneath me lay the casket in which the dead President lay at full length, far, far below; and, like black atoms moving over a sheet of gray paper, the slow-moving mourners, seen from a perpendicular above them, crept silently in two dark lines across the pavement of the rotunda, forming an ellipse around the coffin and joining as they advanced toward the eastern portal and disappeared."

Noah Brooks
At dark, after 13 hours of public viewing, the doors were closed and the guards for the night took up their positions.

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