Lincoln Boards Train for Washington

Monday February 11, 1861

President-elect Lincoln bade farewell to Springfield as he prepared to board a special train for Washington. As the Illinois Journal reported the departure, “It was a most impressive scene. We have known Mr. Lincoln for many years; we have heard him speak upon a hundred different occasions; but we never saw him so profoundly affected, nor did he ever utter an address, which seemed to us as full of simple and touching eloquence, so exactly adopted to the occasion, so worthy of the man and the hour. Although it was raining fast when he began to speak, every hat was lifted, and every head bent forward to catch the last words of the departing chief. When he said, with the earnestness of a sudden inspiration of feeling, that with God’s help he should not fail, there was an uncontrollable burst of applause.”

Lincoln wrote out his words later: “My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

An editorial in the New York Times stated: “The country looks eagerly to President Lincoln for the dispersion of the dark mystery that hangs over our public affairs. The people want something to be decided on — some standard raised — some policy put forward, which shall serve as a rallying point for the abundant but discouraged loyalty of the American heart. In a great crisis like this, there is no policy so fatal as that of having no policy at all.” Horace Greeley editorialized in the New York Tribune that Lincoln has “one of those minds that work, not quickly nor brilliantly, but exhaustively. Through this matter he has looked to the final conclusion. He sees that, however often rebellion may be suppressed at the South, it will never be ended so long as Slavery has an assured existence.”

“The scene at the depot before starting was impressive and touching in the last degree. Upward of a thousand people were assembled, and Mr. Lincoln, taking his place in one of the rooms at the station, bade farewell to his friends and neighbors, to the number of several hundreds, with an affectionate grasp of his hand. As the time approached for the departure of the train, he mounted the platform, and, in a brief and touching speech, which left hardly a dry eye in the assemblage, bade them farewell, invoking the assistance of Divine Providence in the difficult mission upon which he was embarking, and with visible emotion requested their prayers to the power which alone could bring day out of the night which had fallen upon us. As he entered the car, after a final adieu to Mrs. Lincoln and a few near friends, three cheers were given, every hat in the assemblage was lifted, and the crowd stood silent as the train moved slowly from the depot,” wrote Lincoln aide John Hay. “At the half dozen stations between Springfield and Decatur, there was no stoppage. There were assemblages, however, at each place, and the flying train was greeted with cheers and the waving of flags and handkerchiefs. At Decatur the train bowled into the depot, where apparently several thousand people, gathered from the surrounding country, had assembled, and the air rung with cheer on cheer. Mr. Lincoln left the car, moving rapidly through the crowd, shaking hands vigorously, and incurring embraces and blessings to an extent that must have given him a slight premonition of what was in store for him. No one could witness this frank, hearty display of enthusiasm without recognizing in the tall, stalwart Illinoisan the genuine Son of the West, as perfectly en rapport with its people now, with his purple honors and his imperial cares upon him, as when he was the simple advocate, the kindly neighbor, the beloved and respected citizen.

Lincoln friend Orville H. Browning wrote that he talked to Lincoln about secession as the train traveled east across the Illinois prairie. Browning wrote of “crowds of people at all the stations along the road, and an immense concourse here. I should think not less than 20,00 All stopped at Bates House — All the streets in front, and the halls and stairways of the house were so packed with an eager crowd that we could scarcely make our way through them.”

Aide John G. Nicolay wrote his fiance: “It is now 8 oclock at night, and we have been one day on the journey to Washington. We had a rather pleasant ride over the Railroad from Springfield here; saw crowds of people at every station, found the streets of this city full on our arrival (if it were during a campaign it would be called fifty thousand at least) through which with difficulty we made our way to the ‘Bates House’ (don’t I feel at home?) where I am writing this. The House is perfectly jammed full of people. Three or four ladies and as many gentlemen, have even invaded the room assigned to Mr. Lincoln, while outside the door I hear the crowd pushing and grumbling and shouting in almost frantic endeavors to get to another parlor in the door of which Mr. Lincoln stands shaking hands with the multitude. It is a severe ordeal for us, and increased about tenfold for him….”

State Senator.James D. Conner recalled that an Indiana delegation of which he was a part met the President-elect at the state line: “In the car he occupied there were only two or three people besides the committee. This afford us quite an opportunity to get acquainted with the president elect. Large numbers of people assembled at every station, and at every station the train made a stop. Mr. Lincoln never failed, when the car stopped, to go out on the platform and make a brief speech. The promptness, the high order, the adaptability of these short speeches — and there were many of them — astonished me. Mr. Lincoln seemed to be cheerful and composed. He talked very freely and entertainingly to the committee, interspersing his remarks with anecdotes. Several times when we were approaching a station Mr. Lincoln would be in the midst of conversation, perhaps engaged in telling a story. He would stop without finishing, go to the platform and make a short talk. As soon as the train was under way Mr. Lincoln would resume the seat and go on with the conversation or story just as if there had been no interruption. At one very small station the address was so brief that I can recollect every word of it. As he came out on the platform and greeted the crowd he said simply this: ‘Many people are asking what shall we do? Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.’”

The traveling entourage would overnight in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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