President Attends Funeral of Arsenal Fire Victims

June 19, 1864

President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton led the funeral cortege for 178 of the 21 women who died in the fire at Arsenal on June 17. Many of them were Irish-American teenagers – the youngest was just 13.   They were buried in Congressional Cemetery across the Anacostia River. The others received a Catholic burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Stanton had written the Arsenal commandant: “”You will not spare any means to express the respect and sympathy of the government for the deceased and their surviving friends.” The Washington Star reported:

The remains of the fifteen dead, not removed, were enclosed in handsome coffins, silver mounted, with three handles on each side, and a plate on the breast, bearing the name of the inmate when known. The coffins were lined with muslin, and were made in the Arsenal carpenter shop, in which the remains were placed on Saturday morning when they were removed to the platform. The platform was about fifteen feet by twenty feet from the ground, covered with duck and trimmed with mourning. Over this was a canopy, draped with the American flag and mourning.

Under this canopy the coffins were placed — eight containing the remains of those who could not be identified ranged along the north side of the platform, each bearing a label marked “unknown,” and on the opposite side seven other coffins, with the names of each as follows, commencing at the east end with Annie Bache, Julia McCuin, Mrs. Collins, Elizabeth Branagan, Lizzie Brahler, Eliza Lacey and Maggie Yonson….

On the other side of the platform were the eight coffins, each marked “unknown.” Here the afflicted relatives gathered, passing excitedly along the line of coffins, eagerly scanning each, as if hoping in some possible way to be able to designate the one containing the remains of their own dead.

The National Intelligencer reported: “No such demonstrations of popular sympathy has ever been expressed in Washington before as by this immense out-pouring of people to attend the funeral of the victims of this sad disaster, and the demonstration will long be remembered by those who witnessed it.

Every hack in Washington, we believe, was engaged on yesterday, and to the credit of the hackmen, it should be stated, that they held a meeting of their association on Saturday night and agreed as a body that not withstanding the extraordinary demand for their services, only the lowest ordinary rate of funeral fare should be charged.

President Lincoln telegraphs Mrs. Lincoln in New York: “Tad arrived safely, and all well.”

At night, presidential aide John Hay accompanied President Lincoln to Ford’s Theater for “a Sacred Concert of profane music at Ford’s…..The Tycoon & I occupied private box & (both of us) carried on a hefty flirtation with the Monk Girls in the flies.”

About this time, according to John Waugh, “Soon after Lincoln was nominated in June the two Pennsylvanian politicians, Thaddeus Stevens and Simon Cameron came calling. Stevens, blunt speaking always, told the president that the certainty of his reelection would ride on the vote in Pennsylvania in the state elections in October. He told the president that if he was to work there for him with a good will, Lincoln must promise to reorganize his cabinet and purge the hated Montgomery Blair.

Lincoln rose to his full six feet four inches and spoke emphatically, with gestures to match. ‘Mr. Stevens,’ he told his cantankerous and demanding visitor, ‘I am sorry to be compelled to deny your request to make such a promise. If I were even myself inclined to make it, I have no right to do so. What right have I to remove Mr. Blair, and not make a similar promise to any other gentleman of influence to remove any other member of my cabinet whom he does not happen to like?’

Has it come to this, Lincoln demanded, ‘that the voters of this country are asked to elect a man to be President — to be the Executive — to administer the government, and yet that this man is to have no will or discretion of his own? Am I to be the mere puppet of power? To have my constitutional advisers selected beforehand, to be told I must do this or leave that undone? It would be degrading to my manhood to consent to any such bargain— I was about to say it is equally degrading to your manhood to ask it.”

Published in: on June 19, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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