How Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Train Journey Made History

How Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Train Journey Made History

On the 150th anniversary of that trip, historian Adam Goodheart reflects on the rail splitter’s special connection to railroads.


3 - 12


Social Studies, Civics, U.S. History, Storytelling


Lincoln Funeral Train

President Abraham Lincoln's funeral train shown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his body was taken to military hospitals there and York, Pennsylvania.

Photography by Picture History/Newscom
President Abraham Lincoln's funeral train shown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his body was taken to military hospitals there and York, Pennsylvania.
Leveled by
Selected text level

On April 14, 1865, United States President Abraham Lincoln was killed. A week later, a train left Washington, D.C. It carried his body to be buried in Springfield, Illinois.

In 2015, I followed its route to write this article.

Early in my journey, I found a railroad spike near the tracks. It was probably only a few decades old. Still, I picked it up and kept it. I liked its look. It was rough and with sharp angles. It reminded me of Lincoln, the United States' great "railroad president."

In a way, Lincoln and the new technology grew up together. The first major railroads were built in the 1830s. At the time, Lincoln was 27 years old and was a state legislator. Already, he wanted the country to build railroads. He later worked as a lawyer for several railroad companies.

In 1861, he became president. He went to Washington by train. Since Lincoln's election in November 1860, seven southern states had already left the Union. They formed the Confederacy. On his trip, Lincoln stopped and made speeches. He tried to tell Americans that the Union would stay together.

About 48,280 kilometers (30,000 miles) of track had been laid down. It was a sign that the U.S. economy was changing. Factories helped the North leap ahead of the South. The country planned to build the train line from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast.

The funeral trip reminded people of Lincoln's earlier journey.

Train Route Carried Enlaved People to Freedom

On the second day, the train crossed from Maryland to Pennsylvania. That was the border between North and South. Enlaved people rode to freedom on those tracks. During the Civil War, trains carried wounded soldiers. The Civil War was fought between the North and South over slavery.

Part of that stretch of track still survives. The track was recently repaired. A copy of an 1860s train travels along part of it. I rode aboard the locomotive.

We rode through the Pennsylvania fields. We passed an old man with a hoe in a vegetable patch. A teenager held up his iPad to record video.

On the 1865 trip, two train cars made the trip. One car carried officers and members of the Lincoln family. The other was the funeral car. It was called the United States. The car was built to carry Lincoln when he was alive. He rode in it only after death.

For the funeral trip, it was draped in black cloth. It also carried the body of Willie Lincoln. He was the third son of President Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. Willie had died in Washington in 1862, when he was 11 years old. His body was sent to be reburied with his father.

Connecting with the President

The funeral train passed through towns and villages. People kneeled by the side of the tracks, saying prayers. Americans felt connected with Lincoln. Like him, they had suffered through four years of war. Soldiers left from train stations to go to war. Many people saw sons and brothers there for the last time. It was there that people brought the bandages, clothing, food, and flags for the war. It was there that the first news of battles arrived. The news was brought by the telegraph lines that ran along the tracks.

Now most of the trains have disappeared. People go by cars instead. Many old villages grew up around train stations. They are disappearing, now that trains have stopped.

In Elgin, Illinois, I met David Kloke. He built the copy of the Lincoln locomotive. Now, he was finishing a copy of Lincoln's funeral car. It was dark red, almost a chocolate color, with gold.

On May 2, 2015, Kloke's car was in Springfield. It was there to reenact the Lincoln funeral. An empty coffin was unloaded onto a wagon. It was taken to Oak Ridge Cemetery the next day.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources