Lincoln’s Whistle-Stop Trip to Washington
On the way to his inauguration, President-elect Lincoln met many of his supporters and narrowly avoided an assassination attempt
In February, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln traveled from Springfield to Washington, visiting his supporters and finding his voice on his way to taking the oath of office on March 4.
Monday, February 11, 1861
• Lincoln Home
At approximately 7:30 a.m., President-elect Abraham Lincoln leaves for the railway station without his wife, who will join him later.
• Springfield Train Station
As Lincoln boards the train at Springfield's Great Western Railroad depot, he says to the crowd, “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything... I now leave.. with a task before me greater than that which rested upon [George] Washington.”
• Decatur Train Depot
• Tolono Train Station
• Vermilion Country Train Depot
• State Line City, Indiana
• Lafayette, Indiana
After being joined by a committee of Indiana politicians in State Line City, Lincoln speaks before a crowd in Lafayette, “While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintenance of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag, and permit me to express the sentiment that upon the union of the States, there shall be between us no difference. “
• Thorntown, Indiana
• Lebanon, Indiana
• Zionsville, Indiana
• Indianapolis, Indiana
Lincoln arrives at 5 p.m., welcomed by Gov. Oliver Morton and a 34-gun salute. He joins a procession of 20,000 state legislators, public employees, soldiers, firemen and others. For the first time in his journey, he temporarily loses his copies of his Inaugural address.
With Mrs. Lincoln alongside him, he boards the train en route to Cincinnati at 11 a.m. the following morning.
Tuesday, February 12, 1861
• Shelbyville, Indiana
• Greensburg, Indiana
• Morris, Indiana
• Lawrenceburg, Indiana
• Cincinnati, Ohio
At a public reception held by the German Industrial Association, Lincoln says, “I deem it my duty...that I should wait until the last moment, for a development of the present national difficulties before I express myself decidedly what course I shall pursue.”
His reluctance to make definitive public statements on the secession crisis was an ongoing theme in his remarks on this journey.
Escorted by members of the Ohio legislature, Lincoln departed on the Little Miami Railroad at 9 a.m. the following morning.
Wednesday, February 13, 1861
• Milford, Ohio
• Miamiville, Ohio
• Loveland, Ohio
• Morrow, Ohio
• Corwin, Ohio
• Xenia, Ohio
• London, Ohio
• Columbus, Ohio
A crowd of 60,000 greets Lincoln in Columbus, where he speaks to the public from the steps of the state capitol, but his address is curiously out of touch with reality.
“It is a consoling circumstance that when we look out there is nothing that really hurts anybody, Lincoln says. We entertain different views upon political questions, but nobody is suffering anything.”
He leaves shortly before 8 a.m. the next morning on a rainy day to Pittsburgh.
Thursday, February 14, 1861
• Newark, Ohio
• Frazeysburg, Ohio
• Dresden, Ohio
• Coshocton, Ohio
• Newcomerstown, Ohio
• Uhrichsville, Ohio
• Cadiz Junction, Ohio
• Steubenville, Ohio
• Wellsville, Ohio
• Rochester, Pennsylvania
• Allegheny City, Pennsylvania
On the trip to Pittsburgh, Lincoln is delayed two hours because of a broken-down freight train. He arrives in Allegheny City (now part of Pittsburgh) at 8 p.m. and takes a carriage across the river into the steel city.
• Monongahela House, Pittsburgh
Lincoln is awestruck by the size and strength of the crowds greeting him on the streets of Pittsburgh. He says in the lobby of the Monongahela House, “I could not help thinking, my friends, as I traveled in the rain through your crowded streets, on my way here, that if all that people were in favor of the Union, it can certainly be in no great danger -- it will be preserved.”
Friday, February 15, 1861
• Rochester, Pennsylvania
• Wellsville, Ohio
• Alliance, Ohio
His remarks in Alliance have a familiar ring, “I appear before you merely to greet you and say farewell... If I should make a speech at every town, I would not get to Washington until some time after the inauguration.”
At other towns, he apologizes to the crowd for his hoarse voice. In Wellsville, he declines to make a speech as he had already done so when he stopped on his way to Pittsburgh.
• Ravenna, Ohio
• Hudson, Ohio
• Weddell House, Cleveland
Amidst a snow storm, Lincoln arrives in Cleveland to another large crowd. In spite of his farewell comments in Springfield, he once again appears to underestimate the severity of the situation, telling the adulatory group, “The crisis, as it is called, is altogether an artificial crisis.”
For the second time, Lincoln's inaugural address is thought to have been lost by Robert Lincoln. He departs town at 9 a.m. the following morning
Saturday, February 16, 1861
• Willoughby, Ohio
• Painesville, Ohio
• Madison, Ohio
• Geneva, Ohio
• Ashtabula, Ohio
The crowds in Ashtabula call for Mrs. Lincoln to make an appearance from the train car, but the President-elect replies that he “should hardly hope to induce her to appear, as he had always found it very difficult to make her do what she did not want to.”
• Conneaut, Ohio
• Girard, Pennsylvania
• Erie, Pennsylvania
• North East, Pennsylvania
• Westfield, New York
Legend meets lore when the now bearded Lincoln meets 12-year-old Grace Bedell, the young girl who “advised him to let [his] whiskers grow.”
“Acting partly upon her suggestion, I have done so,” Lincoln said in Westfield. “And now, if she is here, I would like to see her.”
As a contemporary newspaper report said, the two meet and “he gives her several hearty kisses ... amid the yells of delight from the excited crowd.”
• Dunkirk, New York
• Silver Creek, New York
• Buffalo, New York
Lincoln is greeted by former president Millard Fillmore and 10,000 supporters. He spends the night at the American House and observes the Sabbath the next day with Fillmore at a local Unitarian church.
He leaves Buffalo at 5:45 in the morning on Monday, February 18 with newspaper man Horace Greeley onboard.
Monday, February 18, 1861
• Batavia, New York
• Rochester, New York
• Clyde, New York
• Syracuse, New York
• Utica, New York
• Little Falls, New York
• Fonda, New York
• Amsterdam, New York
• Schenectady, New York
• Albany, New York
In spite of an enthusiastic welcome in the state capital, Mr and Mrs. Lincoln resolve never to return to Albany, as their trip was marred by political bickering between state legislators.
Tuesday, February 19, 1861
• Troy, New York
• Hudson, New York
• Rhinebeck, New York
• Poughkeepsie, New York
• Fishkill, New York
• Peekskill, New York
• Hudson River Railroad Company, New York City
“I shall not easily forget the first time I ever saw Abraham Lincoln... From the top of an omnibus (driven up on side, close by, and blocked by the curbstone and the crowds) I had, I say, a capital view of it all and especially of Mr. Lincoln: his looks and gait; his perfect composure and coolness; his unusual and uncouth height; his dress of complete black, stovepipe hat pushed back on his head; dark-brown complexion; seamed and wrinkled yet canny-looking face; black, bush head of hair; disproportionately long neck; and his hands held behind, as he stood observing the people.”
-- Walt Whitman
• Astor House, New York City
An estimated 250,000 people watch Lincoln's 11-car procession to the Astor House, where me meets with William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post.
Wednesday, February 20, 1861
• Academy of Music, New York City
Earlier in the day, Mrs. Lincoln and her children visit P.T. Barnum's museum. That evening, President-elect Lincoln heads to the Academy of Music to take in a new Verdi opera. After the first act, the entire audience and cast sings “The Star Spangled Banner” in honor of the special guest.
• City Hall, New York City
Before leaving for City Hall, Lincoln meets with Joshua Dewey, 94, who voted in every presidential election since George Washington's.
At City Hall, he tells Mayor Fernando Wood and the city council, “There is nothing that can ever bring me willingly to consent to the destruction of this Union.”
• Astor House
Thursday, February 21, 1861
• Cortland St. Ferry
• Jersey City, New Jersey
• Newark, New Jersey
• Elizabeth, New Jersey
• Rahway, New Jersey
• New Brunswick, New Jersey
• New Jersey State House, Trenton
“This body is composed of a majority of gentlemen who, in the exercise of their best judgment in the choice of a Chief Magistrate, did not think I was the man... Nevertheless...they came forward here to greet me as the constitutional President of the United States ... the representative man of the nation, united by a purpose to perpetuate the Union and liberties of the people.”
-- Abraham Lincoln
• Bristol, Pennsylvania
• Kensington Depot, Philadelphia
• Continental Hotel
Lincoln rides to the Continental Hotel and speaks to 100,000 supporters. An observer remarks, “We are confident that not one person in the crowd below heard one word of Lincoln's speech.”
That evening, Frederick W. Seward delivers a letter from his father, Sen. William Seward, that discusses a plot uncovered to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore. The railroad company's detectives support this intelligence. He pledges to consider altering his schedule, but insists on fulfilling his engagements in Philadelphia and Harrisburg.
Friday, February 22, 1861
• Independence Hall
Lincoln goes by carriage to Independence Hall, where, inspired by his surroundings, he says, “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodies in the Declaration of Independence.”
Before leaving, he raises a new flag of 34 stars (Kansas had just been admitted three weeks earlier on January 29, 1861) over Independence Hall.
• Philadelphia Train Station
With Detective Allen Pinkerton accompanying, Lincoln leaves for Washington, via Baltimore. Telegraph lines out of the city are cut to prevent word of the trip from spreading south.
• Leaman Place, Pennsylvania
• Lancaster, Pennsylvania
• Pennsylvania State House, Harrisburg, PA
As per his schedule, Lincoln appears before the state legislature and Gov. Andrew J. Curtin and says, “It shall be my endeavor to preserve the peace of this country.”
New plans have been drawn up for Lincoln's arrival into Washington. His initial response: “Unless there are some other reasons besides ridicule, I am disposed to carry out Judd's plan.”
He boards a special train headed back to Philadelphia, where he will connect with an 11 p.m. train to the nation's capital.
Saturday, February 23, 1861
• President Street Station, Baltimore, MD
• Washington, DC
Lincoln has breakfast with Sen. Seward, telegraphs his wife with news of his safe arrival, and sits for Mathew Brady, photographer.
The President-elect was widely ridiculed for his secretive entrance into Washington. Both newspapers and the general public were worried they had once again elected a weak, indecisive commander-in-chief. Fortunately for the Union, the fears were unfounded.