Thursday, April 30, 2015

What Was Our Family Doing When President Lincoln Came Through Town?

Lincoln's Funeral Car: A National Parks Service Photo.
     Throughout the long journey, entire populations of rural America were waiting alongside the tracks as the nine car funeral train slowly passed by (the funeral car was the 8th car). For example, officials of Richmond, Indiana, estimated its mourners at 15,000 - a number greater than the city's population - at 3:15 A.M. in the morning! Depending on conditions, the train usually traveled between 5 and 20 m.p.h. Everywhere there were arches draped in black stretched over the tracks. The grandest funeral spectacle in the history of the world ended with the closing of the tomb in Springfield.  (Excerpt from website of:
     Sometimes the impact of a significant historical event seems distant, not personal. We don't feel a close connection, even though those circumstances made a difference in our lives.  I was struck by an example of this recently.  I was reading about the activities planned for the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.   The 2015 commemoration retraces his funeral train route in 1865, which followed the 1,654 mile route Mr. Lincoln had traveled as president-elect in 1861 (with the deletion of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and the addition of Chicago).  The more I read my thoughts went to personal connections. How were the events of April 15 - May 4, 1865, the dates from Abraham Lincoln's death to his burial, directly related to my ancestors?  Who was living in the United States Lincoln Train, Internet Archive Book Imageduring that time?  Where were they?  What might they have been doing?  Could they have been a part of any of the funeral ceremonies? Might they have stood at the edge of the tracks near one of the bonfires as the train slowly made its way through the countryside?  What were the feelings of the people?  As I thought of more questions - I became more curious.   You know what happened then….  As of April 30, 2015, the 150th anniversary of the day Lincoln's Funeral Train stopped in Indianapolis, here's the story that I've uncovered:     
     The epic events of 1865 did directly impact our family.  Ancestors lived in Ohio and Indiana at the time of President Lincoln's death.  We had members of the Keen, Kuhn, Risch and Weber families residing in Zanesville, Ohio, and in Connersville, New Alsace and Indianapolis, Indiana.  Three men out of these families were Civil War soldiers.  Barney Kuhn, Daily Zanesville Courier, 21 Apr  1865Joseph Resch and Adam Weber served in the Union Army.  
     What else can we know about these families and how they might have reacted during this time? Beginning with the family living the furthest east, Lawrence and Elizabeth Keen and their eight children were in Zanesville, Ohio.  My great grandmother, Mary Anna,  was five years old. So, her memory of this event was most likely dim.  Lawrence, a shoemaker, probably discussed events of the day with his customers. His shop was on Main Street and I can imagine people gathering in town to express their shock and sorrow.  Zanesville wasn't  on or near the funeral train route, but memorials were held in many towns.  So Lawrence and Elizabeth may have gathered with members of the St. Nicholas Catholic  Church to mourn Abraham.  Nearly  30 million people attended memorial services around the country.  Many town newspapers carried not only the details of the assassination and the search for John Wilkes Booth over those eventful days, but editorial-type messages about the country's loss.  On the right is a column from the Daily Zanesville Courier, April 21, 1865. Not all of the people of the time were as struck with the loss of this president, but this editorial expresses the grief felt by most of the country. (Click on the news item to the right to read "Abraham Lincoln Is Dead.")
     The people of Connersville, Indiana, less than 200 miles west, probably reacted similarly to the residents of Zanesville. Our Kuhn family living  in Connersville included 15-year-old Charles and his parents and siblings.  Charles had immigrated to Indiana with his father and mother and five of his siblings only three years before.  One member of the family wasn't home at this time. 19-year-old Barney Kuhn was serving with the 16th Indiana Mounted Infantry in Louisiana.
     As far as this family's actions or feelings, we can only speculate.  In many small towns along the Lincoln Funeral Train route mourners lined the tracks. For instance, in eastern Indiana between Richmond and Indianapolis, Indiana, citizens stood solemnly at intervals such as Centreville, Germantown, Cambridge, Knightstown and Charlottesville.  The Lincoln funeral train's path would have taken it about 25 miles north of Connersville, Indiana.  Perhaps the Kuhns traveled to one of the nearby towns and helped to light bonfires along the train route
     Another line of our family residing in Indiana in 1865 were the Risches of New Alsace, Dearborn County, on the eastern border near Cincinnati, Ohio.  Mary Anna Risch (who became my great grandmother when she married Charles Kuhn in Indianapolis in 1875) was 14 years old when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  The Risch family wouldn't have had the chance to salute the funeral train in their small town either as the route was deliberately directed around that area.  Historians explain that there were "Copperheads" in Cincinnati, a group of people in the North opposed to the war on constitutional grounds and vocal about their views.  It was feared that there could be disruptions as Lincoln's train passed through, so the planners took the train on the path through Columbus, Ohio and Richmond, Indiana, instead.  Just a few months before these events of April 1865 this Risch family welcomed home from the war Joseph, Mary Anna's brother.  I'm sure they were still feeling relief that he made it home safely after three years with the 32nd Indiana Infantry.  When the news came of President Lincoln's assassination, Joseph was engaged in farming with his father, Mathias.  Due to his voluntary service in the Civil War, I would presume he felt a great sadness at hearing of President Lincoln's death.  Since the war was drawing to an end when he was killed, the uncertainties as to how life would proceed for many people must have grown tremendously.
     Lastly, I'll mention those living in Indianapolis. The state of Indiana having been the home of Abraham Lincoln from the age of 7 to 21, the sentiments for him were strong.  Many people welcomed him when he stopped in Indianapolis on his 52nd birthday, February 12, 1861, as he road his inaugural train to D. C.  Now, on April 30, 1865, Lincoln was visiting for the last time.  Adam and Amelia Weber had immigrated to the city just a few years earlier, in 1857.
     Lincoln's funeral train arrived early in the morning of April 30, 1865, at Union Station.  The coffin was brought by carriage to the State House to lie in state, so that mourners could pay their respects.  A portion of the ceremonies planned had to be canceled due to a downpour that day.  A military band was scheduled to play and hymns sung by the German Maennerchor.  Governor Oliver Morton was to saluteimage Lincoln in a speech as the president's coffin arrived.  These outdoor events were canceled.  But regardless of the weather, from early morning to late that night thousands of Hoosiers filed through the State House past the coffin to honor President Lincoln.
     Adam Weber was not one of the citizens who paid respects on April 30, 1865, at the State House in Indianapolis.  He was in Tennessee, six months away from being mustered out of the 143rd Indiana Infantry. But his wife, Amelia was at their home with their children, Henry, Amelia, and Theodore. In fact, Theodore turned one-year-old on that very day that Lincoln's funeral train arrived in Indianapolis.
     Do you think Amelia would have been able to take part in the ceremonies? I wonder if a neighbor might have kept her children so that she was able to wait with the throngs of her fellow citizens paying their respects. She lived very close to the activity.  If the lines stretched eastward from the State House at Washington Street and Capital Avenue, Amelia could easily have stood on the street in front of her home on South Delaware and seen the thousands of mourners two blocks north slowly advancing toward the State House.  One report tells of Sunday School children who came to see their president.  Could the 5 1/2 year old (later to be my great grandfather), Harry Adam Weber, have been one of those children?  Of course, we can't know those details. Nor the exact response of all of our family members.  As far as the general sympathies of the people in the vicinity of Indianapolis, I'm posting an expression of sorrow rom the Hancock Democrat, Greenfield, Indiana. (Click on the news item to the left to read: "The Nation's Grief.")
     Lincoln's funeral train left Indianapolis late on the night of April 30, moving on to a stop in Michigan City and Chicago and finally to Springfield, IL where he was laid to rest.  His funeral on May 4, 1865, was the end of this trip.  For that conclusion, here's an excerpt from: Abraham Lincoln's Assassination (
     The day of Mr. Lincoln's Springfield funeral was a scorcher. At 10:00 A.M. the doors to the State House were closed, and Mr. Lincoln's body was prepared for burial by the undertaker and embalmer. The coffin was carried to an elegant hearse (finished in gold, silver, and crystal) lent to Springfield by the city of St. Louis. The procession was led by Major-General Joseph Hooker and followed a zigzag route from the State House, past Mr. Lincoln's home, past the Governor's Mansion, and onto the country road leading to Oak Ridge Cemetery. The hearse was followed immediately by Old Bob wearing a mourning blanket. Mr. Lincoln's only two blood relatives in attendance that day were his son, Robert, and his cousin, John Hanks. Mrs. Lincoln was still in mourning in the White House. The procession was the largest spectacle the Midwest had ever seen. …After the funeral oration by Bishop Matthew Simpson and benediction by Dr. Phineas Densmore Gurley… The crowd then watched as the gates of iron and the heavy wooden doors of the tomb were closed and locked. It was over at last.
     I believe it's reasonable to surmise that the citizens of the United States, the Midwest and Indianapolis, including the Keens, Kuhns, Risches and Webers, must have felt insecure about the future during those days of April and May and for a considerable time thereafter.  We know there were difficult times for the country in trying to recover and reconstruct for many years.  Adam Weber and Barney Kuhn both returned a few months later to their homes in Indianapolis and Connersville.  They also both died tragically a few years later.  Lawrence, Elizabeth, Amelia, Charles, Mary Anna, Joseph and others in the family carried the memories of those days in the spring of  1865 with them for their lifetimes.  
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