Lincoln’s inaugural train discussed at historical society annual dinner
By Fran Odyniec
Following chairperson Kathy Cosgray’s concluding membership committee statement that the Plain City Historical Society (PCHS) at 305 members is larger than the memberships of the Madison and Union counties’ historical societies, PCHS President Bernie Vance introduced the guest speaker at the society’s annual meeting held Tuesday, June 26 at Der Dutchman Restaurant.In keeping with the spirit of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, historian Scott Trostel, author of 43 books, took the podium to speak on one of Abraham Lincoln’s earliest adventures as chief executive-elect in 1860. Based on his book “The Lincoln Inaugural Train,” one of only two detailed accounts of this special train, Trostel gave the historical society a stop-by-stop account of Lincoln’s journey from his home in Springfield, Ill. to his inauguration in Washington, D.C.
The train made 11 stops on the 13-day journey covered 1,904 miles from Feb. 11 to Feb. 23, 1861.
“Lincoln was heard to say, ‘I’ll just catch a train from Springfield to Washington,’” Trostel recounted.
“His advisors told him that he would need to meet and greet people along the way,” he continued. “However, there were three assassination attempts enroute.”
Curiously enough, Trostel pointed out that there was no security for the president-elect as there would be today.
“It was up to the individual railroad to move him from place to place,” he said of the lack of, if any, security concerns.
Lincoln departed Springfield on the rainy morning of Feb. 11, 1861 on his special two-car inaugural train. The 52-year-old president-elect and his son, Robert, were seen off by 9,000 people who had gathered at the station. His wife and three other sons left that evening on a separate train.
The first assassination attempt occurred just before the train crossed the Illinois-Indiana state line.
“It was an attempt to derail the train on a trestle,” said Trostel. “The engineer found it (broken rails) as they went to get wood from a pile on the other side of the trestle. Locomotives back then were wood-burners.”
When the inaugural train arrived in Indianapolis, a throng of 50,000 well-wishers were there to greet Lincoln.
In Cincinnati, 160,000 people turned out on Feb. 12 for a huge parade and reception.
“There were choirs on street corners,” said Trostel, “and Lincoln stood and bowed to them.”
Leaving Cincinnati, Judd Pinkerton, part of a security detail that had been assigned to the train, informed Lincoln that he and his associates had exposed a plot to assassinate him.
“A carpet bag was left in Lincoln’s car,” Trostel continued. “It was a carpet bag with a bomb.”
Armed guards positioned one mile ahead of the train inspected the track and surroundings. They waved a flag when it was safe to proceed ahead.
On its way to Columbus via Xenia, the train stopped in London to take on water. A crowd with a band had gathered at the depot off South Main Street hoping for a few words from the old rail-splitter.
“He gave them a few words,” said Trostel. “‘I think you should enjoy this band’ he told the crowd.”
Upon his arrival in Columbus on Feb. 13, 60,000 people jammed the streets around the train station.
Lincoln was to address a joint-session of legislators at the State House, but the streets had themselves taken on some water. Local authorities enlisted the labor of prisoners to haul and put down gravel on High Street which raised the street’s height by four inches, said Trostel.
The train’s route then headed east to Pittsburgh, then north to Cleveland and Buffalo arriving in New York City on Feb. 19, where a crowd of 750,000 greeted him.
After a day of rest in New York City, the Lincoln train arrived in Philadelphia on Feb. 22 via Jersey City, Newark, and Trenton, N.J. At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Lincoln delivered a speech and raise the flag. That evening, the train arrived in Harrisburg, Pa., where Lincoln addressed the commonwealth’s legislators.
A third assassination planned for the train’s stop in Baltimore was discovered, and Pinkerton Guards transported the president-elect on another train under the cover of darkness arriving in Washington, D.C. at dawn on the morning of Feb. 23.
After his address to the PCHS, Trostel explained his fascination with Abraham Lincoln.
“As a boy I grew up in Piqua and lived six blocks from where the Lincoln Funeral Train stopped,” he said. “As president of the United States he’s there at a grave crisis in our country. He’s willing to make decisions on behalf of the people.”
For more information on Scott Trostel’s “The Lincoln Inaugural Train” published by CAM-TECH Publishing, go to www.canteenbooks.com/The_Lincoln_Inaugural_Train.