Thirteen Days to Washington

28 Apr 2024 9:07 AM | Therese Orr (Administrator)

This article originally appeared in the pages of the Gettysburg Times, April of 2024. It was penned by Therese Orr of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, in the hopes of sharing the work the Fellowship does.

“I leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return.”

On November 6, 1860 telegraph lines spread the news across our still fledgling country: LINCOLN ELECTED! Thus began Lincoln’s journey to our nation’s capital that culminated in a serpentine trip of thirteen days from Springfield, IL to Washington, DC. It would be four long months before Lincoln’s inauguration.

During those months, Lincoln worked on his inaugural address; greeted the hordes of citizens who traveled to the Mecca that Springfield had become; learned of wild rumors of plots to prevent him from being officially declared President (perhaps even stealing the boxes containing the electoral vote certificates from the states); and, most alarmingly, received warnings of plots to kill him.              

On January 30, 1861, Lincoln visited his elderly stepmother, Sarah, who declared that she would never see him again, that his enemies would assassinate him. Lincoln assured Sarah that all would be well, to trust in the Lord.            

Finally, on the cold, rainy, gloomy day of February 11, 1861, Lincoln boarded the Presidential Special train and began his trip east. Before a crowd that was estimated to be between one hundred and one thousand people, Lincoln gave a farewell speech. In two minutes, nine sentences, he thanked friends and family for their support, spoke of the daunting challenge before him, and asked for their prayers. Then the train was off, with a very precise to the minutes schedule.          

A direct route to Washington was risky as it would take him through hostile Virginia. Instead, he would journey into New York state before turning south towards his ultimate destination. Due to the precise schedule, crowds lined the route and waited at stations when the train paused, even if only for a few minutes. He delivered brief remarks at many small towns along the route. Receptions occurred and he gave even longer speeches at cities and overnight stops in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Troy, Poughkeepsie, New York City, Trenton, Philadelphia and Harrisburg.             

Despite avoiding Virginia, danger still lay ahead at Baltimore. Informants learned that plans were underway to assassinate Lincoln as he traveled through the city. Railroad detective Allan Pinkerton was hired to foil the plot. He and eight detectives learned many more details of the assassination plot and finally informed Lincoln late on the night of February 21. However, he declined their recommendation to travel directly to Washington from Trenton, as he believed it was important to visit Philadelphia and Harrisburg.             

As he left his final meeting in Harrisburg on the evening of February 22, Lincoln donned a soft wool hat and an old coat. A small train replaced the Presidential Special and it sped towards Baltimore, its lamps extinguished. The train reached Baltimore around 3:30 a.m., where the cars would be pulled by horses through the downtown streets to reach the next station and continue the journey to Washington. This was the most dangerous part of his journey. At approximately 4:30 a.m. the train eased out of Baltimore and arrived safely in Washington at 6:00 a.m. on February 23.           

Lincoln had arrived. The long journey was over.

Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 Organization
P. O. Box 3372, Gettysburg, PA  17325


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