The coffin viewed by millions

President Lincoln’s coffin was tailor made for his body — 18 inches across and 6 foot, 6 inches long, two inches longer than the body.

The mahogany wood coffin was lined with lead and covered with black broadcloth. Pallbearers could lift it by four massive silver handles. This was inscribed on a silver plate: Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the United States, Born Feb. 12, 1809, Died April 15, 1865.

The president’s head lay on a white silk pillow and the body rested on plaited satin.

He was dressed in the black suit he wore to his inaugural, and petals from roses, early magnolias and lilies were strewn over the body.


New bridegroom sums it up

Five days after his wedding to Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln ended a letter to another lawyer with this line: “Nothing new here, except my marrying, which, to me, is a matter of profound wonder.”

Source: Chicago History Museum

A do-over for wooden vessels

The naval battle that started on this day in 1862 changed naval history worldwide.

After the Battle of Hampton Roads, Britain and France stopped construction of wood-hulled naval vessels and constructed warships with metal shielding. The heavy gun mounted to fire in all directions began popping up on warships around the world.

The battle fought on March 8-9, 1862 at Hampton Roads in Virginia was the most important naval battle of the Civil War. The Confederates attempted to break a Union blockade of Norfolk and Richmond with an innovative ironclad ram.

The ironclad CSS Virginia attacked the USS Cumberland off Newport News, Va., with its 1,500-pound iron ram. It smashed a hole in the Cumberland’s wooden hull, but dislodged its ram in the attack.

The Virginia then steamed toward the USS Congress, which purposely ran aground to avoid sinking. Unable to maneuver, the ship was hit by Confederate fire until the Virginia retired for the night.

Before morning, a new federal vessel slipped into the area. The USS Monitor, a strange new ship, took its place with the Union vessels. The next morning, the Virginia was, once again, ready to assault the Northern ships, but the ironclad USS Moniotr was bearing down on it with a large rotating gun turret.

The two new ironclad ships attacked each other for several hours, until the Monitor headed off for a safe port. The Virginia, short on ammunition, headed for Norfolk before low tide.

The next day, the Virginia was intercepted by the Monitor and the two fought for hours without a victory. The blockade was not broken.

The battle ended in a draw that impacted naval warfare around the word.


Confederates lost despite numbers

The Battle of Pea Ridge on March 6-8, 1862, was one of the few Civil War battles for which the Confederates mustered the larger force — 16,500 to 10,500.

Despite that, the CSA lost the battle and suffered 2,000 casualties to the North’s 1,384.

It left Missouri and northern Arkansas in federal control.

The battlefield at Pea Ridge is now Pea Ridge National Military Park, one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields. 

White House makeover

The Lincoln White House looked similar to the present-day exterior, but evolving landscape design preferences are evident in these before-and-after photos:

The Lincoln White House:

white house lincoln


The Obama White House:

lawn white house




Stars and Bars debuts

The Stars and Bars, the first flag of the Confederacy, was flown for the first time on this day in 1861 when it was raised over the dome of the first Confederate capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.

Montgomery served as the Confederate seat of power until summertime when the humidity and mosquitoes proved tedious and the rebel government moved north to Virginia.


Inaugural fraught with danger

Abraham Lincoln stood in front of a half-finished Capitol dome 153 years ago today delivering his inaugural address as sharpshooters in green coats eyed the crowd.

Since his election four months earlier, seven states had left the union, believing a Republican president would abolish slavery.

Lincoln was cautious in his inaugural speech, hoping to keep border states and mountainous states that did not rely on slave labor in his fold. He promised not to interfere with slavery where it existed, but he took a strong stance against secession and the Southern seizure of federal forts and property.

“In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it. We are not enemies, but friends.”

Lincoln was president for six weeks when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, the first volley of the Civil War.


The first wartime draft

On this day in 1863, Congress passed the act that led to the first wartime draft of U.S. citizens in American history. It called for the registration of all males between the ages of 20 and 45 by April 1, including any immigrants who intended to apply for citizenship.

Exemptions from the draft were sold for $300 though, and wealthy men could also sidestep the draft by finding a substitute.

That clause in the conscription act that led to bloody draft riots in New York City four months later. Protesters were enraged that wealthy men could buy their way out of service.

The Confederate States of America also enacted a draft.


Confederate first lady does a 180

wives-varina-davis-c-1890         Varinia Davis

After Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured on May 10, 1865, he and his family were taken to Macon, Ga. Along the way, they passed Union soldiers singing, “We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree.”

Davis was imprisoned in Fort Monroe for almost two years, never allowed fresh air despite his deteriorating health. at least until newspapers wrote about his plight.

He was released on bail put up by newspaper publisher Horace Greeley, and all charges were dropped in 1869.

After Davis’ 1889 death, his wife Varina was recruited by her pal Kay Davis Pulitzer to write for Pulitzer’s husband’s popular New York World.

The presidential widow moved to New York City and became fast friends with Julia Grant, widow of President U. S. Grant, one-time leader of the Union forces.

As the two friends rode through Manhattan in an open carriage, New Yorkers delighted in pointing out the odd couple.

From Goat Alley to Soap Alley

There were 49 inhabited alleyways in Washington, D.C. before the Civil War, but that more than doubled as the Emancipation Proclamation brought 40,000 former slaves crowding into the city, looking for work.

The alleys, hidden from the view of the diplomats and businesspeople who walked the grand avenues, were often unnamed until the writers of city directories began christening them. They named some after the landlords who built apartments, small houses and shacks on the sites. Others were assigned more picturesque names. There was Prather’s Alley, Bate’s Alley, Soap Alley, Goat Alley, Pear Tree Alley and the probably aptly named Fighting Alley.

Source: From Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, D.C. by Kenneth J. Winkle