The Iron Brigade’s 24th Michigan Infantry Served in the Honor Guard for Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral in Springfield, Illinois
In February of 1865, the 24th Michigan Infantry was reassigned from duty at Petersburg, Virginia to Springfield, Illinois. The 24th Michigan had been part of the Iron Brigade of five Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan regiments that had gained fame at great cost while fighting in the Army of the Potomac. Over time, with units being reassigned and regiments combined due to attrition, the brigade didn’t exist in its original form in the latter stages of the Civil War. The 24th Michigan left the fighting for good when it was sent to Springfield to perform guard and garrison duty at a Draft Rendezvous, a camp where conscripted men were sent for examination and acceptance into the army.
If they had been performing this duty at any other Draft Rendezvous, the men of the 24th Michigan would have finished out the war with a generally quiet and uneventful assignment far from the fighting. But then on April 14th, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Lincoln’s home town of course was Springfield, and he was to be buried there in the city’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. An honor guard was needed for the funeral procession to the cemetery. The 24th Michigan was chosen to serve in this honor guard.
Other units stationed in Springfield that were assigned to the honor guard were Company E of the 23rd Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps, the 146th Illinois Infantry, and Company C of the 42nd Wisconsin Infantry. The Veteran Reserve Corps consisted of soldiers who were unfit for active campaigning in the field due to illness or wounds received, but were still capable of performing in a non combat role. The 146th Illinois and 42nd Wisconsin had both been in service since September 1864, but both units were assigned to guard duty in Illinois the entire time. It was more than appropriate that the soldiers of the 24th Michigan, who had fought at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign, and Petersburg, participated in the honor guard of the fallen President, representing those who had “borne the battle” as Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address.
After the state funeral in Washington DC, the President’s body was placed on board a funeral train to begin its long journey home to Springfield, making stops in 10 cities along the way, including Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, Albany , Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Public viewings were held in each city, with enormous crowds of mourners. The funeral train finally pulled into Springfield on May 3rd. The next day, the last funeral was held at the Illinois State Capitol building, and the procession with the honor guard made the long walk to the cemetery. The procession, led by Major General Joseph Hooker, included thousands of politicians, military officers, foreign dignitaries, civil authorities, academics, and ordinary citizens from all walks of life.
Lincoln’s remains were placed in the receiving vault at Oak Ridge Cemetery on a temporary basis until a permanent tomb was built. The 24th Michigan returned to guard duty and was mustered out on June 30th, 1865.
Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Michigan 1865-66 Volume I
A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick Dyer
History of the Twenty-Fourth Michigan of the Iron Brigade by O.B. Curtis
Lincoln Memorial. The Journeys of Abraham Lincoln: From Springfield to Washington, 1861, as President Elect; and from Washington to Springfield, 1865, as President Martyred by William T. Coggeshall
The Iron Brigade: A Military History by Alan T. Nolan