President Garfield’s funeral train passed through York County PA
James A. Garfield has always been a favorite subject of mine. He was a major general in the Union army during the American Civil War and then the 20th President of the United States, defeating another Civil War hero, Winfield S. Hancock of Gettysburg fame.
A fellow Buckeye, his home along U.S. Route 20 in Mentor, Ohio, was about two miles from my house and I frequently visited “Lawnfield” for Civil War events and living history encampments. The Republican Garfield was among a string of Ohio-born Civil War generals and officers who later became president. His time in office was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1881 when he was shot in a train station in Washington, D.C. on July 2. Garfield had been in office only four months. Poor medical practices may have contributed to his subsequent death in September.
On Friday evening, September 23, 1881, his funeral train passed through York County, Pa. en route to Cleveland, where Garfield was to be buried.
Garfield’s funeral train is shown in this contemporary engraving from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, a popular journal of the late 19th century.
Here is a passage from author William Ralston Balch’s The Life of James Abram Garfield, Late President of the United States. The book was published only months after Garfield’s death.
“All along the route people crowded the sides of the track with uncovered heads. Never before was such national mourning.
In the depot at Baltimore were the Mayor and Common Council of the city, officers and employes of the custom-house, post-office, and the civil and naval service of the Government, five posts of the Grand Army of the Republic, comprising about five hundred men, and the officers of the Fifth Maryland Regiment in uniform, all wearing crape [crepe].
A stop of ten minutes was made to change engines, and at 6.44 the train again started on its way to the West. For the distance of nearly a mile on the outskirts of the city the sides of the track were crowded with men, women and children. The train passed Mount Vernon, on the Northern Central Road, at 6.49, Mount Washington six minutes later, and Parkton at 7.29.”
Garfield’s funeral train at that moment was following the same route on the Northern Central Railroad that back in 1865 was used by a similar train carrying the remains of Garfield’s commander-in-chief, President Abraham Lincoln, the only other president (at that time) to be assassinated. As with Lincoln, large crowds gathered along the railroad throughout York County to watch the passing of the train.
Back to the narrative:
“New Freedom was reached at 8 o’clock, Hanover Junction at 8.13.30, York at 8.32.30, Summit at 8.43, Goldsboro at 9.02, and Bridgeport, opposite Harrisburg, at 9.18. The City Grays of Harrisburg, the two posts of the Grand Army of the Republic of the city, and the several Republican and Democratic clubs marched over the bridge to Bridgeport, and were waiting at the depot when the train passed. As the train appeared in sight around a bend of the river a short distance below Bridgeport, a cannon on Hargest Island, in the middle of the river, broke the silence of the night, and the bells from every steeple in Harrisburg and Bridgeport began to toll.
This tribute was continued until the funeral train passed out of sight. Marysville, seven miles west of Harrisburg, was reached at 9.31, and here a stop was made of 14 minutes to secure a new locomotive, and a new crew of train men. At 9.46 the train left Marysville and proceeded on its journey.”
Garfield’s statue and final resting place in Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery remains popular with tourists and Civil War and presidential buffs.