Posted By Norman Gasbarro on March 4, 2011
One hundred fifty years ago, on his way from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C. for his March 4th inauguration, President-elect Abraham Lincoln made a stop in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Then, as now, Harrisburg was both the county seat and the state capital.
The plan was for Lincoln to remain in Harrisburg overnight, and then proceed to Washington, D.C. via Baltimore on the Northern Central Railroad. But the belief of some that an assassination was planned en route led to a sudden change of plans. After a number of receptions in his honor on Friday evening, 22 February, Lincoln was secretly hustled out of Harrisburg – some say he was wearing a disguise – and he arrived in Washington at 6:30 the next morning. To do so, he had to retrace his route to Philadelphia via the Pennsylvania Railroad, be carried through Philadelphia streets secretly by carriage to the Broad and Prime Street train station, and then head south through Baltimore and thence to Washington. If he traveled through Baltimore quietly in the middle of the night, he would avoid the expected demonstrations against him as well as the possible assassination attempts that were more likely on the Harrisburg to Baltimore route.
Within a short time of this secret journey, news spread as to what had happened.
The following news reports come from the Philadelphia Inquirer of Saturday, 23 February and Monday, 25 February, 1861.
Applause was given when the train from Philadelphia reached Harrisburg at 2:00 P.M.
Grateful thanks were given by Lincoln for the warm reception and for the support given by Pennsylvania citizens in the Election of 1860. Was this welcome a good omen of things to come? To the Pennsylvania troops gathered there, he assured them that if they had to be used in war, it would be through no fault of his.
On the way from the outdoor welcoming reception to several hotels where receptions were planned, a man called out to Lincoln and he responded:
As they passed along a man exclaimed – “How soon are you going to send us down South?” Mr. Lincoln replied that there would be no occasion for such a course, but that he was glad to see that there was one ready to act, if the cause of his country should demand him. At this a number cried out, “we will all go, if you want us.” — Such was the cheering of the crowd that it was impossible to hear more.
Later in the evening, many excited visitors to Harrisburg were still in the city, although some had left on trains going in all directions. It is not known how many from the Lykens Valley area traveled to Harrisburg to get a glimpse of Mr. Lincoln and take part in the celebrations. Trains going north stopped in Millersburg and from there some may have connected with the train heading east to Lykens. [For rail routes see post on Oak Dale Station].
First, there were the whisperings of many. Who made the decision to abandon the plans to spend the night in Harrisburg? What were the rumored plots against Lincoln?
Meanwhile, back in Harrisburg, what was the reaction of the crowds there when they heard Lincoln had departed during the night? What of Mrs. Lincoln and the children, and the others who were left in Harrisburg?
The arrangements for transferring the ladies from the carriages to the special train at Harrisburg were miserable.
Owing to the parsimony of the Northern Central Railroad, no depot has ever been erected, and Mrs. Lincoln and friends were landed in the street, in the midst of a crowd, and handed on the platform of the cars, only to find the doors locked against them. Here for some fifteen minutes they were made to stand in the cold, the reporters were found sitting upon the baggage, which was piled up in the street, a large crowd was assembled here, and the excitement was intense.
The way Lincoln left Harrisburg was then discussed. After being driven from the West Philadelphia depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad to the Broad and Prime Street depot, two sleeping car tickets were purchased for the ride south.
Lincoln arrived in Washington at 6:00 A.M. and was driven to the Williard Hotel, where he took breakfast. After the long journey from Springfield, he was finally in Washington to prepare for his inauguration.
Information for this post was taken from news clippings from the Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 February 1861 and 25 February 1861, found in the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The West Philadelphia station of the Pennsylvania Railroad was in the approximate location of the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia today. The Broad and Prime Street station was at the corner of Broad St. and Washington Avenue; today, it is a vacant lot.