Shining a Light in the Darkness: The Church of the Epiphany and the Lincoln Assassination

Shining Light in the Darkness
The Church of the Epiphany and the Lincoln Assassination
By Tripp Jones, Archivist Emeritus

On Tuesday, April 14, we mark the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Just as the horrors of four long years of war seemed to be coming to an end, the nation was plunged again into darkness. What should have been a joyful Easter in 1865 turned into one of great sorrow. Located halfway between Ford’s Theatre and the White House, it will come as no surprise that The Church of the Epiphany was an eyewitness to the tragic events of April 1865. Listed below is a chronology of those fateful days highlighting some people of Epiphany (in italics) who sought to shine light in the darkness and bring healing to a suffering nation.

Friday, April 14 (Good Friday)

11am Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and newly appointed Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch attended a cabinet meeting with Lincoln. Later, both commented they had never seen the president so happy and cheerful. Fearing for the president’s safety, Secretary Stanton tried repeatedly to keep Lincoln from attending the theater that evening.

Afternoon Vinnie Ream was a 17-year old aspiring artist who Lincoln had befriended in the preceding months. She had been coming weekly to sketch the president. On that Friday, Vinnie was working at the White House on a bust of Lincoln, which was almost finished. Lincoln had commented to her how pleased he was with it. As Lincoln was leaving for Ford’s Theatre, Vinnie bade him good-bye, hoping he would enjoy the performance.

8pm There were several Epiphany people at Ford’s Theatre that night including John Downing, Jr., James P. Ferguson, William Ennis, Joseph B. Stewart, and Dr. AKA King.

10:13pm Joseph B. Stewart was sitting in the front row of the orchestra. Upon hearing the shot and seeing John Wilkes Booth jump from the presidential box to the stage, Stewart climbed over the orchestra pit and footlights and pursued Booth across the stage shouting, “Stop that man!” He stepped out the back door, only to see Booth ride away on a horse. Dr. AKA King was one of the first physicians to respond to the presidential box after the shot was fired. Dr. King helped carry Lincoln across the street to Petersen House. Secretary of State William Seward had been wounded at his home as part of a coordinated attack on government officials. Dr. Tullio Verdi tended to Seward’s serious, but non-life threatening injuries.

11pm Upon hearing of the events at Ford’s Theater, Secretary Stanton and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs rushed to the scene, only to find mass hysteria in the streets. Meigs took control of the door to Petersen House and remained there through the deathwatch. He alone determined who gained entrance. Inside, Stanton set up a makeshift War Department with the goals of securing the nation’s capital and finding the perpetrators of the crime. Dr. Robert King Stone, Lincoln’s personal physician, and Surgeon General of the Army Joseph K. Barnes arrived and took control of the medical care of Lincoln.

Saturday, April 15 (Holy Saturday)

7:22am Surgeon General Barnes declared Lincoln dead. After a prayer, Secretary Stanton uttered the immortal words, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

9am A cavalry unit escorted the hearse bearing Lincoln’s body to the White House. From Ford’s Theatre, the solemn procession moved up 10th Street and then west on G Street, passing The Church of the Epiphany, where Lincoln had stood just three years earlier watching the funeral cortege of General Frederick Lander, the first Union general killed in the war.

10am Secretaries Stanton and McCulloch were two of the eleven men to witness the chief justice swear in Andrew Johnson at his quarters at Kirkwood House (Hotel). In Secretary Seward’s absence, Secretary Stanton began making plans for Lincoln’s state funeral.

12noon The autopsy on Lincoln’s body took place in a second floor bedroom at the White House and was led by Dr. Stone, Surgeon General Barnes, and Army Assistant Surgeon J. J. Woodward. Dr. Joseph Bell Alexander was the co-owner of the undertaking firm that embalmed the president’s body and prepared it for its long journey home.

Sunday, April 16 (Easter Day)

11am The hastily amended Easter sermon of Epiphany’s rector, The Rev. Charles H. Hall, was entitled, “A Mournful Easter.” The text can be found online.

Wednesday, April 19

12noon Charles H. Hall was one of four Washington clergymen to lead Lincoln’s White House funeral. He began the service with the burial office from the Book of Common Prayer: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord…” Three Supreme Court Justices (Field, Swayne, and Wayne) were among the 600 invited guests assembled in the crowded East Room. Ellen Stanton was one of seven women present.

Friday, April 21

8am Stanton, McCulloch, and Meigs were among the small group that escorted Lincoln’s casket from the White House to Washington’s B&O Railroad Depot. Assistant Adjutant General Edward Townsend was the official military escort for the funeral train’s 12-day journey to Springfield, Illinois.

Later – 1871

Vinnie Ream won a Congressional contest to memorialize the slain president with a sculpture. Her statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in the Capitol Rotunda today.

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