March 2: Frederick West Lander (1862)

Tall and handsome, vigorous and hot-tempered, fearless to a fault, Frederick West Lander became one of the most name-recognized Americans in the years prior to the Civil War. Lander made five transcontinental surveys on behalf of the U.S. government to select a railroad route to the Pacific. He was a popular speaker, a published fiction writer and poet, an adept negotiator with Native Americans, and a Union general during the Civil War. After his untimely death in 1862, General Lander’s funeral was held at Epiphany, attended by President Lincoln, the cabinet, members of Congress and a vast array of military leaders. In writing about the newly dedicated statue of Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda several years later, journalist Mary Clemmer Ames recalled when she witnessed General Lander’s Epiphany funeral.

I recall a moment in his life when his look and attitude were precisely what they are here. It was just after the funeral of General Lander, at the Church of the Epiphany. The sun shone dimly that afternoon against the saddest of rainy skies, and looked down upon one of the most sorrowful of scenes. Almost every day brought a funeral like that – aye, many funerals. Our streets were full of dirges, our houses full of tears. Lander had the faults of an erratic and brilliant genius, but he was a generous man and a heroic soldier – one of the ten thousands dead in their prime. They bore his body through the gray air. The soldier’s horse with empty stirrups and saddle, rider less, moved slowly after it. The great procession took up its line; the band struck up the solemn march.

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