Skip Content
U.S. Flag

The Civil War: The Senate's Story

Lincoln Catafalque
Lincoln Catafalque

The euphoria of Union victory came to a sudden halt on the night of April 14, 1865, when President Lincoln was shot by an assassin while attending a play at Ford’s Theater. As the president lay dying in a house across the street from the theater, Senator Charles Sumner appeared at his bedside. Keeping his deathbed vigil throughout the long night, the Massachusetts senator was one of the few present when Lincoln died on the morning of April 15. “Mourn not the dead,” Sumner later wrote in his eulogy to Lincoln, “but rejoice in his life and example . . . . Rejoice that through him Emancipation was proclaimed.” Having just days before taken to the streets in joyful celebration, Washingtonians now solemnly lined Pennsylvania Avenue as the massive funeral procession made its way to the Capitol. In the Rotunda, the body of the martyred president lay in state upon a hastily constructed wooden catafalque, draped in black, and placed beneath the magnificent dome. Reporter Benjamin Perley Poore described the dramatic scene:

The procession was two hours and ten minutes in passing a given point, and was about three miles long. The centre of it had reached the Capitol and was returning before the rear had left Willard’s [Hotel]. In one single detachment were over six thousand civil employees of the Government. Arriving at the Capitol, the remains were placed in the centre of the rotunda, beneath the mighty dome, which had been draped in mourning inside and out.

The Lincoln Catafalque has since been used for most of those who have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda. This historic catafalque is now on display in the Exhibition Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center.

Return to Main Page