On August 5 , 1885 thousands of people filed into the new Capitol to view the body of President Ulysses S. Grant lying in state.
Grant died on July 23 at a cottage in Mt. McGregor* in Wilton in Saratoga County. He and his family had removed there in late spring. He was dying of cancer and in desperate financial straits. He went to the cottage (loaned to him by a friend in New York City) to finish writing his memoirs. (They would be a critical and commercial success, securing the future of his wife Julia.)
Many of Grant’s closest friends and allies traveled from across the country to Mt. McGregor to attend a private service on the top of the mountain on August 4th. They included the men who would come to be known for winning the Civil War under General Grant – General William Sherman who marched through the South, Albany’s own General Philip Sheridan (that’s his statue in front of the Capitol) and General Winfield Scott Hancock – who stood at Cemetery Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg and repelled Pickett’s Charge.
After the service the funeral train made its way down the steep mountain on its journey to Albany and New York City. It stopped at Albany at the corner of Spencer and Montgomery streets, just above the D & H railroad depot at 3:40 pm. A procession formed, headed by General Hancock, and made its way to the Capitol. The buildings were draped in black crepe and people wore black armbands.
Businesses and factories closed.The crowd was dense. Thousands lined Albany streets in the stifling heat and humidity of an August day as the procession made its way over North Pearl St. ,up State st. over Eagle St opposite the new City Hall, up Washington Ave. and then down State St. to the Capitol General Winfield Hancock, said to have been Grant’s favorite and head of the largest Civil War veterans organization in the country, lead the 4,000 marchers, mounted on a powerful black horse, to a slow and deliberate drum beat through the streets. The procession included a riderless horse, a tradition started at George Washington’s funeral.
Middle-aged men wrestled into their old blue wool uniforms and walked somberly in the cortege of their Commander-in Chief. Older men removed their hats and bent their heads as the carriage bearing Grant’s coffin passed. Women wept, including my great great grandmother and her children. Her oldest daughter (my great grandmother) was born in August, 1865 and named Julia, in honor of Grant’s wife. Grant had ended the war and the boys had come home. It’s unlikely there was anyone in the crowd who had not suffered loss from the War, but Grant had ended the killing.
The catafalque of the President was placed in the Senate corridor, surrounded by an honor guard; at 5:00 pm the public viewing began. In the first hour, 7,500 people filed in two by two. Viewing went through the night. It was estimated that over 75,000 mourners had passed through the Capitol by the time doors were shut the next morning.
The trip down to the other Albany railroad station on Broadway and Steuben began at around 11 am on August 5th, to the sound of blaring trumpets. The carriage carrying the coffin was hitched to 6 black horses and, again, General Hancock lead the procession down State St. The crowds appeared even larger than the previous day. The bells of the churches tolled continuously and the dull booms of cannon from the western part of the city could be heard. At around 12:30 pm, the funeral train started on its journey to New York City where the crowds would be larger than they had been for Lincoln’s funeral train.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor