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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter II: The Obsequies In Washington

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This scene is historic. I regret that I must tell you of it over a little wire, for it admits of all exemplification. In this high, spacious, elegant apartment, laughter and levee, social pleasantry and refined badinage, had often held their session. Dancing and music had made those mirrors thrill which now reflect a pall, and where the most beautiful women of their day had mingled here with men of brilliant favor, now only a very few, brave enough to look upon death, were wearing funeral weeds. The pleasant face of Mrs. Kate Sprague looks out from these; but such scenes gain little additional power by beauty's presence. And this wonderful relief was carved at one blow by John Wilkes Booth.

The religious services began at noon. They were remarkable not only for their association with the national event, but for a tremendous political energy which they had. While none of the prayers or speeches exhibited great literary carefulness, or will obtain perpetuity on their own merits, they were full of feeling and expressed all the intense concern of the country.

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The procession surpassed in sentiment, populousness, and sincere good feeling, anything of the kind we have had in America. It was several miles long, and in all its elements was full and tasteful. The scene on the avenue will be alway remembered as the only occasion on which that great thoroughfare was a real adornment to the seat of government. In the tree tops, on the house tops, at all the windows, the silent and affected crowds clustered beneath half-mast banners and waving crape, to reverentially uncover as the dark vehicle, bearing its rich silver-mounted coffin, swept along; mottoes of respect and homage were on many edifices, and singularly some of them were taken from the play of Richard III., which was the murderer's favorite part The entire width of the avenue was swept, from curb to curb, by the deep lines.

The chief excellence of this procession was its representative nature. All classes, localities and trades were out. As the troops in broad, straight columns, with reversed muskets, moved to solemn marches, all the guns on the fortifications on the surrounding hills discharged hoarse salutes--guns which the arbiter of war whom they were to honor could hear no longer. Every business place was closed. Sabermen swept the street of footmen and horsemen. The carriages drove two abreast.

Not less than five thousand officers, of every rank, marched abreast with the cortege. They were noble looking men with intelligent faces, and represented the sinews of the land, and the music was not the least excellent feature of the mournful display. About thirty bands were in the line, and these played all varieties of solemn marches, so that there were continual and mingling strains of funeral music for more than three hours. Artillery, consisting of heavy brass pieces, followed behind. In fact, all the citizen virtues and all the military enterprise of the country were evidenced. Never again, until Washington becomes in fact what it is in name, the chief city of America, shall we have a scene like this repeated--the grandest procession ever seen on this continent, spontaneously evoked to celebrate the foulest crime on record. If any feeling of gratulation could arise in so calamitous a time, it would be, that so soon after this appalling calamity the nation calmly and collectedly rallied about its succeeding rulers, and showed in the same moment its regret for the past and its resolution for the future. To me, the scene in the White House, the street, and the capitol to-day, was the strongest evidence the war afforded of the stability of our institutions, and the worthiness and magnanimous power of our people.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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