Chapter One: Lincoln's Secret Train

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Two Journeys -- The Capitol Dome -- Lincoln's Office

Two Journeys

In 1861, President-elect Lincoln wanted to bid farewell to his stepmother before leaving for Washington. She lived 90 miles from Springfield. The round-trip there and back took three days, by passenger train, freight train, and finally horse-drawn buggy down the dirt roads of Illinois. Mere days later, he started on his 1904-mile journey by rail to Washington. His route, chosen with an eye toward toward politics, took him from Springfield, Illinois through Indianapolis to Cincinnati to Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, New York City, Philadelphia and Harrisburg before his adventures in Baltimore and his arrival in Washington. There were stops for receptions, speeches, and ceremonies at nearly every city, but, even so, that tremendous journey, by rail, took a mere 12 days and could have been done in 2 or 3 days -- less time than it took for him to travel to see his step-mother in the same state. The President-elect knew firsthand how the new differed from the old.

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The Capitol Dome

(Upper Left: an 1859 cross-section of the dome as then planned. Upper Right, the final version of the statue of Freedom)

A partially completed Capitol dome was the backdrop to President Lincoln's inauguration in 1861. A wooden version of the dome had been removed in 1856. A temporary roof was installed over the Rotunda to protect it during the construction project.

Today's cast-iron Capitol dome was hauled into place, piece by piece, by a steam-powered boom and derrick in 1863. The steam engines powering the crane were fueled by the old dome's wood. The statue of Freedom, which tops the dome was originally designed wearing a "liberty cap," a symbolic head covering dating to ancient Greece and worn in the French Revolution. While Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War under President Buchanan, he objected to the design showing a cap, which he saw as a symbol of a freed slave. He got his way. By the time the statue was hauled atop the completed dome in December 1863, it had a Roman helmet -- and Davis was president of the Confederacy.

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Lincoln's White House Office

Lincoln's White House was a very different place than what we know today. The first version of the President's famous "Oval Office" was not built until 1909, and the present office dates only from 1934. Lincoln's White House office was a rather scruffy room on the second floor that had been little changed "since the days of President Jackson....Folios of maps leaned against the walls or hid behind the sofas. Volumes of military history and kindred literature came and went from various libraries and had their days of lying around the room or on the President's table," one aide remembered. There was a large walnut table around which cabinet meetings were held. There was a sofa and a couple of upholstered chairs. The President worked at a large upright mahogany desk that looked as if it came "from some old furniture auction." The floors were covered in oilcloth that made for easy cleanup when visitors missed their shots at the spitoon. Today, the same room is famously known as the "Lincoln Bedroom" even though Lincoln never used it as such. Any sleeping he did there was likely to be in the form of quick cat-naps on the sofa.

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Click on images for larger views.

Upper left: Drawing of Lincoln's Office by C. K. Stellwagen in October 1864. Upper right: A photograph of a small-scale replica of Lincoln's Office as it appeared in the 1860s. It is based in part on the Stellwagen sketch. It is part of "The Miniature White House" built by by John and Jan Zweifel. The model overall is 60-feet long and 25-feet wide and was constructed in a one-inch-to-one-foot scale. Bottom images: The Lincoln Bedroom (formerly Lincoln's office) ooking to the southeast (left) and southwest (right)