By Michelle Dupler
Many Americans are fascinated with the life and death of President Abraham Lincoln, the man who guided a fractured nation through one of its darkest periods.
But not everyone has a personal connection to the 16th president, like Columbus man John Ward, whose great, great, great-grandfather played “Taps” at Lincoln’s funeral.
At a Feb. 22 meeting of the Hilltop Historical Society, Ward told the story of his ancestor, Marshall Ray Hobbs, and of the journey the president’s body made from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill.
On April 15, the nation will mark 150 years since Lincoln died from a gunshot wound to the head received in the balcony of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
The president’s death shocked the country, coming just five days after the surrender of the South marked the effective end of the Civil War that had divided the nation.
Millions of mourners filed past the casket containing the president’s body as it made stops in several cities — including Columbus — as it made a 1,500-mile journey from Washington to Springfield, Ill., where Lincoln was finally laid to rest on May 4, 1865.
Lincoln’s body traveled in a special presidential train car that also carried the body of his son, Willie, who had died in 1862 of typhoid fever.
Ward told members of the historical society about how Lincoln’s body was displayed in the rotunda at the Ohio Statehouse for several hours before continuing on to Indianapolis.
“Everything in the rotunda was draped in black,” Ward told the audience.
Ward said the body was viewed by thousands of people who traveled to the Statehouse, and thousands more passed through the rotunda the following day just to stand in the place where the president’s body briefly had rested.
Morticians had to work to keep the body preserved during the long journey, and to hide the signs that the late president was starting to decompose, Ward said.
When Lincoln arrived in Springfield, he was buried for a time at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Nearly 40 years later, he would be sealed in a marble tomb in Springfield along with the body of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons.
Ward said that initially Mary Todd Lincoln hadn’t wanted a public funeral for her husband, but
was convinced to allow the nation to participate in mourning his loss.
Ward’s ancestor had been stationed at a prison for Confederate soldiers at Fort Delaware, and was a member of the fort’s band. When the war ended and the prisoners were released, the soldiers in Marshall Ray Hobbs’ unit were redeployed, and Hobbs ended up getting assigned to play “Taps” at Lincoln’s funeral, Ward said.
Ward said he first learned about his ancestor’s role in Lincoln’s funeral when he received a copy of a newspaper article from a cousin. That sparked an interest in Lincoln’s life and death.
Ward has collected items related to Lincoln, including a replica of the gun used by actor John Wilkes Booth to kill the Lincoln with a single shot, and a replica of the playbill announcing the production of “Our American Cousin” that Lincoln attended on that fateful night.