- Jan 8, 2012
Lincoln loved music, and like everyone else, he had his favorite tunes and performers. On Feb. 11, 1861, President-Elect Abraham Lincoln became so deeply impressed by the music played by the Mitchell’s Cornet Band from Richmond that he asked to dine with them.
This honor came during the band’s visit to Indianapolis the winter of 1861, when the president-elect was passing through to Washington. Mitchell’s Cornet Band was the first group of musicians organized in Richmond that met with any professional success beyond city limits. They garnered a president of the United States as a fan.
Mitchell’s cornet band formed in 1858, never dreaming they would be a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln. They played for the president-elect on his way to Washington; they also played when Lincoln’s body was transported through Wayne County to Illinois.
Theodore Newman of 25 North 16th, the last surviving member, told the Oct. 9, 1915, Evening Item, “We were invited to play at Indianapolis when Abraham Lincoln was to be there. It was in 1861 and our band had been organized about three years. Mr. Lincoln was on his way to Washington to take the oath of office. Our band went to Indianapolis the day before the President Elect was scheduled to arrive His train came in about two o’clock that afternoon, and our band met him at West Washington Street. Mr. Lincoln got off the train and four military companies led by our band escorted him to the Bates House, where he made a speech from the balcony…
After the speech he went into the hotel parlors where a reception was planned. Our band was the only band playing during the reception… After the reception Mr. Lincoln came to where we were playing and said, ‘Boys, do you have any objections to me eating supper with you?’ He addressed the remarks to me, so I answered, ‘Of course not, sir!’ Mr. Lincoln then sat down at the table with us and remarked upon the proficiency of our playing. He seemed to take a particular liking to me. I was then 25-years-old and played the snare drums. He sat beside me and we entered into conversation.
“‘I have often heard of Richmond,’ said Mr. Lincoln. ‘I have passed through Richmond on the train and have always thought it a pretty place.’
“I was not sure what to say, I was so thrilled. “…The next morning when Lincoln was to return to his special coach, the men in charge of the celebration asked him whether he wanted an escort. He replied he did not care for any kind unless it would be the Richmond band. Unfortunately our band members were scattered about town and there was not time to reassemble.”
Mitchell’s Cornet Band was organized in 1858 and had been composed of 12 local musicians. They were very popular, and played in Indianapolis more often than many local bands there. During the summer, concerts were given two or three times a week. After several years, the band eventually dissolved and its members became a part of the city’s official band, and other bands that formed later.
As for Abraham Lincoln’s fond remembrance of passing through Richmond and never stopping but admiring the city, local residents paid respects to Lincoln in ‘passing’ when he made his only known stop here.
That was on April 30, 1865, when the assassinated leader’s funeral train came through.
The Richmond Weekly Telegram reported, “In the solemn rites that the nation had so grandly offered to him whose name stands first on the most memorable page of our history, the city of Richmond was permitted to take a humble part.”
The pilot engine arrived at 3 a.m., followed a few minutes later by the train bearing the president’s body.
Amid a silently weeping assemblage, the funeral car halted by the side of the depot and two wreathes of flowers from Richmond were placed with the coffin. Then slowly… the train pulled away into history…
Mitchell’s Cornet Band was there to play for the president for the last time. They played "Taps" to honor their most famous admirer.
(Thanks Jari Villanueva for bringing this to our attention on the Taps Bugler Facebook page!)
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