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NYSNYS NEWS: Events this week will mark 130th anniversary of Ulysses Grant funeral train stop in Albany.
NYSNYS NEWS: Events this week will mark 130th anniversary of Ulysses Grant funeral train stop in Albany.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 3) Ulysses S. Grant was born in Ohio, made history at the Appomattox Courthouse, and served two terms in the White House, but his formative and final days were spent in New York.

His death 130 years ago is being commemorated here this week on the anniversary of the funeral train that bore his body from Mount McGregor, Saratoga County, where he died on July 23, to New York City, where a massive funeral on August 8 included a seven mile long procession.

The state Office of General Services is offering special free historical presentations by Capitol tour staff on Tuesday and Wednesday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to mark the anniversary. The presentations will take place just inside the State Street doors of the Capitol where Grant's body rested. All events are free and open to the public.

Additionally, the monthly Civil War history tour of the Capitol scheduled Thursday at 5 p.m. will have a special focus this week on Grant's death.

"It just seemed to all tie in," OGS spokeswoman Heather Groll said Monday.

The train carrying Grant's remains stopped August 4-5, 1885 in Albany. A procession of 5,000 led his coffin up State Street hill to the Capitol, where he laid in state for 15 hours as tens of thousands of mourners filed through the first floor of the Capitol all night or more than 6,000 per hour for much of the ceremony.

OGS says the procession "included General William T. Sherman, Governor David B. Hill, most of the New York Legislature, and a host of other dignitaries. The parade was organized and led by Civil War Hero General Winfield Scott Hancock It included Civil War veterans, active military units including several regiments of the New York State National Guard, and a number of civic societies. Military bands and German singing societies provided mournful music."

"Upon the completion of the procession the body was borne into the State Street Lobby of the Capitol where it was placed on an elaborate bier. The lobby was festooned with black bunting and illuminated with new incandescent electric lighting. The entrances to the Capitol were also well decorated with black bunting and symbols of mourning. From 6:45 in the evening until 10:00 the next morning a steady line of mourners entered the Washington Avenue entrance of the Capitol in a double line, passed through the Hawk Street passageway, divided into single file on either side of the coffin, and after paying their respects, left through the State Street entrance."

Governor Hill was the former mayor of Elmira, which had an especially grim Civil War tie. It was the site of a horrific prison camp nicknamed "Hellmira," where 3,000 Confederate POWs died of malnutrition, exposure and illness, a mortality rate of 25 percent. Prisoners lived in tents and were reduced to eating rats to survive.

Grant's funeral train was not on the scale of President Lincoln's 20 years earlier, which also drew massive crowds in Albany. Grant's train route was shorter, though it did include a stop at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was admitted at age 17 to begin his military career.

Today, the spot at the Capitol where Grant lay in state is marked by a bronze tablet embedded in the floor, but the space is much changed from the way it was 130 years ago. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller installed two escalators on the exact spot where the coffin was situated. The escalators connect the Capitol to a tunnel under State Street that leads to the Empire State Plaza Concourse, which Rocky tore down part of the city of Albany to build in the 1960s.

At the time of Grant's victory over Robert E. Lee, he was the commander of the Union army and had captured Richmond. He negotiated the Confederacy's surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, and a few days later was invited by Lincoln to attend the performance at Ford's Theater where the president was assassinated.

Grant could not attend and believed he was one of the targets of John Wilkes Booth, He called Lincoln "the greatest man I have ever known."

In 1868, Grant was the Republican nominee for president, and won the race by defeating former New York Gov. Horatio Seymour. Seymour was a conservative Democrat from Utica who was a sharp critic of Lincoln and had opposed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves.

The campaign turned on Reconstruction, with racist Democrats portraying Seymour as the "white man's" candidate and Grant as the candidate of the "niggers."