Such a Day & Time as Harrisburg Has Never Before Witnessed:
Charles Rawn Records Abraham Lincoln's Visits to Harrisburg

By Rebecca Jean Hershner

In 1830, a young man named Charles Coatesworth Pinkney Rawn (Figure 1) began to keep a daily journal of his life in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Within the exquisitely detailed, faithfully recorded entries, Rawn allows a unique glimpse of his personal life, professional career as a prominent attorney, and the many ways in which his life was touched by local, regional, and national events. The daily entries over the next thirty-five years would fill the pages of twenty-nine journals and occur during the administrations of eleven U.S Presidents, nine Governors of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—several of whom he knew personally—and the turmoil of the Civil War.

Figure 1 Charles C. Rawn, age unknown.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Dauphin County

In fact, Rawn both observed and/or socialized with many of America’s most recognizable leaders: Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun are mentioned in the text of his recorded life.1 Further, Rawn was a supporter of U.S. President James Buchanan, whose name can be found in the midst of numerous entries, and Rawn’s cousin, Francis R. Shunk, would be elected a Governor of the Commonwealth in 1845. The names of other prominent Americans, such as Frederick Douglass and Ralph Waldo Emerson, also emerge—often quite unexpectedly—in the sea of his daily reflections.

Among the more notable events recorded in Rawn’s journals are the two separate visits of Abraham Lincoln to Harrisburg. In 1861, President-elect Lincoln arrived to a jubilant city festooned with banners and flags as his so-called "Inaugural Train" traveled from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C. But it was a subdued state capital draped in mourning that met Lincoln’s Funeral Train just four years later as it carried the President to his final resting place. Ironically, Lincoln’s first visit to Harrisburg was abbreviated by an assassination plot, and Charles Rawn records the events of that occasion with a precise narrative of unusual length. And in this case, what he does not say is just as significant as what he does preserve in his angular script.

On February 11, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Train left Springfield, Illinois, to begin its circuitous railroad journey to Washington, D.C. Despite threats on his life, Lincoln reportedly wanted to give people an opportunity to see him, and gauge for himself the depth of popular support for his administration. Bradley R. Hoch, author of The Lincoln Trail in Pennsylvania: A History and Guide, notes that after winding its way through the "Northern cities of Indianapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, and New York,"2 Lincoln arrived in Philadelphia late in the afternoon on February 21st. The following morning, after only a few hours of sleep, Lincoln marked the occasion of George Washington’s 129th birthday by raising a flag over Independence Hall and making a speech. At 9:30 a.m., the President-elect was en route to Harrisburg to participate in more celebrations, which had been outlined at length in the capitol city’s newspapers. What the residents of Philadelphia and Harrisburg did not realize, however, is how close their carefully planned Presidential receptions came to never taking place.

When a weary Abraham Lincoln arrived in Philadelphia on the 21st, he was met with a busy evening schedule and disturbing news. Frederick Seward, son of Senator William H. Seward, and Detective Allan Pinkerton had both arrived in Philadelphia earlier in the evening with credible intelligence of an assassination plot in Baltimore. Seward carried letters from his father, the general-in-chief of the United States Army, Winfield Scott, and an unidentified army colonel. Pinkerton’s intelligence resulted from first-hand investigative work in Baltimore for the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad whose President, Samuel Felton, feared his rail lines might be harmed by protestors during Lincoln’s passage through Maryland. Neither man knew about the other, and they shared strikingly similar information with the President-elect later that night.

According to their collective intelligence, a group of twenty men in Baltimore had vowed to assassinate Lincoln before he could reach Washington, D.C. And since the President-elect would have to change trains in the Maryland city, it was believed that any attempt on Lincoln’s life would likely occur then. It had already been published that the President-elect would disembark at Baltimore’s Calvert Street station, travel over a mile by carriage through the city, and board a train at the Camden Street station before proceeding to the nation’s capital. Not only was the time of his arrival well-known, but the route that Lincoln’s carriage would take between the railway stations had also been made public. Adding to concerns about the safety of traveling through Baltimore was the strong suspicion that George P. Kane, the city’s chief of police, was complicit in the assassination plot and would not provide enough officers to ensure the President’s safety.

Upon considering all of this, Lincoln’s cadre of advisors and bodyguards were vehement in their insistence that he cancel all other plans and secretly travel to Washington that night. But the President disagreed. According to Cleveland Moffet’s 1884 account of the incident, Lincoln replied, "I have promised to raise the flag over Independence Hall to-morrow morning, and after that to visit the Legislature in Harrisburg. These two promises I must fulfill, whatever the cost, but after that I am ready to accept any plan you may adopt."3 Another version has Lincoln saying, "I shall think it over carefully and try to decide it right, and I will let you know in the morning."4

Figure 2 War-time photo of President Abraham Lincoln with
Allan Pinkerton (hand in jacket), and General George McClellan.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Dauphin County

Regardless of his exact words, Lincoln’s will to stay prevailed—at least temporarily. Throughout the night, Pinkerton, his detectives, and several of the President’s men were busy devising a plan to secretly conduct the President-elect out of Harrisburg on the night of February 22nd. Lincoln’s presence would need to remain completely undetected during train changes in Philadelphia and Baltimore; and considering his distinctive height and recent personal appearances, this was a daunting task indeed. Beyond his immediate party, though, no one suspected from the President-elect’s demeanor that anything was amiss. And while he was traveling by rail from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Charles Rawn was already recording the momentous celebration of Washington’s Birthday in the Commonwealth’s capital city.

Rawn’s entry for February 22, 1861, began as they all do—with the weather. He writes, Clear. Fine beyond expectation. Calm. Streets in reasonably good walking order. Not cold, though dampish & chilly but take it for all in all an unusually suitable day for the Public ceremonies of raising a Flag at the Dome of the Capitol Receiving Mr. Lincoln Prest. Elect of the U. States.5 It may have been "fine beyond expectation" because the days leading up to February 22nd had been cold and windy with even a little bit of snow. It is also easy to sense Harrisburg’s palpable excitement through Rawn’s uncharacteristically long entry for the day.

He continues to describe the scene on the streets of Harrisburg: There are some 1500 to 2000 volunteers here from all parts of the State 4 to 600 of them from Phila. The line was formed at 10 to 11 A.M. and marched to the Capitol at 11½ where the ceremony of raising the flag was performed. This was no spontaneous celebration. The Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph reported on February 13th that, "The Committee appointed on behalf of the Legislature will meet president Lincoln at Pittsburgh tomorrow…final arrangements will then be made by which he will arrive here on the 22nd of this month."6 As the appointed day approached, many organizational notices appeared in Harrisburg’s newspapers, placed by civic groups and officials regarding specific details about the scheduled public events.

The "line" Rawn mentions in his journal was a military procession that reportedly numbered almost 2,000 men, including a corps of 58 veterans of the War of 1812.7 With the older soldiers acting as honorary flag bearers, the procession marched to the Capitol to ceremoniously "deliver" a brand new flag that would be raised over the dome during a thirteen gun salute. E.H. Rauch, Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives, read Washington’s Farewell Address as was the custom on the first President’s birthday.

Though Charles Rawn makes no mention of Abraham Lincoln’s Harrisburg visit in advance of the 22nd, he does enter the following on February 18th: Paid, 2 weeks Daily Telegraph.8 While it is not clear if this was a new subscription, or the renewal of a former one, it could be reasonably assumed that he wanted to read local press coverage of the events. In fact, on the day he recorded his subscription, the Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph published the following notice:

Figure 3 Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, February 18, 1861, page 2.

Rawn continues his lengthy narrative with the arrival of the President-elect to Harrisburg: Then returned & met Mr. Lincoln on his arrival from Phil. in the carg [carriage] at 1-40 P.M. He rode in a Barouche drawn by 6 White Horses to Coverlys Hotel where he was addressed by Gov. Curtain & [replied?]. The enthusiasm of the people was perfectly and literally wild & unrestrainable. Our Balcony being adjacent to the Hotel was crowded with our friends & acquaintances through the day till 5 ½ P.M: We got no dinner but took supper at 5 ½ to 6 PM.

It is in this portion of his journal entry that Rawn’s observations vary on two points from almost all other historical descriptions of the day. First, Rawn sees the horses as "white," (perhaps as befitting a commander-in-chief) while others call them "gray." The second aberration, which is more significant, illustrates the difference between being a resident of the community and being a visitor. Every other published account of the day, including the Harrisburg newspapers, reports that Lincoln went to the Jones House. Rawn clearly states (more than once) it was "Coverlys Hotel" or simply "Coverly’s." The following image, however, easily reconciles this discrepancy (Figure 4).

Figure 4 Jones House advertisement.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Dauphin County

Charles Rawn, as a prominent attorney and neighbor of the Jones House, would have known its proprietor, Wells Coverly. It is also no surprise that the Rawn family’s balcony was packed with people for most of the day; there was reportedly a crowd of 30,000 in town to see the President-elect, and the Rawns’ proximity to the Jones House would have afforded an excellent view.9 Below is a picture taken later in the nineteenth-century that shows both the Jones House and what is strongly believed to have been the home of Charles Rawn (Figure 5).

Figure 5 The Jones House is pictured on the corner, though its name had changed to The Leland Hotel by the time this photo was taken in 1887. Rawn’s residence is believed to have been the three story brick residence two doors down. The balcony mentioned in his journal is barely visible below the second story windows.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Dauphin County

His entry of February 22nd continues: In the morning when Procession went to Capitol Mrs R. Fanny Eleanor Beatty Self went to Dr. Gildeas’ on N. Street where Mrs Eyster her mother[?] were. We remained late after 1 ½ PM. then retd. with mil. [mother-in-law] to witness Arl. [arrival] of Mr. L. Altogether it was such a day & time as Harrisburg has never before witnessed. The number Military here in time of the Buckshot Wars was approached nearly perhaps to the number here yesterday.

The majority of Rawn’s entries tend to record the facts and not the emotions surrounding events in his life—this day is a rare exception. And, if the published accounts were accurate, he is also quite correct in believing the number of soldiers to be equal the forces present during the Buckshot War.

The so-called Buckshot War was, in reality, a city-specific event that briefly occurred after the election of 1838. In summary, both the Whig and Democratic parties tried to assume control of the State House of Representatives, and each side even elected its own Speaker. As a result of these political maneuverings, a mob had to be dispersed so order could be restored to the Capitol. A company of approximately 1,500 militia men arrived from Philadelphia and finished the job in just a few days.10 Allegedly, the soldiers carried buckshot shells to quell the violence, and some of the protesters purchased buckshot shells in Harrisburg as trophies of their ordeal.

Rawn’s entry goes on to discuss Lincoln: Mr. L’s appearance is younger considerably than was generally expected and he is not so tall [nor so?] Rawboned as we had been given to believe from his pictures and what we had read. He left at 6 in the Ev[ening] for Washington it seems though this was not known to the Public at the time nor till next (tomorrow Mg). He dined at Coverlys private apartments next door to us at 4 ½ to 5 [?] P.M. We spent Even[ing] at home & to bed 9 PM.

Considering the secrecy with which Lincoln is supposed to have exited Harrisburg, Rawn’s comment about the President-elect leaving for Washington, which was "not known to the public at the time," is quite intriguing. Was word of Lincoln’s departure starting to circulate? If so, how did Charles Rawn find out? The time he records, 6 p.m., is accurate—Lincoln and his bodyguard, Ward H. Lamon, boarded a special train outside of Harrisburg around that time to start their anxious journey to Washington.

Those in charge of Lincoln’s safety had feared this very thing—rumors of the President’s secret departure. So to keep word from spreading beyond the state capital, all but one of the telegraph wires leading out of Harrisburg were disconnected on the night of February 22nd. A single line remained open so the party still in Harrisburg, which included Mrs. Lincoln, could receive news.

Though Pinkerton’s accounts of Lincoln’s journey to Washington are quite exhaustive, the President-elect’s journey was ultimately uneventful. At 6 a.m. on February 23rd, Abraham Lincoln arrived safely in Washington, D.C. and the telegraph wire into Harrisburg bore the cryptic message, "Plums delivered nuts safely."11 Messengers rushed to the Jones House and Executive Mansion to deliver the good news.

Rawn continues his written observations about Lincoln’s visit the next day: Clear & cloudy – mild – dampish – Prest. L. was expected by the crowds who met [around?] Coverlys this Mg to leave at 9am for Washington. But when all came to be known it appeared that he had left last Even[ing] at 6 o’clock and that the train of carriages at the door this morning was in part for Mrs. L & Suite….12

It is interesting to note the carriages observed by Rawn were carrying the rest of the inaugural entourage on the previously published route to Washington, D.C. Their journey, too, was thankfully safe and uneventful. Finally, on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the sixteenth President of the United States.

It is recorded in many sources that Lincoln regretted this secret journey to Washington. While eating dinner at the Jones House, he is credited with asking, "What would the nation think of its President stealing into its capital like a thief in the night?"13 And the national press did not help matters, either. Popular magazines, like Vanity Fair and Harper’s Weekly, and even privately distributed etchings repeatedly poked fun at the new President.

Figure 6 The Flight of Abraham. Harper’s Weekly, March 9, 1861.

Figure 7 The Passage Through Baltimore.
Copper engraving by Adalbert Volck, March, 1861.

Newspapers commented on the President’s action in very strong tones, often harshly criticizing other publications with an opposing viewpoint. Despite widespread coverage, however, the issue slowly faded from the headlines. And after April 10th, 1861, the popular press was occupied with news of another kind: America was at war with itself.

The last volume of Charles Rawn’s journals notes President Abraham Lincoln’s second and final journey through Harrisburg. With a strict schedule even in death, Lincoln’s Funeral Train (Figure 8) left Washington, D.C. on April 21, 1865 on a journey that, according to The Lincoln Institute’s website, "took 1700 miles and involved an estimated 130 million mourners,"14. It would not reach Springfield, Illinois, until May 3, 1865. His Funeral Train stopped in Harrisburg so the President could lie in state in Pennsylvania’s Capitol. Though Rawn himself was not well at the time, he still records the sobering events that deeply affected the nation.

Figure 8 Funeral Train of President Abraham Lincoln at the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot in Harrisburg.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Dauphin County

15-7 [April 15th, Saturday, the seventh day of the week]. Clear. Fine. Fresh. Coolish. Windy. Called on Dr. Taylor the Prest. of the school after breakfast at 9am. Recd the news there through a gentleman communicating to Dr. Taylor in Front of his door just as we were starting away together, that President had been [basely?] assassinated at the theatre at Washington, by shooting, last Ev[enin]g. The appalling intelligence threw a deep gloom over all. [Unreadable phrase]. It was about 9 o clock the said news was thus communicated to Dr. Taylor in my presence by a young gentleman of his acquaintance….15

16-1 [April 16th, Sunday, the first day of the week.] Clear. Fine. Windy. [Unreadable]. Coolish. We all of our House went to what is called the "Old South Church" Congregationalist at 10 ½ a.m. Rev Mr. Smith preacher. Mr. Bromell, wife and daughter and a young man from Reading Pa. a Boarder and pupil named Jameson from company [unreadable] Jno. Calvin and myself. We sat in Mr. B’s pew church draped in mourning and services appropriate to the occasion of the President’s death…We dined at 12 ½ P.M. and spent afternoon chiefly at quarters and Jno. Calvin and self wrote to his mother - and I walked a mile or more after tea to put letter in P.O. I walked in all before and after tea three to four miles but did not seem to derive much benefit from the exercise. To bed 8 to 9 P.M.16

Figure 9 This period photo shows a Harrisburg church "draped in mourning." The caption reads: Rev. Charles A. Hay, D.D. Preaching Memorial Sermon in Zion Lutheran Church, April 23, 1865 on the death of President Lincoln. Text Psalm 75. 7th v (Harrisburg, Penna.) W.A.X. Though Rawn mentions his wife and daughter being in church on April 23rd, his journal entry does not record which church they attended. Rawn was too ill to attend any worship services himself on this day.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Dauphin County

21-6 [April 21st, Friday, the sixth day of the week]. Windy. Rain – very disagreeable all day. I am exceedingly unwell in my chest-liver-stomach-kidneys….The body of Prest Lincoln arrived here under Heavy escort at 8 P.M. to remain until tomorrow and to be seen at the State Capitol. Wife and Daughter have gone out but I am entirely too unwell [unreadable]—raining at this noting at 8 ¼ to 8 ½ P.M. extremely hard. Cannon are Firing and bells are tolling – solemn, solemn, scene!! But God makes and directs and this solemn death is a part of his mysterious ways past our finding out. We bow in strong Faith. To bed 9 ½ to 10.17

22-7 [April 22nd, Saturday, the seventh day of the week]. Rain in night and this morning to 9 am [?]. Clear after 10 to 11 am. Great crowd and great arrangements in reference to the Pres[ident]ts Remains. They lie at the Capitol - were to be seen last night up to midnight and this morning from 7 to 9 am and by others to 10am – an Extremely large procession military and civic conducted the remains from the Capitol between 10 & 11 ¾ am to the Depot where they were embarked for Phila ab 12 (noon) I was not out except on our verandah as it was somewhat blustery and I was not very well. Mrs. Rawn and Self went in the afternoon to the Capitol to look at the draping of the Hall of H. of Rep. where he lay – we returned home 4 pm…. Spent evening at home and to bed 9 ½ to 10.18

Rawn, himself, would enter eternity on December 18, 1865. Faithfully writing his daily entries until the very end, his angular script captured events of personal, regional, and national importance. Through these volumes of memories, he has given present and future generations a unique historical glimpse of "such a day & time as Harrisburg has never before witnessed."


1 - Michael Barton, "Introducing Charles Rawn, his Journals, and their Editors," The Rawn Journal, _michael_barton.pdf, 8.

2 - Bradley R. Hoch, The Lincoln Trail in Pennsylvania: A History and Guide (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), 4.


4 - Hoch, 7.

5 - Charles C. Rawn, The Rawn Journals, unpublished Book 26, August 9, 1859 - April 12, 1861 (Harrisburg: Historical Society of Dauphin County), February 22, 1861.

6 - "President Lincoln Coming," Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, February 13, 1861, page 2, http://digital

7 - J. Howard Wert, "Lincoln in Harrisburg, Part I. No. I, " The Patriot, February 2, 1909, page 1.

8 - Rawn, February 18, 1861.

9 - Wert, page 2.

10 - William Henry Egle, Notes and Queries, Historical and Genealogical, Chiefly Relating to Interior Pennsylvania, vol. I (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1970), 186.

11 - Colonel A.K. McClure, "THE NIGHT AT HARRISBURG: A REMININCENCE OF LINCOLN’S JOURNEY TO WASHINGTON IN 1861," in Abraham Lincoln and Men of War Times (Philadelphia: Times Publishing Company), 95.

12 - Rawn, February 23, 1861.

13 - Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Lincoln in Caricature (New York: Horizon Press, 1953), 102.

14 - Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom, "The Funeral Train of Abraham Lincoln," The Lincoln Institute,

15 - Charles C. Rawn, The Rawn Journals, unpublished Book 28, August 30, 1863 – October 22, 1865 (Harrisburg: Historical Society of Dauphin County): April 15, 1865.

16 - Ibid., April 16, 1865.

17 - Ibid., April 21, 1865.

18 - Ibid., April 22, 1865.


Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom. "The Funeral Train of Abraham Lincoln." The Lincoln Institute.

Barton, Michael. "Introducing Charles Rawn, his Journals, and their Editors," The Rawn Journal, _michael_barton.pdf.

Cuthbert, Norman B. Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot, 1861: From Pinkerton Records and Related Papers. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1949.

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Touchstone, 1995.

Egle, William Henry. Notes and Queries, Historical and Genealogical, Chiefly Relating to Interior Pennsylvania. Vol. I. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1970.

Hoch, Bradley R. The Lincoln Trail in Pennsylvania: A History and Guide. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.


"President Lincoln Coming." Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph, February 13, 1861, page 2.

Rawn, Charles C. The Rawn Journals. Unpublished Book 26, August 9, 1859 – April 12, 1861. Harrisburg: Historical Society of Dauphin County.

Rawn, Charles C. The Rawn Journals. Unpublished Book 28, August 30, 1863 – October 22, 1865. Harrisburg: Historical Society of Dauphin County.

Wert, J. Howard. "Lincoln in Harrisburg, Part I., No. 1." The Patriot, February 2, 1909.

Wilson, Rufus Rockwell. Lincoln in Caricature. New York: Horizon Press, 1953.

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