“The Most Impressive Funeral Ever Witnessed”: The Funeral of President Garfield

James Abram Garfield died at about 10:45 on the evening of September 19, 1881, 200 days after he had been inaugurated the 20th President of the United States. At his bedside at a seaside resort in Elberon, New Jersey, were his wife, Lucretia, and his daughter, Mollie. A few close friends and a number of doctors were also in the room. Garfield’s older sons, Hal and Jim, were at Williams College in Massachusetts, and the younger boys, Irvin and Abram, were at home in Mentor, Ohio with an aunt and uncle. His 80-year-old mother, Eliza, had been in northeast Ohio for the past three months staying with family members.

The White House was draped in black mourning adornments after President Garfield’s death. (White House Historical Association)

The President had lingered eighty days since the shooting, and newspapers across the country carried reports of his condition day by day. The whole nation had watched, waited, and prayed with the family. When it was over, they knew how to behave. Twenty years earlier the nation had been torn by civil war, and more than 700,000 Americans had died. And sixteen years before Garfield’s death the nation honored and buried its first assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln. America had learned a lot about mourning.

On September 20, 1881, the 20th President’s body returned to Washington, D.C. on the same train that had transported him to Elberon fourteen days before. Garfield’s oldest son, Harry, had joined his mother and sister in New Jersey and accompanied them on the journey to the capital. All along the route mourners stood at trackside, heads bowed as the train went by and church bells tolled. Bridges and buildings were draped in black. At Princeton, New Jersey, students scattered flowers on the track and then retrieved the crushed petals after the train had passed to keep for souvenirs. The train was met in Washington by the Chief Justice, Garfield’s entire cabinet, and Presidents Grant and Arthur. The President’s coffin was borne to the Capitol to the beat of muffled drums. The Rotunda was draped in black and piled high with flowers. Over 70,000 people waited in line for up to three-and-a-half hours to walk past the open coffin.

This full page from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine (Oct. 1881) shows images of Garfield’s body being embalmed, the casket being carried to the train, and the train traveling from Elberon, New Jersey to Washington, D.C.

At eleven o’clock in the morning on September 23, the rotunda was emptied and Lucretia Garfield spent a lonely hour with the body of her husband of almost 25 years. When her vigil ended, the coffin was closed and would not be opened again.

At three o’clock, the memorial service began. Seventy members of the House of Representatives formed a double line around the rotunda. They were followed into the hall by members of the Senate, cabinet members, and diplomats from around the world. Bible verses were read, prayers were offered, a choir sang. The main address was given by Reverend F. D. Power of the Vermont Avenue Christian Church—the church President Garfield and his family attended in Washington, DC. Mrs. Garfield and her children did not stay for the ceremony at the Capitol.

“Immediately after the close of the services, the floral decorations were all removed, except the beautiful wreath, the gift of Queen Victoria, which had been placed upon the head of the coffin when the lid was closed, and which remained there when the coffin was borne to the hearse, and will be upon it until the remains are buried. This touching tribute of Queen Victoria greatly moved Mrs. Garfield.” [Cleveland Leader]

Queen Victoria sent this floral wreath and a handwritten letter of sympathy to Lucretia Garfield after the president’s death. The wreath was on Garfield’s casket throughout the lying in state and funeral. Today, visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site see it in the Memorial Library vault. (NPS photo)

Then the remains of the president were carried from the Capitol where he had served for almost 18 years, to the depot where he had been shot. The funeral train consisted of 7 cars. The engine and cars were festooned with flowers and palm fronds. All the brightwork was draped in black. Most of the trip home to Ohio was accomplished during the night, but every depot at every small town was appropriately draped with mourning and illuminated flags, and the townspeople stood at trackside to watch the train roll by. At one, a long line of Civil War veterans fell to their knees as the train passed. Pennsylvania coal miners came up from the pits to bear witness. Bonfires, cannon, and tolling bells marked the train’s passage.

A respectful twenty minutes behind the funeral train was a special train for legislators and other dignitaries who were accompanying the funeral party from Washington. A third train was crammed with reporters for the newspapers and magazines whose coverage had brought Garfield’s assassination and suffering to all those who now watched the funeral trains go by.

As the train approached Cleveland the crowds along the tracks got bigger. If she had looked out the train window, Mrs. Garfield would have seen people standing shoulder to shoulder in a solid line along the last two miles of its journey into the city. The funeral train arrived in Cleveland at 1:21 on the afternoon of September 24. Lucretia Garfield was escorted from the train by her son Harry and Secretary of State James G. Blaine. The coffin was borne by an honor guard of eight sergeants from the 2nd U.S. Artillery Company to the waiting catafalque at the city’s Monumental Park, now usually called Public Square.

An elaborate pavilion had been built there, similar to the one that protected President Lincoln’s coffin when his funeral procession had paused in Cleveland on its way home to Springfield, Illinois. Described as “probably the finest temporary structure of the kind ever erected in America”, it was forty-five feet square, with a thirty foot archway on each side. From each of the pillars which supported the arches, a canopy stretched to a point seventy-two feet above the ground, where it was topped with a globe. A gilt angel stood upon the globe. Its wingtips hovered ninety-six feet above the square. The names of the states ran up the columns, and cannon, their muzzles draped in black, guarded each corner. The pavilion was filled with floral tributes, an estimated $3,000 worth—so many flowers that local supplies were exhausted, and boxcars of flowers were hastily delivered from Cincinnati and Chicago. None received more attention by the mourners or the press than the wreath sent by Queen Victoria, which rested on top of the coffin. A military honor guard stood at stiff attention around the casket.

From a supplement to The Illustrated Times of London, October 1881: “The funeral of President Garfield, Lying in State at Cleveland, with the Queen’s Mourning Wreath on the coffin.”

On Sunday the catafalque was opened to the public. The line of viewers sometimes stretched for more than a mile. While the Marine Corps band played the Garfield Funeral March, Safe in the Arms of Jesus, and Nearer My God to Thee, the procession filed through the pavilion six abreast—a brisk 140 people a minute. They came all day, through the night and into the morning of Monday, September 26.

An estimated 250,000 people came into Public Square to see the pavilion, and perhaps have a chance to walk past the coffin to pay their mournful respects. Cleveland’s population in 1881 was 150,000.

The procession through the pavilion was stopped at 9:00 a.m. and the funeral service began promptly at 10:00 a.m. It was hot and sultry. The mourners included 18 senators, 40 congressmen, former president Rutherford B. Hayes and future president Benjamin Harrison. There were also governors, mayors, generals and admirals, including General Winfield Scott Hancock, the man Garfield had defeated in the presidential election just 10 months before. When all the dignitaries were seated, the Garfield family took their places. The president’s mother knelt briefly beside the coffin before joining the others.

The services began with the Episcopal burial service, followed by hymns and prayers. The eulogy was delivered by Isaac Errett, a Disciples of Christ minister who had been Garfield’s friend for many years. He took as his text: “And the archers shot King Josiah, and the King said to the servants, have me away, for I am sore wounded.” As he finished his sermon, Errett wept openly; so did a number of the mourners. After one more hymn and a benediction, the coffin was carried by ten soldiers to a funeral car, and the mourners took their places in carriages for the procession to The Lake View Cemetery, five miles to the east.

Ribbon worn by members of an Akron Masonic lodge that formed part of the Honor Guard for President Garfield’s funeral. (NPS photo)

The funeral car was heavily draped in black, showing no touch of color except for the white-tipped plumes bobbing from the heads of the twelve black horses that drew the car up Euclid Avenue. All along the avenue, people stood at solemn attention, reportedly ten to twenty people deep. The porches and windows of the grand mansions were full as well.

The ceremony at the cemetery was brief. A short oration was delivered by J. H. Jones, chaplain of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the unit Garfield had recruited for Civil War service and commanded for a time. The final benediction was offered by Burke Hinsdale, once Garfield’s student, and his life-long friend.

The coffin was placed in a flower-laden vault guarded by soldiers.* The Boston Globe called it “the most impressive funeral ever witnessed in America.” Newspaper accounts put its cost at $247,650. The verifiable expenses were about one-sixth of that.

*This was not the current Garfield Monument in The Lake View Cemetery that can be visited by the public. Garfield’s body was in a temporary crypt until being placed in the completed Garfield Monument, which was dedicated on Memorial Day 1890.

(Special thanks to Dr. Allan Peskin, whose article “The Funeral of the Century,” Lake County Historical Quarterly, September 1981 formed the basis for this post.)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

The Federal Civil Service and the Death of President James A. Garfield

     Any standard history textbook today will tell you that Charles Guiteau, the assassin of James Abram Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States, was “a disappointed office seeker.” That’s an accurate description, as far as it goes, but there is much more to the circumstances of President Garfield’s tragic murder than that simple phrase suggests. The assassination of James Garfield was not the product of a pathetic, demented megalomaniac; it had its origins in the domestic politics of his time.

July 2, 1881: Secretary of State James Blaine (left) reacts to the shooting of President James A. Garfield (right). Assassin Charles Guiteau is being subdued at far left of image. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

     By that I mean to say that it was the political culture of the 1860s and 1870s that led to the President’s death in 1881. Specifically, it was “the spoils system” that was as much the cause of Garfield’s assassination as were Guiteau’s actions. 

     The Federal bureaucracy had been growing since the days of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. Many government employees working in federal agencies owed their positions to the Congressmen and Senators who had recommended their appointments to the President. These workers were expected to perform political work for their patrons as part of the job. Federal employees were also “assessed” a portion of the salaries, usually about five percent, to fund campaigns.

     Reform-minded individuals in the political parties and in the press wanted to put an end to this kind of thing. The first legislation to reform the Federal civil service appeared in December 1865 when Rhode Island Congressman Thomas Allen Jenckes introduced a bill to create a Civil Service Commission, to formulate rules for civil servants, and establish examinations for certain positions in the federal service. Jenckes’ 1865 bill did not pass.

     In 1871, Congress finally passed legislation permitting President Grant to create the first Civil Service Commission.  Congressional support was not strong, however, and Grant abandoned the effort.

President Ulysses S. Grant. (Library of Congress)

     Grant’s successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, was determined to reform the federal civil service, and in doing so, he confronted the colorful New York Senator, Roscoe Conkling.  He battled Hayes’ attempts to reduce his influence with civil service appointments in his state, mainly through replacing Conkling’s henchmen at the Port of New York, including the Collector, Chester Alan Arthur. It was this 1870s political donnybrook that would lead to assassination in 1881.

     By attacking Arthur, Hayes was attacking Conkling, and Conkling fought back. In the end, though, Hayes was triumphant, and Arthur was gone – but not for good!

Senator Roscoe Conkling was the undisptued king of patronage in his home state of New York. (Wikipedia)

 The Hayes-Conkling fight in 1877-1878 became the Garfield-Conkling fight three years later. Just as Rutherford B. Hayes had wanted to reduce the influence of Senators – and specifically Senator Conkling – in making presidential appointments, so too did James A. Garfield. During his own squabble with Roscoe Conkling, he confided to his diary in the spring of 1881 that he was bound to determine “whether I was the registering Clerk of the Senate or the Executive of the government.”

     What were the circumstances that caused President Garfield to make that comment? To begin with, President Hayes did not seek re-election in 1880. James Garfield was nominated after the leading contenders, including former President Grant, were unable to prevail. Conkling had strongly supported Grant, and he was displeased by Garfield’s surprise nomination.

      After Garfield won the election, Senator Conkling, ever the power broker, tried to win concessions from Garfield over control of New York political appointments.

     In the fall and winter of 1880-1881, the president-elect needed to satisfy the various factions in the Republican Party regarding his cabinet and various diplomatic and domestic posts.  Senator Conkling, meanwhile, sought to insure that the political attacks he had suffered under President Hayes would not be repeated by the new President.

     In January 1881, Garfield was fully aware of the need to accommodate Conkling as much as possible. The President-elect invited the Senator to his Mentor, Ohio home to talk. Conkling’s response to the invitation hinted ominously at his future course if his demands were not met: “I need hardly say that your administration cannot be more successful than I wish it to be.”  The meeting was not a great success and the tensions between the two continued.

     Nevertheless, President Garfield nominated five New York Stalwarts for government posts on March 22. He also nominated William Robertson, Conkling’s adversary, for that most important post of Collector of the Port of New York. Robertson’s nomination was a bombshell, recognized throughout the Republican Party and the national press as a challenge to Conkling.

     A compromise intended to achieve peace with Conkling fell through when Conkling reneged on a promise to meet with Garfield.  When Garfield heard this, he refused to rescind Robertson’s nomination to the Collectorship.

President Garfield nominated Willliam H. Robertson to be Collector of the Port of New York without consulting Sen. Conkling. (Wikipedia)

     The situation was once again in turmoil due to Conkling’s peevishness, and as Kenneth D. Ackerman writes, “James Garfield seemed to cross a psychological bridge…Conkling could not be dealt with nor tolerated.” Whitelaw Reid, the publisher of the New York Tribune, wrote to Garfield, telling him that this latest crisis was the turning point of his administration. If Garfield surrendered, Conkling would in effect be the President of the United States. Garfield’s response indeed showed backbone: “Robertson may be carried out of the Senate head first or feet first…I shall never withdraw him.”

     At this point, let us turn our attention away from president and the senator and introduce into the narrative President Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau.

     Guiteau was born in Illinois in September 1841.  His journey through life up to the time of the assassination had been a troubled one. His mother died when he was seven, and his father, Luther Guiteau, was often abusive toward him. As an adult, he pursued a career in the law, and then took up theology. He was successful at neither.

     Charles Guiteau was a megalomaniac, and in 1880, having failed so far in life, he came to believe that his way to fame and fortune was in politics. He went to New York after Garfield’s nomination, where he ingratiated himself with Republican officials. He altered a pro-Grant speech he had written to a pro-Garfield speech. He got permission from the Vice Presidential nominee, Chester A. Arthur, to deliver it at a rally for the Republican ticket. When the Garfield-Arthur ticket won in November, the self-deceiving Guiteau believed that he was instrumental in the victory. Therefore, he reasoned, he deserved a political reward: a job in the government.

    He believed that he would make an excellent Consul to Paris – even though he had no prior experience in diplomatic service. He made repeated attempts to see President Garfield about it. Guiteau also badgered James G. Blaine, Garfield’s political confidante and Secretary of State. Early in the administration, Guiteau regularly visited the Secretary of State at his office.     

James G. Blaine, another Conkling enemy, became Secretary of State under President Garfield. Blaine went on to lose the presidential election of 1884 to Grover Cleveland. (Politico.com)

Charles Guiteau considered himself a Stalwart Republican, and he pestered the Garfield administration for a job before shooting the president. (Wikipedia)

     While Guiteau was making his maneuvers, the fight between President Garfield and Senator Conkling was coming to a head in the U.S. Senate.  The President of the Senate was Garfield’s Vice President, Chester Arthur. The role he chose to play in the fight between his mentor, Roscoe Conkling and his President, James Garfield, must be one of the most remarkable in the history of the nation.

     Chester Arthur, of course, was the man President Hayes had fired from the Collectorship of the Port of New York in 1878. He had become the vice presidential nominee in 1880 though Conkling urged him to drop the idea as if it were “a red hot shoe from the forge.” Arthur did not. The Vice Presidency was, he said, “a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining.”

          Arthur and Conkling were a team in the effort to block the nomination of Robertson. On April 2, according to Kenneth D. Ackerman, Chester A. Arthur, Vice President of the United States, gathered together several New York associates “to plan the defeat of his own president’s most important political decision to date,” to kill the Robertson nomination. He saw no irony in this. 

      When Garfield withdrew all the New York nominations except Robertson’s to force a vote on Robertson, Roscoe Conkling and the junior New York Senator, Tom Platt, resigned their seats. They planned to return to Albany and win reelection. In so doing they would return to Washington politically stronger and able to defeat the President. Chester Arthur even went to New York to lobby on their behalf! 

     At this point, events moved quickly. With Conkling and Platt gone, the Senate ratified Robertson’s nomination on May 18.  President Garfield had achieved an important political victory – but it was a victory that would cost him his life.

     It seemed that the Republican Party was becoming more divided. The deranged Charles Guiteau, disappointed in his own hopes for the Paris Consulate, believed that Garfield had to be “removed” in order to save the Republican Party and the country. He purchased an English bulldog revolver – with borrowed money – from a shop in Washington.  He saw himself as a patriot and believed that the American public would rally to his support. He also believed that God – “the Deity” was the term he used – was telling him to remove President Garfield.

     Guiteau began stalking Garfield. One morning in June, he followed him to the Disciples church where the President worshipped. Guiteau couldn’t shoot a man at his devotions.

      Next, Guiteau followed Garfield to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station on June 18. The President was accompanying his wife Lucretia to New Jersey, where she was to complete her recuperation from an attack of malaria. Guiteau couldn’t shoot Garfield there, either. Mrs. Garfield looked so frail, standing by her husband, that Guiteau said later that he “did not have the heart to fire upon him.”

     On a third occasion, Guiteau watched the President and his Secretary of State, James Blaine (who had been so rude to him) walking arm in arm on a Washington street one evening. He followed the pair for some time, but did not act.

      But Guiteau knew that he had one more chance to remove the President. It was announced in the newspapers. President Garfield would be taking a train to New Jersey, on Saturday, July 2 to meet his wife and continue on to a vacation in New England and New York.  The train would depart the Baltimore and Potomac Train Station at 9:30 a.m.

      This time he was prepared to act. He knew he would be arrested, so a few days before he checked out the Washington Jail. He thought it would be a nice place to be confined.

     Guiteau was already at the station when the President arrived a few minutes past nine, with Secretary Blaine by his side. The President and Secretary were crossing into the main waiting room when Guiteau fired two shots. One grazed Garfield’s right arm, while the other tunneled into his back. The President collapsed.

The Baltimore and Potomace railroad depot in which Guiteau shot Garfield. Note the black bunting and half-staff flag. Today, the National Portrait Gallery is found where this depot once stood. (www.touring-ohio.com)

     Charles Guiteau was immediately apprehended. Addressing one of the arresting officers, he said, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

     Guiteau became something of a celebrity in the press; his photograph was taken many times, and interviews and articles by and about him appeared in print. He always insisted that he was the agent of “the Deity” and that what he had done was for the good of the country.  Garfield lingered for 80 days before dying on September 19, 1881.  Guiteau, so sure he would be revered for his actions, was hanged on June 30, 1882, two days shy of the first anniversary of his attack on President Garfield.

     It is worth noting that the National Civil Service Reform League took advantage of President’s assassination by distributing a letter nationwide connecting the “recent murderous attack” on Garfield to promote reform legislation.  That legislation, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, was signed into law by President Arthur on January 16, 1883.

     So, President James Abram Garfield was assassinated not simply because a mentally deranged individual was “a disappointed office seeker”; a long-standing and divisive effort to reform the machinery of the Federal government created such a poisonous political atmosphere that that same disturbed individual saw himself as the person equipped to put and end to this factional and personal dispute.  Regretably, his solution robbed the country of the leadership of the intelligent, thoughtful, talented man who was the 20th President of the United States.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

The Story of “Uncle Joe” Rudolph

The small single engine plane flew low over Mentor, Ohio, allowing the 90-year-old passenger a good view of the scenery below. Uncle Joe waved to the children on the ground, thoroughly enjoying his first trip on an airplane. After landing he told his nephew, James R. Garfield, that he could now leave this world and meet up with his late wife and sister without embarrassment. Uncle Joe had been angry with himself for avoiding any trips on the newfangled machine.

Joseph Rudolph was born September 13, 1841 in Garrretsville, Ohio, the third child of Zeb and Arabella. He had an older sister, Lucretia, who would marry future President James A. Garfield. Joe was raised on a farm, an ideal place for a young boy to get into trouble. One summer day the younger Rudolph and a friend came upon a mud hole with a collection of hogs wallowing in it. The boys decided to chase away the animals and dive into the mud hole. It was great fun until Joe walked home to the farmhouse, where his mother somehow did not approve of the mud hole playground.

Several years later the Rudolphs moved a short distance to Hiram, Ohio so Joe’s older brother John and Lucretia could attend a more modern school. Later Zeb would build a home in the center of town where the Rudolph family lived for nearly 30 years. Joe spent his formative years here, eventually attending the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (today’s Hiram College).

Though not a great scholar, Joe managed to handle the classwork at the Eclectic until April 1861 when the Civil War began. He and several other friends began sleeping on the floor and taking long walks before breakfast. This was done to prepare for enlistment in the Union Army. When the call for volunteers came, Joe, still shy of is twentieth birthday, joined the 19th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a three-month enlistment. The regiment trained in Painesville where the town hotel served them meals and the Seminary girls showed them every kindness. When the 19th was transferred to Cleveland, Joe recalled the spirited farewell. He remarked, “At the station we had about the liveliest skirmish of our whole term of service. Each one of the hundred boys kissing two hundred Seminary girls goodbye, with the town girls thrown in, was a somewhat lengthy, but not tedious ceremony.”

Upon arrival in Cleveland Joe promptly deserted the 19th OVI and joined his friends in the 23rd regiment. They did their training at Camp Taylor until late June 1861, when the 23rd was ordered to Camp Chase in Columbus. A month later they left for Virginia, where the regiment saw little action until winter brought an end to the campaign. Joe camped with his friends from Hiram and survived a wave of camp fever that took the lives of a number of soldiers from the regiment.

Company A of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, where Joe Rudolph soldiered during the Civil War. Hiram College Archives.


In late February 1862 Joe applied for another transfer, this time to the 42nd OVI, commanded by his brother in law, James A. Garfield. Joe managed to get two weeks leave in the process, allowing him to take a leisurely trip home to Hiram. After some welcomed home cooking he left for Kentucky to join Company A of the 42nd, which was made up of Joe’s classmates from the Eclectic Institute. He took part in the end of the Sandy Valley Campaign, where several regiments of Confederates were chased all the way back to Virginia.

While on duty months later in Tennessee, Joe received his first and only wound of the war. The 42nd was on a raid of the town of Tazewell, where Company A stopped a local citizen and stole his saddlebags. Among the contents was a quart bottle of whiskey. On the march back to camp Joe and the boys took several side trips to the bushes and drained the bottle. A short distance later the wobbly soldier lost his balance and fell off the trail into a pile of stones. Joe‘s forefinger got wedged under his musket, causing a severe wound. After the war he would tell a fancy tale of the incident. Joe would say, “I noticed no damage until we were in camp, where I found that the finger joint was smashed. But I am not sorry, as I have ever since been able to show that I suffered for my country.” Days later on a similar raid, Joe would see hundreds of Confederate soldiers just yards in front of him cut to pieces by Union artillery.

There were more incidents in the area near Tazewell. Rumors spread that Confederates were gathering on top of a nearby ridge. The 42nd was ordered to charge the ridge and remove the enemy troops. Halfway up the hill the boys came upon a huge berry patch. They had not eaten since the previous day. The entire regiment came to a halt, including the officers, which lead to an all-out assault of the patch. Joe would later describe the carnage. He stated, “The officers’ mouths so full of berries that they could give no orders, leastwise none that we could or cared to understand. Having filled our stomachs, we proceeded to the top. Not a Johnnie in sight.”

Joe Rudolph and his wife, Lide, at the Garfield home in Mentor, Ohio. Garfield family photo.

Of course it was not all fun and games for Joe. The 42nd took part in the Vicksburg campaign and saw serious action at Chickasaw Bluffs, Thompson’s Hill, and the Black River Bridge. They attempted a frontal assault on the city of Vicksburg, which became a futile effort to dislodge the Confederates. Joe recalled making a charge and seeing an enemy artillery shell heading right for him. He froze while the shell exploded about 40 feet from where he was standing. Fragments flew by on either side but failed to touch him.

There were many casualties at Vicksburg, the Hiram boys included. Some of the soldiers were killed by friendly fire, when clouds of smoke obscured the difference between blue and gray. On July 4, 1863 the Confederate army surrendered to General Grant. The Vicksburg campaign came to an end. Joe had “seen the elephant” after two years of hard fighting. He received a promotion to sergeant of Company “A” for his conduct as a soldier on the field.

Despite the intense fighting at Vicksburg, Joe and the boys still found time for more mischief. The 42nd was being transported on a steamer when Company “A” noticed a large barrel of fresh apples being loaded on board. They found a long pole, tied a bayonet to the end and quietly speared all the apples they could eat. The next morning they stole the captain’s breakfast by maneuvering the pole through a stovepipe opening above his table. Though the 42nd were now seasoned combat veterans and had seen the horrors of war, they still were boys at heart.

After the Vicksburg campaign, Joe was sent to New Orleans along with the 42nd. There was little to do there except court the local ladies who grew fond of the boys in blue. There would be marches and counter marches, but very little action over the next year. Joe received another promotion to Captain and Assistant Quartermaster, which meant he would stay in the army after his enlistment expired in the fall of 1864. Joe saw duty in Louisiana and Texas, where he set up warehouses and supply depots for Union brigades. He returned to civilian life in December of 1865.

In the 1880’s Joe would move to Mentor to live with his older sister, Lucretia, and his niece and nephews. He settled in the third floor apartment with his wife and his two sons. Joe became the gentleman farmer, overseeing the workers at the Garfield farm. When the United States declared war with Spain in 1898, the fifty-seven-year-old Joe attempted to enlist. Years later he was on vacation in England where he met some English soldiers on their way to action in World War I. Joe called out to the boys, saying, “I know what you are experiencing and I wish I were able to go with you!” One has to think if the soldiers had an extra rifle a certain Civil War veteran would have been seen charging out of the trenches in the French countryside.

Joe Rudolph is his later years. He was the last Garfield family member to live in the house at what is now James A. Garfield National Historic Site. Garfield family photo.

The rest of Joe’s ninety-three years were lived in quiet comfort at his sister’s home, where he was the last Garfield family member to live in the home that is now the main attraction at James A. Garfield National Historic Site.  Quiet and comfort…except for the day when a young female pilot knocked on the Garfield front door. There was still one more great adventure for Uncle Joe.

All quotes attributed to Joseph Rudolph, Pickups from the American Way, Hiram Historical Society, 1941.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

“As a Matter of Fact, I Presume I Shall Live to be President”: A Brief Biographical Sketch of Garfield’s Assassin

From the year he was born in Freeport, Illinois in 1841, Charles Julius Guiteau had lived a life of nearly constant instability.  His mother died when he was just seven years old and his father was harsh and often negligent, and as a result he was usually looked after by his older sister Frances.  According to Frances, he was very late in learning to speak and always seemed in constant, excited motion.  However, Guiteau apparently strove for self-improvement and worked to educate himself.  In 1859 he used an inheritance to attend the University of Michigan, but he was slow to make friends and left after a year to join a religious commune in Oneida, New York.  He struggled to fit in with the community there as well and was described by most of his acquaintances as moody and egotistical.

The Oneida community as it looked in the mid-to-late 1800s. (New York Public Library)

This theme of instability in Guiteau’s life progressed and grew with time.  He spent his adult years travelling from city to city, trying his hand at a variety of vocations and wild business schemes, but all ended in failure.  One such idea was to start a theocratic newspaper in 1865, but the venture fell apart after three months.  A few years later he tried the more direct approach of buying out a Chicago daily paper and reprinting New York Tribune articles.  However, no one would loan him the money for his outlandish plan, despite a supposed promise to make one of his investors President of the United States if he would contribute. 

Nearly everyone who crossed paths with Guiteau noted his odd behavior, such as rapid mood swings and his habit of never looking someone in the eye while talking.  Many family members and acquaintances believed him to be insane.  His egotistical personality from his days at the Oneida Community seemed to intensify and his grandiose plans for himself continued unabated.  Guiteau married a librarian named Annie Bunn in 1869, but after years of abuse and instability she divorced him in 1874. She would later recount Guiteau’s interest in the 1872 election and his hope that he would be appointed Minister to Chile if Horace Greeley won.  He limped through a less-than-thorough examination for the Illinois bar (he was apparently asked three questions and got two correct, a score of 66%) but he rarely participated in trials, mostly working as a bill-collector.  Guiteau ran into legal problems as a bill-collector, though, and spent brief stints in jail for scamming clients of their legal fees.  He then tried the life of a traveling preacher for a few years in the late 1870s, where most in his audience struggled to make sense of his confused and disjointed speeches.

Charles Julius Guiteau. He would allow portraits to be taken (for a fee) and signed numerous autographs during his murder trial. (Smithsonian-National Portrait Gallery)

Guiteau finally believed he had discovered his purpose in early 1880 when he once again became interested in politics and the upcoming election.  This time he attached himself to former President Ulysses S. Grant, Horace Greeley’s opponent in the 1872 election.  He moved to New York City and tried to befriend the leaders of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, who supported Grant’s reelection.  He even wrote a rambling, clichéd speech for the Republican frontrunner titled “Grant against Hancock”; when Garfield ended up with the nomination in June of 1880 Guiteau kept the speech largely the same and simply substituted Garfield’s name for Grant’s.  After repeated requests, the Stalwarts allowed him to give his speech one time in front of about two dozen spectators.  Despite his minimal audience, Guiteau claimed that it was his ideas that had won Garfield the presidency.

Convinced he had earned himself a prestigious appointment as a “personal tribute” for his work during the campaign, Guiteau was a regular presence in the White House reception room.  He wrote to Garfield numerous times and once even received a brief audience with the President where he requested an appointment to the Paris consulship.  But after months of waiting it eventually dawned on Guiteau that he would not receive the position he believed was owed to him. Shortly after this realization, he concluded that God wanted him to “remove the President for the good of the American people.”  In support of his “revelation”, he recalled his numerous brushes with death, such as surviving a shipwreck and being thrown from a moving train, and he thus believed he had divine protection.  Believing he would be viewed as a hero for saving the Republican Party from Garfield’s desire to reform civil service by ending the patronage system, Guiteau borrowed money from an old acquaintance (he was nearly penniless at this point) and purchased an ivory-handled pistol.  He was sure that the ivory handle would look better should the pistol ever be put on display in a museum.  Guiteau stalked the President for weeks before finally shooting Garfield at the Baltimore and Potomac train station in Washington D.C. on July 2, 1881.

Harper’s Weekly sketch of Guiteau during the trial. He often feigned disinterest in the proceedings by reading a newspaper. (University of Missouri-Kansas City, http://www.umkc.edu)

Guiteau’s trial began in November 1881, two months after Garfield’s death.  Guiteau insisted that he had been temporarily insane and denied having any responsibility for his actions because, in his mind, he was merely the “appointed agent” of God’s will.  Guiteau argued that “It was transitory mania that I had; that is all the insanity that I claim” and said that he never would have shot the President under his own free will.  Guiteau also maintained that it was malpractice that had actually killed the President, stating “The doctors did that. I simply shot at him” and “…we acknowledge the shooting, but not the killing.”  But while Guiteau claimed temporary insanity, his lawyers argued that he was entirely insane by pointing to testimonies from family and acquaintances regarding his long history of odd behavior. However, at the time the insanity defense relied on the M’Naghten rule, which held a defendant responsible if he knew his actions to be unlawful and understood the consequences; Guiteau was clearly aware of these two facts.  The prosecution also maintained that even if Guiteau was insane he was still sane enough to know what he was doing and was thus accountable for his actions.

Even at the end of his trial, Guiteau clung to the belief that he was a hero.  In a “Christmas Greeting” sent to newspapers Guiteau compared his patriotism to that of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant and declared “As a matter of fact, I presume I shall live to be President.”  In the trial he denied being a disappointed office-seeker and maintained that Garfield’s death was a political necessity, commanded by God, in order to unify the Republican Party and save the nation from a second civil war.  His defense, which was lead for the most part by his brother-in-law George Scoville, tried to keep him quiet but Guiteau interrupted virtually every testimony with clarifications and insults (even taking numerous opportunities to insult his lawyer, Scoville, for his inexperience with criminal trials).  The proceedings lasted nearly three months but after deliberating for just under an hour the jury found Guiteau guilty. He was hanged in Washington DC on June 30, 1882, just two days shy of a year after he shot President Garfield.

Guiteau being escorted from the courthouse. The courtroom was usually packed with spectators, and there were several attempts to shoot Guiteau. (“Guiteau the Assassin,” by George B. Herbert)

-T.J. Todd, Visitor Use Assistant