Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Michael Gabbard Part 2: A Deeper Look

Concluding the series on Civil War soldier Michael Gabbard and his wife Mary Ann, this post will explore the story of his service on the honor guard that escorted Abraham Lincoln’s body from Chicago to Springfield following Lincoln’s assassination.

As I read the story about his presence on Lincoln’s honor guard, it intrigued me more and more. How cool would it be to find a soldier who had such a role in a hugely important moment of American history? 

Soon, however, I began to wonder how true it was. History is full of myths, often to benefit a person’s reputation, which probably is the source of my skepticism, so I decided to look into it a little more before posting it.

I found the honor guard story in a 1979 newspaper article called It Happened Here (see the previous posts), on family history sites, and on a findagrave page that lists a family newsletter as a sourceEven with my uncertainty about how true the this entire story is, I find it to be an interesting tale, a combination of history, memory, and family oral tradition.

It Happened Here provided some information about Michael’s military service, including the honor guard story in italics below:

It is one of my hobbies to look for common everyday events that are linked to history. Today I discovered one that links the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1865, to the fact that when our members or visitors come into the Co-op office, the first person they usually see...is our receptionist...Mrs. Marjorie Mullins, an Owsley County McIntosh.  Her mother was a Gabbard. 

Per this article, Mrs. Mullins’ aunt Nell typed a twenty-four page “family history from their oral tradition” (emphasis added.This article reprinted part of that history.

The article started with a mention of Michael Gabbard’s wound, as the previous post discussed. Then, He was sent to a prison at Rock Island, Illinois to guard the southern prisoners. While (he was) here, President Lincoln was killed. The body was brought to Chicago. Grandpa was chosen as one of the honor guards to accompany the body from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois and help bury it. In Chicago he met and married Mary Ann Manguin from County Cork, Ireland in the spring of 1865 (Note: “Mangan” is the correct spelling of her name, and they actually married in September 1864 ) 

Michael Gabbard and Mary Ann Manguim lived on Indian Creek in Owsley County (Kentucky.) They had a son, Stephen, who had a daughter, Edna (sister to Nell) that married Charley McIntosh. (Edna was the mother of the Mrs. Mullins mentioned above.)

When your great grandparents married and he was mustered out of the army, they came to Kentucky and built two rooms of the house on Indian Creek where your mother and dad first started housekeeping and where your sister Geneva was born.

His wife's story indicates he spent time at Camp Douglas not Rock Island, but he may have been at both. Both locations are only mentioned in one source each, neither on Fold3.com.

I found similar stories about his presence on the honor guard online, first on findagrave.com, where his page states: Michael was a member of the honor guard that accompanied Abraham Lincoln’s body by rail from Chicago to Springfield Illinois for burial. All information from the Gabbard family Newsletter. Article by John Gabbard June 1995.

I also found this story and genealogical information on a family/military history siteThe key section indicated: 

Michael Gabbard - Private   Michael 'Drunk Mike' Gabbard was chosen to escort President Abraham Lincoln's funeral train from Chicago to Springfield, IL.

After the Battle of Perryville, Michael was attached to Camp Chase Ohio to guard Confederate Prisoners.  

Michael and his 8 brothers served within the 8th KY INF.  

This next site tells a similar tale. I suspect each one shared a common source for the honor guard story, but here are the relevant lines from this site:

Four of the sons of Isaac and Jane were in the Union Army during the Civil War: George W., James, Jacob and Michael. James was killed in the battle Lookout Mountain; Michael was wounded in the same battle. Michael was an Honor Guard for Abraham Lincoln's body when it was transported by rail from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois. [Actually 5 sons served - Abel served, too, because he applied for his pension.]

(Note: A quick search indicates that George and Jacob were in the 47th Kentucky Infantry and that Abel joined Michael in the 8th Kentucky. James, however, died in 1859, before the war even began. Still, a family having four brothers in the war is a fascinating story itself (though I don’t know where the previous site got the “8 brothers” figure.) Maybe researching the other three will make a good future project.)

These stories are fairly consistent, and that made me more interested in finding other sources about it. I admittedly did all my research online, and realize I may have missed published works that provide more information, but I thought the search was as thorough as I could reasonably do for this blog. Maybe someone who knows more about the honor guard or other sources will stumble upon these words and help uncover more about this story. I will gladly post corrections of any errors made herein.

I searched under terms like “Lincoln’s honor guard,” “Lincoln honor guard Chicago,” “Gabbard, Lincoln honor guard,” and similar phrases and did find some helpful information. 


Gabbard was in the Veteran Reserve Corps (VRC,) but was a private, not a non-commissioned officer such as a sergeant. 

Another site provides a list of individual names on the honor guard. Gabbard is not on that list, nor is any member of the 8th VRC. 

I did find an image of the program from the public viewing of Lincoln’s body in Chicago, and the website’s description caught my attention: This program for the Chicago funeral includes the names of pall bearers, a mounted honor guard, and general processors. Unfortunately, the list of honor guard members is not legible, even when I save and enlarge it. (Other pages, including Pinterest, show this same image, without the tassels, but are no more readable than this one.) I am not sure Gabbard would have been on a “mounted” honor guard, but I would like to see those names anyway.

Here is the artifact: 



No source I found listed Gabbard as part of Lincoln’s honor guard, other than the genealogy websites and the newspaper article. It seems likely that these may have all been based on family oral history like the article mentioned. 

This contrast between family history and official public records leaves me with a few theories as to how this story developed.

1. Michael witnessed the transportation of Lincoln’s body and later described it to someone who shared the story. Over time and many retellings the story mistakenly evolved to include Michael as part of the honor guard.  

2. He did view the honor guard at work, but as time passed and his memory faded, he unintentionally and honestly started believing he was part of it and communicated that to others. He lived until 1902, and memories do fail over time, especially decades.

3. He was part of the honor guard, unofficially or in a small role that went unrecorded. He was in Chicago as part of the VRC, during the right time period. Moving Lincoln’s body was a big deal and possibly required many additional workers beyond the official guards. In that case, the family story could be correct even if no “official records” ever existed to confirm it. 

One message board mentioned a similar possibility: ...as I understand it, each city which had services for Abraham Lincoln had its own set of honorary pallbearers. The honorary pallbearers walked on either side of the coffin as it was carried by the men listed above. I realize this is not the most scholarly source, but the thought was similar to (and more detailed than) mine, so I am sharing it for consideration.

4. He was part of the honor guard, but any records proving so have been lost, destroyed or misplaced over time, or they still exist to prove it, but I have simply not found them.

5. He was not part of the honor guard, but at some point he told someone he was (perhaps to counter his reputation as “Drunk Mike,” or maybe he created this tale while drinking and perhaps bragging about his service) and it became part of family history over time.

6. Someone else created the idea, either intentionally or not, perhaps to help his reputation or to create family pride.

Let me note here that the family history excerpt in the newspaper article  was incorrect t when it claimed Michael was injured at Lookout Mountain as well as with a couple other details, so that leads me to question the accuracy of the rest of it. 

If this is just family legend, many legends do have some basis in truth, even if small, and that may be the case here, despite the apparent lack of other documentation. Perhaps future research (or luck) will uncover further evidence or sources someday.

Overall, the stories of Michael Gabbard and his wife fascinate me and show how family lore can intersect with history.Even if the legends are not always completely true, they are important, especially to that family. Many families likely have their own oral histories whose only sources are the retelling of stories from previous generations. My own family has an undocumented story about  Civil War veteran Henderson Turner walking hundreds of miles home after leaving his regiment, but we cannot even find his name in any records other than the 1890 Veteran’s Census, though he received a veteran’s headstone. 

Michael Gabbard died on August 22, 1902 and was buried in the Esau-Gabbard Cemetery in Owsley County. 

Rest In Peace, soldier. 

Pictures from findagrave


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