Throughout the last 231 years, there have undoubtedly been scores of Richland County men and women who have attended US presidential inaugurations. Not many of them, however, have written about the experience and provided an account of what they saw and heard.
One such person was Robert Wesley McBride, who had a close-up seat at the second inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. McBride, who had been born in 1842 southeast of Mansfield, enlisted in the Ohio 7th Cavalry, otherwise known as the “Union Light Guard.” That unit soon served as a bodyguard for the President and mounted escort.
That role lasted for a bit over one year, which was the last year of Lincoln’s life.
Years after the war, McBride penned a recollection of that time in Washington entitled “Lincoln’s Body Guard, the Union Light Guard of Ohio: With Some Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln.” In it, he describes his attendance at Lincoln’s Second Inauguration and his reaction to it. He wrote;
“When Mr. Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address I had the privilege of standing within twenty feet of him. His voice was singularly clear and penetrating. It had a sort of metallic ring. His enunciation was perfect. There was an immense crowd of people surrounding the east front of the Capitol, but it seemed as if his voice would reach the entire audience. It had rained a great deal during the forenoon, and clouds overcast the sky as the presidential party and the Senate came out on the east portico. While the ceremonies were in progress the clouds suddenly parted, and, although it was about midday. Venus was seen clearly shining in the blue sky. The attention of the immense throng was directed to it. The superstitious ones, and some who were not so superstitious, as they listened to that wonderful address, were impressed with the thought that the appearance of the star might be an omen of the hoped-for peace, of which Mr. Lincoln spoke with such wistful pathos.”
The Inaugural Address that day contained several well-known passages, including:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
In the same work, McBride recounted the well known story about Lincoln requesting that a band play “Dixie” during the celebration of the South’s surrender.
In later years, McBride would practice law in Elkhart, Indiana, and became a Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.