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The Lincoln Bugle

“The Lincoln Bugle? History not proven.”

Someone spent over $100,00 for a nice family heirloom whose connection with the Lincoln Funeral is a story.

by Jari Villanueva and John Bieniarz

A bugle purporting to be the bugle used at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln was sold at an auction house in Dallas, Texas. The sale happened on December 1, 2017 and some person spent a lot of money for a story.

Here is the information from the auction house website:

Over the years, (the auction house) has offered various important relics related to President Lincoln’s assassination, but none are more poignant than this instrument which belonged to the bugler in his personal guard.

The story begins in 1863, when Governor Tod of Ohio offered to raise a troop of 103 men to serve as President Lincoln’s personal guard. One volunteer from each Ohio county would be selected to serve in this elite unit. Young Hiram Cook of Columbus offered his services, but all the positions were filled, he was told – except, the officer said, that the unit did not have a bugler. Cook acknowledged that he did not play the instrument, but assured the man that he could learn to do so based on his earlier experience playing the cornet in the Union Army. Apparently, he was a quick learner, because by the time the troop assembled he was up to the job. The guard continued to watch over Lincoln until his assassination. 

A 1940 newspaper article in the Columbus, Ohio, Citizen quoted Cook at length about that tragic night. Some troopers escorted the president on his visit to Ford’s Theatre, but Hiram and most of the guard had turned in when a man woke them shouting “Call out the guards! Seward has been attacked!” Cook played “Boots and Saddles” and the troop mounted up and set off for the Secretary of State’s residence when another man flagged them down, shouting “For God’s sake go to Ford’s Theatre, President Lincoln has been shot.” Recalled Cook, “We wheeled our horses so suddenly that some of us fell on the rough street and were injured. The rest of us hurried to Ford’s Theatre.”

They arrived just in time to witness the President’s limp body being carried across the street and up the stairs to a small second floor bedroom in what would become known as the Peterson House. “With difficulty we cleared the street and stood guard until 7 o’clock in the morning when the president died. Two hours later the body, wrapped in an American flag, was taken through the hushed streets to… the White House.”

For the next two days, Lincoln lay in state at the White House and then in the Capitol building, the body at all times watched over by his guard. “At six o’clock (Thursday) morning, after a prayer by Dr. Gurley, members of the Cabinet, Navy Officials, and a number of other dignitaries followed the coffin to the railway station, where the funeral train waited to carry the body from Washington to Springfield. A great crowd of people had gathered for the last scene of the tragedy. They stood in absolute silence with uncovered heads, while I raised my bugle to my lips and sounded taps over the body of Abraham Lincoln.”

The train made slow progress, stopping in a number of cities so citizens could pay their respects. According to the official History of Ohio, “at each place where the services were held on route the historic bugle was used in blowing taps, including the final obsequies at Springfield, Illinois.”

According to a June 17, 1923, article in the Columbus Dispatch, “the historic bugle has been located in Columbus and will be used in blowing the assembly call in the ‘Pageant of Memories’ which will be given at the state G.A.R. encampment June 26. The bugle is the property of H. M. Cook, who inherited it from his father, Hiram Cook, who was a member of President Lincoln’s bodyguard.”


On the surface this sounds like a wonderful story and here are the photos that go along with the auction.

The bugler and bugle became the subject of a 1962 Pickaway County Historical Society article by Trudy Yates that stated, “Hiram Cook of Circleville, Ohio, a bugler in the Union Light Guards, blew taps as Lincoln’s funeral train left Washington.”

The article probably was used as evidence to have the Smithsonian Institute display the bugle at the National Museum of History and Technology in 1974. It was around the same time the US Army Band (Pershing’s Own) loaned the bugle (field trumpet), conductor’s baton and drum used at the funeral of President Kennedy to the Smithsonian for the exhibit. The Kennedy bugle (well documented with provenance) was moved to Arlington National Cemetery in 1998 by the co-author of this article.

The problem is that this is a family story without any kind of supportive evidence that Taps was sounded at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln and that Hiram Cook, not only sounded Taps for a private ceremony in the White House, but also sounded Taps as the Train left for Springfield on its long journey, sounded Taps at stops along the way and finally at the final obsequies for Lincoln in Springfield, IL.

The Lincoln Bugle, in my opinion, is not a “Lincoln Bugle,” played by Hiram Cook in any official capacity except he said he did 50-plus years later. Hiram Cook offered different versions of where he was the night of the assassination and there is no record anywhere I’ve found of anyone sounding Taps at the burial services for Lincoln or blowing a bugle on the train along the route of the funeral procession. There would have been newspaper accounts of this happening since everything surrounding the Lincoln funeral was covered quite extensively. For example, the Washington Evening Star has the name of the guy who shoveled coal, or put wood into the steam engine boiler of the train that carried Lincoln’s body. The names of those who attended the service were listed in newspapers. Vivid descriptions of the procession to the Capitol include the line of march, even the music played was annotated. The eulogies given at the service were printed word for word as were poems and lyrics to hymns.

Lincoln scholar James Swanson has written a detailed account about the funeral in his book, “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse.” Nowhere in his thoroughly researched writing is there any mention of a bugle or bugler. Plus nothing of a bugler is mentioned in “Twenty Days: A Narrative in Text and Pictures of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln” by Dorothy Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. or even “Memorial Record of the Nation’s Tribute To Abraham Lincoln,” compiled by Benjamin Franklin Morris in 1865 that detailed the funeral procession, lying in state, funeral services (with funeral addresses) tributes and the final service at Oak Ridge cemetery in Springfield on May 4th. Another thorough book is “The Lincoln Funeral Train: The Final Journey and National Funeral for Abraham Lincoln” by Scott. D. Trostel. Trostel includes a list of civilian and military personnel on the train. Cook’s name is not listed.
To be fair, there is a mention that Taps was sounded at the funeral (after “the crowds were ushered out”) in the book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Legacy of Lincoln” by Pamela Oldham and Meredith Bean McMath. I had seen this reference some years ago and wrote to the authors asking for documentation. I did not receive a response.

If a bugler did sound Taps anywhere from the White House to Springfield why is there nothing in newspapers about it? Corroboration is needed: photographs, newspaper articles written by a third person, contemporaneous diaries, letters, serial numbers, muster rolls, adjutant-general reports, regimental histories, period engravings verified by experts, death certificates, special orders, pension records, service records…. something besides, “I played this bugle at Lincoln’s funeral.”

The original bugle was supposed to be loaned out by Howard Cook, the son of Bugler Hiram Cook, to an unknown bugler, and was probably not in control/sight of the son, who I believe was in his 60s in 1923. Bugler Hiram Cook first served as Musician in the Band of the 2nd Ohio Infantry, enlisting Sept. 16, 1861. We do not have his muster out dates. After either mustering out or discharge for illness, Cook enlisted in 1863 as Private and volunteered to be a Bugler of the “The Union Light Guard,” officially, the 7th Independent Squadron, Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, a company of 108 men. Specially recruited by Ohio Governor Tod, the Union light Guard was one of several composite units or parts of regiments, assigned to Washington, D.C., for cavalry escort and protection of President Lincoln and other dignitaries. Throughout the war other units for protection duty included the 11th and 16th New York Cavalry, and Co. K, 150th Pennsylvania Infantry.

The Union Light Guard left Ohio, Dec. 23, 1863, and were stationed at a barracks, just south of the Treasury Building near “E Street.”

Hiram Cook started telling his story about the Lincoln’s assassination to numerous newspapers, while in his late 70s. This continued from around 1909 until his death in 1921. In one interview, while in the barracks at Washington, D.C., he claimed that after getting word that Lincoln was shot, he sounded “Boots and Saddles” without being ordered to; in another, he was ordered to “call out the guard.” In one story, the newspaper has him inside Ford’s Theater when Lincoln was shot, instead of the barracks. Concerning Taps, in one story Cook claimed he sounded Taps in the East Room of the White House for a “private funeral for the family,” before Lincoln’s body left for the procession to the train station, and in another, he played at the train station in DC, but never mentioned the private funeral. Cook’s claim in another story he accompanied Lincoln’s body to Illinois and sounded Taps at “every stop,” and in another story, Cook does not say he accompanied Lincoln’s body anywhere after the train left the station in Washington, D.C. However in 1962, in the article called “Lincoln’s Bugler,” Trudy R. Yates, Pickaway County Historical Society writes “Hiram Cook of Circleville, Ohio, a bugler in the Union Light Guards, blew taps as Lincoln’s funeral train left Washington.”

In the final version Cook somehow made it to Illinois, and sounded Taps over “the grave.” If Cook sounded Taps as the train left, I doubt he did it from the train, thereby not being on the train to sound Taps “at every stop” en-route to Illinois. No proof exists the Union Light Guard was relieved of duty in Washington while the manhunt was on for the killers, only to ride the train to Illinois. Unless Bugler Cook somehow received special authority on official detached duty as a bugler for the funeral train, he never left DC either. The unit mustered out of service Sept. 9, 1865.

As far as written history for the Union Light Guard, one narrative was written by the Company Clerk describes the funeral, but does not mention Bugler Cook or Taps, or escorting Lincoln’s body to Illinois:

From Lincoln’s Body Guard, the Union Light Guard of Ohio, written Cpl. Robert McBride, Company Clerk in 1911: “At the time of the funeral the Union Light Guard, together with the company of infantry, attended without arms, as mourners, occupying and almost filling the Blue Room. The two companies marched behind the coffin to the Capitol, and encircled the coffin in the center of the great rotunda, while the final family funeral service was conducted by Rev. Dr. Gurley. The only persons within the circle thus formed were the officiating clergy, Robert T. Lincoln, the members of the Cabinet, and a few general officers.”

One would think if their bugler sounded Taps or the unit did any more than be there, the author would proudly tell us.

We have not read in any newspaper account of the funeral, that the Union Light Guard performed funeral duties specifically in the White House. The Washington Evening Star, April 20, 1865, reported that the Honor Guard leaving the East Room, going to the Capitol were soldiers of the 10th Veteran Reserve Corps, and that in the procession was the Band of the 10th Veteran Reserve Corps, soldiers and Band of the 16th New York Cavalry, Band of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, 4th Massachusetts Artillery and the Marine Band among others. The Union Light Guard soldiers are listed as “mourners,” in that procession. With the Marine Band present under Band Leader Francis Scala, we would doubt seriously that a bugler from the Union Light Guard sounded Taps, if indeed Taps was sounded at the White House.

The Union Light Guard did perform ceremonial guard at the catafalque that day in the rotunda, along with the 12th Veteran Reserve Corps. No mention of Taps in newspapers.

The next day, the newspaper states that at the casket in the Capitol was “the 12th Veteran Reserve Corps,” who removed the casket from the rotunda for the procession to the train station with no mention of the Union Light Guard or Taps or Cook. Several newspapers describe various bands playing dirges, the train bell tolling, the number of the train, who the engineer was, the fireman, dispatcher… but not Taps being sounded at any time.

As described from the auction house in the 1923 newspaper article, the bugle is “battered,” and looking at the photo now, it is not. This casts more doubt on this being THE original bugle, or it’s been repaired. The image of the bugle on the auction write-up is photographed against a “45-star flag,” which was not in use until 1896 and stayed in use until 1908. Why is the bugle photographed against that flag? Who knows? Was it loaned out numerous times?

Finally, while the article from the auction house states the bugle was going to sound bugle calls at the State Convention in 1923, nothing has been found from newspapers days later that described event, that the bugle was ever used. We can only imagine after a newspaper article said the famous bugle was going to be used, newspapers would have described it being used.

Some of the inconsistencies could be inaccurate press, or the press leaving out information for brevity, or just the story as told by a guy 50+ years later, with no corroboration by any contemporaneous source. Those sources, written at the time give great detail about every movement, speech, ceremony, countless units, states represented etc…
What we can prove is Hiram Cook was a Bugler in the Union Light Guard, and he was present in Washington, D.C., at the time President Lincoln was assassinated. That’s what can be proven. After the night of Lincoln’s assassination, all the “evidence” is Cook’s word and “family lore.” We must say there is a vacuum of corroboration that should be there, and that the bugle is worth whatever the bugle is worth without the story.

There’s not much we can tell from the bugle as the auction house has not allowed a close inspection of the horn. A request had been made but the answer came back that it was sealed in the display box and could not be opened. If there is any kind of marking on the instrument such as a manufacturer’s name, we could date the instrument. Based on the photo on the internet, the horn appears to be a brass instrument with a garland on the bell. From the one view we have of it, the horn is a double twist cylindrical cavalry styled trumpet. It is probably in the key of F or G and appears to look like the M1879 pattern. Without closer inspection it’s hard to tell. These cavalry trumpets were based on those made during the Civil War.

The instrument in greatest use during the Civil War was the large belled bugle (clairon) imported from Europe. These bugles or clairons were in the key of C or B flat (with the aid of a crook) and were imported in large quantities during the 1860s. The “regulation” Civil War bugle was a single twist (copper, with a brass garland and a brass reinforcing band 8 inches up), which we see made or imported under contract, and stamped, by Stratton & Foote, Horstmann, Klemm Bros., Draper Bros., Church, and others. The “Lincoln bugle” is certainly not of this type.

The May 1865 Quartermaster manual calls for “Trumpets – To be made of brass; when plain, viz; without crooks, to stand in F; with tuning slide and three crooks; to stand in G; they are to be 14-1/4″ high…..with crooks, 5 or 5-1/4″ wide in the middle and to weigh including crooks and without mouthpiece about 1 pound 2 ounces….the bowl(bell) about 5- or 5-1/4″ in diameter…Bugles to be made of copper and to stand in C…”

In 1879 the Quartermaster called for a US Pattern-1879 “F” Trumpet for US Infantry troops adopted February 15, 1879. Here are some photos of the M1879 which look a lot like the purported “Lincoln Bugle.”r a US Pattern-1879 “F” Trumpet for US Infantry troops adopted February 15, 1879. Here are some photos of the M1879 which look a lot like the purported “Lincoln Bugle.”




Last but not least is the issue of Taps being sounded at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. The call had come into existence less than three years before having been first sounded at Harrison’s Landing on the banks of the James River in July, 1862. The call originated as a replacement for the regulation lights-out call, “Extinguish Lights.” This new call (referred to as Taps) soon spread throughout the Union Army and may have been used by the Confederates. It was used as a funeral call sometime before the end of the war and certainly gained widespread use at funerals and memorial services following the war’s end. The call, however, was not recognized as an official call until 1874 when the music for “Extinguish Lights” changed to reflect the 24 notes. However the military did not recognize the name Taps or indicate the usage at funerals until the regulation was changed in 1891, 24 years after Lincoln’s death. It is doubtful that the call was used at Lincoln’s funeral. First it wasn’t regulation and second, and most importantly, there is no account or documentation that someone (Cook or otherwise) sounded the call that day. As someone studying and documenting the buglers who have sounded Taps at presidential funerals, the first news account we have of anyone sounding a bugle call at a presidential funeral  is with the service for President US Grant in 1885.

It’s sad to think that someone (and I hope they read this) will demand their money back for this so-called piece of history.


John F. Bieniarz, is a researcher and modern-day Civil War brass bandsman. He has done extensive research to prove the existence of hundreds of regimental brass bands after August 1862. His two books are:
“I Was Detailed to the Regimental Band, Vol I: Massachusetts”
“I Was Detailed to the Regimental Band, Vol. 2, New Hampshire & Vermont”

Jari Villanueva is passionate about bugles and the owner of this website.



One Comment

  1. Steve Weisse Steve Weisse December 4, 2017

    This is an incredibly thorough analysis of the origins of this historical artifact. It seems very clear to me that this bugle almost undoubtedly is NOT what it claims to be. Family folklore is a slippery thing. Like the proverbial “one that got away” fish stories, this too seems to have grown over the years, and, sadly, the auction house is happy to be complicit in the tall tale because it increases their profit.

    Thanks, John and Jari, for giving the proper historical context fo this. In this world of “fake news” accusations, it’s refereshing to have good, thorough, dispassionate research for a change!!

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