The Lincoln Train

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"The Lincoln Train"
AuthorMaureen F. McHugh
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Alternate Tyrants
Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction
Publication typeMagazine
Publication dateApril 1995

"The Lincoln Train" is an alternate history short story published by Maureen F. McHugh, published in April 1995. It is collected in volume 31 of the Nebula Awards anthologies, in Alternate Tyrants (1997), and in Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction (2005).

Plot summary[edit]

The story follows Clara Corbett, a teen-aged girl from Mississippi who is being forcibly removed from her home following the end of the American Civil War. As she and her neighbors board the train that takes them to St. Louis, they begin to realize that perhaps everything will not turn out as the government claims.

Alternate history[edit]

The point of divergence occurs on April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth's bullet fails to kill Abraham Lincoln, but renders him a vegetable, and incapable of governing the nation. Secretary of State William H. Seward is widely believed to be the true national policy maker. Seward instigates a harsh policy of removing all Southerners who had owned slaves to the western territories in a neo-Trail of Tears, where many of them are left to die of starvation and disease. The brevity of the story, and the limit of its narrative viewpoint to one young girl in a remote province, do not allow this alternate history to be examined in any great depth.

Author's comment[edit]

In her letter accompanying the story in volume 31 of the Nebula Awards collection, Maureen McHugh states that she originally intended to write a story from Lincoln's perspective, but after reading his speeches and letters, felt incapable of "capturing the man on paper," and so kept him "offstage."


"Train" won the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the 1996 Locus Award. It was also nominated for the 1996 Nebula Award for Best Short Story.[1]

Historical inaccuracies[edit]

Several references are made to Oklahoma Territory, but no such entity existed until 1890. The territories existed in the setting of the story are the Indian Territory and the Unorganized Territory.