President Abraham Lincoln entered Richmond, Virginia on April 4, 1865, a day after the Confederate capital had fallen to the forces of the United States. He was accompanied by Rear Admiral David D. Porter, a handful of officers, a small escort of sailors, and his son Tad, whose twelfth birthday it was.
Porter later wrote that upon recognizing Lincoln, a newly liberated slave “fell upon his knees before the President and kissed his feet. The others followed his example, and in a minute Mr. Lincoln was surrounded.” Lincoln responded, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy. I am but God’s humble instrument; but you may rest assured that as long as I live no one shall put a shackle on your limbs, and you shall have all the rights which God has given to every other free citizen of this Republic.”
Another witness to the day’s events was Thomas Morris Chester, an African American journalist with the Philadelphia Press. In an article published a week after Lincoln’s visit, Chester described the scene:
The great event after the capture of the city was the arrival of President Lincoln in it. He came up to Rocket’s wharf in one of Admiral Porter’s vessels of war, and, with a file of sailors for a guard of honor, he walked up to Jeff Davis’s house, the headquarters of General Weitzel. As soon as he landed the news sped, as if upon the wings of lightning, that “Old Abe,” for it was treason in this city to give him a more respectful address, had come. Some of the negroes, feeling themselves free to act like men, shouted that the President had arrived. This name having always been applied to Jeff, the inhabitants, coupling it with the prevailing rumor that he had been captured, reported that the arch-traitor was being brought into the city. As the people pressed near they cred “Hang him!” “Hang him!” “Show him no quarter!” and other similar expressions, which indicated their sentiments as to what should be his fate. But when they learned that it was President Lincoln their joy knew no bounds. By the time he reached General Weitzel’s headquarters, thousands of persons had followed him to catch a sight of the Chief Magistrate of the United States
When he ascended the steps he faced the crowed and bowed his thanks for the prolonged exultation which was going up from that great concourse. The people seemed inspired by this acknowledgement, and with renewed vigor shouted louder and louder, until seemed as if the echoes would reach the abode of those patriot spirits who had died without witnessing the sight.
General Weitzel received the President upon the pavement, and conducted him up the steps. General Shepley, after a good deal of trouble, got the crowd quiet and introduced Admiral Porter, who bowed his acknowledgements for the cheering with which his name was greeted. The President and his party entered the mansion, where they remained for half an hour, the crowd still accumulating around it, when a headquarters’ carriage was brought in front, drawn by four horses, and Mir. Lincoln, with his youngest son, Admiral Porter, General Kautz, and General Devans entered. The carriage drove through the principal streets, followed by General Weitzel and staff on horseback, and a cavalry guard. There is no describing the scene along the route. The colored population was wild with enthusiasm. Old men thanked God in a very boisterous manner, and old women shouted upon the pavement as high as they had ever done at a religious revival.
Lincoln’s visit to Richmond was one of the final moments of his presidency. Ten days later he was murdered at the hand of a white nationalist assassin.
– P. Sicher