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It was past noon when, after a ride from City Point, I entered Richmond. The city was a sea of flame. A great cloud of smoke ascended heavenward. A division of the Twenty-fifth Army Corps, was then entering the city. On Main Street I came upon a company of negro soldiers working a fire-engine. I dismounted at the Spotswood Hotel. No one welcomed me. Its spacious hall was deserted save by the clerk, who stood by a window watching the flames at that moment threatening the building.
“Can I have a room ?” my question.
“You can have the entire hotel, but you will be burned out in a few minutes,” the reply.
Upon the desk lay the open register with a long list of names having the prefix of colonel, major, captain, and affix C.S.A. I wrote my name -the first from the “foreign country,” as the newspapers had been accustomed to speak of the United States, and took possession of a commodious room and looked out upon the scene. The fire at that moment was leaping from a building so near that a biscuit could have been tossed across the intervening space. From the arsenal came explosions of bursting shells. The grounds around the Capitol were piled with furniture. Old men leaning heavily upon their staves, weeping women, haggard and woe-begone, with barefooted children, were huddled in groups, enduring indescribable agony. The cause they had espoused had gone down never to rise again. The money in their possession was as valueless as last year's withered forest leaves. A thousand dollars would not purchase a mouthful of food. Their homes were in ashes-burned by the action of Jefferson Davis. He could have prevented the destruction of the city, but had been deaf to the entreaties of the mayor and citizens. Negro soldiers—men who had been sold on the auction block, who had been freed by the act of Abraham Lincoln-were dividing their rations with the homeless and famishing multitude.
President Lincoln had returned from Petersburg, and was once more at City Point. It was natural that he should desire to visit Richmond, not to enter the Confederate capital as victor, neither to witness the desolation, but to begin the work of reconstruction. Might he not put himself in communication with some one holding official position and bring about a restoration of civil authority? He intuitively distrusted military government as being antagonistic to the best interests of the people. He comprehended the meaning of the brilliant apothegm of Wendell Phillips—that one can do many things with a bayonet, but
cannot sit on it. A civil government recognizing the authority of the United States must be established at the earliest possible moment in Virginia. Impelled by such a motive, arrangements were made for a visit to Richmond.
The President, his son “Tad," Admiral Porter, and Captain A. H. Adams, of the navy; Captain Penrose, of the army, detailed by Secre
tary Stanton to attend the President; and Lieutenant W. W. April 4, Clemens, of the signal corps-ascended the James on the River
Queen, accompanied by a tug and the gunboat Bat. Obstructions prevented the vessels from going beyond Drewry's Bluff.
I was standing on the bank of the river, not far from Libby Prison, when a barge approached rowed by twelve sailors. The President, recognizing me, inquired if I could direct him to the headquarters of General Weitzel. I replied in the affirmative. Near at hand a dozen or more negroes were at work under the direction of a lieutenant constructing a bridge across the canal.
“You were a slave, I suppose," I said to one.
free?" “What, mars?" “ Would you like to see Abraham Lincoln ? There he is, that tall
“ Be dat President Linkum?”
The boat reached the landing. Captain Adams stepped ashore; then six sailors in blue jackets and caps, armed with carbines, followed by the President, “Tad,” and other members of the party, and, lastly, six other sailors. A negro led the way, and the procession began its march towards Capitol Hill. I transcribe from the columns of the Boston “ Journal,” April, 1865, my account of the event, written during the evening of that day :
What a spectacle! Sucli a hurly - burly-such wild, indescribable, ecstatic joy I never before have witnessed. A colored man acted as guide ; six sailors, wearing their round blue caps, short jackets, and bagging pants, with navy carbines, were the advance guard. Then came the President and Admiral Porter, flanked by the officers accompanying him, and the correspondent of the Boston “ Journal ;" then six more sailors-twenty of us all told-amid a surging mass of men, women, and children, black, white, and yel. low, running, shouting, dancing, swinging their caps, bonnets, and handkerchiefs. Soldiers saw the President, and swelled the increasing crowd, cheering with wild enthusiasm. One colored woman, standing in a doorway as the President passed along the sidewalk, shouted: • Thank you, dear Jesus, for this! thank you, Jesus!' Another by her side was clapping her hands and shouting · Bress de Lord !' A colored woman snatched her bonnet from her head, whirled it in the air, screaming, ‘God bress you, Mars Liukum! A few white women looking out from the houses waved their handkerchiefs. One lady, in a large and elegant building, looked and turned away as if from a disgusting exhibi. tion. President Lincoln walked in silence, acknowledging the salutations of officers, soldiers, and citizens, black and white, alike. It was the man of the people among the people. It was the great deliverer meeting the delivered. Yesterday morning the majority of the thousands who crowded the streets and hindered our advance were slaves. Now they were free, beholding him who had given them liberty.
“The procession advanced at a rapid pace. The President manifested weariness, and halted for a moment near the railroad station on Broad Street. He was wearing his overcoat. The sun was shining from a cloudless sky. Cavalrymen with gleaming sabres were clattering down the hill from the Capitol, having been informed that the President was on his way. While thus halting, an aged negro without a coat, his tattered garments made from cotton bagging, whose crisp hair appeared through his almost crownless straw. hat, half kneeling, invoked God's blessing upon the man who had given him freedom : "May de good Lord bress and keep you safe, Mars Linkum!
" The President lifted his own hat from his head, bowed, wiped the gathering moisture from his eyes, and then the procession moved on to the mansion from which Jefferson Davis had taken his departure on Sunday evening. The sailors formed in two lines, presented arms, and the President and party entered the building. Mr. Lincoln dropped wearily into a chair, before which stood a writing-table-a chair often occupied by the Confederate President." (°)
The President manifested no signs of exultation. In Petersburg his countenance had been radiant and joyful, but at that moment it was one of indescribable sadness. A great column of smoke was still ascending from the burnt buildings. He had caught a glimpse of the desolation, the misery and woe, bequeathed by the departed Confederate authorities. Ile was confronted by great questions. How could he best exercise the powers given him to relieve suffering, and bring about a restoration of civil authority?
A few moments later the mayor of the city and Judge Campbell, one of the commissioners in the Hampton Roads conference, arrived. They were cordially welcomed.
The President, accompanied by Admiral Porter, General Weitzel, and General Shepley, rode through the city, escorted by cavalry, followed by thousands of colored people. Mr. Lincoln was much affected as they crowded around the carriage to touch his hands. A clergyman who was serving in the Christian Commission has pictured the scene :
“I was standing upon the open square before the Court-house at