Coffin, Boys of '61: Coffin, Charles Carleton, Boys of '61 or Four Years of Fighting: Personal Observation with the Army and Navy From the First Battle of Bull Run to the Fall of Richmond, Cana Estes & Company: Boston, 1901. pp. 537-542
How stirring the events of that day! Lee retreating, Grant pursuing; Davis a fugitive; the Governor and Legislature of Virginia seeking safety in a canal-boat; Doctors of Divinity fleeing from the wrath they feared; the troops of the Union marching up the streets; the old flag waving over the Capitol; rebel ironclads blowing up; Richmond on fire; the billows rolling from square to square, unopposed in their progress by the bewildered crowd; the coloured troops who had been sold on the auction block,— men who had never had a country, who were bound by no political bonds to be human, — laying down their guns to extinguish the flames!
In the morning I visited the Capitol building, which, like the Confederacy, had become exceedingly dilapidated, the windows broken, the carpets faded, the paint dingy. General Weitzel was in the Senate Chamber issuing his orders; also General Shepley, Military Governor, and General Devens.
The door opened and a smooth-faced man, with a keen eye, firm, quick, resolute step, entered. He wore a plain blue blouse with three stars on the collar. It was the hero who opened the way to New Orleans, and who fought the battle of the Mobile forts from the mast-head of his vessel,— Admiral Farragut. He was accompanied by General Gordon, of Massachusetts, commanding the Department of Norfolk. They heard the news Monday noon, and made all haste up the James, landing at Varina and taking horses to the city. It was a pleasure to take the brave Admiral's hand, and answer his eager questions as to what Grant had done. Being latest of all present from Petersburg, I could give him the desired information. "Thank God, it is about over," said he.
It was a little past noon when I walked down the river bank to view the desolation. While there I saw a boat pulled by twelve rowers coming up-stream, containing President Lincoln and his little son, Admiral Porter, and three officers.
I had spoken with the President in Petersburg on the morning of the preceding day. Recognising me, he asked if I knew where General Weitzel, who was in command at Richmond, had established his headquarters. I replied in the affirmative.
Not far away a lieutenant had some forty or fifty coloured men at work, laying a bridge across the canal. Turning to one, I said:
"I suppose you were a slave."
"Would you like to see the man who gave you your freedom— Abraham Lincoln? There he is." "Is dat Mars Linkum, sure, boss." « That is he."
"Hurrah! Hurrah! Mars Linkum! Mars Linkum!"
He leaped in wild ecstasy, and tossed his hat into the air. In a moment, the entire company were shouting and running to gather round the man who had given them their freedom.
"Be dat Mars Linkum, sure?"
A negro woman who came from a little cabin asked this question.
I assured her it was President Lincoln.
"Glory! Glory! Glory!" she shouted, clapping her hands and leaping into the air. It was not a hurrah that they gave so much as a wild, jubilant cry of inexpressible joy.
They pressed round the President, ran ahead, and hovered upon the flanks and rear of the little company. Men, women, and children joined the constantly increasing throng. They came from all the streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing, and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women waved their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and shouted, "Glory to God! glory! glory! glory!"—rendering all the praise to God, who had given them freedom, after long years of weary waiting, and had permitted them thus unexpectedly to meet their great benefactor.
"I thank you, dear Jesus, that I behold President Linkum!" was the exclamation of a woman who stood upon the threshold of her humble home, and, with streaming eyes and clasped hands, gave thanks aloud to the Saviour of men.
Another, more demonstrative, was jumping and swinging her arms, crying, "Bless de Lord! Bless de Lord! Bless de Lord!" as if there could be no end to her thankfulness.
No carriage was to be had, so the President, leading his son, walked to General Weitzel's headquarters,— Jeff Davis's mansion. Six sailors, wearing their round blue caps and short jackets and baggy pants, with navy carbines, formed the guard. Next came the President and Admiral Porter, flanked by the officers accompanying him, and the writer, then six more sailors with carbines,— twenty of us in all.
We reached the foot of Capitol Hill. Before ascending it the President halted a moment to rest and wipe the perspiration from his brow. The crowd had increased to possibly three thousand. I could see glowering looks on the faces of some of the white men in the throng. An old negro, barefooted, on that April afternoon, his shirt and trousers of gunny cloth, with no coat, wearing a dilapidated straw hat, stepped into the space before the President, laid aside his hat, and half kneeling, clasped his hands, and asked God to bless the man who had given his race their freedom. The President lifted his hat, and bowed his head, till the old negro had finished his prayer.
A few cavalrymen and soldiers arrived, and cleared the way, up Broad Street to the mansion which had been purchased by the Confederate Government for Jefferson Davis, in which General Weitzel had established his headquarters. The sailors formed in line by the door. The President entered the house, and sat wearily down in an arm-chair which stood in the fugitive President's reception-room. General Weitzel introduced the officers present. Judge Campbell entered. At the beginning of the war he was on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, afterwards espoused Secession, and was appointed assistant Secretary of War under Seddon. He was tall, and looked pale, care-worn, agitated, and bowed very low to the President, who received him with dignity, and yet cordially.
President Lincoln, accompanied by Admiral Porter, General Weitzel, and General Shepley, rode through the city, escorted by a squadron of cavalry, followed by thousands of coloured people, shouting "Glory to God!"
Mr. Lincoln was much affected as they crowded around the carriage to grasp his hand.
He visited Libby prison, breathed for a moment its fetid air, gazed upon the iron-grated windows and the reeking filth upon the slippery floors, and gave way to uncontrollable emotions.