Porter, David D. The Naval History of the Civil War, New York: Sherman Publishing Company, 1886. pp. 798-799.
When the channel was reported clear of torpedoes, a large number of which was taken up, Admiral Porter proceeded up towards Richmond in the “Malvern, with President Lincoln on board the steamer “River Queen.” Finally, the “Malvern” grounded below the city, and the Admiral, taking the President in his barge, accompanied by a tug with a file of marines, continued on to Richmond.
About a mile below the landing, the tug was permitted to go to the relief of a party in a small steamer who were caught under a bridge and held by the current, and the barge proceeded alone. The street along the river-front was deserted, and, although the Federal troops had been in possession of the city some hours, not a soldier was to be seen. At the landing was a small house, and behind it a dozen negroes were digging with spades. Their leader, an old man, sprang forward exclaiming: “Bress de Lord, dere is de great Messiah!” and he fell on his knees before the President, his comrades following his example. The President was much embarrassed. “Don’t kneel to me,” he said, “kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.” It was a minute or two before the officers could get the negroes to leave the President; but time was precious. The negroes joined hands and sang a hymn, to which the President listened respectfully.
Four minutes had passed since the party had landed in apparently deserted streets; but, now that the hymn was sung, the streets seemed to be suddenly alive with the colored race, the crowd around the President became very oppressive, and it was necessary to order the boat’s crew to fix bayonets and surround him to keep him from being crushed. The negroes, in their ecstasy, could not be made to understand that they were detaining the President, and would not feel that they were free unless they heard it from his own lips. Mr. Lincoln, therefore, made a few remarks, assuring them that they were free and giving them good advice, after which the party managed to move slowly on to the city.
Passing the Libby Prison, the President paused for a moment to look at the place where so many Union soldiers had dragged out a dreadful existence. “We will pull it down!” shouted the crowd of poor whites and negroes. “No,” said the President, “leave it as a monument.”
As the party slowly reached the city, the sidewalks were lined with people, white and black, but there was no anger on any face. It was like a gala-day, and no man was ever accorded a warmer welcome. The heat of the weather was suffocating; the President towered a head and shoulders above the crowd, fanning himself with his hat, and looking as if he would give his Presidency for a glass of water. Now the windows flew up, and eager, peering faces seemed to ask: “Is this man, with soft eyes and kind face, the one that has been held up to us as the incarnation of wickedness, the destroyer of the South?” The city was still on fire, and the smoke almost choked the Presidential party.
While stopped a moment by the crowd, a white man in his shirt-sleeves rushed towards the President. When he got within ten feet of him he stopped, took off his hat, and cried out, “Abraham Lincoln, God bless you! You are the poor man’s friend!” Just after this, a beautiful girl struggled through the crowd and presented Mr. Lincoln with a bouquet of roses. There was no cheering at this, nor any evidence of disapprobation, but it was evidently a matter of great interest, for the girl was surrounded and plied with questions on returning to the sidewalk.
What could all this mean by that the people of Richmond were glad to see the end of the war and the advent of a milder form of Government? They had, no doubt, felt that the late Government should have remained at the capital and surrendered in a dignified manner, making terms for the citizens, guarding their rights and acknowledging that they had lost the game. There was nothing to be ashamed of in such a surrender. Their armies had fought as people never fought before, and all that was wanted to make them glorious was the submission of the leaders with the troops in a dignified way, while they might have said: “We have done our best to win, but you are too strong for us; we pledge ourselves to keep the peace.” Instead of remaining to protect the citizens against the ruffianism of the mob, the Confederate authorities of Richmond left that to the Federal troops, and no soldiers ever performed a trust more faithfully. At the moment when President Lincoln entered the city, the majority of them were engaged in putting out the fires that were started by the Confederates as they left the place, determined, it would seem, to destroy the public works, so that the Federals could derive no benefit from them.
At length, a cavalry-man was encountered sitting his horse and gazing at the President with much interest. The Admiral sent him at once to inform the general-in-command of the arrival of the President, and to request a military escort to guard him and enable him to force his way through the crowd. A troop of cavalry soon arrived, the streets were cleared, and the President soon reached the mansion just vacated by Mr. Davis, and now the headquarters of Generals Weitzel and Shepley. It was a modest house, comfortably but plainly furnished.
A great crowd of civilians now assembled around this house, greeting the President with loud cheers. General Shepley made a speech, after which the President and party entered a carriage and visited the State-House, the late seat of the Confederate Congress. The building was in dreadful disorder, showing the sudden flight of the legislators.
After this inspection, Admiral Porter urged the President to go on board the “Malvern,” as he began to feel the responsibility resting on him for the care of his person. The Admiral was oppressed with uneasiness until he once more stood with Mr. Lincoln on the deck of the flag-ship, and he determined the President should go nowhere again, while under his charge, without a guard of marines.
That evening, at about eight o’clock, a man hailed the “Malvern,” which was then anchored off the city, saying that he had dispatches for the President. A boat was sent on shore, with orders to bring the dispatches, but not the bearer of them; but returned with neither dispatches nor man. The boat officer said the person would deliver the dispatches to no one but the President himself. After some discussion, the boat was sent back to bring the man on board, but he had disappeared. The Admiral inquired about his appearance, and from the description was afterwards satisfied that the pretended bearer of dispatches was Wilkes Booth. Half an hour later another hail came from the shore, which was not more than twenty yards distant. A sailor from the “Saugus” wanted to report on board. There was no such vessel in the fleet, though there was one of that name in the Navy. A boat was sent to bring the man off, but he was nowhere to be seen. These circumstances made those charged with the care of the President more suspicious, and every precaution was taken that no one should get on board the “Malvern” without full identification. The President himself felt a little nervous, and that night a marine kept guard at his state-room door.
Next morning, at 10 o’clock, Mr. John A. Campbell, late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, sent a request to be allowed to come on board with General Weitzel, to call on the President. He spent an hour on board. Mr. Lincoln and himself seeming to enjoy themselves very much, to judge from their laughter. After General Weitzel and Mr. Campbell had returned on shore, Admiral Porter went below, and the President said to him: “Admiral, I am sorry you were not here when Mr. Campbell was on board. He has gone on shore happy. I gave him a written permission to allow the State Legislature to convene in the Capitol in the absence of all other governments.” The Admiral was astonished at this piece of information, and felt that this course would bring about complications. He found it all had been done by the persuasive tongue of Mr. Campbell, who had promised the President that, if the Legislature of Virginia could meet, it would vote the State right back into the Union, and cause all the Virginia troops to lay down their arms; that it would be a delicate compliment paid to Virginia, and would be appreciated, etc. General Weitzel agreed with Mr. Campbell, and the President was won over to agree to what would have been a most humiliating thing if it had been accomplished.
When Mr. Lincoln informed the Admiral that General Weitzel had gone on shore with an order permitting the Legislature to meet, the Admiral reminded the President that the city of Richmond was under martial law, and that no civil authority could exercise any power without the sanction of the General commanding the Army. This order should go through General Grant, who would doubtless protest against this arrangement with Mr. Campbell.
The President remarked, “Weitzel made no objection, and he commands here.” “That is because he is Mr. Campbell’s particular friend,” replied the Admiral, “and wished to gratify him.”
“Run and stop them,” said the President, “and get my order back.”
To make things sure, the Admiral had an order signed by the President, and directed to General Weitzel as follows: “Return my permission to the Legislature of Virginia to meet, and don’t allow it to meet at all.” An ambulance wagon was at the landing, and, giving the order to an officer, the Admiral said to him, “Jump into that wagon and kill the horse, if necessary, but catch the carriage which carried General Weitzel and Mr. Campbell, and deliver this order to the General.” The carriage was overtaken, the President’s order was sent back, and no attempt was made to induce the latter to reconsider his decision. This was a clever scheme on the part of Mr. Justice Campbell to soothe the wounded feelings of the South, and no doubt was kindly meant, but it would have created a commotion in the North.
About an hour after the departure of Mr. Campbell, a man dressed in gray homespun, with a huge rough stick in his hand, appeared at the landing and demanded to see the President. “I am Duff Green,” he said; “I want to see Abraham Lincoln, and my business concerns myself alone. You tell Abraham Lincoln that Duff Green wants to see him.” The officer of the deck delivered this message in the cabin, and the President said, “Let him some on board; Duff is an old friend of mine, and I would like to talk with him.”
When Mr. Duff Green passed over the side, he stood defiantly on deck, scowled at the flag, then turning to Admiral Porter, whom he knew very well, said: “I want to see Abraham Lincoln.” “When you come in a respectful manner,” said the Admiral, “the President will see you; but throw away that cord of wood you have in your hand before entering the President’s presence.”
“How long is it,” inquired Duff Green, “since Abraham Lincoln took to aping royalty? Man clothed in a little brief authority cuts such fantastic capers before high heaven as make the angels weep. I expect airs from a naval officer, but not from a man with Abraham Lincoln’s horse-sense.”
The Admiral thought, and still thinks, the man was crazy; but he made Mr. Green throw his stick overboard, which was done, with the remark: “Has it come to that? Is he afraid of assassination? Tyrants general get into that condition.”
The Admiral reported all this to the President, who remarked: “Let him come down; he always was a little queer; I shan’t mind him.”
When Mr. Green was shown into the cabin, the President arose and offered him his hand. “No,” said Green, with a tragic air, “it is red with blood; I can’t touch it. When I knew it, it was an honest hand. It has cut the throats of thousands of my people, and their blood, which now lies soaking into the ground, cries aloud to heaven for vengeance. I came to see you, not for old remembrance’ sake, but to give you a piece of my opinion. You won’t like it, but I don’t care, for people don’t generally like to have the truth told them. You have come here, protected by your Army and Navy, to gloat over the ruin and desolation you have caused. You are a second Nero, and had you lived in his day you would have fiddled while Rome was burning.”
When the fanatic commenced his tirade, Mr. Lincoln stood with outstretched hand, his mouth wreathed in a pleasant smile. He was pleased at meeting an old and esteemed friend. As Duff Green started on his talk, the outstretched hand was withdrawn, the smile left his lips and the softness in the President’s eyes faded out. He was another man altogether. Green went on without noticing the change in the President’s manner and appearance: “You came here,” he continued “to triumph over a poor conquered town, with only women and children in it, whose soldiers have left it, and would rather starve than see your hateful presence here; those soldiers – and only a handful at that – who have for four years defied your paid mercenaries on those glorious hills, and have taught you to respect the rights of the South. You have given your best blood to conquer them, and now you will march back to your demoralized Capitol and lay out your wits to win them over so that you can hold this Government in perpetuity. Shame on you! Shame on ----”
Mr. Lincoln could stand it no longer, his hair stood on end and his nostrils dilated. He stretched out his arm until his lean forefinger almost touched Duff Green’s face. “Stop, you political tramp,” he exclaimed; “you, the aider and abettor of those who have brought all this ruin upon your country, without the courage to risk your person in defence of the principles you profess to espouse! A fellow who stood by to gather up the loaves and fishes, if any should fall to you! A man who had no principles in the North, and took none South with him! A political hyena, who robbed the graves of the dead and adopted their language as his own! You talk of the North cutting the throats of the Southern people. You have all cut your own throats and unfortunately have cut many of those of the North. Miserable impostor, vile intruder! Go, before I forget myself and the high position I hold! Go, I tell you, and don’t desecrate this national vessel another minute!”
This was something Mr. Duff Green had not calculated upon. His courage failed him, and he fled out of the cabin, never stopping until he reached the deck, where he stood looking at the shore, seemingly measuring the distance to see if he could swim to the landing. The Admiral followed close behind him, and said to the officer of the deck, “Put that man on shore, and if he appears in sight of this vessel while we are here, have him sent away with scant ceremony.”
When the Admiral returned to the cabin, fifteen minutes later, the President was perfectly calm, as if nothing had happened, and did not refer to the subject for some hours. “This place seems to give you annoyance, sir,” said the Admiral; “would you prefer going to City Point, where we are more among friends than here?” “Yes,” replied the President, “let us go. I seem to be putting my foot into it here all the time. Bless my soul! How Seward would have preached and read Puffendorf, Vattel and Grotius to me, if he had been here when I gave Campbell permission to let the Legislature meet! I’d never have heard the last of it. Seward is a small compendium of international law himself, and laughs at my horse-sense, which I pride myself on, and yet I put my foot into that thing about Campbell with my eyes wide open. If I were you, Admiral, I don’t think I would repeat that joke yet awhile. People might laugh at you for knowing so much more than the President.”
Several incorrect accounts of the President’s visit to Richmond have from time to time appeared in print, for which reason we have inserted this narrative of Mr. Lincoln’s proceedings.
The President returned to Washington, and with the surrender of General Lee the war was virtually at an end; so that the services of the Navy in the James River, with the exception of a few gun-boats, could be dispensed with. The latter were needed for police duty along the river and to pick up stragglers from the Confederate army.
[remainder goes on to describe operation details of the diminishment of the Navy after the war - MDG]