Lincoln and his son Tad in Richmond surrounded by jubilant former slaves. (National Portrait Gallery)
Just one day after Federal troops entered the crippled former capital of the Confederacy, Abraham Lincoln walked the streets of the vanquished foe. Sensing the end was nigh, Lincoln was visiting Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters at City Point, Va. when both Petersburg and Richmond fell to Union troops. Invigorated by the splendid news, and accompanied by his youngest son Tad, Lincoln sailed up the James River, reaching Richmond on the 4th of April. Disembarking the vessel with only a small group of sailors acting as guards, he strode Richmond’s streets as throngs of freed blacks praised and cheered their liberator. Lincoln slowly made his way up East Clay Street toward the executive mansion of the Confederacy, where he and his small detachment ate a light lunch and even toured the ground level of the home. In a visceral moment of reflection and pause, Lincoln, took the seat of his adversary Jefferson Davis, “cross[ed] his legs, [and] looked far off with a serious, dreamy expression.” Four long years of combat had withered and aged the President; hundreds of thousands of men were lay dead and wounded; billions of dollars’ worth of damage and destruction had been incurred; and the nation itself was torn asunder. Yet, as Lincoln sat at the desk of Jefferson Davis, he must have known the great struggle was nearly at an end.