Shepley, George F. "Incidents of the Capture of Richmond." The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 46, Issue 273 (July 1880), pp. 26-27
...I pass over these festivities and the thousand other occurrences of the next few days, to relate an incident which is a part of the unwritten history connected with the visit of Abraham Lincoln. A few days after the fall of Richmond, as I was rapidly riding from my headquarters in the custom-house, where I occupied rooms just vacated by Judah P. Benjamin, secretary of state of the Confederacy, I saw an excited crowd moving up the street. Dispatching my orderly to ascertain the occasion of the tumult, he soon returned, saying, "General, they say it is the president." Putting spurs to my horse, I rode immediately to the advancing multitude. At the head of the procession was Abraham Lincoln leading his boy "Tad" by the hand, walking in the middle of the street, accompanied by Admiral Porter, and followed by the officers of Admiral Porter's flag-ship, the Wabash, and a crowd of curious gazers, - white, black, and intermediate shades; men, women, and children, - all anxious to get a look at Father Abraham.
Dismounting, I went up to him, when he exclaimed, "Hullo, general! Is this you? I was walking round to find headquarters." I dispatched an orderly to report the facts to General Weitzel, and we walked together to the executive mansion. When we arrived in front of it, I presented the president to the people, and he acknowledged their hearty cheers by a few simple, sensible, and kindly words.
While the officers of the navy who had accompanied the president were exploring Richmond, and he was conferring with General Weitzel, Judge Campbell, who had left the bench of the supreme court of the United States at the breaking out of the rebellion, and had been a member of the rebel cabinet, and was now in Richmond undergoing the process of reconstruction, came to me as an old friend, and solicited the favor of an interview with the president. I communicated his desire to Lincoln, who expressed a readiness to see him. The interview took place. Judge Campbell endeavored to satisfy the president that as Richmond was evacuated by the Confederacy, and in possession of the Union army, the Virginia troops, who had gone into the contest upon the ground [p. 27] that they owed their first allegiance to their State, would no longer care to fight. He urged that if the legislature of Virginia could be convened, it would now recall the Virginia troops from the field, and declare, so far as Virginia was concerned, the rebellion ended.
In the conference, Judge Campbell, appealing to the kind, generous, and forgiving nature of Lincoln, who was only too ready to concede everything to a fallen foe, succeeded in convincing him of the feasibility of this project, and that it would save the effusion of much blood. The president then ordered General Weitzel to grant passes and permission to the members of the rebel legislature of Virginia to assemble in Richmond.
General Weitzel had no opportunity to communicate this result to me before the president had left Richmond, although the president told me that he had acceded to Judge Campbell's request.
When General Weitzel informed me of the order, I asked for a copy.
He said, "I have no written order."
I replied, "You are not safe without one."
"Why do you say so?" he asked.
"Because," I answered, "this order will be revoked as soon as the president reaches Washington and confers with his cabinet; more, the cabinet will deny that any such order ever was issued."
"Why so?" said he.
"Because this is madness. By this shrewd move of Judge Campbell the rebel legislature, assembled under the new constitution recognizing the Confederacy, will covertly gain recognition as a legal and valid legislature, and creep into the Union with all its rebel legislation in force, thus preserving all the peculiar rebel institutions, including slavery; and they will bet, as the price of defeat, all they had hoped to achieve as the fruits of victory. The thing is monstrous. The cabinet will swear that you have misunderstood the verbal order, or willfully misinterpreted it. I wish, for your sake, you had the order in writing."
"I am a soldier," said he, "and do as I am ordered."
"Right, general," I said. "Issue to me the order for the safe conducts, and I will obey it." So he issued the order to me. I wrote a form of safe conduct, or pass, as follows: -
By command of the president of the United States, safe conduct through the lines of the army is hereby granted to ________, a member of the so-called legislature of Virginia, from his place of abode in Virginia to Richmond, and while gong to, remaining in, and returning from Richmond, and during the meeting of the so-called legislature. If this permission be used for the furtherance or utterance of treason against the United States in any form, this safe conduct will be void and its protection withdrawn.
By command of GODFREY WEITZEL,
G. G. SHEPLEY, Brigadier-General,
When these orders were printed, I showed them to Weitzel, and said, "The passes are ready for the members of the legislature; notice has been publicly given that they can have them. I have obeyed orders; so have you. I am afraid, general, as most of the gentlemen for whom these papers are intended are scattered over Virginia, and between us and them are the lines of two contending armies, not many of the passes will be delivered before this order is revoked from Washington, and before General Grant has solved the question for them. At the rate he is now progressing, he will soon withdraw the Virginia troops from the field without the help of a rebel legislature."
It turned out as I expected. As soon as the president arrived in Washington, having reflected upon the effect of recognizing a rebel legislature, and [p. 28] conferred with his cabinet, he revoked, by telegraph, his order to Weitzel. The cabinet officers denied the fact that such an order was issued, and the blame was thrown on Weitzel; and newspaper reporters circulated a charge that the movement originated with Weitzel, and it was attributed to his sympathy for the rebels. Not so President Lincoln. As soon as he was on board the Wabash, going down the river, he sent General Weitzel a written order in the same terms as the verbal one he had previously given. This shows the kindness and sense of justice of Abraham Lincoln. The written order was sent purely for Weitzel's protection, that the responsibilityfor the act might rest on the president's own shoulders, and no one else might suffer. When, therefore, after the decease of Lincoln, a high government official allowed it to be said without contradiction, "No one than he [Lincoln] more bitterly condemned the acts of General Weitzel and his officers in Richmond in attempting to assemble the rebel legislature of Virginia," he did not know, as I did, that General Weitzel had in his possession the peremptory written order of the president, and that the act was against the opinions and advice of the only officers in Richmond who were cognizant of it.
After his interview with Judge Campbell, the president being about to return to the Wabash, I took him and Admiral Porter in my carriage. An immense concourse of colored people thronged the streets, accompanied and followed the carriage, calling upon the president with the wildest exclamations of gratitude and delight. He was the Moses, the Messiah, to the slaves of the South. Hundreds of colored women tossed their hands high in the air, and then bent down to the ground, weeping for joy. Some shouted songs of deliverance, and sang the old plantation refrains, which had prophesied the coming of a deliverer from bondage. "God bless you, Father Abraham!" went up from a thousand throats. Those only who have the paroxysmal enthusiasm of a religious meeting of slaves can form any adequate conception of the way in which the tears and smiles and shouts of those emancipated people evinced the frenzy of their gratitude to their deliverer. He looked at it all attentively, with a face expressive only of a sort of pathetic wonder. Occasionally its sadness would alternate with one of his peculiar smiles, and he would remark on the great proportion of those whose color indicated a mixed lineage from the white master and the black slave; and that reminded him of some little story of his life in Kentucky, which he would smilingly tell; and then his face would relapse again into that sad expression which all will remember who saw him during the last few weeks of the rebellion. Perhaps it was a presentiment of his impending fate.
I accompanied him to the ship, bade him farewell, and left him, to see his face no more. Not long after, the bullet of the assassin arrested the beatings of one of the kindest hearts that ever throbbed in human bosom.
[final paragraph has nothing to do with the Richmond visit and was not transcribed.]