Coffin, Charles Carleton, Freedom Triumphant: The Fourth Period of the War of the Rebellion from September, 1864, to Its Close, Harper & Brothers: New York, 1890. pp 436-440

***MDG note: this account, published earlier, was somewhat edited when reprinted in Boys of '61. Virtually every detail checks out geographically and via other sources.

[April 4, 1865 – p. 436] It was nearly noon when I strolled down to Libby Prison, the great tobacco warehouse with grated windows, in which thousands of Union soldiers had been confined – the one building above all others whose every brick, if voiceful, could rehearse a tale of woe. The Stars and Stripes were flying above it, but its doors were open wide. I strolled on down to the bank of the canal to the landing on the James. I saw a boat approaching rowed by twelve sailors, and recognized President Lincoln, Admiral Porter, and the President's little boy. With them were two or three officers – Captain Adams, Captain Penrose, and Lieutenant Clemmens. The President asked if I could direct him to the headquarters of General Weitzel. I informed him that I could. Near at hand a dozen or more negroes were at work, under the direction of a lieutenant, building a bridge across the canal.

"You were a slave, I suppose," I said to one.

"Yes massa."

"Would you like to see the man who made you free?"

"What, massa?"

"Would you like to see Abraham Lincoln? There he is, that tall man."

"Be dat President Linkum?"


He clapped his hands, leaped into the air, and shouted, "Mars Linkum, he's come! Mars Linkum!"

The boat reached the landing. One of the officers stepped on shore, the six sailors in blue jackets and caps, armed with carbines, followed by the President and Admiral Porter, and lastly, six other sailors. Around [Nast engraving follows on pp. 437-438. Begin p. 439] stood a rapidly increasing throng. I indicated to Captain Adams the direction, and the procession began its march up the street leading towards Capitol Hill, the crowd increasing, and shouting "Hallelujah!" "Glory to God!" I recall a woman who could find but one word to express her joy: "Glory! Glory! Glory!" Another was repeating "Bress de Lord! Bress de Lord! Bress de Lord!"

All the tropical sentiment characteristic of the African race burst into full flowering. Need we wonder? Abraham Lincoln was their savior, their Moses, who had brought them through the Red Sea and the desert to the promised land; he was their Christ and their Redeemer. They leaped into the air, hugged and kissed one another, ran hither and yon in a wild delirium of joy. Without doubt they would gladly have prostrated themselves before him and allowed him to walk upon their bodies if by so doing they could have given expression to their ecstasy. We reached the base of the hill upon which stands the Capitol. Mr. Lincoln was wearing his overcoat; the afternoon was warm, the sun shining, and he halted for a brief rest. The crowd had greatly increased. A cavalryman dashed away to General Shepley's headquarters for an escort. While thus halting, and aged negro, wearing a few rags, barefooted, without a coat, his tattered garments made from gunny-cloth, whose white crisp hair appeared through his crownless straw hat, which he lifted from his head, and half kneeling, with clasped hands, gave utterance to the benediction, "May de good Lord bress and keep you safe, Massa President Linkum!"

The President lifted his own hat from his head and bowed to the old man. The moisture gathered in his eyes; he wiped it away, and the procession moved on, meeting on Broad Street a half-dozen cavalry with General Shepley. We reached the headquarters of General Weitzel – the mansion purchased by the Confederate Government for Jefferson Davis, from which he had taken his departure on Sunday evening. The sailors formed in two lines, presented arms, and the President and Admiral Porter, the officers and the correspondent, passed in. Mr. Lincoln dropped by chance into a chair, before which stood a writing-table – the chair, as I was informed, usually occupied by President Davis.

Such the unheralded entrance. He manifested no exhultation. A few hours before I had seen him in Petersburg, his face radiant and joyful, but at this hour, in the capital of the late Confederacy, in the executive mansion, there was upon his countenance a deep concern and weariness, a faraway look. Without doubt he was forecasting the future, thinking over the course of action which he must pursue towards the people of the South. [p. 440]

A few moments later the Mayor and Judge Campbell, whom we have seen in the conference at Fortress Monroe, entered and were cordially received.

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 colored people shouting "Glory to God!" They had seen great hardship and suffereing. A few were well dressed. Some wore trousers of Union blue and coats of Confederate gray. Others were in rags. The President was much affected as they crowded around the carriage to touch his hands. 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 emotions which he could not suppress.

[nothing further on Lincoln's visit to Richmond]

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