It is not generally remembered that Abraham Lincoln was visiting the Union lines during the final breakthrough of the siege of Petersburg. Once General Sheridan crushed the Confederate resistance at Five Points, there was no more holding back of the Grant’s army: Richmond would have to be abandoned.
Even before it was entirely safe to do so, Lincoln had Admiral Porter sail up the James River and land him in the Rebel capital. On April 4, 1865, he walked around what remained of the city (part of which was still in flames). At first, he was accompanied only by a few Naval officers and men, until General Weitzel, who controlled the Union forces in the city, provided an adequate guard for him.
It is a pity that Matthew Brady was not there to take photographs of the lanky President being approached by Black Virginians, who recognized him at once and sang hymns of thanksgiving. Of course, he received a much less welcoming response from most White residents.
I am close to finishing Volume III of Shelby Foote’s great The Civil War: A Narration, which covers the period from the Red River Campaign of 1864 to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Since the beginning of the month, I have read little else, and my mind is full of Civil War battles and the awful destruction of thousands of Americans of both sides. To this day, the butcher’s bill for the Civil War dwarfs the sum total of casualties of all other wars in which the U.S. has participated since its inception in 1776.