Let’s catch up to General Grant’s pursuit of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) in the closing week of the Civil War. On, Tuesday, 4 April 1865, President Lincoln visited Richmond. I have told this story along with my visit to Richmond in 2007 in Clio Muses, “Lincoln’s Walk”, 6 December 2007, and invite you to scroll though this blog and read that essay.
On 3 April 1865 the last of the Confederate forces evacuated Richmond and various Union cavalry units moved into the city. Richmond had been under siege for several weeks; many buildings had been burned, some by the Confederates as they retreated; and the Confederate government (along with most white residents) had fled the city. Lincoln had been visiting Grant and on his return to Washington, D. C., he stopped at Richmond. Accompanied by Admiral Porter and a Navy guard, Lincoln walked from Rocket’s Landing on the James River to the Capital and President Davis’ house. He walked around Davis’ office and, according to eye-witness reports, sat in Davis’ chair. The crowds that gathered around him were mostly blacks and in several impromptu speeches Lincoln affirmed to them that they were now free men. The crowds cheered and frequently broke into song.
On 5 and 6 April Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia fights the last major battle of the war in the Eastern Theater of Operations at Saylor’s Creek. Lee’s losses were staggering and it was clear that the ANV was no longer an organized and effective fighting force. The only issue left for Lee was to disengage and prepare for what now was an inevitable surrender.