There was no committee of reception, no guard of honor, no grand display of troops, no assembling of an eager multitude to welcome him.
He entered the city unheralded; six sailors, armed with carbines, stepped upon the shore, followed by the President, who held his little son by the hand, and Admiral Porter; the officers followed, and six more sailors brought up the rear. The writer of this article was there upon the spot, and, joining the party, became an observer of the memorable event.
There were forty or fifty freedmen, who had been sole possessors of themselves for twenty-four hours, at work on the bank of the canal, securing some floating timber, under the direction of a Lieutenant. Somehow they obtained the information that the man who was head and shoulders taller than all others around him, with features large and irregular, with a mild eye and pleasant countenance, was President Lincoln.
"God bless you, Sah!" said one, taking off his cap and bowing very low.
"Hurrah! hurrah! President Linkum hab come!" was the shout which rang through the street.
The Lieutenant found himself without a command. What cared those freedmen, fresh from the house of bondage, for floating timber or military commands? Their deliverer had come,—he who, next to the Lord Jesus, was their best friend! It was not an hurrah that they gave, but a wild, jubilant cry of inexpressible joy.
They gathered round the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the constantly increasing throng. They came from all the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women waved their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, "Glory to God! glory! glory! glory! "—rendering all the praise to God, who had heard their wailings in the past, their moanings for wives, husbands, children, and friends sold out of their sight, had given them freedom, and, after long years of waiting, had permitted them thus unexpectedly to behold the face of their great benefactor.
"I thank you, dear Jesus, that I behold President Linkum!" was the exclamation of a woman who stood upon the threshold of her humble home, and with streaming eyes and clasped hands gave thanks aloud to the Saviour of men.
Another, more demonstrative in her joy, was jumping and striking her hands with all her might, crying, —"Bless de Lord! Bless de Lord! Bless de Lord!" as if there could be no end of her thanksgiving.
The air rang with a tumultuous chorus of voices. The street became almost impassable on account of the increasing multitude. Soldiers were summoned to clear the way. How strange the event! The President of the United States—he who had been hated, despised, maligned above all other men living, to whom the vilest epithets had been applied by the people of Richmond—was walking their streets, receiving thanksgivings, blessings, and praises from thousands who hailed him as the ally of the Messiah! How bitter the reflections of that moment to some who beheld him!—memory running back, perhaps, to that day in May, 1861, when Jefferson Davis, their President, entered the city,—the pageant of that hour, his speech, his promise to smite the smiter, to drench the fields of Virginia with richer blood than that shed at Buena Vista! How that part of the promise had been kept! —how their sons, brothers, and friends had fallen!—how all else predicted had failed!—how the land had been filled with mourning!—how the State had become a desolation!—how their property, their hoarded wealth, had disappeared! They had been invited to a gorgeous banquet; the fruit was fair to the eye, of golden hue and beautiful; but it had turned to ashes. They had been promised a place among the nations, a position of commanding influence and fame. Cotton was the king of kings, and England; France, and the whole civilized world would bow in humble submission to his Majesty. That was the promise; but now their king was dethroned, their government overthrown, their President and his cabinet vagrants, driven from house and home to be wanderers upon the earth. They had been promised affluence, Richmond was to be the metropolis of the Confederacy, and Virginia the all-powerful State of the new nation. How terrible the cheat! Their thousand-dollar bonds were not worth a penny. A million dollars would not purchase a dinner. Their money was valueless, their slaves were freemen, the heart of their city was eaten out. They had been cheated in everything. Those whom they had trusted had given the unkindest cut of all,—adding arson and robbery to their other crimes. Thus had they fallen from highest anticipation of bliss to deepest actual woe. The language of the Arch-Rebel of the universe, in "Paradise Lost," was most appropriate to them —