On April 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln came to see first hand the long sought after prize of the Civil War, the confederate capital Richmond Virginia. Just a day and a half earlier the confederate government had abandoned their capital, leaving part of the city in flames and destroying the bridge across the James river to slow the Union army's pursuit.
Arriving early in the afternoon at Rocketts Landing, the President was escorted by Admiral David Dixon Porter and 12 sailors from the Admiral's flagship the U.S.S. Malvern. Also with the small party were Lincoln's body guard Sgt. William Crook, Lt. Commander Henry Adams of the Navy, Army Captain Charles B. Penrose, Signal Corp officer William W. Clemmens, and Lincoln's 12 year old son Tad (Taddie) Lincoln.
As President Lincoln and his Naval escort stepped on shore that day, there was a small group of newly freed slaves working nearby. When they realized that the tall lean figure with the stovepipe hat coming on shore was actually President Lincoln, they put down their spades and shovels and gathered around the President. One account mentions an old man of perhaps sixty, having been a slave all of his life, who tipped his hat to President Lincoln. The President stopped and tipped his hat in return. Within minutes there was a large and growing group of freed slaves gathering about the President and celebrating his arrival. According to Admiral Porter: "The streets seemed to be suddenly alive with the colored race. They seemed to spring from the earth. They came, tumbling and shouting, from over the hills and from the water-side, where no one was seen as we passed. The crowd poured in so fearfully that I thought we all had a chance to be crushed to death... I don't think I ever looked upon a scene where there were so many passionately happy faces."
President Lincoln had been greeted and thanked on numerous occasions by the contraband slaves who one way or another made their way to freedom behind Union lines during the war, but never before had there been such an outpouring of gratitude and appreciation by such an enormous gathering of the newly freed people. Thousands of them lined the streets and followed the President and his escort as they made their way to the downtown office of Jefferson Davis. In the words of Admiral Porter: "While some were rushing forward to try and touch the man they had talked of and dreamed of for four long years, others stood off a little way and looked on in awe and wonder. It was to be a living tribute. Just ten days later President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre.