Lincoln had been in the area for nearly two weeks. He left Washington, D.C., at the invitation of general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant to visit Grant’s headquarters at City Point, near the lines at Petersburg south of Richmond. The trip was exhilarating for the exhausted president. Worn out by four years of war and stifled by the pressures of Washington, Lincoln enjoyed himself immensely. He conferred with Grant and General William T. Sherman, who took a break from his campaign in North Carolina. He visited soldiers, and even picked up an ax to chop logs in front of the troops.
He stayed at City Point, sensing that the final push was near. Grant’s forces overran the Petersburg line on April 2, and the Confederate government fled the capital later that day. Union forces occupied Richmond on April 3, and Lincoln sailed up the James River to see the spoils of war. His ship could not pass some obstructions that had been placed in the river by the Confederates so 12 soldiers rowed him to shore. He landed without fanfare but was soon recognized by some black workmen who ran to him and bowed. The modest Lincoln told them to “…kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.”
Lincoln, accompanied by a small group of soldiers and a growing entourage of freed slaves, walked to the Confederate White House and sat in President Jefferson Davis’s chair. He walked to the Virginia statehouse and saw the chambers of the Confederate Congress. Lincoln even visited Libby Prison, where thousands of Union officers were held during the war. Lincoln remained in Richmond a few more days in hopes that Robert E. Lee’s army would surrender, but on April 8 he headed back to Washington. Six days later, Lincoln was shot as he watched a play at Ford’s Theater.