Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lincoln in Virginia?

I wrote the following piece for the Hook, to be published this Thursday, a few days before Lincoln's birthday but already on line at

It begins:

About 20 years ago, I saw an illustration of Abraham Lincoln entering Richmond, the familiar Jefferson-designed Capitol building looming in the background. I figured the drawing was Union propaganda; I had never heard of Lincoln in Virginia during the Civil War.

Eventually, I learn that the picture had accompanied a Harper’s Weekly story reporting Lincoln’s visit with his son Tad April 4, 1865, the day after Union troops occupied Richmond, five days before Appomattox, and 10 days before Lincoln is assassinated on Good Friday.

Emancipated slaves and black laborers greet the President, falling on their knees. “Don’t kneel to me," Lincoln allegedly tells them. "You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.”

With further research, I find that Lincoln had in fact visited Virginia at least nine times during the War.

I query friends from Virginia and elsewhere: “Lincoln in Virginia during the War? No, I never heard that.”

Like most Americans, I learned in childhood about Lincoln’s humble birth in a Kentucky log cabin; his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves, and the simple eloquence of the address delivered in the cemetery in Gettysburg.

As a Virginian, I visited many Civil War battle sites and cemeteries dotting the Commonwealth and observed numerous silver roadside historic markers noting every campsite and bivouac of various southern generals, as well as the ubiquitous statues of Rebel soldiers in court house squares.

Union General Custer crossed the Rivanna, and Sheridan burned Scottsville. But Lincoln– what did I know of the Great Emancipator in the Old Dominion? How did so many of us miss the presence of Lincoln in our landscape?


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