Porter, after gallantly helping Grant to secure the Mississippi, had taken part in an expedition up the Red River (1863–1864). Here army and navy together tried to crush the Confederates. But the army was beaten at the Sabine Crossroads, and the fleet became helpless when the water in the river became low. Indeed, before long the men perceived that there was not enough water left to float their vessels down the stream.
Porter was about to blow up his gunboats, so they should not fall into the Confederates’ hands, when a Wisconsin lumberman suggested a plan by which they could be saved. Under his directions, dams were built, and the waters rose. Then the boats were sent downstream, and, passing through the dams, which were broken one after another, they safely reached navigable waters.
With another fleet, Porter then joined Butler’s army in besieging Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina. But the fort held out so bravely that Butler decided it could not be taken, and returned with the army to Fortress Monroe. Porter, however, would not give up, and he was so anxious to make a second attempt, that troops were sent back under another general, and the fort taken, in spite of the heroic defense of its garrison (1865).
The war was rapidly reaching its close, for it was plain that the Confederates would not be able to hold out much longer. By this time they had little left in the East besides Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Feeling that they must soon stop fighting, the Southerners now made an attempt to end the war without shedding any more blood. At their request, an interview took place, on a war vessel at Hampton Roads, between Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, and President Lincoln with Secretary Seward.
We are told that in the course of this interview Stephens, seeing Lincoln not willing to grant the terms he asked, urged that even Charles made certain concessions. To this, wishing to show that it was not wise to yield under certain circumstances, Lincoln quietly answered: “I am not strong on history; I depend mainly on Secretary Seward for that. All I remember of Charles is that he lost his head.” Then, after a long talk, Lincoln said he could make peace only if the Confederates would lay down their arms, promise to obey Congress, and abolish slavery.
These terms the South would not accept, so the interview ended, and the war went on to the bitter end. About two months later, Lee, thinking the situation desperate, withdrew the Confederate troops from both Richmond and Petersburg, giving orders that all ships and ammunition be destroyed. When the Confederate army left Richmond, therefore, all the Southern rams on the James River were burned.
A colored man brought the news that the Confederate army had left Richmond, and the Union troops immediately marched in. When they got into the town they found it was not so well defended as they had supposed, for many of the—cannons were “Quaker guns,——that is to say, logs of wood painted black so as to look like artillery at a distance. Still, as the colored man explained, they were “just as good to scare with as any others.”
Lincoln, hearing that the Confederates had left Richmond, now went there on Admiral Porter’s boat, and as no carriage was ready for him, he walked slowly up the street. When the Negroes heard he was in town, they rushed to meet him, kissing his hands and fervently crying: “May de good Lord bless you, President Linkum.”
But when some of the Southerners, watching him, saw him return the colored men’s greetings by taking off his hat to them just as he did to the white people, they were offended, and said he lacked dignity. Those Southerners, however, had forgotten that Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia gentleman, used to do the same. When his grandson found fault with him for doing so, he quietly said: “You surely do not want me to be less polite than that poor man.”