Elizabeth Keckley

“He Admired the Strength of its Trunk”

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Soon after we regained our carriages. While we were on the road which was to lead us back to the train, Mr. Lincoln noticed on the roadside a very tall and beautiful tree. He gave orders to stop the carriage, looked a while at the tree with particular attention, and then applied himself to defining its peculiar beauty. He admired the strength of its trunk, the vigorous development of branches, reminding one of the tall trees of Western forests, compared it to the great oaks in the shadow of which he had spent his youth, and strove to make us understand the distinctive character of these different types. The observations thus set forth were evidently not those of an artist who seeks to idealize nature, but of a man who seeks to see it as it really is; in short, that dissertation about a tree did not reveal an effort of imagination, but a remarkable precision of mind.

Quoted in Marquis de Chambrun, “Personal Recollections of Mr. Lincoln,” Scribner’s (1893), p. 29 ;

On Saturday morning, Lincoln and his guests visited Petersburg. At a certain spot, the marquis recalled, “he gave orders to stop the carriage.” On his previous visit, Lincoln had noticed a “very tall and beautiful” oak tree that he wanted to examine more closely. “He admired the strength of its trunk, the vigorous development of branches,” which reminded him of “the great oaks” in the Western forests. He halted the carriage again when they passed “an old country graveyard” where trees shaded a carpet of spring flowers. Turning to his wife, Lincoln said, “Mary, you are younger than I. You will survive me. When I am gone, lay my remains in some quiet place like this.” On the train ride back to City Point, Lincoln observed a turtle “basking in the warm sunshine on the wayside.” He asked that the train be stopped so that the turtle could be brought into the car. “The movements of the ungainly little animal seemed to delight him,” Elizabeth Keckley recalled. He and Tad shared “a happy laugh” all the way back to the wharf.

Quoted in “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”,By Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Goodwin-717-489-24

On our return to City Point from Petersburg the train moved slowly, and the President, observing a terrapin basking in the warm sunshine on the wayside, had the conductor stop the train, and one of the brakemen bring the terrapin in to him. The movements of the ungainly little animal seemed to delight him, and he amused himself with it until we reached James River, where our steamer lay. Tad stood near, and joined in the happy laugh with his father.

For a week the River Queen remained in James Piver, anchored the greater portion of the time at City Point, and a pleasant and memorable week was it to all on board. During the whole of this time a yacht lay in the stream about a quarter of a mile distant, and its peculiar movements attracted the attention of all on board. General Grant and Mrs. Grant were on our steamer several times, and many distinguished officers of the army also were entertained by the President and his party.

Mr. Lincoln, when not off on an excursion of any kind, lounged about the boat, talking familiarly with every one that approached him.

The day before we started on our journey back to Washington, Mr. Lincoln was engaged in reviewing the troops in camp. He returned to the boat in the evening, with a tired, weary look.

“Mother,” he said to his wife, “I have shaken so many hands to-day that my arms ache tonight. I almost wish that 1 could go to bed now.”

As the twilight shadows deepened the lamps were lighted, and the boat was brilliantly illuminated; as it lay in the river, decked with many-colored lights, it looked like an enchanted floating palace. A military band was on board, and as the hours lengthened into night it discoursed sweet music. Many officers came on board to say good-by, and the scene was a brilliant one indeed. About 10 o’clock Mr. Lincoln was called upon to make a speech. Rising to his feet, he said:

“You must excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I am too tired to speak to-night. On next Tuesday night I make a speech in Washington, at which time you will learn all I have to say. And now, by way of parting from the brave soldiers of our gallant army, I call upon the band to play Dixie. It has always been a favorite of mine, and since we have captured it, we have a perfect right to enjoy it.” On taking his seat the band at once struck up with Dixie, that sweet, inspiring air ; and when the music died away, there were clapping of hands and other manifestations of applause.

At 11 o’clock the last good-by was spoken, the lights were taken down, the River Queen rounded out into the water and we were on our way back to Washington. We arrived at the Capital at 6 o’clock on Sunday evening, where the party separated, each going to his and her own home. This was one of the most delightful trips of my life, and I always revert to it with feelings of genuine pleasure.

Quoted in Elizabeth Keckley,Behind the Scenes. Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers Series (New York: G. W. Carleton & Co., 1868; New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p 170.

“As the Father Imparted his Advice”

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GOOD FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 1865, was surely one of Lincoln’s happiest days. The morning began with a leisurely breakfast in the company of his son Robert, just arrived in Washington. “Well, my son, you have returned safely from the front,” Lincoln said. “The war is now closed, and we soon will live in peace with the brave men that have been fighting against us.” He urged Robert to “lay aside” his army uniform and finish his education, perhaps in preparation for a law career. As the father imparted his advice, Elizabeth Keckley observed, “his face was more cheerful than [she] had seen it for a long while.”


“Well, my son…for a long while”: Keckley, Behind the Scenes, pp. 137-38.    By Doris Kearns Goodwin,“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”,Goodwin-731-499-01