It's hard to imagine that any part of President Abraham Lincoln's life remains unexamined. If he's not the most written-about president, the Great Emancipator certainly must be high on the list.
But Noah Andre Trudeau, author of several books about the Civil War, says that in the rush to get to "the big story" — the assassination — writers and historians tend to give short shrift to the crucial last few weeks of Lincoln's life. Trudeau is trying to fill in that gap in his upcoming book and, he says, Rochester residents might be able to help.
At the invitation of General Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln left Washington to visit City Point, Virginia — now Hopewell — on March 23, 1865. City Point was the Union Army's headquarters during the Siege of Petersburg. Lincoln returned to Washington on April 9, and was shot on April 14, 1865.
The time at City Point is significant, Trudeau says, because the Civil War was ending and Lincoln's role as president was undergoing a fundamental shift.
"I think, in a way, we've missed one of the greatest stories of his presidency," Trudeau says. "He transformed himself from a war president to a Reconstruction president, and I think the essential change happens during the visit. I think when he comes back to Washington, he's not the same president he was when he left."
How does Rochester fit in? The 1st New York Light Artillery Regiment, Battery L, which was organized in Rochester, was in Petersburg while Lincoln was at nearby City Point. In fact, Rochester resident Major George Breck, who was in charge of the regiment, spotted Lincoln on a train as Breck made his way back to Petersburg from leave.
Trudeau says he believes there's more information about Lincoln's activities from March 23 to April 9 buried in family collections, maybe in the form of diaries or letters.
If you have information to share with Trudeau, go to www.lincoln1865.com