President Lincoln offered the following remarks upon hearing the news that the Confederate government was recruiting black men into its army. It was reprinted in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on March 22, 1865.
A Confederate flag, captured by an Indiana regiment, was presented, on Friday, by Governor Morton, in front of the National Hotel, in Washington. The Governor concluded his speech by introducing Old Abe, who delivered a characteristic address, the closing part of which is subjoined:
They (the “rebels”) have concluded at last to take one out of four of the slaves and put them in the army. While I have often said that all men ought to be free, yet I would allow those colored persons to be slaves who want to be; and next to them, those white persons who argue in favor of making other people slaves. [Applause.] I am in favor of giving an opportunity to such, white men to try it on for themselves. [Applause.] I will say one thing in regard to the negro being employed to fight for them. I do know he cannot fight and stay at home and make bread too–[laughter and applause]–and as one is about as important as the other to them, I don’t care which they do. [Renewed applause.] I am rather in favor of having them try them as soldiers. [Applause.] They lack one vote of doing that, and I wish I could send my vote over the river, so that I might cast it in favor of allowing the negro to fight. [Applause.] But they cannot fight and work both. We must now see the bottom of the enemy’s resources. They will stand out as long as they can; and if the negro will fight for them, they must allow him to fight.–They have drawn upon their last branch of resources. [Applause.] And we can now see the bottom. [Applause.] I am glad to see the end so near at hand. [Applause.]
Lincoln understood that this was the ultimate act of desperation on the part of the Confederacy to keep their bid for independence alive. Two weeks later United States Colored Troops entered Richmond.