Adm. David Farragut had arrived in Richmond and captured a Confederate ship. He got stuck between the piles of a former bridge a couple miles downriver. When Porter approached to help, his launch got stuck too.
"So now both admirals of the U.S. Navy have been completely embarrassed by having their vessels run aground on the same day with the president in attendance," Gorman said.
A dozen Marines rowed the president to Richmond. They drifted down to a sandbar at the end of 17th Street. The only acknowledgment today is a sign at the head of the Capital to Capital bike trail on the river side of the city flood wall.
"Try to visualize this," Gorman said. "The former slaves are here working on this bridge. They're not going to see him until he crests that rise, and nobody's going to see this ridiculous little rowboat. He's just suddenly going to appear."
A crowd soon swarmed around the president. There was no Army escort in this underbelly of the city, just below the former slave markets.
As they approached Capital Square on Governor Street, they finally encountered Union officers who escorted Lincoln up 12th Street to the new Union headquarters at the Confederate White House.
Their mile-long walk, available as a podcast narrated by Gorman at http://www.civilwartraveler.org, is still steep enough to steal your breath, gaining more than 100 feet in the third of a mile from 15th Street up Franklin and Governor to Broad at 12th Street.
"If you come out and do this, you will be tired by the time you get to the [Confederate] White House, and that's not having to fight through crowds of former slaves who see you as the physical embodiment of their freedom," Gorman said. "You will want to sit down."
And that's just what Lincoln did. He was shown into the library, where he sat down in one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis' chairs and, "crossing his legs he looked far off with a serious dreamy expression," Gorman said.
"There was no triumph in his gesture or attitude. He laid back in the chair like a tired man whose nerves had carried him beyond his strength. All he wanted was rest and a drink of water."
Because about 60% of the furnishings in the house existed in it during the Civil War, odds are that Lincoln's chair is among them.
Lincoln's visit to Richmond lasted only a few hours. Yours could last days.
History is the backdrop for a city that robustly enjoys life. Outside magazine called Richmond the "Best River Town Ever" in its September issue. It's hard to argue with that when you're shooting Class IV rapids through downtown in a rubber raft or floating on an inner tube on flat water. Sun bathers lolling on the boulders, hikers and mountain bikers on miles of paths bordering both sides in James River Park, fishermen, bird watchers, wildlife lovers and photographers each have their own reasons for agreeing.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which opened a $150-million expansion in 2010, bedazzles with an exhibition of Dale Chihuly glass through Feb. 10. Its permanent collections are among the best in the nation for Art Nouveau and Art Deco, English silver, Fabergé and the art of South Asia.
Dozens of other galleries and museums range from the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University, whose sculpture department was ranked No. 1 in the nation for 2012 by U.S. News and World Report for the eighth year in a row, to Henricus Historical Park, which commemorates the second English settlement in the New World in 1611.
Spielberg said he had "an amazing time in Richmond." He's made three movies in Virginia, but "Lincoln" was the first in the capital. His favorite spots tended to be places near his riverfront apartment downtown.
"My wife and I and my children all loved the experience of being in Richmond," he said. "The experience of making 'Lincoln' there made us all want to come back and make another movie there."
Perhaps one with a better ending for its protagonist. Lincoln returned to Washington on April 8, 1865. At a social function at the White House, he revealed a premonition he'd had: He dreamed he awoke in the White House and heard wailing, went to investigate and was told that the assassinated president was in the coffin at the other end of the room.
On April 14, Lincoln was shot while attending a performance at Ford's Theatre and died the next morning.
"Now he belongs to the ages," Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said.
Thanks to his visits, he also belongs to Richmond.