"He gets to Ft. Mahone [obliterated by a Petersburg shopping center] and sees dead bodies, bloated bodies, one shot through the forehead, another with both arms shot away," Blankenship said. "He shuddered at the sight. One soldier observed large teardrops running down the president's cheeks…"

Lincoln met Grant April 3 at Petersburg's Thomas Wallace House, the general's temporary headquarters. Lincoln sat in an upholstered wooden chair, with his long legs dangling over the edge of the square porch, as he discussed policies toward the defeated South.

"Let 'em up easy," Lincoln told Grant.

Filming on historic sites

When the Confederates evacuated Richmond, a fire set to destroy military supplies spread and burned a large swath of the city between the river and the State Capitol. Urban development in the heart of downtown has altered much of the rest.

Some of the best architectural works have survived, including the Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, and the Executive Mansion, both used in the filming of "Lincoln."

In fact, Spielberg spent 53 days filming in Virginia, adapting various locations to stand in for Washington, D.C., and other sites. (A map of what was filmed where will soon be available online from Virginia Tourism to help you construct your own "Lincoln" tour of Richmond.)

In the movie, the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, where the Confederate Congress actually met, was transformed into the U.S. Capitol with the help of a false façade and judicious placement of trees. (The dome was computer-generated.)

The House of Delegates chambers filled in for the U.S. House of Representatives. Unless Virginia's General Assembly is in session, typically from mid-January until mid-March, visitors can step inside the room where Tommy Lee Jones stole many scenes in the movie as abolitionist Republican Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. (Tours are free.)

The exterior of the Virginia Executive Mansion, the oldest continually occupied governor's home in the nation and now home to Gov. Bob McDonnell, represented the home of politician Preston Blair, played in the movie by Hal Holbrook. The residence, which is next door to the State Capitol, is open for tours from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays.

Richmond's Maymont Park, a Gilded Age country estate bequeathed to the city in 1925, provided the carriage paths on which Day-Lewis rode with Field's Mary Todd Lincoln. The village of Appomattox Court House, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant, was re-created on the grounds at Maymont, which is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

In Petersburg, the cobblestone streets of Old Towne easily accommodated the film crew.

Unoccupied historic buildings, such as the South Side Depot and octagonal Farmer's Market, offered distinctive vantage points and settings. (The depot was recently purchased by the Civil War Trust, which will eventually turn it over to the Petersburg National Battlefield Park for use as an Old Towne visitors center.)

Old Towne restaurants embraced the filming with specials. The director ordered a to-go chili-topped cheeseburger, a.k.a. the Spielberger, from the Dixie Restaurant. During filming, the patio at Andrade's, which serves Latin American food, was separated from the action only by a wooden screen so patrons could hear what was going on, even if they couldn't see it. Brickhouse Run restaurant continued to serve American cuisine on Cockade Alley, a block that carries the city's nickname, while it was part of the set.

Both cities have national battlefields that can fill in more details of the war: http://www.nps.gov/rich and http://www.nps.gov/pete.

History and recreation

On returning to City Point April 3, Lincoln learned that Richmond had surrendered and told Adm. David D. Porter he wanted to see the city. "It seems to me that I have been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is gone," Lincoln said.

You can make the 25-mile journey from City Point to Richmond in about a half-hour on I-95, but in Lincoln's day, getting there wasn't easy.

A flotilla set out with flags flying, but only one motor-powered launch could make it past the sunken ships and other Confederate obstacles at Drewry's Bluff eight miles below Richmond. Above that point, no one had swept the river for mines.

"This is now incredibly dangerous," said Mike Gorman, Richmond National Battlefield Park ranger. "And then things get truly weird."