From the National Tribune, 10/4/1900

THE FALL OF RICHMOND

Personal Recollections of the Triumphal Entry of Union Troops into the rebel Capital.

By HIRAM T. PECK.

An inspiring feature of the first evening of our occupation of the city was the music of our military bands, discoursing such patriotic airs as "Yankee Doodle," "Hail Columbia," "The Star Spangled Banner," etc. - airs that must have fallen rather oddly on the ears of the citizens, after having listened four years to the music of treason.

Brig.-Gen. G. F. Shipley, Chief of Staff to Gen. Weitzel, was the Military Governor, and Lieut.-Col. F. L. Mannins, Provost-Marshal-General of the Army f the James, was the Provost-Marshal of the city.

CITY VISITED BY PRESIDENT LINCOLN.

On the afternoon of the following day, April 4, President Lincoln arrived in the city; coming up the river from Petersburg, the vessel he was on encountered many obstructions in the river, just below Richmond, in the shape of the sunken ironclads and other craft. It was the first and only opportunity that I ever had of seeing Abraham Lincoln, whose tragic death at the hands of an assassin only 10 days subsequent gave him the title of "the martyr President." When I saw him he was on foot, leading little "Tad" by the hand, on his way from Rocketts Landing to the Jeff. Davis Mansion, which was then the headquarters of Gen. Weitzel A National salute was fired in his honor, and the most enthusiastic cheering took place.

The "contraband," of which there were a large number in the city, exhibited the wildest excitement, bursting into all sorts of characteristic ejaculations, throwing up their hands and dancing about, as if the Savior of mankind Himself had made his second advent on earth. Such expressions as "God bress massa Lincum!" "De dear old man!" etc., were upon every colored lip. Even some of the young ladies of the city caught the general spirit of enthusiasm and were observed to wave their 'kerchiefs as the President passed along.

After remaining awhile at headquarters he proceeded to the Capitol, followed by the same excited crowd of admirers. Here, as he ascended the steps, while the Star Spangled Banner was waving gaily above the roof, was presented a scene which artists and newspaper correspondents might well portray in colors and in language befitting the glorious nature of the event.

REBELS APPLY THE TORCH.

An edition of 1,500 copies of the Richmond Whig, then a loyal paper, was issued in the afternoon. It was printed on a half-sheet of the same complexion of the Sentinel, but smaller in size, and was said to be the work of the same compositors who were employed on the disloyal sheet. The editorial management, however, had suffered a great change, the former rapid editor having taken his departure southward, leaving the original proprietor to "run the machine" without his assistance. It contained the commencement of the evacuation of Richmond by the Confederates and the particulars of the subsequent conflagration which devastated the city. From the account published I obtained the following additional information, which may be regarded as authentic:

The city was fired at several points, the tobacco warehouses, by reason of their combustible character, being the structures selected by the military authorities for the application of the torch. The fire, which raged, as I have before stated, until 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and then, in a measure, died out for want of material to feed upon, destroyed, it was estimated, from 600 to 800 buildings, the loss amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total number of lives lost could not, of course, be ascertained; but it was known that quite a number were killed early in the morning, and the occasion of the blowing up of the powder magazine in the suburbs of the city, which produced a most terrific shock, extinguishing the gas and breaking a great quantity of glass in the dwellings. I saw one dead body of a man in one of the streets of the burned district, among the smoking ruins, but how he met his death was not known.

The course pursued by the rebel military authorities in firing a city containing thousands of helpless women and children of their own kindred was such as we could not believe the most brutal and barbarous people on the face of the earth would be guilty of. Regardless of the remonstrances of the civil authorities and instigated by the frenzy of despair itself, the General in command sent forth the order for the torch to be applied, and that portion of the city where the greatest activity prevailed soon presented nothing but a desolate scene of toppling brick walls and piles of rubbish, fit monuments of the rash cause which the military despots of the rebellion had espoused. This deed served to give the people of Richmond a good idea of the character of the rulers under whom they had long suffered; and those who had been the most ardent advocates of the cause of secession then saw wherein their confidence had been woefully misplaced. But a happier day for Richmond had already dawned. The iron rule of Jeff. Davis was at an end, and no longer would the armed enemies of the Union march through its beautiful street

FEEDING RICHMOND'S DESTITUTE.

Our occupation of the city soon had a reviving effect on business, and many of the shops and markets that escaped destruction were striving to accumulate as many greenbacks as possible. Commissary stores were being brought up the river in large quantities, and ere long provisions in plenty were obtainable by the inhabitants. It required a vast amount of extra stores to fed the thousands of hungry mouths which our occupation of the city had rendered us under obligations to supply with food, as the great majority of the population were entirely destitute of the means of subsistence and had no employment by which to earn their daily bread. This class had to be supported wholly by charity until suitable work could be provided for them.

So very peculiar was the situation of the people that even they who were considered as the aristocracy found it difficult to accommodate our officers with board, if such was desired, for the reason that their stock of provisions was anything but large, and the "currency" then held by them was currency no longer in Richmond, being Confederate scrip, which was not worth its weight in paper-rags. A large amount of this trash was destroyed, we were told, before their army left, and a large amount still remained in the hands of the citizens. All the specie vaults of the city were emptied of their treasure, and it was hurriedly placed on board the Danville cars and conveyed south. One of those vaults was under the monument erected to the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Mason, in the Capitol Square, and contained a large amount of specie.

OPENING OF THE RICHMOND THEATER.

The grand reopening of the New Richmond Theater took place Wednesday evening, April 5. Members of the old troupe which had been playing there during the preceding Winter under the management of R. D'Orsey Ogden were the actors. The plays were "Don Caesar de Bazan" and a burlesque of the grand opera of "Norma," the program being interspersed with songs and dances. The house was crowded, and everything passed off to the satisfaction of the audience. A large Union flag was suspended over the stage, and the orchestra regaled us with a medley of National airs, commencing with "Hail, Columbia," and ending with "Yankee Doodle" struck up the audience manifested the wildest enthusiasm. Someone in the gallery cried out, "Give us the Johnnies' March!" Others shouted, "Give us Fort Fisher" and "Sherman's Grand March!" which caused considerable amusement Owing to the damage done to the gas pipes by the fire it was necessary to use candles I lighting the theater.

All the bridges having been burned, a thoroughfare was opened between the city and Manchester, on the other side of the river, by laying a pontoon bridge; and the cars were soon running to the station on the north bank of the Appomattox River, opposite Petersburg, the bridges at that point also having been destroyed. Laborers were soon set to work repairing the road between Richmond and Washington.

The Whig soon increased in size and was greatly improved in appearance by the use of better paper. Its tone was decidedly loyal. Its editor, William Ira Smith, boasted that the last Union banner that waved over Richmond after the firing on Fort Sumter was that on the flag-staff of the Whig office, which the excited street mob demanded that the proprietor haul down, and which demand was finally reluctantly obeyed. The following complimentary item, copied from that paper, is self-explanatory:

"So far as we can learn everybody is highly gratified at the deportment of the troops who entered the city Monday. There have been no acts of violence or disorder committed, as some persons apprehended, but, on the contrary, the soldiers have conducted themselves with marked propriety and decorum."

Our occupation of Richmond had a tendency to dissipate much of the prejudice that formerly existed against us. When held by the rebel army street fights, robberies, and all sorts of outrages were said to have been prevalent; but no instance of the kind, to my knowledge, occurred after our troops entered the place. On the contrary, the best of order was preserved, and the best of protection was afforded the inhabitants. They came out on the streets and freely mingled with our soldiers, and general good feeling, on both sides, seemed to exist. I know it to be true that there is such a thing as "making a virtue of necessity," and yet I could not believe that the people of Richmond were practicing dissimulation when they showed evidence of being well pleased at our presence. The fact was, the sensible portion of those people had long regarded the rebellion as a big failure; they saw wherein they had been cruelly deceived by their leaders; and that after all that had been said derogatory to our character by their journals we were not so bad a people as we had been represented.

In the continued account of the Confederate evacuation of Richmond, in the Whig of April 6, the following was given as the Mayor's letter of surrender to the Federal troops. The letter was taken by the Mayor himself, accompanied by a deputation of prominent citizens, under flag of truce to the intermediate line of fortifications, the party starting before daylight and meeting the Union military authorities near a point called Tree Hill, at the junction of the Osborne turnpike and New-Market road:

"Richmond, Monday, April 3d, 1865.

"To the General Commanding the United States Army in Front of Richmond.:

"General: The Army of the Confederate Government having abandoned the city of Richmond, I respectfully request that you will take possession of it with an organized force, to preserve order and protect the women and children and property.

"Respectfully, etc.,

"JOSEPH MAYO, Mayor."

Concerning the "Flight of the Confederates" the Whig published this item:

"Two divisions - Kershaw's and Custis Lee’s - with several light batteries, were holding the lines below the city. Gradually during the night these troops were withdrawn by brigades. The first movements were orderly enough, but toward morning the retreat became a wild flight. It was one of the ghostliest sights of this awful night to see long lines of men, flitting like unholy shades through the crowded streets, their forms made hideous by the glare of the incendiary fires that already began to glow. This train of fugitives poured on unbroken up Main street, down Fourteenth street, until broad daylight broke upon the scene."

One of the most terrifying incidents of that awful morning was the burning of the Arsenal, in which were stored no less than 100,000 shells, which for three or four hours kept up a continual bombardment, the fragments flying all over the city, and adding greatly to the consternation of the inhabitants. Strange to relate, no one, so far as ascertained, was killed by these missiles, though several were seriously wounded. We heard this bombardment when we were on the road to the city, and the natural suppostion was that an engagement between our troops in the advance and the rear columns of the enemy was in progress. The arsenal, being located under a hill, may account for the small list of casualties. Many fragments of shells, weighing several pounds each, fell in the Capitol Square.

Another incident was the escape of over 350 convicts from the State Penitentiary, the guard of that institution having become alarmed at the demonstrations of the culprits and fled, leaving the keeper and his assistants in sole charge, a task to which they were by no means equal. Over 100 of these convicts were subsequently recaptured and returned to prison. The inmates of the jail also made a strike for freedom, under similar circumstances, and would have succeeded in their endeavors had not a "stay of proceedings" been executed, just in the nick of time, by the military arm of the Federal power.

The following item afforded very gratifying as well as interesting reading:

ARRESTS BY THE MILITARY AUTHORITIES. - Four of the detective officers of the Confederate Government who resigned and remained behind when the Government "changed its base" have been arrested and committed to the Libby Prison. Their names are Charles, Jones, Sledd and Williams. Wiley, the turnkey of Castle Thunder under the Confederate regime, and Frederick Shaffer, the Confederate Bread Commissary of Union Prisons, were also arrested and committed to the Libby yesterday.

And thus the whirligig of time brings round its sure revenges; and the brave fellows who had survived the abuses and horrors of those same prison-pens of Richmond could then look back with the eye of memory to the scenes and sufferings there experienced, and find a sensation of pleasure in the contemplation of the thought that the ends of justice, in their own individual cases, had at length been subserved.

Another item worthy of historic record in this connection was the following:

An immense number of Confederate coupon bonds, with all the coupons all registered and signed, were thrown in to the streets of Richmond during the recent evacuation. They were picked up by everybody who had any inclination to subject themselves to that trouble, and can be purchased from the boys for a very insignificant sum. If Mr. Trenholm can sustain Confederate credit under existing circumstances he can turn wine into water or perform some other miracle; but he cannot do it.

One of the most ludicrous episodes in the whole history of the war was the issue by Jeff. Davis, on April 4, at Danville, of a proclamation declaring that the rebel cause was not hopeless, and urging continued resistance to the Federal arms. Coming, as it did, from a man who had occupied the lofty position of Chief Magistrate of the Confederacy, but who then, from the force of circumstances, was only a fugitive from justice, fleeing for his life before the victorious march of the Union troops; while Lee's demoralized army, his main dependence, was on the very verge of surrender - such counsel, I repeat, at such a time and from such a source, was so perfectly ridiculous that the vagaries of a mythic Don Quixote at once sound probable in the light of the prominent modern example thus afforded.

A grand review of the Twenty-fourth Corps took place on Saturday, April 8. The column moved through some of the principal streets of the city, and the citizens appeared to be very interested spectators of the pageant. On Sunday evening a telegram was received from Gen. Weitzel stating that Gen. Lee had made a formal surrender f the Army of Northern Virginia to Lieut.-Gen. Grant, the capitulation having taken place the day before. Gen. Weitzel accordingly ordered a salute of 100 guns to be fired in honor of the event. Another salute was fired early in the morning by our navy, down the river, and still another, at 10 o'clock, by a battery placed in position on the Capitol Square. The war was the virtually at an end, although Gen. Johnson had not yet surrendered; and smiling faces were everywhere seen, even among the citizens, who, although formerly in strong sympathy with the sinking cause of secession, were then happy in the thought that after four years of bloody conflict the day of peace was at hand.

During our stay in Richmond I paid a visit to Hollywood Cemetery, a beautiful place of burial on the high bank of the James River, overlooking Belle Island. There I came across the monument of Thomas Ritchie, the founder of the Richmond Enquirer, and for more than 40 years the controlling spirit of that journal, on which was the following inscription:

"It may be said of him with truth, in his own words, 'He never turned his back upon his country, was always devoted to his friends, and never dreaded his enemies.'"

How pregnant with meaning is the phrase "He never turned his back upon his country!" What striking moral for the people late in rebellion, and especially for the later managers of the Richmond Enquirer is embraced in the few words here quoted from the tombstone of that journal's founder! And yet - such is force of popular enthusiasm - had Thomas Ritchie lived to see the rebellion inaugurated no doubt he would have been quite as likely to accept the secession dogma and to advocate revolution as the majority of his fellow-men of the Southern States. Then, at his demise, no such epitaph could justly have been placed on his tombstone; now the memory of Thomas Ritchie can well be cherished as one who "never turned his back upon his country."

The monument of one of the early Presidents of the United States - James Monroe - was also noticed; and many Confederate dead are there buried.

The troops of the Corps d'Afrique, after a sojourn of 10 days in Richmond, took up their line of march southward early on the morning of April 13. Owing to considerable delay in procuring an ambulance the writer and his office associates did not get ready to start until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Crossing the pontoons leading to Manchester, we took the Petersburg turnpike, down which we moved at a regular funeral pace, bringing up the rear of the long military procession, the head of which was several hours in advance of us, and nearer our destination be several miles. Passing four different lines of formidable earthworks commanding the approaches to Richmond on the south side, moving past Fort Darling and the fine old mansion of the Drewry family, after whom the high bluff at that point of the river had received its name, we were overtaken by the somber shades of evening just as we reached the Halfway House - historic locality of some of our operation the previous May and June. Continuing our journey about two miles further it was quite dark when we turned into a field not far from clover Hill Junction and made preparations to bivouac for the night. There were three of us as passengers, and it became very evident, after we had taken an attitude of repose in our military vehicle, that there was not much room to spare; but all thoughts of our close packing were soon dispelled by the drowsy influence of Somnus, the mythical god of sleep.

[remainder of article relates the author's stay in Petersburg, subsequent move to "Camp Lincoln" at Jordan's Point, and discharge from the army at City Point on June 3. The author accompanied the XXV Corps to Texas as a civilian. This was not transcribed.]

(The end.)

Page last updated on 07/24/2009