Duke, R.T.W. "Burning of Richmond." SHSP 25 (1897),
Page 134 Southern Historical Society Papers.
[From the Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, April 25, 1897.]
BURNING OF RICHMOND.
Incidents of the City's Evacuation Described.
LAST TO CROSS MAYO'S BRIDGE.
Experiences of an Officer on the Retreat.
"SUNNY SIDE," ALBEMARLE CO., VA., April 6, 1897.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
During part of the month of February and during March, 1865, the Second Battalion of
Virginia Reserves (boys between sixteen and eighteen, and old men between forty-five and
fifty, commanded by the undersigned) were stationed in the City of Richmond on guard duty,
having been withdrawn from the lines nearly opposite Fort Harrison, about the 15th of
February. On the afternoon of Saturday, the 1st of April, 1865, I went down on a small
steamer to "Wilton," the home of my friend, Colonel W. C. Knight, and spent
Sunday with him and his family. I expected to return to Richmond early Monday morning.
During Sunday all was quiet on the north side of James river, but away to the south we
could hear sounds that indicated a serious engagement. The Colonel and myself in the
afternoon walked down nearly opposite Drewry's Bluff, when a steamer - the one I came down
on Saturday - passed down, loaded, as we thought, with Federal prisoners. As it passed by
rapidly, we heard from the boat that Richmond was to be evacuated, and that was the last
trip the boat would make. As all was so very quiet in our neighborhood, we did not credit
this report. About 10 o'clock P. M. Sunday I retired, and before I had fallen asleep the
Colonel came to my door, knocked, and informed me that the lines on the north side were
being evacuated; that all of his horses and wagons had been just then impressed, and were
to be used in moving stores, etc. I was then about nine miles from the city, and my
quarters were out in the neighborhood of what was formerly known as Buchanan Spring, so
there was nothing for me to do but walk about twelve miles. It was then 11 o'clock at
night. I placed in my haversack a small piece of hambone and a loaf of bread, which
Page 135 Burning of Richmond.
good Mrs. Knight have me, little dreaming that I would get nothing more to eat for more
than three days.
ORDERS TO BURN.
Reaching my quarters in the city about 2 o'clock A. M. of the 3d, my adjutant, Linden
Kent, a youth about eighteen (who afterwards became a distinguished lawyer in Washington
city, and died a few years since), showed me an order from General Ewell, directing all
the tobacco warehouses, then full of tobacco, to be burned at a certain signal. He and
Captain Herron, of Orange, the ranking officer in my absence (Captain W. T. Early, of
Albemarle, and Major James Strange, of Fluvanna, then being absent, sick), had made all
the arrangements necessary to carry this order into effect. I directed Captain Herron and
Adjutant Kent, so soon as the signal was given, to fire these buildings, then pass over
the river on Mayo's bridge and follow the army. Being dead tired, I threw myself down to
rest, fell asleep, and did not waken until the arsenal exploded. This woke me up most
effectually. I threw my blanket over my shoulder, sword and haversack on one side, and
canteen, with a little brandy, on the other. I struck out for Mayo's bridge, some one or
two miles distant. The streets were quiet and apparently deserted. When I reached Mayo's
bridge the small bridge over the canal connecting the basin with the dock was on fire on
one side, a burning canal-boat having drifted up against it.
LAST TO CROSS.
As I was passing over the bridge a few cavalry videttes passed me. I shall ever believe we
were the last Confederates who crossed the bridge, for that had also been fired and was
now in flames on one side. As I climbed the slope beyond the bridge, the rising sun was
just beginning to peep over the eastern hills. I turned and looked back; the city of
Richmond was in flames. From all the windows of the Gallego Mills tongues of flame were
bursting out; dense clouds of smoke, sparks and flames were reaching skyward. Were I a
painter, even now, after thirty-two years, I could paint the scene. The sight was awfully
grand. I felt the end was nigh. After gazing on this sublime spectacle for a time, I
trudged on in pursuit of my command. After proceeding about a mile, I met Mr. Davis,
father of Dr. H. Wythe Davis, of your city, and brother-in-law of Colonel Knight, who
lived nearly opposite Wilton. He was on horseback,
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and insisted upon my taking his horse. I declined to do so at first, but he remarked that
I had better take him, because if I did not the Yankees certainly would. He had dismounted
and tendered me the bridle. I took it, mounted; we shook hands and parted, he to return to
his home, and I to follow and overtake my command. About 1 o'clock P. M. I overtook them,
and we proceeded together with other commands, things being a good deal mixed.
THE OBJECTIVE POINT.
Our objective point was, as I learned, Burkeville Junction. On the night of the 3d of
April, we encamped about twelve or fifteen miles from Manchester. On the 4th we crossed
the Appomattox on the railroad bridge at Mattoax Station. On the 5th we passed Amelia
Owing to some trouble in our front, we made very slow progress, and that night we marched,
or tried to march, all night, but only progressed a short distance; frequently we would
move a few yards and then halt for an hour or two. Just before day we were ordered into
camp. Captain Herron and I spread our blankets together and fell asleep. We had not slept
more than an hour, when the ominous long roll sounded through the camps. We immediately
fell into line and marched on. Up to this time the command had received no rations. Seeing
that my men were nearly exhausted for want of food I directed two of my most active men to
push forward a little distance from the main road, and try to secure a mutton, and rejoins
us on the march. On we proceeded, very slowly, owing to the constant dashes of Sheridan's
cavalry on our wagon train. We had not gone more than two or three miles, when we came to
the two men with a dressed mutton hanging up near the road. We stacked arms and were about
to divide our plunder, when Sheridan's cavalry struck our wagon train a few hundred yards
in advance of us.
We at once fell into ranks, moved on, and in the excitement of the moment forgot our
mutton, except that your writer pulled of a kidney and put in his haversack, which
delicacy he broiled on a few coals during a temporary halt. About two o'clock P. M. we
approached Sailor's creek. When about a mile from the creek, the main road bore to the
right. We passed directly forward, through two gate posts (I presume along a private
road). As we wound down the hill, we saw on our left a house flying the yellow flag. We
crossed the creek on a few fence rails thrown in. The creek was to shallow, but marshy. As
we went up the hill, the road bearing to
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the left, we came to several pieces of artillery and caissons which had been abandoned,
and near them I found a soldier of this county - R. D. Burruss, by name - badly wounded,
who belonged to the 46th Regiment, Virginia Volunteers, Wise's Brigade (this regiment I
had commanded for about two years). He informed me that nearly all the brigade had been
killed, wounded, or captured, around Petersburg, or on the retreat.
GROUP OF OFFICERS.
After going a short distance further, I came to a group of mounted officers, consisting of
Generals Ewell, Custis Lee, Barton and others. In a few moments the artillery of the enemy
opened on us. For myself, I must confess I felt somewhat excited, but General Ewell
remarked in his ordinary tones: "Tomatoes are very good; I wish I had some."
This remark, under the circumstances, at once calmed my excitement, and with great
difficulty I restrained my disposition to laugh.
In a few minutes we were moved to the right, and as the ground was rough, hilly and thick
with trees and undergrowth, I dismounted and turned my horse over to my orderly.
We proceeded a half mile or more and were halted a little below the crest of a steep ride,
with a deep ravine in front of us, and another ride opposite us as high, if not higher
than our ridge. From our position the opposite crest was distant some 200 to 300 yards. On
our extreme left (being the left of the entire corps) was the naval battalion, under
Commodore Tucker, then came my little command of some ninety muskets, then came the
command of Colonel Crutchfield (who was killed not far from where I stood). My belief has
always been that there was a considerable interval between Crutchfield's right and the
next command. I think the troops named above numbered not more than 600 muskets.
Soon after we took our position the artillery of the enemy opened upon us, but the range
was too high and did no damage, except to the tree tops. After the artillery had ceased
firing a line of skirmishers appeared on the crest of the opposite ridge, but soon retired
from a brisk fire opened by our line. After they retired a long line of infantry appeared
on the opposite ridge. Our men opened on them and for a time there was brisk musketry fire
on both sides. We had the advantage of position; the enemy were shooting below
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a point-blank range, while our men were shooting above that range. I believe it is the
general observation of military men that troops usually shoot a little too high.
After some half hour, more or less, the enemy in our front retired, but a large body, at
least a brigade, was observed moving around our left.
FLAG OF TRUCE.
All things were quiet for a time; then I observed a flag of truce on the opposite ridge.
General Barton directed me to meet it. I did so, and proceeded to the bottom of the
ravine, where I met a mounted officer, who proved to be General (or Colonel) Oliver
Edwards. He informed me that Generals Ewell, Lee, and all of the command who were not
killed, had surrendered, and he desired us to surrender in order to prevent the further
useless effusion of blood. This proposition I declined, on the ground that we had received
no orders from our commanders to surrender. I reported the interview to General Barton,
and about that time a squadron of cavalry rode up from the rear and we surrendered. I
surrendered my sword, which had been the dress-sword of my great-grandfather, Dr. Thomas
Walker, of Castle Hill, to a lieutenant, taking down his name, and some years since I
recovered it by paying $25 (C. O. D.)
As this letter is already too long, I must close, with the remark that the men on the left
were comparatively raw troops, and yet they acted with wonderful coolness and gallantry.
R. T. W. DUKE,
Late Lieutenant-Colonel Second Battalion Va. Reserves.
P. S. - John Preston Goss, Esq., clerk in the First Auditor's office, was my
sergeant-major, and, I think, was present at my interview with General Edwards. I would
like John P. Goss to give his recollections of the retreat from Richmond and the fight at
Sailor's Creek in your paper, as we are not even mentioned in any of the reports of the
battle of Sailor's Creek.
This letter is written from memory, and there may be mistakes. I would, therefore, be glad
to hear from any of the survivors of Tucker's Battalion, Crutchfield's Command, or of my
command (the Second Battalion). At some future day I propose to write a brief account of
what became of me, from our surrender at Sailor's Creek to my return home from Johnson's
Island prison, on the 29th of July, 1865.