Weitzel, Godfrey. Richmond Occupied: Entry of the United States Forces into Richmond, Va.
April 3, 1865 - Calling Together of the Virginia Legislature and
Revocation of the Same. Ed. Louis H. Manarin. (Richmond: Richmond Civil War
Centennial Committee, 1965)
Louis H. Manarin, Ph.D.
Early in the spring of 1865 the Confederacy was only a shell of its onetime
greatness. The Armies in the field were numerically inferior to those of its
opponent, and the administration could not maintain a system of supply to
provide the soldiers with the necessary food and supplies. When General Robert
E. Lee was requested to provide his views, he informed Secretary of War John C.
"It must be apparent to everyone that [the military condition of the
country] is full of peril and requires prompt action ....
"While the military situation is not favorable, it is not worse than the
superior numbers and resources of the enemy justified us in expecting from
the beginning. Indeed, the legitimate military consequences of t hat
superiority have been postponed longer than we had reason to anticipate."
General Grant did not wish to give his opponent time to strengthen his forces
during the favorable weather of spring. On March 24 he issued the orders which
would sound the death knell of the Confederacy.
"On the 29th instant the armies operating against Richmond will be moved by
our left, for the double purpose of turning the enemy out of his present
position around Petersburg and to insure the success of the cavalry under
General Sheridan, which will start at the same time, in its efforts to reach
and destroy the South Side and Danville railroads."
General Sheridan's cavalry moved and occupied Dinwiddie Court House; but
were prevented from advancing further by the Confederate cavalry, reinforced
by Lee's last reserves under General George E. Pickett. On April 1, the
Union cavalry, now reinforced by the 5th Army Corps under General G. K.
Warren, overwhelmed the Confederate position at Five Forks. Lee's right
flank had been turned, his lines of communication westward were exposed. He
had dispatched troops to try to stem the Federal tide advancing against his
right, when news arrived of the disaster at Five Forks. Early on the morning
of the 2nd, General Grant launched a general assault, the effects of which
forced Lee to the realization that his lines would not hold, and he would
have to evacuate Petersburg. At 10:40 a.m. Lee's telegram was received at
the Confederate War Department at Richmond, stating that "I see no prospect
of doing more than holding our position here till night. I am not certain
that I can do that.... I advise that all preparations be made for leaving
President Davis was notified of Lee's dispatch while attending services at
St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He left immediately and summoned his cabinet for
its last meeting in Richmond. Mayor Joseph Mayo, Governor William (Extra Billy)
Smith, and former Governor John Letcher attended the meeting. Davis informed the
group that Richmond would have to be evacuated. The cabinet members were
instructed to direct their assistants to rush the packing of necessities and
destruction of all materials and papers they would be unable to pack and carry.
Everything was to be sent to the Danville station, where the officials were to
meet and depart by train to Danville. Governor Smith announced his intention to
ride to Lynchburg for the purpose of enlisting support to continue the fight.
With the evacuation of the Confederate and State executives, all the functions
of governing the City of Richmond would devolve on the City administration.
As the various branches of the Confederate and State governments prepared for
the evacuation, the City Council was called for a special session. At this
meeting it was:
"Resolved, That in the event of the evacuation of the City, the Council and
a committee of the citizens, to be appointed by the President, together with
the Mayor, shall be authorized to meet the Federal authorities to make such
arrangements for the surrender of the City as may protect the interests of
Upon the adoption of this resolution William H. Macfarland, Judge W. H.
Lyons, Judge W. H. Halyburton, Judge John A. Meredith, and Loftin N. Ellett were
chosen as the committee of citizens. In addition an ordinance was passed to
destroy all liquor stored in the city. The councilmen were directed to organize
committees within their wards execute this ordinance.
As the local officials set about their task, the officials of the Confederate
government gathered at the Danville depot to check final arrangements and to
board the train for Danville. In the waning moments of April 2, 1865 the train
carrying the President and members of his cabinet pulled out of the depot,
leaving behind a bewildered, sad, but majestic city. Orders had already gone out
for the Confederate troops in the outer entrenchments to withdraw. While they
were in the process of executing these orders, final arrangements were being
made in Richmond. In February, General Richard S. Ewell, commander of the
Richmond defenses, had received orders from General Lee that it would be
necessary to destroy all cotton and tobacco in Richmond should it be necessary
to evacuate the capital. This order was a direct result of a Confederate statute
which stipulated the destruction of the commodities to avoid their capture.
Although efforts had been made to cause the removal of the articles or their
destruction by another process; no final decisions had been made. General Ewell,
therefore, issued orders on the 2nd to destroy the tobacco in Shockoe, Public,
Mayo's, and Dibrell's warehouses. This was to be accomplished by setting the
stores on fire after everything that could be carried was removed. Plans were
also made to destroy the powder magazine and the vessels in the James River.
As these orders were being executed and the troops began to prepare to
withdraw from the trenches, the people in Richmond began to gather in the
streets in the business district. After the Confederate officials loaded all the
provisions they could take, they let the people into the warehouses. Then, as
the troops moved through the city and across the bridges to Manchester, the
tobacco was set on fire at Shockoe and the other warehouses. Their efforts to
obtain provisions, combined with the fear of the spreading fire, quickly turned
the crowd of people (now reinforced by stragglers from the army and escaped
prisoners from the penitentiary) into a pillaging mob. In such a frenzied state
the mob assisted the fire in its destruction. It was not long before the vessels
the river began to explode and the powder magazine went up in an
earth-shattering roar, sending pieces of brick and glass flying in all
directions. The explosions brought out more residents, and they too joined the
mob. As the last Confederate cavalry moved over Mayo Bridge to Manchester they
scattered lighted faggots to burn the structure behind them. The other bridges
had already been fired.
It was now early morning, both the mob and the fire were at their height.
Through the streets rode Mayor Mayo and his committee in an open carriage on
their mission to surrender the city to the advancing Federal troops. Across the
no man's land between the entrenchments the Federal forces had been alerted to a
possible evacuation. As the night progressed, they could see a red glow over
Richmond and could hear the explosions of the ordnance stores. At 4:30 a.m.,
April 3rd, Weitzel informed Grant that he would advance, and at 5:10 a.m. he
ordered General Charles Devens to prepare to move at 6 a.m. Weitzel informed
Grant of the fires and explosions, and that he would move at daybreak. Before
daybreak Weitzel "felt pretty well convinced that the enemy were evacuating
Richmond, and therefore as soon as day dawned I sent Major A. H. Stevens, 4th
Massachusetts Cavalry, and Major E. E. Graves, aide-de-camp, both of my staff,
with forty of my headquarters cavalry, belonging to Companies E and H, 4th
Massachusetts Cavalry, to receive the surrender of the city, and to direct the
authorities and citizens to cause all liquor to be destroyed and to preserve
order until my troops arrived." This party rode through the picket lines of
Devens' Brigade as they were advancing on the Confederate picket line.
At daybreak the 1st Division, 25th Army Corps , under General August V.
Kautz, moved up the Osborne Turnpike, while the 3rd Division, 24th Army Corps,
under General Devens, advanced up the New Market Road. Weitzel's cavalry, the
5th Massachusetts Cavalry under Colonel Charles F. Adams, Jr., moved up the
Darbytown and Charles City roads. All were ordered "to halt at the outskirts of
the city until further orders." Weitzel rode ahead of the troops along the
As the Federal infantry formed for the march into Richmond, the detachment of
cavalry under Majors Stevens and Graves moved up the Osborne Turnpike to its
junction with the New Market Road. Here they met Mayor Mayo, who handed Major
Stevens the following:
Monday, April 3, 1865
To the General Commanding the United States Army in front of Richmond:
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 women and children and property.
Major Stevens accepted the surrender note and informed Mayor
Mayo that he would deliver it to General Weitzel. The Mayor and his party then
turned to return to Richmond and Majors Stevens and Graves continued on into
Richmond. They entered the city just before 7 a.m., and rode through Rocketts,
up Main Street and then up Governor Street to Capitol Square. Here they
dismounted and raised two cavalry guidons over the capitol, the first Union
colors to fly over the city after its fall.
In the meantime, General Weitzel was riding up the Osborne Turnpike with his
staff. At the junction of the Osborne Turnpike and New Market Road, where Majors
Stevens and Graves had met Mayor Mayo, Weitzel saw the head of Devens' Division
coming up the New Market Road. Weitzel then rode up the Osborne Turnpike and
entered Richmond. He went directly "to the city hall, where I received the
surrender at 8:15 a.m."
At the junction of the New Market Road and the Osborne Turnpike the two
advancing Federal columns met. After some discussion, General Devens' Division
continued while the troops on the Osborne Turnpike waited for them to pass.
Devens' Division was marching with the 1st Brigade, under General Edward H.
Ripley, in the advance. General Ripley's skirmish line was under Captain George
A. Bruce, 13th New Hampshire Regiment. When Captain Bruce approached Rocketts he
"found that the town had already been, occupied by Major Stevens with a few
cavalry, and a sentinel posted on the road to halt all troops at that point."
Here he waited for the balance of the brigade. General Ripley approached
Rocketts "about 7 o'clock in the morning" and "received orders to deploy a
strong line of guards across from the river up the ravine of Gillies Creek, with
orders to permit no one to pass, but to turn everyone back to join his command,
and get ready for the formal entry into the city." Having three bands in his
brigade, General Ripley placed them at the head of his column. When the orders
came for the troops to move, they did so "about 8:30 a.m." General Ripley's
Brigade was the first to formally enter Richmond. Marching up Main Street the
column turned right up Governor Street to Capitol Square. Here General Ripley
halted the column and received orders to report to General Weitzel on the
eastern porch of the capitol.
"Upon the broad landing at the head of the tall flight of steps stood General
Weitzel and staff, the noble personality of General Devens with his staff, and
grouped around were the division commanders of the Twenty-fifth Corps of colored
troops, with the Hon. Joseph Mayo, the mayor of the city, and other city
Here General Weitzel informed Ripley that he was to be in command of the city
and that his brigade would constitute the city garrison. He was also informed
that the primary concern at that moment was to stop the fire from spreading.
Finding that the fire fighting equipment had been rendered useless by the mob,
the Federal infantry had to resort to other measures. With the assistance of
Captain Parsons' Company of engineers , the men of Devens' Division succeeded in
containing the fire by tearing down walls and destroying other buildings to
create a break between the fire and the untouched buildings. By the evening of
the 3rd the fire had been contained, and the wheels of government set in motion
under the military. General Weitzel, as commander, established his headquarters
in President Davis' residence. General Shepley, Military Governor of Richmond,
was located in the capitol building, and Lieutenant Colonel Manning, Provost
Marshal, was in the City Hall.
For the next ten days General Weitzel would remain in command at Richmond.
During this period he would meet with President Lincoln and prominent citizens
to discuss the call of the Legislature. The sole purpose of such a meeting was
to nullify the act of secession in order to withdraw Virginia troops from the
Confederacy. When Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox
Court House, Va., April 9th, for all intents Virginia's troops were out of the
war. There was no need for the Legislature to act, and the call was rescinded. A
second major problem revolved around the churches of Richmond and their
services. In his narrative General Weitzel presents his experiences in coping
with these two problems. Weitzel does not appear to have realized that Assistant
Secretary of War Charles A. Dana was in Richmond reporting on his actions to
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, as well as to events in general. In reporting
on Weitzel's actions pertaining to the local government and the calling of the
Legislature, Dana stated:
"I should add also Weitzel seems disposed to act in all respects with
caution, and discretion, and that nothing was said or intimated in the
convention of this morning [April 8] that could compromise or embarrass the
government in any future action."
Weitzel did not handle the problem with the churches as well. In his
narrative he makes an attempt to justify his actions , but his lack of decisive
action caused Dana to inform Stanton "that it shakes a good deal my confidence
in Weitzel." The problem arose over the prayer in the Episcopal churches which
had been changed in 1861 to substitute the President of the Confederate States
for the President of the United States. The Federal authorities ordered this
changed. However, the clergymen could not change it, only Bishop Johns could,
and he was in Canada. Weitzel informed Dana that all the churches "were to be
allowed to be opened on condition that no disloyalty should be uttered and that
the Episcopal ministers would be required to read the prayer for the President
of the United States." Dana's "confidence" in Weitzel was shaken when "no
special authority was given to omit the prayer for the President, but it was
distinctly understood that that prayer would not be said in the Episcopal
churches." Weitzel was of the opinion "that this prayer should be required of
all those denominations of whose service it forms a regular part, but on the
urgent advice of Shepley, military governor, and Brevet Brigadier General
Ripley, he did not give a positive order enforcing it." His decision was also
the result of Lincoln's verbal direction to him. Dana reported to Stanton on
April 10 that he could not "learn that the prayer for the President was said in
any church, though it is reported to me that in all the Episcopal churches,
while the President was omitted from the prayer, the words 'all of those in
authority' were included."
As will be seen in Weitzel's narrative, he was held accountable by Stanton
for his failure to give a positive order. In a very long dispatch, quoted in the
narrative, Weitzel explains his actions, but Stanton felt his answers were not
satisfactory. President Lincoln informed Weitzel: "I do not remember hearing
prayer spoken of while I was in Richmond, but I have no doubt that you have
acted in what appeared to you to be the spirit and temper manifested by me while
On April 13, 1865 Weitzel left Richmond under a cloud of personal gloom. He
had just received Lincoln's telegram to rescind the call of the Legislature and
turned it over to General E. O. C. Ord, who was assuming command. General Ord
published the orders rescinding the call issued by Weitzel. Public opinion
assumed Weitzel had been relieved for issuing the call. Similarly, the prayer
controversy was unsettled.
General Godfrey Weitzel was the first of many military commanders to assume
command over Richmond. It was not until January 26, 1870, when Virginia was
readmitted to the Union, that Richmond end was free from military rule.
General Weitzel's narrative, entitled Entry of the United States Forces into
Richmond, Virginia, April 3, 1865. Calling Together of the Virginia Legislature
and Revocation of the Same, was located at the Cincinnati Historical Society and
is here reproduced with their permission through the courtesy of Louis L.
Tucker, Director. The manuscript is located in Weitzel's Letter Press of
Correspondence, Official Reports, Financial Statements, &c. --1878-81-- Detroit,
Philadelphia, &c., in two volumes. It is found on pages 606-673 of Volume I. The
bulk of the material in the collection deals with Weitzel's duties in the Corps
of Engineers, and consists mostly of letters written by clerks and signed by
It appears that Weitzel wrote the narrative for the editors of the
Philadelphia Weekly Times, as it was published in that paper on August 27, 1881
under the title "The Fall of Richmond." It was published as part of that paper's
annals of the war series. However, it was not republished in the collection of
that series published in 1879 under the title Annals of the War, Written by
Leading Participants North and South. Upon comparison it appears that the editor
printed the entire manuscript with the exception of the final letter, which it
appears that Weitzel just added on.
The manuscript is herein reproduced as it appears in the letter press volume.
The original spelling and capitalization have been retained. It should be noted
that he used two spellings of General Mackenzie's name: Mackenzie and Mac
Kenzie. All misspellings are retained without the use of sic. The only changes
made were in punctuation, and then only when necessary.
This narrative by Weitzel does not answer all the questions arising as to the
sequence of events on the morning of April 3rd. However, it does provide
additional insights as to the command responsibilities he had to assume.
Although he states his desire was to present the facts in order, he did not do
so. After covering the ten days in Richmond and the movement of his troops
southwestward, he begins to ramble, inserting events out of chronological order.
This in no way detracts from the general narrative. He does develop some events
just touched on in the earlier portion. This narrative reveals something of the
man, and sheds new light on events in Richmond during the period April 3-10,
ENTRY OF THE UNITED STATES FORCES
INTO RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, APRIL 3, 1865.
CALLING TOGETHER OF THE VIRGINIA LEGISLATURE
AND REVOCATION OF THE SAME
By Godfrey Weitzel, Major, Corps of Engineers, and
Brevet Major General, United States Army
General Grant's instructions for the general movement of the
armies operating against Richmond, which resulted in the fall of this city and
Petersburgh, and eventually in the surrender of the rebel army of Northern
Virginia, were dated City Point, Va. , March 24, 1865. These instructions have
been so often printed and so extensively and widely published , that I do not
consider it necessary to insert them in this narrative. At the time they were
issued I was in command of the 25th Army Corps, with my headquarters east of the
Varina road about one half mile due north of the H. Cox house. [Brigadier
General Charles J.] Paine's division of my corps was in North Carolina. My
command formed a part of the Army of the James commanded by Major General E. O.
C. Ord. The left of the lines of this army rested upon the Appomattox river,
about -a mile west of the Point of Rocks , [and] extended thence almost due
north to within about three eighths of a mile of the Varina road, thence
northeasterly to a point about a quarter of a mile beyond the New Market road
thence easterly to cover this road. Their total length not counting the cavalry
lines was about eleven miles.
The force on these lines, commanded by General Ord, consisted of a mixed
command under Major General George L. Hartsuff; the 24th Army Corps commanded by
Major General John Gibbon; a small division of cavalry commanded by Brigadier
General R. S. Mackenzie; and two divisions of the 25th Army Corps commanded by
me. The divisions of the 24th Corps were commanded respectively by Brigadier
Generals Charles Devens , Robert S. Foster, and John W. Turner. Those of the
25th Corps were commanded by Brigadier Generals William Birney and August V.
General Hartsuff's command formed the garrison of that portion of the lines
included between the Appomattox and James rivers; the left of my Corps rested on
the north side of the James at Fort Brady, and the left of the 24th Corps joined
my right near the Varina road and formed the right of the main line. The cavalry
was thrown out to the front and right to observe the roads leading into Richmond
from that direction.
The part assigned to the Army of the James in the final movement will appear
from the following extract from General Grant's instructions:
"General Ord will detach three divisions, two white and one colored, or so
much of them as he can, and hold the present lines, and march for the
present left of the Army of the Potomac. …During the movement Major General
Weitzel will be left in command of all the forces remaining behind from the
Army of the James. The movement of troops from the Army of the James will
commence on the night of the 27th instant. General Ord will leave behind the
minimum number of cavalry necessary for picket duty, in the absence of the
The part assigned to me and my command appears from the following extract:
"General Weitzel will keep vigilant watch upon his front, and if found at
all practicable to break through at any point, he will do so. A success
north of the James should be followed up with great promptness. An attack
will not be feasible unless it is found that the enemy has detached largely.
In that case it may be regarded as evident that the enemy are relying upon
their local reserves, principally, for the defense of Richmond. Preparations
may be made for abandoning all the line north of the James, except inclosed
works only to be abandoned, however, after a break is made in the lines of
The final paragraph of these instructions contained general directions
applicable to all officers in command of troops left in the trenches.
In accordance with the instructions General Ord moved during the night of
March 27th with Foster's and Turner's divisions of the 24th Corps, under the
immediate command of General Gibbon, Birney's Division of the 25th Corps, and
about 1,500 cavalry commanded by General Mackenzie. He left his department
headquarters open for the recording of papers, with two staff officers in
charge, but I was left in command of the forces which remained behind.
His instructions to me were written by himself on two telegraph blanks. This
is an exact copy:
"Headquarters Dept. of Virginia
Army of the James
In the Field, March 27, 1865
Commanding 25th Corps
If an evacuation occurs during my absence look out for torpedoes and mines -
it is now reported that large numbers of the former are put down on
Chaffin's farm and Bermuda front - don't let your columns take the roads -
keep them in the woods and by paths - send cattle and old horses up the
roads first - tonight and tomorrow keep camp fires going as usual in empty
camps - and the usual picket on make as little change as possible at
conspicuous points - if you can do so, cover the prominent part of the
vacated camps with shelter tents - for a day or two - or old newspapers; go
on with drills and parades in sight as usual - 5 Mass. col'd cavalry is on
its way to Deep Bottom - may arrive tomorrow or day after - better camp them
near where McKenzie's outside camps were - it is very full - besides this, I
leave about 500 cavalry of McKenzie's Division - command'g officer to report
to you - Birney's Division will move very quietly soon as 'tis dark, cross
at Aiken's, thence cross at Broadway, behind Turner - both put waggons in
E. O. C. Ord"
On the morning of March 28, 1865, I therefore had under my command the
garrison on the Bermuda Hundred front under General Hartsuff, Kautz's division
of the 25th Corps, Devens' division of the 24th Corps, and about 500 remnants of
Mackenzie's cavalry. The 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry, a very fine regiment
about 900 strong, commanded by Colonel Charles F. Adams, Jr., joined me during
Attached to my headquarters I had [Captain Charles B.] Parsons' very fine
company of the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers and a detachment of two
companies from the 4th Massachusetts cavalry.
Hartsuff ranked me but waived his rank on account of my more intimate
knowledge of the locality, plans, and troops. General Alfred H. Terry did this
once before to me while we served together in the Army of the James. Those who
have had the honor of an acquaintance with these two gentlemen will not be
surprised at this. Yet I mention this since I believe such examples of generous
unselfishness are as rare as they were 17 years ago, and are therefore as
The works on the north side of the James, which were open in the rear, were
enclosed and all were supplied with ammunition, provisions, and water sufficient
for a siege of ten days. They were all armed with artillery, properly manned,
and had for infantry garrisons mainly those men who could not march well.
The remainder of Kautz' s and Devens' divisions, numbering about 5,000 men
each, were disposed of on the lines between these works so that they could be
rapidly concentrated either for attack or defense.
During the six days and nights which succeeded the morning of March 28 every
man in my command seemed to be fully impressed with the gravity of the
situation. There were three high signal towers on my lines. One on Cobb's Hill
in front of Point of Rocks on the Appomattox river, another near the south bank
of the James opposite Fort Brady, and one a few steps north of my headquarters.
These towers overlooked a large part of the enemy's lines and the Richmond and
Petersburg pike and railroad; and from the one in front of my headquarters the
signal officers could see into portions of Richmond with their glasses on a
clear day. I offered special rewards to the men on picket for bringing in
prisoners and deserters. Extra officers from division and brigade headquarters
were placed on duty on the picket lines; and Colonel Adams, with his cavalry,
was constantly feeling for and hunting up the enemy on the right and front, and
Everything known in warfare, and all that the ingenuity of my command could
devise, were employed in obtaining information concerning the enemy in my front.
I was kept advised daily of the progress of events on the left of the Army of
the Potomac by dispatches from Generals Grant and Sheridan, as well as from
Colonel [Theodore S.] Bowers at City Point.
As a specimen of dispatches which passed, I will here give the following:
"U. S. Military Telegraph
March 31, 1865
By Telegraph from Gravelly Run
To Maj. Gen. Weitzel:
Prisoners captured near Hatcher's Run this A. M. report that part of their
line strongly reinforced from their left. What news do you get from your
U. S. Grant, Lt. Gen. "
About at the same time, when this came, I received the following from General
Hartsuff on the Bermuda Hundred front:
"I have just rec'd the following from the Field officer of the day:
Since writing this morning, I have had communication with the enemy and am
positive that four brigades , all of [ Major General William] Mahone's
division, is still in front of the 10th N. Y. Art'y. Not the least change is
discernible at other points.
Officer of day.'
G. L. Hartsufff
A little later I received the following:
"U. S. Military Telegraph
March 31, 1865
By Telegraph from 24th A. C.
To Maj. Gen. Weitzel:
The scouting party under Lieut. [ John] Robb, 20th N. Y. Cav., has
returned. He crossed to the Charles City road, striking it at White's
tavern. He found it was impossible to go through White Oak swamp, as had
been his intention, on account of the height of the water. He therefore
proceeded up the road and found the rebel picket about a mile above White's,
observed the camp which was apparently as large as it had ever been, and saw
soldiers moving about among tents. Lt. Robb was about a mile from the camp,
which was behind the enemy's breastwork, and, apparently, infantry. The
picket was mounted and about half a mile in front of the breastwork. The
picket has usually been found at White's tavern. Mrs. White says it has been
drawn in within the last ten days. There were no tracks on the Charles City
road since the rain of this morning: about White's. On Wednesday a scouting
party of the enemy came down near our picket at Fussell's Mills, as reported
to Lt. Robb.
All quiet along the cavalry picket today. A few shots fired at the colored
troops when first posted.
Brig. Genl. Comdg."
And later the following:
"March 31, 1865
By Telegraph from Hd. Qrs. 24th A. C.
To Maj. Gen. Weitzel:
Capt. [Josiah L. I Elder, A. D. C. , reports no apparent change in enemy's
camps. He has visited all our picket line in front. Col. [Edward H. ]
Ripley, 1st Brigade, has lookouts on trees in three places along his line.
They report that they can observe no change.
Chas. Devens, Brig. Gen."
On Saturday April 1, things opened lively. First, I received a dispatch from
General Grant at Dabney's Mills that the wonderfully ubiquitous Mahone's
division was reported over there. Then General G. H. McKibben reported from the
Bermuda front that there were fewer troops in the enemy's lines on that front
than the day before. Then came another from General Grant at Dabney's Mills that
they had prisoners, he believed, from every brigade of [Major General George E.]
Pickett's division, and that nothing had been seen of any of [Major General
Charles W.] Field's, [Major General Joseph B.] Kershaw's, or Mahone's divisions.
When I received the first two, I requested Hartsuff to open with artillery, to
be followed by an infantry attack, and see what it would develop. Before I heard
the result of this, General Grant's second dispatch arrived. Hartsuff's
artillery fire developed nothing, but a prisoner was captured belonging to [
Brigadier General Joseph] Finegan's brigade. From his statements Hartsuff was
positive that the whole of Mahone's division was in his front, and therefore did
not attack with infantry. Then Devens reported no change. At 7 in the evening,
General Grant telegraphed me that he did not think that Mahone had moved, unless
possibly during the evening. In order to settle this question, I requested
Hartsuff to attack the next morning and ascertain. This was done as vigorously
as he was able to make it. He lost 7 killed, 39 wounded (several severely), and
35 prisoners, and obtained the desired information. The following is what he
said about it:
April 2, 1865
My demonstration this morning resulted in developing the enemy in force
along his line. They were driven out of their picket line with ease for a
distance of more than half a mile, and six of their pickets captured. Our
advance was then opened upon by artillery throughout the whole of their
line, which bore upon it. Having ascertained by this, and from the prisoners
, that their line was still held in force, and by Mahone's division, the
troops were directed to withdraw. The enemy followed with a strong line of
infantry to their picket line, which they reoccupied."
During this morning a large number of the officers of the James River fleet
came on shore and to my headquarters to learn the news. While they were thus
assembled I received a dispatch requesting me to inform the senior officer that
all the vessels which could be spared were wanted at City Point without delay.
This produced quite an excitement and the hasty departure of our web-footed
comrades. None of us knew the mean of it then, but I soon received a dispatch
from Col. Bowers, at City Point, that [ Major General John G.] Parke [Commander
9th Corps], I had captured two forts and two redoubts in his front [at
Petersburg], and later that the marines and sailors of the fleet were wanted at
City Point to guard the great number of rebel prisoners which were continually
Later in the day a nervousness became manifest on some portions of the
enemy's lines in my front. In order to assist this, I ordered the artillery to
open, but no changes of any importance were observed.
Then I received a dispatch in the afternoon from the operator at City Point
that General [Horatio G.] Wright had carried the works in his front, and that
General Parke had carried the works in front of Fort Sedgwick. About 5 P. M. my
chief signal officer, [Lieutenant Sylvester B.] Partridge, came down from the
tower near my headquarters and reported to me that he had observed evidences of
great excitement in Richmond, and that people were rushing to and fro in the
I immediately gave orders for the concentration of some of my brigades to
make an assault, and informed General Grant. In the meantime, Hartsuff received
an order from Grant looking towards an attack at a different point than the one
selected by me; and afterwards I received one from him that the success of the
day had been so great that he could spare me R. H. Jackson's (formerly W.
Birney's) division of my corps, and that he would send it to me, and that then I
could make a sure thing of the attack.
Further than this, I heard nothing from the other side of the Appomattox
during April 2d.
Extra vigilance was enjoined on all during the night. I laid down at midnight
for a rest, leaving my Chief of Staff, General George F. Shepley, and my
ordnance officer, Captain George F. Howard, 40th Massachusetts, on guard at my
headquarters. A little before two o'clock I was awakened by General Shepley and
informed that bright fires were seen in the direction of Richmond. Shortly
after, while we were looking at these fires, we heard explosions, and soon a
prisoner was sent in from Kautz's front. This prisoner was a colored teamster.
He informed me that immediately after dark the rebels began making preparations
to leave, and that they had all gone. A forward movement of the entire picket
line corroborated this. I therefore directed all of my troops to be awakened and
furnished with breakfast, and to be held in readiness to move as soon as it was
light enough to see to pass through the lines of rebel torpedoes without injury
At the same time I directed my senior Aid-de-camp, Major Emmons E. Graves,
and my Provost Marshal, Major Atherton H. Stevens, Jr., to take a detachment of
about forty men from the two companies of the 4th Massachusetts cavalry attached
to my headquarters, and, as soon as they could possibly get through the rebel
lines, to advance towards Richmond on a reconnaissance. I then telegraphed the
state of affairs north of the James to Generals Grant and Hartsuff. As soon as I
could see, I passed through Kautz's lines and the rebel lines in his front with
my staff and orderlies. No difficulty was experienced in doing this in single
file, since the rebels had left passages through the lines of torpedoes for the
use of their pickets, and these passages were plainly visible at dawn. Soon
after passing through the rebel lines, we observed a party of mounted man on a
slight elevation and but a short distance from us. They were the overcoats of
United States soldiers and were standing still and observing us. At first it
seemed as if they were a part of the cavalry detachment which I had sent ahead
under Major Graves. But suddenly they wheeled and went off at a gallop. I
immediately directed Lieut. [Charles D.] Phillips, 4th Massachusetts- cavalry,
of my staff, with an orderly, to ride ahead and ascertain, if he could, what
they were. He dashed off on a run followed by the orderly and ascertained what
they were, but could not report the result of his investigation to me until five
days thereafter. He then did it by telegraph from Burke's station.
The mounted party that we saw were rebel scouts observing our movements. When
they saw Phillips and the orderly alone pursuing them, they formed an ambuscade
and took them in. They in turn escaped at Sailor's Creek, having been in charge
of the retreating garrison of Richmond in the meantime.
My staff and I then rode along the Osborne pike, and when we arrived at its
junction with the Newmarket road, we saw Devens' division coming up the latter
marching rapidly. Upon looking to the rear we saw Kautz's division coming up the
pike at a similar gait. Only one man was killed in passing through the rebel
torpedo lines. I afterwards understood that the two columns met here and that
Devens claimed the pike by virtue of seniority in rank and that Kautz yielded it
on this account, but struck out straight across the fields. When we arrived at
Battery 2, below Rucketts, we found a solitary sentinel on post in a bright and
gorgeous militia uniform. He said he had been posted the night before and not
relieved. He had served in the old country and seemed to me to be an Alsatian,
for he spoke poor French and worse German. I sent him home to his family.
From the time I was first awakened in the night, the fires seemed to increase
in number and size, and at intervals loud explosions were heard; and now when we
entered Richmond we found ourselves in a perfect pandemonium. Fires and
explosions in all directions; whites and blacks , either drunk or in the highest
state of excitement, running to and fro on the streets, apparently engaged in
pillage or in saving some of their scanty effects from the fire; it was a
yelling, howling mob.
Major Graves had reconnoitered up to the Capitol square in the city. Below
the latter he had been met by Mayor Mayo and others of Richmond and received its
surrender. They informed him that all the liquor in the city had been ordered
destroyed , but it seems that many of the poor wretches had scooped it up from
the gutters and drank it. To add to the horror of the scene, the convicts broke
out of the penitentiary and began an indiscriminate pillage and cut the hose of
some of the fire engines. When the mob saw my staff and me, they rushed around
us, hugged and kissed our legs and horses, shouting hallelujah and glory. This
continued until we arrived at Capitol square. I escaped considerable of this
disagreeable infliction by an amusing circumstance. Major William V. Hutchings,
of Roxbury, Mass., rode by my side. He was dressed in full uniform except
epauletts and had the regulation equipments, &c., on his horse. He had quite a
venerable and very handsome appearance. I was in undress uniform. The mob
naturally supposed Hutchings to be the General, and he received the bulk of the
caresses and attentions. A sad sight met us on reaching Capitol square. It was
covered with women and children who had fled here to escape the fire. Some of
them had saved a few articles of furniture, but most had only a few articles of
bedding, such as a quilt, blanket, or pillow, and were lying upon them. Their
poor faces were perfect pictures of utter despair. It was a sight that would
have melted a heart of stone. I first ordered my aid, Captain Horace B. Fitch,
of Auburn, N.Y., to write a dispatch to General Grant announcing my entrance
into Richmond. This was the dispatch which was taken off the wires at City Point
and sent to the country via Washington. Then I sent an order to Devens to march
his division into the city and endeavor to extinguish the flames , and ordered
Parsons' Engineer company to assist. I directed Kautz to occupy the detached f
orts nearest the city and Manchester, and Adams to picket the roads. Colonel
Adams asked as a special favor to be allowed to march his regiment through the
city, and I granted it. I was told that this fine regiment of colored men made a
very great impression on those citizens who saw it. I directed my staff and
headquarter orderlies to scour the city and press into service every able bodied
man, white or black, and make them assist in extinguishing the flames. Devens'
command anticipated my orders. They marched into the city, stacked arms, and
went to work. In this manner, the fire was extinguished and perfect order
restored. Colonel Fred. L. Manning, Provost Marshal at Department Headquarters,
reported to me and was placed on duty in the city. General Shepley, my chief of
staff, was placed on duty as Military Governor. He had occupied a similar
position in New Orleans after its capture in 1862 and was eminently fit for it
by education and experience.
I understood from leading citizens of Richmond that the fires had been
started in the large tobacco warehouses, which had been fired by order of
General [Richard S.] Ewell, in order that their contents might not fall into our
Thus the rebel capitol, fired by men placed in it to defend it, was saved
from total destruction by soldiers of the United States, who had taken
possession. The bloody victories which opened the gates of Richmond to my
command were won at Five Forks and on the left of the Army of the Potomac, but
my men won equally as great a one in the city although it was bloodless.
The telegraph corps did not have wire enough to carry the I in e s into
Richmond on the first day, and, hence, the nearest station was about three miles
distant. My dispatch announcing my entrance into Richmond was sent down by
cavalry courier, and on his return he brought the following:
"April 3, 1865
From Grant's Headquarters
To Maj. Gen. Weitzel:
I do not doubt that you will march into Richmond unopposed. Take possession
of the city and establish guards and preserve order until I get there.
Permit no one to leave town after you get possession. The army here will
endeavor to cut off the retreat of the enemy.
U. S. Grant, Lt. Gen. "
In the afternoon I was astonished to receive the following:
"April 3, 1865
By Telegraph from Petersburgh, Va.
To Maj. Gen. Weitzel:
How are you progressing ? Will the enemy try to hold Richmond? I have
detained the division belonging to your corps, and will send it back if you
think it will be needed, I am waiting here to hear from you. T he troops
moved up the Appomattox this morning.
U. S. Grant, Lt. Gen."
I was still more astonished to hear a few days ago that [General Adam] Badeau
in his book, [Military History of Ulysses S. Grant], stated that General Grant
did not receive my 8:15 A. M. dispatch until nearly 2 o' clock in the afternoon.
I immediately sent to the office of the Detroit Free Press and found that they
printed the extra announcing my occupation at 10 A. M. The delay was therefore
between City Point and General Grant's Headquarters.
With this I might consider the narrative of my entry into Richmond as ended,
but the history of the letter from Mr. Lincoln directing me to permit the
assembling of the Virginia Legislature, and its subsequent revocation, is so
intimately bound up with the history of my brief occupation of the city that I
will, in order to comply with the request which has been made of me, continue
the narrative in regular order of date.
I had my headquarters during the day in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol.
After the fires had been extinguished and order restored in Richmond, I was
desirous to obtain lodging and food.
Upon inquiry I found that Major Graves, in the course of his reconnoissance,
had found the Davis mansion, and that the housekeeper, under instructions from
Mr. Jefferson Davis, had surrendered it for the occupancy of the commanding
officer of the federal troops which might occupy the city.
In addition to the housekeeper a few servants remained. The supplies in the
larder were very scant, but everything else in the house was in good order and
furnished elegant quarters for my staff and me.
On April 4 I received a dispatch of which the following is a copy:
"By Telegraph from Hd. Qrs. Dept. , Va.
Army of the James
April 4, 1865
Genl. Weitzel, Comd'g:
You will seize what tobacco may be within reach to sell for the purpose of
feeding the poor of the city. You are appointed Governor of Richmond, and in
my absence will act as commander of the Dept. in all matters which require
prompt action. Let food and necessaries come to the city. Register the white
men. Appoint a military commission for the punishment of offences against
law or order. Organize a police force. Start gas and water companies, and
protect all inhabitants in their property who come for-ward and take the
oath of allegiance on due notice - by property, persons are not meant. You
will not allow any taxes to be imposed or rents paid other than necessary to
recognize ownership of loyal landlords. Be your own Treasury agent - allow
loyal men to open hotels, but not grog shops.
E. O. C. Ord
Maj. Genl. Comd'g.
Approved by Genl. Grant."
On this day I was delighted also to see Admiral [ David G.] Farragut, with
whom I became acquainted on the New Orleans expedition in 1862. As soon as he
heard that Richmond had fallen he came up the river, regardless of torpedoes,
landed at Varina, and rode into the city. He was accompanied by General George
H. Gordon, Commanding officer at Norfolk. He looked even happier and younger
than he did after New Orleans fell.
On the next day, April 5, I received a dispatch from City Point that Mr.
Lincoln had started for Richmond on the Malvern, Admiral [David D.] Porter's
Flagship, and the time of probable arrival at the "Rocketts" was given. I
ordered my ambulance to be at my office in abundant time for me to reach the
"Rocketts" at the appointed hour to meet the President. I was therefore very
much surprised to hear, just about the time I intended to get into my ambulance,
that the President was already at my quarters. I drove over as hastily as
possible and found the report correct. It seems that the Malvern came up quicker
than was expected, and, not finding any one at the landing to meet him, the
President started on foot. Porter ordered a guard of marines for an escort, but
I am told that Mr. Lincoln saw nothing of his escort on his way. It differed
from John Phoenix's cavalry escort to the surveying party in California in this
respect, too, that it followed instead of preceding the President. He arrived at
the Davis house closely followed by a rabble mostly composed of negroes. Some of
the rabble had been told that he was Jefferson Davis, and consequently there
were some cries of "Hang him! Hang him!"
Soon after my arrival Judge [John A.] Campbell, General [Joseph R.] Anderson,
and others called and asked for an interview with the President. It was granted
and took place in the parlor with closed doors. At the special request of Mr.
Lincoln, I was present at this and the subsequent one on the Malvern as his
The pith of these interviews was , briefly, that Mr. Lincoln insisted that he
could not treat with any rebels until they had laid down their arms and
surrendered; and that if this were first done, he would go as far as he possibly
could to prevent the shedding of another drop of blood; and that he and the good
people of the north were surfeited with this thing and wanted it to end as soon
as possible. Mr. Campbell and the other gentlemen assured Mr. Lincoln that if he
would allow the Virginia Legislature to meet, it would at once repeal the
ordinance of secession and that then General Robert E. Lee and every other
Virginian would submit; that this would amount to the virtual destruction of the
Army of Northern Virginia and eventually to the surrender of all the other rebel
armies, and would ensure perfect peace in the shortest possible time.
After the second interview, Mr. Lincoln told me that he would think over the
whole matter carefully and would probably send me some instructions from City
Point on the next day. Immediately after, the Malvern steamed down the river.
On the next day I received a letter by the hands of Senator [Morton S.]
Wilkinson of Minnesota (I think) marked "Confidential." The letter was written
throughout in Mr. Lincoln's handwriting and was as follows:
"Headquarters Armies of the United States
City Point, April 6, 1865
Major General Weitzel
It has been intimated to me that the gentlemen who have acted as the
Legislature of Virginia in support of the rebellion may now desire to
assemble at Richmond and take measures to withdraw the Virginia troops and
other support from resistance to the General Government. If they attempt it,
give them permission and protection, until, if at all, they attempt some
action hostile to the United States , in which case you will notify them and
give them reasonable time to leave; and at the end of which time, arrest any
who remain. Allow judge Campbell to see this, but do not make it public.
Yours &c. ,
During the interval between these two interviews I took the President to
Libby Prison and Castle Thunder. Both were very crowded with rebel prisoners. I
had considerable conversation with him in regard to the treatment of the
conquered people. The pith of his answers was that he did not wish to give me
any orders on that subject, but as he expressed it: "If I were in your place,
I'd let 'em up easy - let 'em up easy."
As soon as I received Mr. Lincoln's letter I directed my chief of staff,
General George F. Shepley, to publish a call, in accordance with its terms, in
the Richmond papers. The General looked at me with surprise and asked me whether
I was doing this on my own responsibility. I informed him that I was not, but
that I had an order to do so. He then asked me to permit him to read the order.
I did so. After he had read it carefully he said to me smilingly "General, this
is a political mistake. Don't you lose that letter, for if you do, your Major
General's commission may not be worth a straw." He afterwards said that he felt
confident that the letter would be recalled as soon as the President reached
General Shepley had a fine legal and judicial mind, and had had considerable
experience as a politician. General Grant, when he was President, appointed him
judge of the First Circuit, a position which he held until his death in 1878. I
turned over to him everything relating to civil administration in Richmond, just
as General [Benjamin F.] Butler had done in New Orleans.
He published the call in the papers of the next day. One of these papers came
into the possession of General [William T.] Sherman and led him into some
difficulty in his negotiations with General [Joseph E.] Johnston in North
On the next day, April 6, Mr. Charles A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War
(now publisher of the New York Sun), who had come to Richmond, handed me the
"April 6, 1865
By Telegraph from Washington, D. C.
To Hon. C. A. Dana:
Please ascertain from General Weitzel under what authority he is
distributing rations to the people of Richmond, as I suppose he would not do
it without authority; and direct him to report daily the amount of rations
distributed by his orders to persons not belonging to the military service
and not authorized by law to receive rations, designating the color of the
persons, their occupation, and sex.
Edwin M. Stanton
Secy. of War."
The poor had been fed from the evening of the day I entered Richmond with the
captured rebel rations and supplies generously furnished by the agents of the
Sanitary and Christian commissions which accompanied my command. I was fully
protected also by the order from General Ord approved by General Grant, which I
have already given.
On the afternoon of Saturday, April 8, Dr. [Charles] Men[n]ingerode and
several other ministers of Richmond called upon me in reference to services on
the next day. I, of course, authorized them to hold services, and although I do
not remember now the whole of the conversation I suppose I left it pretty much
to themselves who they should pray for. But the dispatch below will show, I
believe, that Mr. Dana was in the room during the interview.
On Monday, the 10th, I received a telegram from Mr. Stanton in reference to
this subject, to which I sent the following reply:
"April 10, 1865
Hon. E. M. Stanton
Sec'y. of War-
The order[s] in relation to religious services in Richmond were verbal and
applicable alike to all religious denominations without distinction of sect.
They were, in substance, that no expression would be allowed in any part of
any church service, in the form of prayer, preaching, or singing, which in
any way implied a recognition of any other authority than that of the United
States, or gave any countenance to the rebellion. The clergymen were
notified. that any prayers for the rebel government, or officials, or for
the success of the rebellion, would be considered as treason, and punished
as such. As in the ritual in use in the episcopal churches here, there was a
form of prayer for the rebel authorities - they were ordered to omit that.
No orders were given as to what should be preached or prayed for, but only
as to what would not be permitted.
Neither in New Orleans, Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, or any other
captured city, as I have been informed, have the episcopal churches been
ordered at first to adopt the form of prayer for the President of the United
States. Do you desire that I should order this form of prayer to be used in
the episcopal, roman catholic, hebrew, and other churches where they have a
prescribed liturgy and form of prayer? I have had personally but three
interviews with judge Campbell, two of them in the presence of, and the
other by a written command of, the President of the United States. In
neither of these interviews was there a discussion in relation to churches
and prayers. These interviews were all held with a view to attain a certain
result, and to attain this result I was advised by the President to make
concessions in small matters. The above was done in accordance with this
advice. The autograph order from the President, which I now have, compels me
to hold conference with Judge Campbell on a certain subject. Thc surrender
Of Lee's army removed the necessity for further conference. Shall I stop it?
The Hon. Green Clay Smith has just called on me, and says that in the
episcopal church which he attended prayers were offered for those in
authority. Similar prayers, I am told, were offered in other episcopal
churches, and all present understood them to refer to our government. In the
course I have pursued, by following the advice of the President, I have
intended to show him the greatest respect, instead of any disrespect. One of
my staff conferred with Mr. Dana, the Assistant Sec'y., and distinctly
understood him to authorize and sanction my course upon the subject .
To this I received the following:
"By telegraph from Washington
April 11, 1865
To Maj. Gen. Weitzel:
The Sec'y. of War directs me to say that your explanation in regard to the
omission of prayers for the President in the city of Richmond is not
satisfactory, and that there is a conflict of statements between yourself
and Mr. Dana, who asserts that he gave no direction or authority upon the
subject to Gen. Shepley or to any other officer. The Secy. also directs me
to instruct you that officers commanding in Richmond are expected to require
from all religious denominations in that city to regard those rituals in no
less respect for the President of the United States than they practiced
towards the rebel chief, Jefferson Davis, before he was driven from the
J. A. Hardie
To this I replied as follows:
"April 11, 1865
Lieut. Col. J. A. Hardie Washington City:
I have the honor to request authority, through the War Department, of his
Excellency the President of the United States to state to the Honorable the
Secretary of War conversations, suggestions, and orders which took place and
were given me confidentially, in order that I may enable the Hon. Secretary
of War to judge correctly of my action in in regard to churches and prayers
in this place. Not having had authority to divulge these things, I am
convinced my action had been judged incorrectly. With, regard to Mr. Dana's
statement, it is a matter between him and my chief of staff (Genl. Shepley).
G. Weitzel, Maj. Genl. ''
In reply to this I received the following:
"April 12, 1865
In Cipher By Telegraph from Washington
To Maj. Genl. Weitzel:
I have seen your dispatch to Col. Hardie about the matter of prayers. I do
not remember hearing prayer spoken of while I was in Richmond, but I have no
doubt that you have acted in what appeared to you to be the spirit and
temper manifested by me while there. Is there any sign of the rebel
legislature coming together on the understanding of my letter to you?
If there is any such sign inform me what it is. If there is no such sign
you may withdraw the offer.
On the next day, I received another telegram from Mr. Lincoln in which he
directed me to revoke the authority for the assembling of the legislature. I
turned this over to General Ord, who had arrived at Richmond and assumed
command, and started the next day at daybreak with all the troops of my corps in
the direction of Petersburgh. I have been requested to state why this authority
for the meeting of the legislature was revoked by the President. I do not know.
It seems natural, however, that since Lee had surrendered on April 9, and the
original permission was granted simply to disband that army, there was no longer
any use for legislature. It seems to me that if General Grant and his
subordinate commanders had not pushed matters so much the legislature would have
been allowed to meet, and Mr. Lincoln's permission would have been held as
another proof of his great wisdom.
I desire to say here in regard to Mr. Dana's visit to Richmond, that he
stated to me that he had no intention nor wish to give me any instructions, and
that he was there only to look on and report. If my memory serves me correctly
he sent daily bulletins to the New York Tribune from Richmond. He wrote a single
note to me while I was in command at Richmond. It was in reference to some rebel
records which he had heard of. I had made the collection of all these documents
a special duty of one of my staff officers. While on this subject, I desire to
touch upon a letter, the existence or non-existence of which has caused
considerable correspondence lately in the newspapers of the country. Among the
documents found in the drawer of Mr. Davis' desk was a confidential letter
written by General Lee and laid before the Confederate Senate in secret session.
This letter was written in the previous October, if I recollect correctly, and
in it Lee frankly and clearly showed that their cause was lost, and, I think,
advised them to make the best terms they could. This letter was considered by me
so important that I sent it to the Secretary of War by General H. W. Benham, who
was on that day on a visit to Richmond. It certainly ought, therefore, to be
among the archives of the War Department.
The object of my departure from Richmond in a southerly direction was to
bring together all of my corps stationed in Virginia at some point south or
southwest of Petersburgh. Here I was to hold myself in readiness to move in the
direction of North Carolina with the Sixth Corps and the cavalry, all under the
command of General [Philip H.] Sheridan. The object of this was to be on hand to
help General Sherman in case General Johnston had not surrendered. As I left
Richmond on the same day on which the revocation of the call for the Virginia
legislature appeared in the papers of that city, the rumor was spread, and I am
told generally believed, that I had been removed for issuing that call.
Advantage of this was taken to fan the east and south winds which had been
blowing for me during some time, and against which I had been cautioned by warm
friends who were more solicitous about my welfare than I was myself. It fanned
these breezes so strongly that even the fair and just mind of General Grant
nearly became tainted, and a false reputation for myself and corps was nearly
started. A few moments statement of facts to General Grant in person made
everything all right, and as the officers of my corps got a fair share of honor
in the re-organization of the regular army, I did not consider it necessary to
say anything more, either officially or publicly. I can confidently refer to the
muster-rolls of officers of the 25th Army Corps for April 30, 1865, to prove
that as a body they were at that time the peers of any body of officers in any
corps in the United States service, in every quality that goes to make a good
soldier and perfect gentleman. In this narrative I was compelled to name a few,
and I would not dare to trust my memory to mention more without doing injustice
I can assure my readers that I was delighted to get out of Richmond and get
back to real military duties. I was as happy only once afterwards, and that was
when I was relieved on the Rio Grande in February of the next year.
It will be clear, to my military readers at least, how much trouble it is to
satisfy four different commanding officers - two soldiers and two civilians.
Richmond was too near Washington and in telegraphic communication with it. There
was no trouble in regulating affairs in New Orleans, and elsewhere, outside of
I do not believe that the unfortunate people of Richmond ever were aware how
near they came to being governed to death, after they were rescued from
destruction by fire. In saying this , I do not wish to reflect in the least on
my commanders. They were all kind to me. The disagreeable state of affairs I
refer to was the natural result of the great excitement of that period.
Among other minor experiences I had during my ten days occupation of
Richmond, were the receipt of abusive letters for extinguishing the fire. Then
again I was paraded in some papers, and in one even published in my own home, as
a flunky. It was stated that I had placed a guard of colored troops over Mrs.
Lee's house, and upon her protest had substituted white troops . The truth of
this incident is as follows:
My brother, Captain Lewis Weitzel, aid-de-camp on my staff, was riding
through the city in obedience to my orders engaged in gathering all the
able-bodied men to assist in extinguishing the fire, when he was hailed by a
servant in front of a house towards which the fire seemed to be moving. The
servant told him that his mistress wished to speak to him. He dismounted and
entered the house and was met by a lady who stated that her mother was an
invalid, confined to her bed, and as the fire seemed to be approaching she asked
his assistance. The subsequent conversation developed the fact that my brother
was addressing Miss Lee, and that the invalid was no other than Mrs. R. E. Lee.
My brother knew that when I was a cadet at West Point, General Lee was
superintendent of the academy, and had often heard me speak in high terms of him
and his family. He at once, therefore, went to the nearest commander, Col.
Ripley, who furnished him with a corporal, two men, and an ambulance from his
own regiment, the 9th Vermont. Captain Weitzel ordered the corporal to remain
near the house and if there were serious danger to remove Mrs. Lee. These men
remained on duty until all danger was over. These are the facts upon which the
lie was based. As I have herein before stated, no colored troops were placed on
duty in the city. Devens' division of white troops, having had more experience
in extinguishing fires, was alone on duty with Parsons' company of the 1st New
York Volunteer Engineers.
Again the charge of flunkyism was made against me because I held a review in
Richmond of Devens' division and not of Kautz's.
The review was ordered for both. In order not to strip the lines completely,
I ordered Devens' review one day and Kautz's another. The former came off, but
before the latter could take place we were under orders to move south. Hence it
did not take place.
There was some dispute as to which troops first entered Richmond, white or
colored. As there was no fighting, in going in, I did not consider it of much
This narrative gives the facts. Major Emmons E. Graves, senior aid-de-camp on
my staff, in command, with Major Atherton H. Stevens, Jr., and about forty men
of the 4th Massachusetts cavalry were the first to enter.
Then there was some dispute as to the first flag hoisted over Richmond after
its capture. This detachment of Massachusetts cavalry had two guidons with it.
These guidons were raised first, one at each end of the roof of the Capitol
building, and were, therefore, the firs, United States colors raised. When our
troops took possession of New Orleans in May 1862, General George F. Shepley was
colonel of the 12th Maine Volunteers, and his regiment was detailed to take
possession of the new custom house. As soon as this was done, Shepley raised a
United States flag, which was his private property, over the building, and many
believe today that this was the first United States flag raised in New Orleans
after its capture. But this is not true. The first flag was raised over the mint
by the navy, and was torn down by a mob headed by W. B. Mumford. The latter was
subsequently arrested, tried by a military commission, and hung for it. General
Shepley had this New Orleans custom house flag with him, and an aid-de-camp on
his staff carried it into
Richmond with him, and hoisted it over the Capitol. This was, therefore, the
first real American flag which was displayed. The aid-de-camp was Lieut.
[Johnston L.] dePeyster, son of General J. Watts de Peyster, of New York city,
and nephew of General Philip Kearney.
In looking over my notes and copies of telegrams while writing this I came
across some which exhibit the humors of a campaign, and, although not properly
belonging to the subject matter of my narrative, I will here give two as
The first is from that great admirer and warm eulogist of the distinguished
soldier General [Robert H.] Milroy, namely, General George H. Gordon, who was in
command at Norfolk, Va., in April 1865. It reads as follows:
"April 13, 1865
By Telegraph from Norfolk
To Maj. Genl. Weitzel
By your order Col. [Edwin V.] Sumner with his command reported to me on the
eleventh inst. I ordered him to Suffolk. I learn from Genl. [Charles K.]
Graham that on the twelfth Col. Sumner and his command disappeared from my
district. I cannot think he has deserted, but I apprize you of the fact of
his disappearance that proper steps may be taken to discover his
Col. Sumner is now Major of the 5th U. S. Cavalry. It is probably superfluous
to state that he moved away from Gordon in accordance with orders from General
The other is from Hartsuff, who was placed in command of Petersburgh and City
Point in addition to Bermuda Hundred, with headquarters at Petersburgh, on the
day I entered Richmond.
It had been determined that it would be unnecessary to send any assistance to
General Sherman, and, therefore, General Sheridan was moving eastward to get his
command more easily supplied. I was moving northward to get a good healthy camp
near the Southside railroad, and thus we were apparently concentrating on
Petersburgh. I heard that Sheridan had a fine camp and would leave it the next
day, and, therefore, telegraphed to Hartsuff about it as I had no telegraphic
communication with Sheridan. This is Hartsuff's reply:
"April 18, 1865
By Telegraph from Petersburgh
To Maj. Genl. Weitzel:
Sheridan intends to remain where he is. I fear I shall be unable to defend
the city against both, and, as I hold the balance of power between you,
would be glad to know the terms on which you will combine with me against
him. I shall make the same proposition to him.
Geo. L. Hartsuff."
In conclusion, I desire to say that I have written this narrative in the
intervals of my duties in the busy season of the year. There may be some slight
errors of date, but I believe that I have the facts arranged in order, so that
they may easily be comprehended. Such has been my main aim.
The battle at Sailor's creek proved that my officers were right throughout in
their estimate and description of the forces in my front from March 28 to the
night of April 2. Besides Mahone's division, there was a dispute between us and
our forces on the extreme left as to the whereabouts of Coose's and Barton's
[Brigadier General Montgomery D. Corse's and Brigadier General John Bratton's
Confederate] brigades. We were right. They were in our front.
The following copy of a letter received from Mr. E. F. Williams, agent United
States Christian Commission, Army of the James, may also be of interest:
Major General Weitzel:
Having understood that you would like to know something of our work in this
city, I have the honor to report briefly, as follows:
1. We entered Richmond with the advance guard, our delegates having left
the stations behind the works with the expectation that there would be an
engagement, and they might he of service in helping minister to the wounded.
2. Our present rooms, corner of 10th and Capitol streets were opened Monday
afternoon, April 3.
3. We have distributed supplies, and visited hospitals, prisoners, troops, and
needy citizens every day.
When transportation could be had we have distributed rations to the hungry,
requiring from all a voucher for their integrity.
The Young Men's Christian Association of this city, the leading pastors of
the same, Mr. Mumford and Col. Clapp, have aided us in many instances to
furnish aid in a delicate way to very many suffering families. A tolerably
accurate report gives us the following result for the four days'
(1) 1,951 rations distributed at the door
(2) 3,394 rations distributed at the door
(3) 845 (food ran out) at the door
(4) 2,514 rations issued at the door.
In this account no regard is had to the amount distributed in hospitals.
Religious reading has been distributed in large quantities .
Twenty thousand copies of the leading newpapers, at least, having been
circulated by us since Richmond was taken.
I have the honor to be, General,
Your obedient servant,
E. F. Williams
Agt., U. S. C. C.
Army of the James."
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