Late Scenes in Richmond
By C. C. Coffin
Note: Charles Carleton Coffin (1823–1896) was a New England journalist, historical novelist, and children's writer. During the Civil War he was a war correspondent at Union army headquarters, and his many articles appeared in newspapers across both the north and south. The following account of Richmond during the war, including Coffin's eyewitness account of Lincoln's tour of the city at the war's end, appeared in the June 1865 issue of The Atlantic Monthly (volume 15). Coffin also wrote many books, including Four Years of Fighting (Boston: Tickner & Fields, 1866); The Life of James A. Garfield (Boston: J. H. Earle, 1880); My Days and Nights on the Battle-Field (Boston: Estes, 1887); Abraham Lincoln (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893); The Boys of '61: Or, Four Years of Fighting (Boston: Page Co., 1896); and Marching to Victory: The Second Period of the War of the Rebellion Including the Year 1863 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1916). Coffin had a biographer shortly after his death, William Elliot Griffis (1843–1928), who wrote Charles Carleton Coffin, War Correspondent (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1898).
LATE SCENES IN RICHMOND.
IN the July (1864) number of this magazine there is an article entitled “The May Campaign in Virginia,” which gives an outline of the operations of the Army of the Potomac in its march from its encampment on the Rapidan, through the tangled thickets of the Wilderness, to the bloody fields of Spottsylvania, across the North Anna, to the old battle-ground of Cold Harbor. The closing paragraph of that article is an appropriate introduction to the present. It is as follows:—
“The line of advance taken by General Grant turned the Rebels from Washington. The country over which the two armies marched is a desolation. There is no subsistence remaining. The railroads are destroyed. Lee has no longer the power to invade the North. On the other hand, General Grant can swing upon the James, and isolate the Rebel army from direct communication with the South. That accomplished, and, sooner or later, with Hunter in the Shenandoah, with Union cavalry sweeping down to Wilmington, Weldon, and Danville, and up to the Blue Ridge, cutting railroads, burning bridges, destroying supplies of ammunition and provisions, the question with Lee must be, not one of earthworks and cannon and powder and ball, but of subsistence. Plainly, the day is approaching when the Army of the Potomac, unfortunate at times in the past, derided, ridiculed, but now triumphant through unparalleled hardship, endurance, courage, persistency, will plant its banners on the defences of Richmond, crumble the Rebel army beyond the possibility of future cohesion, and, in conjunction with the forces in other departments, crush out the last vestige of the Rebellion.”
So it has proved. The railroads are destroyed, the bridges burned, the supplies of ammunition and provision exhausted; the flag of the Union floats over the city which the Rebels have called their capital; the troops of the Union patrol the streets of Richmond, and occupy all the principal towns of Virginia; Lee's army has melted away, and the power of the Rebellion is broken.
Before entering upon a narration of the campaign of a week which gave us Richmond and the Rebel army at the same time, it will widen our scope of vision to inquire
HOW RICHMOND BECAME THE CAPITAL OF THE CONFEDERACY.
ON the 17th of April, 1861, Virginia in Convention passed an Ordinance of Secession. The Convention, when elected on the 4th of February preceding, was largely Anti-Secession; but the events which had taken place,—the firing on Sumter, its surrender, with the machinations of the leaders of Secession,—their misrepresentations of the North, of what Mr. Lincoln would do,—their promises that there would he no war, that the Yankees would not fight,—their bullyings when they could not cajole, their threatenings when they could not intimidate,—their rejoicings at the bloodless victory won by South Carolina, single-handed, over a starved garrison,—their bonfires and illuminations, their baskets of Champagne and bottles of whiskey,—all of these forces combined were sufficient to carry the Ordinance of Secession through the Convention. But it was hampered by a proviso submitting it to the people for ratification on the Fourth Thursday of May following.
John Letcher was Governor of Virginia. Weak in intellect, grovelling in his tastes, often drunk, rarely sober, at times making such beastly exhibition of himself that the Richmond press pronounced him a public nuisance, he was a fit tool of the Secession conspirators. Ready to do what he could to commit the State to overt acts against the United States Government, on the evening after the passage of the Ordinance he issued orders to the State militia around Winchester to seize the Arsenal at Harpers Ferry,—on his own sole responsibility, and without a shadow of authority from the people of the State, inauguating civil war, a proceeding which he followed up directly afterwards by proclaiming Virginia a member of the Confederacy, and thus carrying the State at once out of the Union, without awaiting the formality of a popular vote.
Already the intentions of the Confederate Government were manifest.
“I prophesy that the flag which now flaunts the breeze here will float over the old Capitol in Washington before the first of May,” said Mr. L. P. Walker, Secretary of War, the evening after the fall of Sumter; to a crazy crowd in Montgomery, then the Rebel capital.
“From the mountain-tops and valleys to the shores of the sea, there is one wild shout of fierce resolve to capture Washington City at all and every human hazard. That filthy cage of unclean birds must and will assuredly be purified by fire,” shouted John Mitchell, through the “Richmond Examiner,” on the 23d of April.
“Washington City will soon be too hot to hold Abraham Lincoln and his Government,” wrote the editor of the “Raleigh Standard” on the 24th.
“We are in lively hope, that, before three months roll by, the Government, Congress, Departments and all, will have been removed to the present Federal capital,” wrote the Montgomery correspondent of the “Charleston Courier” on the 28th of the same month.
“We are not in the secrets of our authorities enough to specify the day on which Jeff Davis will dine at the White House, and Ben McCullough take his siesta in General Sickles's gilded tent. We should not like to produce any disappointment by naming too soon or too early a day; but it will save trouble, if the gentlemen will keep themselves in readiness to dislodge at a moment's notice,” said the “Richmond Whig” on the 22d of May.
The Rebel Congress had already adjourned, and was on its way to Richmond. Not only Congress, but all the Departments, were on the move, intending to tarry at Richmond but a day or two, till General Scott, and Abraham Lincoln, and the Yankees, who were swarming into Washington, were driven out. Thus Richmond became, though only temporarily, as all hands in the South supposed, the capital of the Confederacy.
A week later Jeff Davis was welcomed to Richmond by the people, says Pollard, the author of the “Southern History of the War,” an implacable hater of the North, “with a burst of genuine joy and enthusiasm to which none of the military pageants of the North could furnish a parallel.” President Davis, in response to the call of the populace, made a speech, in which he said,—
“When the time and occasion serve, we shall smite the smiter with manly arms, as did our fathers before us, and as becomes their sons. To the enemy we leave the base acts of the assassin and incendiary; to them we leave it to insult helpless women: to us belongs vengeance upon men. We will make the battle-fields in Virginia another Buena Vista, drenched with more precious blood than flowed there.”
But Colonel Robert E. Lee, who was in command of the Rebel forces in Virginia, was not quite ready to take Washington; and so the Rebel Congress commenced its sessions in the State capital. Mr. Memminger set up his printing-presses, and issued his promises to pay the debts of the Confederacy two years after the treaty of peace with the United States; Mr. Mallory began to consider how to construct rams; while Mr. Toombs, and his successor, Mr. Benjamin, wrote letters of instruction from the State Department to Rebel agents in Europe, and looked longingly and expectantly for immediate recognition of the Confederacy as an independent power among the nations.
The sleepy city awoke to a new life. Regiments of infantry came pouring in, not only from the hills and valleys of the Old Dominion, but from every nook and corner of the Confederate States,—the Palmetto Guards, Marion Rifles, Jeff-Davis Grays, Whippy-Swamp Grenadiers, Chickasaw Braves, Tigers, Dare-Devils, and Yankee-Butchers,—fired with patriotism and whiskey, proud to be in Richmond, to march through its streets, beneath the flags wrought by the fair ladies of the sunny South, for whom each man had sworn to kill a Yankee! Lieutenants, captains, majors, colonels, and generals, glittering with golden stars, with clanking sabres, and twinkling spurs, thronged the hotels in all the pomp of modern chivalry. With the marching of troops, and the gathering of men from every precinct of the Confederacy in search of official position in the bureaus or to obtain contracts from Government,—with the rush and whirl of business, and the inflation of prices of all commodities,—with the stream of gayety and fashion attendant upon the Confederate court, where Mrs. Jefferson Davis was queen-regnant,—with its gilded drinking-saloons and gambling-bells,—Richmond became a Babylon.
“ON TO RICHMOND!”
IT was a natural cry, that slogan of the North in the early months of the war; for, in ordinary warfare, to capture an enemy's capital is equivalent to conquering a peace. It was thought that the taking of Richmond would be the end of the Rebellion. Time has disabused us of this idea. To have taken Richmond in 1861 would only have been the repacking of the Department trunks for Montgomery or some other convenient Southern city. The vitality of the Rebellion existed not in cities, towns, or capitals, but in that which could die only by annihilation,—Human Slavery. That was and is the “original sin” of the Rebellion,—the total depravity and innate heinousness, to use theological terminology, without which there could not have been treason, secession, and rebellion.
But forgetting all this,—looking constantly at effect, without searching for cause,—hearing only the drum-beat of the armed legions of the South mustering for the overthrow of the nation,—wilfully shutting our ears to the clanking of the chains of the slave-coffie,—deaf to the prayer, “How long, O Lord?” uttered morning, noon, and night by men and women who were turned back to bondage from our lines,—forgetting that Justice and Right are the foundations of the throne of God,—the army of General McDowell marched confidently out to Bull Run on its way to Richmond, and returned to Washington defeated, routed, disorganized, humiliated. And yet we now see that to the South the victory which set the whole Confederacy on flame was a defeat, and to the North that which seemed an overwhelming disaster was a triumph; for so God changes the warp and woof of human events. The Southern leaders became over-confident. They could have taken Washington, but did not make the attempt to do so till the golden moment had passed, never to return. “We have let Washington slip through our fingers,” was the bitter lamentation of the “Richmond Examiner,” a few days after the Battle of Bull Run,—after the second uprising of the people to save the Union.
When God takes a proud and wayward nation in hand, and instructs it by the hard lessons of adversity,—by plans overthrown, ambition checked, pride humiliated, and hopes disappointed,—lessons which wring tears from the eyes of widows and orphans, and by which men in the prime of life are bowed down to the grave with grief for sons slain in battle,—He does it for a great purpose. But the nation was blind to the moral of the terrible lesson. We are slow to receive and accept eternal truths. And so, instead of aiming at Slavery as the life of the Rebellion, McClellan marched up the Peninsula through the mud to capture Richmond, and conquer a peace simply by taking the Rebel capital. He was learned in military lore, had visited Europe, and made war after the European pattern. But in a war of ideas and principles, the mere taking of an enemy's capital cannot end the contest. In such a strife there is the war of invisible forces,—the marshalling of Cherubim and Seraphim against rebellious hosts,—the old contest of the heavenly fields renewed on earth.
The nation was long in awaking to the consciousness that driving Lee out of Richmond would not end the Rebellion. It was more than this: it was a casting-out of prejudice, a discarding of political chicanery and a time-serving policy, and a recognition of Justice, Right, and Freedom as the true elements of political economy. There was an increasing desire on the part of the people to root out Slavery from American soil.
It will be for the future historian to trace the providential dealings of God with the nation, and to show how far and in what degree the failure of Burnside at Fredericksburg and of Hooker at Chancellorsville was affected by the want of moral perceptions on the part of the army and of the people at that stage of the war: for there were thousands of officers and soldiers at that time who were not willing to fight by the side of a negro. We have not advanced far enough even now to allow the colored man full privileges of citizenship. We are willing that he should be a soldier, carry a gun, and fire a bullet at the enemy; but are we willing that he should march up to the ballot-box, and fire a peaceful ballot against the same enemy? Strange incongruity!
The colored men of Richmond, of Charleston, of Savannah, of all the South, have been and are now the true Union men of the seceded States. When or where have they raised their hands against the Union? They have fought for the flag of the Union, and have earned by their patriotism and valor a name and a place in history. Citizenship is theirs by natural right; besides, they have earned it. Make the freedman a voter, a land-owner, a tax-payer, permit him to sue and be sued, give him in every respect free franchise, and the recompense will be security, peace, and prosperity. Anything less than absolute right will sooner or later bring trouble in its train. Now, in this day of settlement, this reconstruction of the nation, this renewal of life, it is the privilege of America to become the world's great teacher and benefactor.
After the disaster at Chancellorsville, there came a season of sober reflection, and men began to understand that this is God's war. Then there came a commander who believed that the power of the Rebellion lay not in Richmond, but in the Rebel army, and that the taking of Richmond was altogether a secondary consideration,—that the only way of subduing the Rebellion was to fight it down. He was ready to employ soldiers of every hue. This brings us to consider
HOW RICHMOND WAS TAKEN.
GENERAL GRANT, fresh from his great success at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, having shown that he had military genius of a high order, was created Lieutenant-General, and appointed to the command of all the armies of the Union in the field. It was the beginning of a new régime. Up to that time there had been little concert of action between commanders. The armies lacked a head. The President, General Halleck, Secretary Stanton, had ideas of their own upon the best methods and plans for conducting the war. Department commanders worked at cross purposes. Each officer in the field naturally looked upon his sphere of action as the most important of all, and each had his own plan of operations to lay before the Secretary of War. A million men were tugging manfully at the Car of Freedom, which was at a standstill, or moved only by inches, because they had no head. But when the President appointed General Grant to the command, he gave up his own plans, while General Halleck became a subordinate. The department commanders found all their plans set aside. There was not merely concert of action, but unity of action, under the controlling force of an imperial will.
In the article entitled “The May Campaign in Virginia,” the movements of the Army of the Potomac, from the Rapidan to Cold Harbor, are given. It is not intended in the present article to dwell in detail upon all the subsequent movements of that army and its allies, the Armies of the James and the Shenandoah. Volumes are needed to narrate the operations around Petersburg,—the battles fought on the 18th and 19th of June east of that city,—the struggles for the Weldon Railroad,—the movements between the James and the Appomattox, and north of the James,—the failure in the springing of the mine,—the march of the Fifth Corps to Stony Creek, — the battles between the Weldon Road and Hatcher's Run,—the many contests, sharp, fierce, and bloody, between the opposing lines, whenever an attempt was made by either army to erect new works,—the fights on Hatcher's Run,—the attack upon Fort Harrison, north of the James,—the successive attempts of each commander to break the lines of the other, ending with the Fort Stedman affair, the last offensive effort of General Lee. The new campaign which was inaugurated the next day after the attack on Fort Stedman compelled the Rebel chief to stand wholly on the defensive.
The appointment of General Grant to the command of all the armies was not only the beginning of a new régime, but the adoption of a new idea,—that Lee's army was the objective point, rather than the city of Richmond.
“The power of the Rebellion lies in the Rebel army,” said General Grant to the writer one evening in June last. We had been conversing upon Fort Donelson and Pittsburg Landing. One by one his staff officers dropped off to their own tents, and we were alone. It was a quiet, starlit night. The Lieutenant-General was enjoying his fragrant Havana cigar, and was in a mood for conversation, not upon what he was going to do, but upon what had been done. He is always wisely reticent upon the present and future, but agreeably communicative upon what has passed into history.
“I have lost a good many men since the army left the Rapidan, but there was no help for it. The Rebel army must be destroyed before we can put down the Rebellion,” he continued.*
*I write from memory, not pretending to give the exact words uttered during the conversation.
There was a disposition at that time on the part of the disloyal press of the North to bring General Grant into bad odor. He was called “The Butcher.” Even some Republican Congressmen were ready to demand his removal. General Grant alluded to it and said,—
God knows I don't want to see men slaughtered; but we have appealed to arms, and we have got to fight it out.
He had already given public utterance to the expression, —“ I intend to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer.”
Referring to the successive flank movements which had been made, from the Rapidan to the Wilderness, to Spottsylvania, to the North Anna, to the Chickahominy, to Petersburg, he said,—
My object has been to get between Lee and his southern communications.
At that time the Weldon Road was in the hand's of the enemy, and Early was on a march down the Valley, towards Washington. This movement was designed to frighten Grant and send him back by steamboat to defend the capital; but the Sixth Corps only was sent, while the troops remaining still kept pressing on in a series of flank movements, which resulted in the seizure of the Weldon Road. That was the most damaging blow which Lee had received. He made desperate efforts to recover what had been lost, but in vain. It was the beginning of the end. Then the public generally could see the meaning of General Grant's strategy,—that the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and all the terrible battles which had been fought, were according to a plan, which, if carried out, must end in victory. The Richmond newspapers, which had ridiculed the campaign, and had found an echo in the disloyal press of the North, began to discuss the question of supplies; and to keep their courage up, they indulged in boastful declarations that the Southside Railroad never could be taken.
The march of Sherman from Atlanta to Savannah and through South Carolina, destroying railroads and supplies, — the taking of Wilmington,—Sheridan's movement from Winchester up the Valley of the Shenandoah, striking the James River Canal and the Central Railroad, and then the transfer of his whole force from the White House to the left flank of the Army of the Potomac,—were parts of a well matured design to weaken Lee's army.
Everything was ready for the final blow. The forces of General Grant were disposed as follows. The Army of the James, composed of the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Corps, and commanded by General Ord, was north of the James River, its right flank resting near the old battle-field of Glendale, and its left flank on the Appomattox. The Ninth Army Corps—the right wing of the Army of the Potomac—was next in line, then the Sixth, and then the Second, its left resting on Hatcher's Run. The Fifth was in rear of the Second. The line thus held was nearly forty miles in length, defended on the front and rear by strong earthworks and abatis.
General Grant's entire force could not have been much less than a hundred and thirty thousand, including Sheridan's cavalry, the force at City Point, and the provisional brigade at Fort Powhatan. Lee's whole force was not far from seventy thousand,—or seventy-five thousand, including the militia of Richmond and Petersburg; but he was upon the defensive, and held an interior and shorter line.
The work which General Grant had in hand was the seizure of the Southside Railroad by an extension of his left flank. He had attempted it once with the Fifth Corps, at Dabney's Mill, and had failed; but that attempt had been of value: he had gained a knowledge of the country. His engineers had mapped it, the roads, the streams, the houses. The fight at Dabney's Mill was a random stroke, a “feeling of the position,” to use a term common in camp,—which enabled him to detect the weak point of Lee's lines. To comprehend the movement, it is necessary to understand the geographical and topographical features of the country, which are somewhat peculiar. Hatcher's Run is a branch of the Nottoway River, which has its rise in a swamp about four miles from the Appomattox and twenty southwest of Petersburg. The Southside Railroad runs southwest from Petersburg, along the ridge of land between the Appomattox and the head-waters of the Nottoway, protected by the swamp of Hatcher's Run and by the swamp of Stony Creek, another tributary of the Nottoway.
The point aimed at by General Grant is known as the “Five Forks,” a place where five roads meet, on the table-land between, the head-waters of Hatcher's Run and Stony Creek. It was the most accessible gateway leading to the railroad. If he could break through at that point, he would turn Lee's flank, deprive him of the protection of the swamps, use them for his own cover, and seize the railroad. To take the Five Forks was to take all; for the long and terrible conflict had become so shorn of its outside proportions, so reduced to simple elements, that, if Lee lost that position, all was lost,—Petersburg, Richmond, his army, and the Confederacy.
Surprise is expressed that the Rebellion went down so suddenly, in a night, at one blow, toppling over like a child's house of cards, imposing to look upon, yet of very little substance; but the calculations of General Grant were to give a finishing stroke.
If, by massing the main body of his troops upon the extreme left of his line, he succeeded in carrying the position of the Five Forks, it would compel Lee to evacuate Richmond. Lee's line of retreat must necessarily be towards Danville; but Grant, at the Five Forks, would be nearer Danville by several miles than Lee; and he would thus, instead of the exterior line, have the interior, with the power to push Lee at every step farther from his direct line of retreat. That Grant saw all this, and executed his plan, is evidence of great military ability. The plan involved not merely the carrying of the Five Forks, but great activity afterwards. The capture of Lee Was a forethought, not an afterthought.
“Commissaries will prepare twelve days' rations,” was his order, which meant a long march, and the annihilation of Lee's army. An ordinary commander might have been satisfied with merely breaking down the door, and seizing the railroad, knowing that it would be the beginning of dissolution to the Rebel army; but Grant's plan went farther,—the routing of the burglar from his house, and dispatching him on the spot Perhaps Lee saw what the end would be, and did the best he could with his troops; but inasmuch as he did not issue the order for the transfer of a division from Richmond to the south side till Saturday night, after the Five Forks were lost, it may be presumed that he did not fully comprehend the importance of holding that gateway. If he had seen that Richmond must be eventually evacuated, he might have saved his army by a sudden withdrawal from both Richmond and Petersburg on Friday night, pushing down the Southside Road, and throwing his whole force on Sheridan and the Fifth Corps, which would have enabled him to reach Danville. Not doing that, he lost all.
It is not intended in this article to give the details of the attack at the Five Forks and along the line, but merely to show how the forces were wielded in that last magnificent, annihilating blow.
On the 25th of March, the Twenty-Fourth Corps was transferred from the north side of the James to Hatcher's Run, taking the position of the Second Corps.
The force designed for the attack upon the Five Forks was composed of the Fifth Corps and Sheridan's Cavalry,—the whole under command of Sheridan. The Second Corps was massed across Hatcher's Run, and kept in position to frustrate any attempt which might be made to cut Sheridan off from the support of the main army.
Sheridan found a large force in front of him, along Chamberlain's Creek, three miles west of Dinwiddie Court-House. He had hard fighting, and was repulsed. There was want of coöperation on the part of Warren, commanding the Fifth Corps, who was relieved of his command the next morning, General Griffin succeeding him. A heavy rain-storm came on. Wagons went hub-deep in the mud. The swamps were overflowed. The army came to a stand-still. The soldiers were without tents. Thousands had thrown away their blankets. There was gloom and discouragement throughout the camp. But all the axes and shovels were brought into requisition, and the men went to work building corduroy roads. It was much better for the morale of the army than to sit by bivouac-fires waiting for sunny skies. The week passed away. The Richmond papers were confident and boastful of final success.
“We are very hopeful of the campaign which is opening, and trust that we are to reap a large advantage from the operations evidently near at hand. . . . We have only to resolve that we will never surrender, and it will be impossible that we shall ever be taken,” said the “Sentinel,” in its issue of Saturday morning, April 1st, the last paper ever issued from that office. The editor was not aware of the fact, that on Friday evening, while he was penning this paragraph, Sheridan was bursting open the door at the Five Forks and had the Rebellion by the throat. Lee attempted to retrieve the disaster on Saturday by depleting his left and centre to reinforce his right. Then came the order from Grant, “Attack vigorously all along the line.” How splendidly it was executed! The Ninth, the Sixth, the Second, the Twenty-Fourth Corps, all went tumbling in upon the enemy's works, like breakers upon the beach, tearing away chevaux-de-frise, rushing into the ditches, sweeping over the embankments, and dashing through the embrasures of the forts. In an hour the C.S.A.,—the Confederate Slave Argosy, —the Ship of State launched but four years ago, which went proudly sailing, with the death's-head and cross-bones at her truck, on a cruise against Civilization and Christianity, hailed as a rightful belligerent, furnished with guns, ammunition, provisions, and all needful supplies, by England and France, was thrown a helpless wreck upon the shores of Time!
It would be interesting to follow the troops in their victorious advance upon Petersburg, their closing in upon Lee, the magnificent tactics of the pursuit, and the scenes of the surrender; but in this article we have space only to glance at
SCENES IN RICHMOND.
“Mv line is broken in three places, and Richmond must be evacuated,” was Lee's despatch to Davis, received by the arch-traitor at eleven and a half o'clock in St. Paul's Church. He read it with blanched cheeks, and left the church in haste.
Davis had robbed the banks of Virginia a few days before, seizing the bullion in the name of the Confederacy; and his first thought was how to secure the treasure.
He hurried to the executive mansion, passed up the winding stairway to his business apartment, seated himself at a small table, wrote an order for the removal of the coin to Danville, and for the evacuation of the city.
There was no evening service in the churches on that Sunday. Ministers and congregations were otherwise employed. The Reverend Mr. Hoge, ablest of the Presbyterian pastors, fiercest advocate of them all for Slavery as a divine missionary institution, bitterest hater of the North, packed his carpet-bag and took a long Sabbath-day's journey towards the South. The Reverend Mr. Duncan, of the Methodist Church, did the same work of necessity. Lumpkin, who for many years has kept a slave-trader's jail, also had a work of necessity on hand,—fifty men, women, and children, who must be saved to the missionary institution for the future enlightenment of Africa. Although it was the Lord's day, (perhaps he was comforted by the thought, that, the better the day, the better the deed,) the coffle-gang was made up in the jail-yard, within pistol-shot of Davis's parlor-window, within a stone's throw of the Monumental Church, and a sad and weeping throng, chained two and two, the last slave-coflle that shall ever tread the streets of Richmond, were hurried to the Danville Depot. Slavery being the corner-stone of the Confederacy, it was fitting that this gang, keeping step to the music of their clanking chains, should accompany Jeff Davis's secretaries, Benjamin and Trenholm, and the Reverend Messrs. Hoge and Duncan, in their flight. The whole Rebel Government was on the move, and all Richmond desired to he. No thoughts of taking Washington now, or of the flag of the Confederacy flaunting in the breeze over the old Capitol! Hundreds of officials were at the depot, to get away from the doomed city. Public documents, the archives of the Con-federacy, were hastily gathered up, tumbled into boxes and barrels, and taken to the trains, or carried into the streets and set on fire. Coaches, carriages, wagons, carts, wheelbarrows, everything in the shape of a vehicle was brought into use. There was a jumble of boxes, chests, trunks, valises, carpet-bags,—a crowd of excited men sweating as they never sweat before,—women with dishevelled hair, unmindful of their wardrobes, wringing their hands,—children crying in the crowd,—sentinels guarding each entrance to the train, pushing hack at the point of the bayonet the panic-stricken multitude, giving precedence to Davis and the high officials, and informing Mr. Lumpkin that his niggers could not be taken. Oh, what a loss was there! It would have been fifty thousand dollars out of somebody's pocket in 1861, but millions now of Confederate promises to pay, which the hurrying multitude and that coffled gang were treading under foot,—literally trampling the bonds of the Confederate States of America in the mire, as they marched to the station; for the streets were as thickly strown with four per cents, six per cents, eight per cents, as the forest with last year's leaves.
“The faith of the Confederate States is pledged to provide and establish sufficient revenues for the regular payment of the interest, and for the redemption of the principal,” read the bonds; but there was a sudden eclipse of faith, and not merely an eclipse, but a collapse, a shrivelling up, like a parched scroll, of the entire Confederacy, which, like its bonds, notes, and certificates of indebtedness, was old rags!
In the Sabbath evening twilight, the trains, with the fugitive Government, its stolen bullion, and its Doctors Of Divinity on board, moved out from the city.
At the same hour, the Governor of Virginia, William Smith, and the Assembly, were embarked in a canal-boat, on the James River and Kanawha Canal, moving for Lynchbur6. On all the roads were men, women, and children, in carriages of every description, with multitudes on horseback and on foot, fleeing from the Rebel capital. Men who could not get away were secretly at work, during those night-hours, burying plate and money in gardens; ladies secreted their jewels, barred and bolted their doors, and passed a sleepless night, fearful of the morrow, which would bring the hated, despised, Vandal horde of Yankee ruffians: for such were the epithets which they had persistently applied to the soldiers of the Union throughout the war.
But before the entrance of the Union army they had an experience from their friends. Following the example of the Government, which had robbed the banks, the soldiers pillaged the city, breaking open stores, and helping themselves to whatever suited their convenience and taste, of clothing, fancy goods, eatables, and drinkables.
But the Government itself was not quite through with its operations in Richmond. The Secretary of War, John C. Breckinridge, with General Ewell, remained till daylight on Monday morning to clear up things,—not to burn public archives in order to destroy evidence of Confederate villany, but to commit more crime, so deep, damning, that the stanchest friends of the Confederacy recoil with horror from the act.
To prevent the United States from obtaining possession of a few thousand hogsheads of tobacco, a thousand houses were destroyed by fire, the heart of the city was eaten out,—all of the business portions, all the banks and insurance-offices, half of the newspapers, mills, depots, bridges, foundries, workshops, dwellings, churches, thirty squares in all, swept clean by the devouring flames. It was the work of the Confederate Government. And not only this, but human life was remorselessly sacrificed.
In the outskirts of the city, on the Mechanicsville road, was the almshouse, filled with the lame, the blind, the halt, the bedridden, the sick, and the poor. Ten rods distant was a magazine containing fifteen or twenty kegs of powder, of little, value to a victorious army with full supplies of ammunition. They could have been rolled into the creek near at hand; but the order of Jeff Davis was to blow up the magazines, and the order must be executed.
“We give you fifteen minutes to get out of the way,” was the sole notice to that crowd of helpless creatures lying in their cots, at three o'clock in the morning. Men and women begged for mercy. In vain their cries. The officer in charge of the matter was inexorable. Clotheless and shoeless, the inmates of the almshouse ran in terror from the spot to seek shelter in the ravines. But there were those who could not run, who, while the train was laying, rent the air with shrieks of terror. The train was fired at the expiration of the allotted time. The whole side of the house went in with a crash, as if it were no more than pasteboard. Windows flew into minutest particles. Bricks, stones, timbers, beams, and boards went whirling through the air. Trees were wrenched off as though a giant had twisted them into withes. The city rocked as if upheaved by an earthquake. The dozen poor wretches remaining in the almshouse were torn to pieces. Their bodies were but blackened masses of flesh, when the fugitives who had sought shelter in the fields returned, to the shattered ruins.
How stirring the events of that morning! Lee retreating, Grant pursuing; Davis a fugitive; the Governor and Legislature of Virginia seeking safety in a canal-boat; Doctors of Divinity fleeing from the wrath to come; the troops of the Union marching up the streets; the old flag waving over the Capitol; Rebel iron-clads blowing up; Richmond in flames; the fiery billows rolling on from house to house, from block to block, from square to square, unopposed in their progress by the panic-stricken, stupefied, bewildered crowd; and the Northern Vandals laying aside their arms, manning the engines, putting out the fire, and saving the city from total destruction! Through the terrible day, all through the succeeding night, the smoke of its torment went up to heaven. Strange, weird, the scenes of that Monday night,—the glimmering flames, the clouds of smoke hanging like a funeral pall above the ruins, the crowd of woe-begone, houseless, homeless creatures wandering through the streets: —
“Such resting found the soles of unblest feet!”
VISIT OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN.
AMONG the memorable events of the week was the visit of President Lincoln to the city of Richmond. He had been tarrying at City Point, holding daily consultations with General Grant, visiting the army and the iron-clads at Aiken's Landing,—thus avoiding the swarm of place-hunters that darkened the doors of the executive mansion.
On Tuesday noon a tug-boat belonging to the navy was seen steaming up the James, regardless of torpedoes and obstructions. A mile below the city, where the water becomes shoal, President Lincoln, accompanied by Admiral Porter, Captain Adams of the navy, Captain Penrose of the army, and Lieutenant Clemmens of the Signal Corps, put off from the tug in a launch manned by twelve sailors, whose long, steady oar-strokes quickly carried the party to the landing-place,—a square above Libby Prison.
There was no committee of reception, no guard of honor, no grand display of troops, no assembling of an eager multitude to welcome him.
He entered the city unheralded; six sailors, armed with carbines, stepped upon the shore, followed by the President, who held his little son by the hand, and Admiral Porter; the officers followed, and six more sailors brought up the rear. The writer of this article was there upon the spot, and, joining the party, became an observer of the memorable event.
There were forty or fifty freedmen, who had been sole possessors of themselves for twenty-four hours, at work on the bank of the canal, securing some floating timber, under the direction of a Lieutenant. Somehow they obtained the information that the man who was head and shoulders taller than all others around him, with features large and irregular, with a mild eye and pleasant countenance, was President Lincoln.
“God bless you, Sah!” said one, taking off his cap and bowing very low.
“Hurrah! hurrah! President Linkum hab come!” was the shout which rang through the street.
The Lieutenant found himself without a command. What cared those freedmen, fresh from the house of bondage, for floating timber or military commands? Their deliverer had come,—he who, next to the Lord Jesus, was their best friend! It was not an hurrah that they gave, but a wild, jubilant cry of inexpressible joy.
They gathered round the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the constantly increasing throng. They came from all the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women waved their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, “Glory to God! glory! glory! glory! “—rendering all the praise to God, who had heard their wailings in the past, their moanings for wives, husbands, children, and friends sold out of their sight, had given them freedom, and, after long years of waiting, had permitted them thus unexpectedly to behold the face of their great benefactor.
“I thank you, dear Jesus, that I behold President Linkum!“ was the exclamation of a woman who stood upon the threshold of her humble home, and with streaming eyes and clasped hands gave thanks aloud to the Saviour of men.
Another, more demonstrative in her joy, was jumping and striking her hands with all her might, crying, —“Bless de Lord! Bless de Lord! Bless de Lord!” as if there could be no end of her thanksgiving.
The air rang with a tumultuous chorus of voices. The street became almost impassable on account of the increasing multitude. Soldiers were summoned to clear the way. How strange the event! The President of the United States—he who had been hated, despised, maligned above all other men living, to whom the vilest epithets had been applied by the people of Richmond—was walking their streets, receiving thanksgivings, blessings, and praises from thousands who hailed him as the ally of the Messiah! How bitter the reflections of that moment to some who beheld him!—memory running back, perhaps, to that day in May, 1861, when Jefferson Davis, their President, entered the city,—the pageant of that hour, his speech, his promise to smite the smiter, to drench the fields of Virginia with richer blood than that shed at Buena Vista! How that part of the promise had been kept! —how their sons, brothers, and friends had fallen!—how all else predicted had failed!—how the land had been filled with mourning!—how the State had become a desolation!—how their property, their hoarded wealth, had disappeared! They had been invited to a gorgeous banquet; the fruit was fair to the eye, of golden hue and beautiful; but it had turned to ashes. They had been promised a place among the nations, a position of commanding influence and fame. Cotton was the king of kings, and England; France, and the whole civilized world would bow in humble submission to his Majesty. That was the promise; but now their king was dethroned, their government overthrown, their President and his cabinet vagrants, driven from house and home to be wanderers upon the earth. They had been promised affluence, Richmond was to be the metropolis of the Confederacy, and Virginia the all-powerful State of the new nation. How terrible the cheat! Their thousand-dollar bonds were not worth a penny. A million dollars would not purchase a dinner. Their money was valueless, their slaves were freemen, the heart of their city was eaten out. They had been cheated in everything. Those whom they had trusted had given the unkindest cut of all,—adding arson and robbery to their other crimes. Thus had they fallen from highest anticipation of bliss to deepest actual woe. The language of the Arch-Rebel of the universe, in “Paradise Lost,” was most appropriate to them —
“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Abraham Lincoln was walking their streets; and, worst of all, that plain, honest-hearted man was recognizing the “niggers” as human beings by returning their salutations! The walk was long, and the President halted a moment to rest. “May de good Lord bless you, President Linkum!” said an old negro, removing his hat, and bowing with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks. The President removed his own hat, and bowed in silence; but it was a bow which upset the forms, laws, customs, and ceremonies of centuries. It was a death-shock to chivalry, and a mortal wound to caste. Recognize a nigger! Faugh! A woman in an adjoining house beheld it, and turned from the scene in unspeakable disgust. There were men in the crowd who had daggers in their eyes; but the chosen assassin was not there, the hour for the damning work had not come, and that great-hearted man passed on to the executive mansion of the late Confederacy.
Want of space compels us to pass over other scenes,—the visit of the President to the State-House,—the jubilant shouts of the crowd,—the rush of freedmen into the Capitol grounds, where, till the appearance of their deliverer, they had never been permitted to enter,—the ride of the President through the streets,—his visit to Libby Prison,—the distribution of bread to the destitute,—the groups of heartbroken men amid the ruins, who beheld nought but ruins,—a ruined city, a ruined State, a ruined Confederacy, a ruined people,—ruined in hopes and expectations,—ruined for the past, the present, and the future,—without power, influence, or means of beginning life anew,—deceived, subjugated, humiliated,—poverty-stricken in everything. All that they had possessed was irretrievably lost, and they had nothing to show for it. All their heroism, valor, courage, hardship, suffering, expenditure of treasure, and sacrifice of blood had availed them nothing. There could be no comfort in their mourning, no alleviation to their sorrow.
Forgetting that Justice is the mightiest power of the universe, that Righteousness is eternal, and that anything short of it is transitory, they planned a gorgeous edifice with Slavery for its corner-stone; but suddenly, and in an hour, their superstructure and foundation crumbled. They grasped at dominion, and sank in perdition.
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