Every revolution seems to reach the point where people break into and loot a warehouse. In America, this came on Monday, April 3, 1865, in Richmond, Virginia. Our great poet, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), in volume IV of his classic Abraham Lincoln: The War Years wrote (p. 174):
... just after daybreak on April 3, a crowd of thousands of men, women, and children swarmed at the doors of a commissary depot. They represented that part of the people of Richmond hardest hit by the food scarcity and high prices. Many of them had not tasted a full, nourishing meal in months. Behind those depot doors they had heard -- and heard correctly -- were barrels of ham, bacon, whiskey, flour, sugar, coffee. Why these had not been put into the hands of General Lee and his army weeks ago was a question for responsible officials to answer. The desperation of rampaging human animals heaved at those deport doors, so long guarded, no longer held by men with rifles.Less then 24 hours before, those doors had indeed been guarded. It was on that Sunday, April 2, 1865, that Gen. Robert E. Lee informed the Confederate War Department, and, through them, President Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), that Richmond, having been under siege since the previous summer, could no longer be defended, and it was essential that the army and the government evacuate the city immediately as last remaining rail line running out of the city, the Richmond & Danville, might be seized at any time by advancing federal troops.
Propping up a dead currency
One of the Richmond newspapers, the Dispatch, published its last wartime issue on Saturday, April 1, 1865. (link).
worthless currency images of slaves working in fields.
Joint resolution prohibiting the banks of the Commonwealth from diminishing the amount of specie in their hands was read the second time and laid on the table.While it might seem insane for the state senate to be concerned about bank regulations at a time like this, the Confederacy's worthless currency was closely intertwined with its rapidly failing ability to make war. Paper money was issued by banks based on the security of gold held in their vaults. Obviously much more paper dollars had been issued then there had been gold ("specie") in the banks' vaults to properly secure.
Over at Virginia's House of Delegates, lacking a quorum, there must have been a strange air of unreality when the members present adopted a resolution stating:
"Resolved, That the Sergeant-at-Arms be furnished with a list of the absentees, and that he be directed to take such steps as he shall deem most efficient and practicable to enforce their attendance on this House."Cannon fire must have audible from the House of Delegates, yet here they are instructing the Sergeant at Arms to round up the missing members.
The business of slavery went on to the end. Slavery had been the economic underpinning of the south, and the sole reason for commencement and continuation of the war.
Here are some of the notices in the Dispatch on Friday, March 31, 1865. Mr. Wm. F. Gray was hoping to collect the value of a woman's labor for the balance of 1865 (link):
For Hire, a Negro Woman, who is a good washer and ironer and house-cleaner, and a good seamstress also, for the remainder of this year.And Mr. Geo. W. Cary was looking for a valuable piece of property (link):
William F. Gray, corner of Capitol and Ninth streets.
Ran Away, on Thursday, March 22, a negro boy, named Colin. He is about twelve or thirteen years of age; about four feet ten inches high; dark brown color, and has a small scar under the left jaw, caused by scrofula. A reward will be paid to any one the may arrest and deliver him to me, or put him in jail, so that he can be recovered. George W. Gary, No. 21 Pearl (or Fourteenth) street.And Mr. Thomas Bruton, of Henrico County, was seeking to resolve a similar problem of longer standing (link
Ran Away from the subscriber, on the 13th of February, a Negro man, named Robert. Said negro is about forty years of age, and a dark mulatto. Had on, when he left, a brown slouch hat and a brown army overcoat; and is believed to have gone to his home, in Goochland, at Mrs. John Allan's. I will give one hundred dollars Reward if returned to me, beyond Battery No. 8, or put in jail so that I can get him. Thomas Bruton. Henrico county, March 25, 1865.Petersburg lost, and with it, Richmond.
the nine-month siege had generated huge casualties.
This handbill was printed up by one wounded veteran.
This was the decisive Battle of Five Forks, fought on Saturday, April 1, where at the critical time, the Confederate commander, the dimwitted George E. Pickett (1825-1875), had of all things wandered off to a shad bake (!) with his top commanders, leaving no word of his whereabouts. Their absence led to the defeat of their leaderless troops.
The very next day, Sunday, April 2, 1865, at 4:45 am, Grant launched an attack against Petersburg, and soon afterwards the Union Army had captured the city.
Throughout the fighting, both on April 2, and on earlier days, Lee had kept Davis fully apprised by telegram of the course of the fighting, and by the morning of April 2 (again, this was a Sunday), Davis could have had no illusions that Richmond could be held even for a day longer. Lee's final telegram to the Confederate War Department reached Davis in church. After summing up the military situation, Lee stated:
I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.Here is where one of the pernicious legends of the Lost Cause creeps in, fueled unfortunately by Carl Sandburg:
Then a story goes:Sandburg gave himself a little cover by saying that it was a story, but in fact, that's all it was. It would have been unusual for a telegram courier (normally civilians) to go clanking about with a saber. In Sandberg's defense, a less prosy version of this story was told by General James Longstreet (1821-1904), in his memoirs (From Manassas to Appomattox, page 607.), and Longstreet's wife had been among the congregration.
In the Davis family pew of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, seated erect and calm under the chancel, Jefferson Davis was in attendence in a congregation chiefly of women in black and rusty black attire. Their menfolk in the main were keeping the Sabbath at battle and marching fronts. The Reverend Mr. Minnegerode intoned "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him, and in the pause following, an adjutant, mud on his boots, a hard-riding man, holding his saber so it wouldn't clank or jingle, came up the aisle in a swift military stride and handed a paper to President Davis.
But it turns out that the courier was an excitable War Department clerk (remember this was a TELEGRAM) and it was delivered to a rather pompous church sexton, who then handed it to Jefferson Davis. (source.)
No mud-splatted courier ever marched with military stride down the aisle. This was yet other romantic fantasy of war, and it's regrettable that it was accepted at face value by Longstreet, who knew war well. (Longstreet's wife had died by the time he published his memoirs, so perhaps he can be absolved.)
defense of Fort Mahone, Apr 2, 1865
Image 5 is one of a series of photographs taken the next day, April 3, 1865, by Thomas C. Roche (1826-1895). This particular photograph shows a dead Confederate artilleryman, very young, killed in the defense of Fort Mahone by a shell fragment striking his head.
Other photographs captured by Roche included an image of a boy Confederate soldier, 14 years old, lying barefoot and dead in a muddy trench. Photos taken by Roche of the vicinity of Fort Mahone show bare earth scraped into trenches and parapets, like something out of the First World War.
The remnants of the army, the gold reserve of the Confederate government and the archives of the government departments were loaded onto trains at the depot of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, the sole remaining rail link to the rest of the rapidly shrinking Confederacy. While there doesn't not appear to have been any panic at the depot, people anxiously sought spaces on the trains, which left heavily overcrowded.
After that the last remaining Confederate forces in the city began systematically destroying the war material of the Confederate state, to prevent its capture by the Union. In 1866, an eyewitness to the events at the President's church and at the rail depot gave this account in Harper's Magazine:
structures in the city. Scorch marks on the brickwork
can be clearly seen.
After seeing the last of the Confederate Government I did what not very many in Richmond did that night—went to bed and slept soundly About half past four o'clock in the morning I was awakened from profound slumbers by a tremendous concussion. But I fell asleep again, and slept until about half an hour longer, when I was aroused by what might almost have awakened the dead. The earth seemed fairly to writhe as if in agony, the house rocked like a ship at sea, while stupendous thunders roared around. This was the blowing up of the Confederate magazine; and this was the opening gun of the august and sublime pageant of that ever-memorable day.
Soon after the flames burst out from the tobacco warehouses, set on fire to prevent the tobacco from becoming spoils to the enemy, and proving the cause ef the terrific conflagration which ensued. The bridges across the river—one of them the lofty Petersburg Railroad bridge, about a mile long—were speedily long lines of flame; while on the side of the city the devouring element set to work in fearful earnest. The fire had scarcely got fairly under way when the arsenal, containing, it was said, seven hundred and fifty thousand loaded shells, and the depots of cartridges and fixed ammunition, with the laboratory and its combustibles, began to explode. This was not instantaneous, but continuous, resembling the cannonading and musketry of a heavy battle, and lasting through most of the day.
Imagine our condition, left by our own army and anticipating the enemy's; the entire business part of the city on fire—stores, warehouses, manufactories, mills (Gallego's the largest in the world), depots, and bridges—all, covering acres, one sea of flame, and as an accompaniment the continuous thunder of exploding shells, and in the midst of it that long, threatening, hostile army entering to seize its prey—imagine all this, and you will probably conclude that those who were there will not soon forget that third day of April, 18G5, in Richmond.
prisoner of war held at Point Lookout prison camp.
"Bottom rail top", referring to fence rails, was a common expression in the 1860s, and it referred to a reversal of fortunes.
Image 7 is a colored sketch, perhaps intended as a caricature, done in 1864, by John Omenhausser, a Confederate soldier from Virginia who was captured and held for a year under bad conditions at Point Lookout, Maryland, which was then the largest Union prison of war camp.
Both Virginia and Maryland had been slave states, and it was always white men who guarded black prisoners. Now the situation had been reversed, and some of the newly raised black troops were used to guard the captured white rebels.(source).
In this sketch, Omenhausser shows a white prisoner being threatened by a guard on a palisade, with Omenhausser having the guard say:
Git away from dat dar fence white man or I make Old Abe's gun smoke at you. I can hardly hold de ball back now. De bottom rail's on top now.Fears of black retaliation along the lines expressed in Omenhausser's sketch were almost universal in the white population of Richmond, and this seems to have motivated at least some of the desire of the whites to flee the city by train or other means.
But the Harper's correspondent, and another white friend, were able to freely walk about the city, even though they were almost the only whites on the street.
The Harpers corresponded reported that initially he and his companion watched from an upper story window. As far as they could see, for the most part, the blacks just watched as white Union soldiers marched into the city, occasionally a man would raise his hat and shout "huzzah".
In front, many blacks shook hands with the marching soldiers and many of the women curtsied. With things looking rather calm, the white observers went over to Governor's Street where they watched from just opposite the Governor's house and saw something remarkable:
. Scarcely had I reached this point when the first body of colored cavalry came moving up the hill. Their appearance called forth a greeting from their brethren in the streets. No sooner had the cavalry fairly comprehended by whom they were surrounded than they returned the greeting with a will, rising in their stirrups, waving their flashing sabres, their white eyes and teeth gleaming from rows of dark visages, and rending the air with wild huzzas. Considering that they had been slaves, that they were suddenly released and armed, and that they were now entering our city as conquerors, one could not look upon these men without a shudder at the possible impending horrors.But there were no horrors, other than a good deal of looting (of the Rumsfeld-approved variety), in which both blacks and whites participated. Following the entrance of Union troops into the city, blacks were organized into fire brigades, and they fought the fire, to the extent it was possible, that burned throughout the city.
son of an escaped slave who later became a trooper
in the 5th Mass. Cavalry.
Enslaved persons were not even allowed to have their own legal names, and such names as they gave themselves were not regarded as legal names in any sense. Legal anonymity made enforcement of slavery all the more possible, and was one of the "badges and incidents" of slavery.
The mounted troops described by the Harper's correspondent were the 5th Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, a fine unit of 900 troopers, under the command of Charles Francis Adams, Jr. (1835-1915), of the famous Massachusetts political and abolitionist family.
The names of the troopers are also known, for example Corporal Thomas Myers, Bugler Josephus Prince, and Quartermaster Sergeant Amos Webber, (link), and Joshua Dunbar, father of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), shown in Image 8. A sensitive and scholarly man, the younger Dunbar was one of the first widely known African-American poets.
Many of the men marching into Richmond had been born as slaves, for example 1st Sergeant Edward Ratcliff (1835-1915), of the 38th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. Unfortunately no photograph of Ratcliff seems to have survived to the Internet Age, however we do know that he won the Medal of Honor for his actions at one of the Petersburg battles, Chaffin's Farm (Sept 29, 1864) where he had:
Commanded and gallantly led his company after the commanding officer had been killed; was the first enlisted man to enter the enemy's works.Bottom rail top indeed.
Harper's Weekly, v. 18, no. 930 (24 Oct 1874).
Militarily the South was finished after Richmond fell. The proper thing to have done would have been simply to capitulate -- the army had no food and little transport for its heavy equipment.
But Jefferson Davis wouldn't consider it, and ordered a desperate march to join with the remaining Confederate forces in North Carolina. Lee, obedient to the wishes of the civil authorities, remained in the field with the army until forced to surrender at Appomattox on Sunday, April 9, 1865.
Lee's surrender is generally (but rather inaccurately) marked as the end of the Civil War. For the southern revisionist historians, one could not ask for better imagery.
Picture in your mind, aged and, as he certainly was, dignified Lee, perfectly dressed, carrying a sword, and alone save for a single aide, surrendering to the rather scruffy, workmanlike and swordless Grant, backed by ten or so equally-scruffy blue coated generals.
This was certainly a vast improvement over the images of panic and arson in Richmond just six days before. It would hardly do for the Lost Cause to be symbolized by people getting down on their hands and knees to drink the whisky flowing in the gutters of Richmond.
Or maybe that should have been exactly the image to represent the Lost Cause.