Tag Archives: Richmond

Lincoln Visits Richmond

April 4, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln visited the former Confederate capital of Richmond the day after its fall.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, arranged for Lincoln to go to Richmond via the James River. The party traveled aboard Porter’s flagship U.S.S. Malvern, accompanied by the gunboat U.S.S. Bat. There were too many torpedoes and obstructions in the river past Chaffin’s Bluff, so the party finished their journey to Rockett’s Wharf on a small barge.

The party landed near the former Federal prisoner of war camp at Libby Prison. Lincoln came ashore with his son Tad, White House guard William H. Crook, and Porter, who assigned 10 of the barge’s oarsmen to serve as presidential bodyguards. Porter then spotted a Federal cavalryman and sent him to arrange an escort. In the meantime, Lincoln began walking into town. Black residents quickly caught sight of the president and flocked to him. According to Crook:

“The shore for some distance before we reached Richmond was black with negroes… They were wild with excitement and yelling like so many wild men: ‘There comes Massa Lincoln, the Savior of the land–we is so glad to see him!’… By the time we were on shore hundreds of black hands were outstretched to the President, and he shook some of them and thanked the darkies for their welcome.”

Porter later wrote:

“Four minutes had passed since the party had landed in apparently deserted streets; but, now that the hymn was sung, the streets seemed to be suddenly alive with the colored race, the crowd around the President became very oppressive, and it was necessary to order the boat’s crew to fix bayonets and surround him to keep him from being crushed. The negroes, in their ecstasy, could not be made to understand that they were detaining the President, and would not feel that they were free unless they heard it from his own lips.”

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The jubilant blacks cheered, prayed, and wept with joy as they tried touching Lincoln. One woman cried, “I know I am free, for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him.” Others shouted, “Glory to God! Bless the Lord! Glory, Hallelujah!” When some kneeled before him, Lincoln told them, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.”

The party continued on into the former Confederate capital, which still smoldered from the raging fires. Porter recalled, “Passing the Libby Prison, the President paused for a moment to look at the place where so many Union soldiers had dragged out a dreadful existence. ‘We will pull it down!’ shouted the crowd of poor whites and negroes. ‘No,’ said the President, ‘leave it as a monument.’”

Lincoln walked about two miles under the eyes of disheartened residents until he reached the former Confederate White House. It had been the home of Jefferson Davis 40 hours before, but it was now Federal headquarters, with Major General Godfrey Weitzel commanding. Lincoln took a tour of the residence, with journalist Charles Coffin writing of the scene:

“The procession reached Weitzel’s head-quarters–the mansion from which Jefferson Davis had taken his quick departure the previous Sunday.

“President Lincoln wearily ascended the steps, and by chance dropped into the very chair usually occupied by Mr. Davis when at his writing-table.

“Such was the entrance of the Chief of the Republic into the capital of the late Confederacy. There was no sign of exultation, no elation of spirit, but, on the contrary, a look of unutterable weariness, as if his spirit, energy and animating force were wholly exhausted.”

Spectators outside the mansion cheered when Lincoln came out. The president joined General Weitzel on a tour of the ruined city in an open carriage, escorted by Federal cavalry. They passed St. Paul’s Church and visited the Capitol, where Confederate congressmen had overturned desks and scattered documents before fleeing. The party moved through the upper and working-class neighborhoods before stopping at Libby Prison. According to one of Weitzel’s aides, Thomas T. Graves:

“I accompanied President Lincoln and General Weitzel to Libby prison and Castle Thunder, and heard General Weitzel ask the President what he should do in regard to the conquered people. President Lincoln replied that he did not wish to give 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.’”

Lincoln would next turn his attention to restoring Virginia to the Union. To do this, he enlisted the help of a prominent former Confederate statesman.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 54-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12308-19; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18805-74, 18913-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 577; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 718; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-10, 164-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 666-67; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 215; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 846; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 369; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc Q265

From J. Webster Stebbins, 9th Vermont

Letter from 1st Sergeant J. Webster Stebbins of Company I, 9th Vermont Volunteer Infantry, to his mother after his regiment became one of the first to enter Richmond.

Richmond, Virginia

April 3rd, 1865

DEAR MOTHER:

Vermont flag | Image Credit: all-flags-world.com

Vermont flag | Image Credit: all-flags-world.com

The fated city has fallen and the black clouds of smoke from its burning ruins are rising to the heavens, and the pickets from the 9th Vermont were the first ones into the rebel capital.

We are in the works in the suburbs of the city. The enemy evacuated last night, and I have heard of no fighting at all today this side of the river. The rebels fired the arsenal Co. and the bridge across the James River also. We heard the shell in the arsenal bursting for half an hour.

The country is a fine looking one; some fine residences. So far as I have seen, the citizens are glad to see the Union soldiers coming…

At last dispatch from Grant, we learn that they had captured some 15,000 prisoners and any quantity of guns, etc. It was just five minutes of five this morning when we halted in this fort and planted our colors on the parapet, giving three cheers for the fall of Richmond.

Do not know when I will get this into the mail, but hope it is soon. My regards to all and much love for yourself. Write soon and direct to Richmond, Va.

Your Affectionate Son,

J.W. STEBBINS

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Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 231

The Fall of Richmond: Part 2

April 3, 1865 – Federal troops entered the Confederate capital, having captured Richmond after four long, hard years of brutal warfare.

Richmond in ruins | Image Credit: familysearch.org

On the morning of the 3rd, Richmond was still engulfed in the flames that had been sparked the night before. The fires that burned through the city proved more destructive than those that ruined Atlanta or Columbia. According to Sallie A. Brock:

“As the sun rose on Richmond, such a spectacle was presented as can never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. To speed destruction, some malicious and foolish individuals had cut the hose in the city. The fire was progressing with fearful rapidity. The roaring, the hissing, and the crackling of the flames were heard above the shouting and confusion of the immense crowd of plunderers who were moving amid the dense smoke like demons, pushing, rioting and swaying with their burdens to make a passage to the open air…”

Near dawn, the last Confederate troops left Richmond via the Mayo Bridge. After the last man crossed, the bridge was destroyed.

Federal forces in the trench lines east of Richmond cautiously advanced and found the Confederate works, including vital Fort Gilmer, abandoned. Major General Godfrey Weitzel, commanding XXV Corps of the Army of the James, sent in a cavalry detachment under Major Atherton H. Stevens, Jr. of Massachusetts. A Richmond resident wrote, “A single blue jacket rose over the hill,” and then others, “as if rising out of the earth.”

Joseph Mayo, the 80-year-old Richmond mayor, rode out in a carriage to meet the Federal troopers around 7 a.m. Mayo handed them a message bearing the seal of the city:

“To the General Commanding the United States Army in front of Richmond… I respectfully request that you will take possession of (Richmond) with an organizing force, to preserve order and protect women and children and property. Respectfully, Joseph Mayo, Mayor.”

An hour later, Stevens raised a U.S. flag over the former Confederate State House. Weitzel soon arrived and received Richmond’s formal surrender at City Hall. He wired Washington: “We entered Richmond at 8 o’clock this morning.” A female resident later recalled:

“Exactly at eight o’clock the Confederate flag that fluttered above the Capitol came down and the Stars and Stripes were run up. We knew what that meant! The song  ‘On to Richmond!’ was ended–Richmond was in the hands of the Federals. We covered our faces and cried aloud. All through the house was the sound of sobbing. It was as the house of mourning, the house of death… The saddest moment of my life was when I saw that Southern Cross dragged down and the Stars and Stripes run up above the Capitol. I am glad the Stars and Stripes are waving there now. But I am true to my old flag too, and as I tell this my heart turns sick with the supreme anguish of the moment when I saw it torn down from the height where valor had kept it waving for so long and at such cost.”

A woman watched the U.S. flag go up the pole and later wrote, “My heart sickens with indignation to think that we ever should have loved that flag.” As Federal bands played “Yankee Doodle” and the “Star-Spangled Banner,” residents hid in their homes and a woman wrote, “We tried to comfort ourselves by saying in low tones… that the capital was only moved temporarily… that General Lee would make a stand and repulse the daring enemy, and that we would win the battle and the day. Alas, alas, for our hopes.”

The Federals were followed by northern newspaper correspondents. One from the New York Times wrote, “Richmond is indeed most beautiful–in spite of the hideous ruins… left behind. It is a magnificent capital, both old world and new… built like a miniature Rome, upon a number of little hills.” The New York World reporter wrote:

“There is a stillness, in the midst of which Richmond, with her ruins, her spectral roofs… and her unchanging spires, rests beneath a ghastly, fitful glare… We are under the shadows of ruins. From the pavements where we walk… stretches a vista of devastation… The wreck, the loneliness, seem interminable… There is no sound of life, but the stillness of the catacombs, only as our footsteps fall dull on the deserted sidewalk, and a funeral troop of echoes bump… against the dead walls and closed shutters to reply, and this is Richmond. Says a melancholy voice: ‘And this is Richmond.’”

The incoming Federal force included nearly all the black troops serving in the Armies of the Potomac and the James. Ecstatic black residents cheered their arrival, while most whites stayed indoors. Resident Mary Fontaine wrote:

“Then the Infantry came playing ‘The Girl I left behind me,’ that dear old air that we heard our brave men so often play; then the negro troops playing ‘Dixie,’ and they certainly were the blackest creatures I ever saw. I am almost inclined to the belief that they were a direct importation from Africa. Then our Richmond servants were completely crazed, they danced and shouted, men hugged each other, and women kissed, and such a scene of confusion you have never seen. Imagine the streets crowded with these wild people, and troops by the thousands, some loaded with plunder from the burning stores, whole rolls of cloth, bags of corn, etc., chairs, one old woman was rolling a great sofa; dozens of bands trying to drown each other it seemed; gorgeously dressed officers galloping furiously about, men shouting and swearing as I never heard men do before; the fire creeping steadily nearer to us, until houses next to us caught and we prepared to leave; and above all, inconceivably terrible, the 800,000 shells exploding at the laboratory. I say imagine, but you cannot; no one who was not here will ever fully appreciate the horrors of that day.”

The Federals were quickly put to work forcing the remaining residents to help extinguish the fires and restore order to the decimated city. Weitzel later wrote:

“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… When the mob saw my staff and myself, they rushed around us, hugged and kissed our legs and horses, shouting ‘Hallelujah!’ and ‘Glory!’”

Chester Morris, the first black correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper (the Philadelphia Press), sat at a desk in the Confederate Capitol and wrote out his account of the scene: “Richmond has never before presented such a spectacle of jubilee. What a wonderful change has come over the spirit of Southern dreams.” But some Richmonders remained defiant, as reflected in one of the last editorials in the Richmond Whig: “It is ultimately impossible for the people of the South to embrace the Yankees. Even to recognize them as fellow creatures. An acre of blood separates (us)…”

News of Richmond’s fall reached Washington near noon. Northern newspapers hurried to print special editions, government officials poured out of their offices, and massive celebrations spread throughout the North. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered a 300-gun salute to commemorate the capture of Petersburg and another 500 guns for Richmond. After four years of terrible warfare, the prized Confederate capital had finally fallen.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 214-15; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 576; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 54-55; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 554; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18636-46, 18666-76, 18883-903; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 576-77; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 716-17 ;Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-10, 164-71; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 138; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 665-66; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 846; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 369; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 630-32; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 111-15

The Fall of Richmond

April 2, 1865 – As Federal forces entered Petersburg, the fall of the Confederate capital was imminent.

Richmond’s elite gathered for Communion Sunday services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Among them was President Jefferson Davis, seated in pew 63. The rector, Dr. Charles Minnigerode, delivered his invocation, and then the sexton delivered a telegram to the president. As Davis opened the envelope and read, witnesses noted “a sort of gray pallor creep over his face.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis quietly left with a few advisors, telling nobody about the situation so as to prevent a panic. But as more messengers came and went, word quickly spread that the capital would soon fall. At the nearby Second Presbyterian Church, Reverend Moses Hoge received the news during his sermon and announced to his congregation:

“Brethren, trying times are before us… but remember that God is with us in the storm as well as in the calm. We may never meet again. Go quietly to our homes, and whatever may be in store for us, let us not forget that we are Christian men and women, and may the protection of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be with you all.”

Government clerks soon began stacking documents in the streets and burning them. That night, Davis assembled his cabinet, informed them that Richmond was lost, and made arrangements to abandon the city. Each cabinet member was to bring his department’s archives to the Richmond & Danville Railroad depot, where a special train would relocate the government to Danville, southwest of Richmond. Davis was determined to keep the government functioning no matter what.

Richmond’s imminent fall was announced to the public in late afternoon. Many were shocked by the news because the Richmond press had been discouraged from reporting Federal success, and therefore they did not know the city was in such danger. Residents wept as they either hurried to leave or resolved to stay and leave their fate to the Yankees.

Pandemonium reigned as every road and railroad station was quickly jammed with humanity. Government officials scrambled to get family members aboard packet boats on the James River Canal before fleeing to safety. At the rail depot, the boxcars attached to the special government train were hastily labeled “War Department,” “Quarter-Masters Department,” etc. The Treasury car contained all the gold and silver from its vaults and local banks, totaling some $528,000. These assets were guarded by 60 midshipmen from the Patrick Henry, the Confederacy’s naval academy training vessel.

The special train was ready to leave at 8 p.m. Davis collected effects from the Executive Mansion and organized what was left so the Federals would not think he rushed out too hastily. Davis also sent an armchair to Mrs. Robert E. Lee in hopes of easing her arthritis; she was too infirmed to leave Richmond. Davis then wrote to her husband, who was busy evacuating Petersburg: “To move to night will involve the loss of many valuables, both for the want of time to pack and of transportation. Arrangements are progressing, and unless you otherwise advise the start will be made.”

When Lee received this message, he tore it up and snapped, “I am sure I gave him sufficient notice!” He then calmly replied: “Your telegram received. I think it will be necessary to move tonight. I shall camp the troops here north of the Appomattox. The enemy is so strong that they will cross above us & close us in between the James & Appomattox Rivers, if we remain.”

Davis rode through the panicked crowds to get to the depot (his wife and children had already left town in late March). By 11 p.m., Davis and most other top officials had boarded the train. Only Lee’s orderly retreat from Petersburg enabled the train to escape before the Federals arrived. The trip to Danville took 20 hours despite being just 140 miles away.

The Richmond fires | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Back in Richmond, the chaos continued. Inmates walked out of the abandoned state prison, and the inevitable looting and pillaging began. The Local Defense Board fell apart as marauders plundered shops, stores, and homes. Richmond officials issued orders to destroy all whiskey to prevent a drunken riot, but the people gathered all the liquor they could find and even scooped it up after it was dumped in the streets. A resident wrote that this was “the saddest of many of the sad sights of the war–a city undergoing pillage at the hands of its own mob, while the standards of an empire were being taken from its capitol.” Another wrote that on this night, “the devil was loosed.”

Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory directed Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes to destroy the Patrick Henry and all other vessels on the James River before they fell into Federal hands. The exploding ships shattered windows in Richmond. Semmes later wrote, “The spectacle was grand beyond description.” All remaining sailors were formed into an infantry brigade and sent with the rest of the Confederate troops out of town.

On land, Lieutenant General Richard Ewell ordered the destruction of all military equipment and supplies that could not be evacuated. During the night, Confederates burned warehouses, and the fires quickly spread out of control. They burned most tobacco barns, flour mills, and public buildings, as well as the Richmond Examiner and Inquirer. The troops evacuated on the Mayo Bridge out of Richmond, and then destroyed that as well.

The fires destroyed much of the main part of Richmond, with the massive inferno engulfing homes, hotels, factories, and warehouses. Around 2 a.m., the fires reached the national arsenal holding gunpowder and nearly a million artillery shells. This set off massive explosions that rocked the city for hours. Streets quickly filled with “those silent awful fires,” and resident Mary Fontaine wrote, “All like myself were watching them, paralyzed and breathless.”

By dawn on the 3rd, the city that had defiantly served as the Confederate capital for nearly four years lay in ruins.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 525; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 219-21; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 18539-59, 18578-637; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 574-76; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 715-17; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-101; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 663-64; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 845-46; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 490-92; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 368-69; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 630-32; Winik, Jay, April 1865: The Month That Saved America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 102-05, 108, 110

The End of 1863

December 31, 1863 – With the coming of a new year, morale among southerners fell to an all-time low as prospects for a Federal victory seemed brighter than ever.

This year had begun inauspiciously for the Federals with defeats at Galveston, Charleston Harbor, and Chancellorsville, but they rebounded with historic victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Tullahoma, Little Rock, and Knoxville. And although the Federals had suffered a resounding defeat at Chickamauga, they reversed the setback by driving most Confederate forces out of Tennessee.

U.S. Navy Secy Gideon Welles | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary, “The year closes more satisfactorily than it commenced. The war has been waged with success, although there have been in some instances errors and misfortunes. But the heart of the nation is sounder and its hopes higher.”

Southerners did not share this sentiment. An article in the Richmond Examiner, published on New Year’s Eve, spoke for most in the Confederacy when it declared:

“To-day closes the gloomiest year of our struggle. No sanguine hope of intervention buoys up the spirits of the confederate public as at the end of 1861. No brilliant victory like that of Fredericksburgh encourages us to look forward to a speedy and successful termination of the war, as in the last weeks of 1862.”

The writer discounted the recent minor Confederate victories at Mine Run and Bean’s Station: “(George G.) Meade’s advance was hardly meant in earnest, and Bean’s Station is a poor set-off to the loss of the gallant men who fell in the murderous assault on Knoxville.”

One of the most startling military transformations this year involved the improvement of the Federal cavalry, which now nearly matched its declining Confederate counterpart. The article maintained that with the “deficiencies of our cavalry service, Lincoln’s squadrons of horses threaten to be as universal a terror, as pervasive a nuisance, as his squadrons of gun-boats were some months since.” The writer continued:

“The advantages gained at Chancellorsville and Chickamauga have had heavy counterpoises. The one victory led to the fall of (Thomas “Stonewall”) Jackson and the deposition of (Joseph) Hooker, the other led first to nothing and then to the indelible disgrace of Lookout Mountain. The Confederacy has been cut in twain along the line of the Mississippi, and our enemies are steadily pushing forward their plans for bisecting the eastern moiety.”

Regarding the southern way of life, “poverty has become penury, penury is lapsing into pauperism,” and there had been a “complete upturning of our social relations, the only happy people are those who have black hearts or black skins.” The editorial then lashed out at politicians, whose corruption was courting disaster:

“There is no forgiveness for political sins, and the results will as certainly follow as if there had been no repentance. As all sins are, in a higher sense, intellectual blunders, we must strain every fibre of the brain and every sinew of the will if we wish to repair the mischief which our folly and our corruption have wrought.”

Noting the constant sacrifices the people were making:

“We can no more avoid the loss of property than we can the shedding of blood. There is no family in the Confederacy that has not to mourn the fall of some member or some connection, and there is no family in the Confederacy which ought to expect to escape scathless in estate. The attempt is as useless, in most cases, as it is ignoble in all.”

The editorial concluded:

“We all have a heavy score to pay, and we know it. This may depress us, but our enemies need not be jubilant at our depression, for we are determined to meet our liabilities. Whatever number of men, or whatever amount of money shall be really wanting will be forthcoming. Whatever economy the straightening of our resources may require, we shall learn to exercise. We could only wish that Congress was not in such a feverish mood, and that the government would do something toward the establishment of a statistical bureau, or some other agency, by which we could approximately ascertain what we have to contribute, and to what extent we must husband our resources. Wise, cool, decided, prompt action would put us in good condition for the spring campaign of 1864, and the close of next year would furnish a more agreeable retrospect than the annus mirabilis of blunders which we now consign to the dead past.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 355; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 386-87; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 450; Perseus: The Richmond Examiner, 31 Dec 1863

The Richmond Bread Riot

April 2, 1863 – A mob of mostly women stormed the business district of the Confederate capital demanding relief from the epidemic of shortages plaguing the Confederacy.

The winter of 1862-63 had been the worst ever for the new Confederacy. Dwindling supplies increased demand, resulting in soaring prices and civil unrest in various southern cities. This was especially true in Richmond, where the population had doubled since the war started and the armies had ravaged much of the food producing area in the state. The rising cost of necessities left many to go hungry.

Richmond Bread Riot | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hundreds of angry citizens, mostly women, gathered at the Oregon Hill Baptist Church on Holy Thursday to express their rage. They then stormed Richmond’s business district, shouting, “Bread! Bread!” A witness recalled talking to a young woman involved in the protest:

“As she raised her hand to remove her sunbonnet, her loose calico sleeve slipped up, and revealed a mere skeleton of an arm. She perceived my expression as I looked at it, and hastily pulled down her sleeve with a short laugh. ‘This is all that’s left of me!’ she said. ‘It seems real funny don’t it? We are starving. We are going to the bakeries and each of us will take a loaf of bread. That is little enough for the government to give us after it has taken all our men.’”

Some men and boys joined the mob until it grew to about 1,000 people. Governor John Letcher and the mayor of Richmond came out to calm the protestors to no avail. They smashed store windows and doors on Main and Cary, seizing items such as flour, meal, and clothing. Ruffians and emboldened protestors soon joined forces to begin looting stores for luxury items such as jewelry, furniture, and other fineries.

Letcher dispatched state militia to restore order, and the Richmond mayor threatened to order the militia to open fire if the crowd did not disperse. The mob refused to comply, possibly because the militia consisted of acquaintances or even husbands of the rioters. President Jefferson Davis then appeared and climbed atop a wagon to be seen in the crowd. According to a witness:

“He urged them to return to their houses, so that the bayonets there menacing them might be sent against the common enemy. He told them that such acts would bring famine upon them… as it would deter people from bringing food to the city. He said he was willing to share his last loaf with the suffering people… and he trusted we would… continue united against the Northern invaders, who were the authors of all our sufferings.”

Davis yelled, “You say you are hungry and have no money. Here is all I have. It is not much, but take it.” He threw all the money from his pockets into the crowd. He then pulled out his pocket watch and said, “We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disperse. Otherwise you will be fired on.”

When a large crowd remained after four minutes, Davis held up his pocket watch and announced, “My friends, you have one minute more.” The rioters finally disbanded. Davis directed the police to arrest the most prominent members of the mob; they were tried and briefly jailed.

Davis unofficially asked the Richmond press to “avoid all reference directly or indirectly to the affair,” and he instructed the telegraph companies to “permit nothing relative to the unfortunate disturbance… to be sent over the telegraph lines in any direction for any purpose.” Davis feared that reports of incidents such as these would embolden Federal troops and demoralize Confederates.

Secretary of War James A. Seddon directed military authorities to order the Richmond newspapers to print no articles about the rioting because it would serve “to embarrass our cause (or) to encourage our enemies.” The lead editorial in the April 3 Richmond Dispatch was titled, “Sufferings in the North.” Meanwhile, women and other “non-draftables” continued gathering to beg for food until the City Battalion drove them off.

The Richmond Enquirer broke the press silence on the 4th, but in support of the administration. The Enquirer reported that rumors of the riot were unnecessarily harming morale because the rioters were merely “a handful of prostitutes, professional thieves, Irish and Yankee hags, gallows birds from all lands but our own… (they broke into) half a dozen shoe stores, hat stores and tobacco houses and robbed them of everything but bread, which was just the thing they wanted least.”

The Richmond city council approved a motion stating that the incident had been “in reality instigated by devilish and selfish motives,” but a week later the council members quietly approved allocating $24,000 to feed the citizens. This helped quiet the growing unrest. However, similar outbreaks occurred in Augusta, Columbus and Milledgeville in Georgia, in Salisbury, North Carolina, and in Mobile, Alabama.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 134-36; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 103-04; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 271; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 163-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 277; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 617-18; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 199

The Official Inauguration of Jefferson Davis

February 22, 1862 – Jefferson Davis took the oath of office to become the first official president of the Confederacy.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis and Vice President Alexander H. Stephens had been elected to their posts by delegates of the Montgomery convention the previous February on a provisional basis only, pending a general election. That general election had officially elected Davis and Stephens as Confederate president and vice president in November. Under the Confederate Constitution, they were to serve one six-year term and were ineligible for reelection.

Confederate officials selected February 22, George Washington’s Birthday, as the presidential inauguration day at the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Thousands of people attended the ceremonies, which began in the Virginia Hall of Delegates and then moved outside to a canopied platform beside the statue of Washington in the Capitol Square. Davis was escorted to the platform by his black footmen; they all wore black because, as one of them said, “This… is the way we always does in Richmond at funerals and sichlike.”

On the platform, Davis took the chief executive’s oath, kissed the Bible, and delivered his inaugural address. He declared: “Whatever of hope some may have entertained that a returning sense of justice would remove the danger with which our rights were threatened, and render it possible to preserve the Union of the Constitution, must have been dispelled by the malignity and barbarity of the Northern States in the prosecution of the existing war.” He cited as evidence:

“Bastilles filled with prisoners, arrested without civil process or indictment duly found; the writ of habeas corpus suspended by Executive mandate; a State Legislature controlled by the imprisonment of members whose avowed principles suggested to the Federal Executive that there might be another added to the list of seceded States; elections held under threats of a military power; civil officers, peaceful citizens, and gentle-women incarcerated for opinion’s sake–proclaimed the incapacity of our late associates to administer a Government as free, liberal, and humane as that established for our common use.”

Davis contrasted these Federal actions to those of his administration, stating that “through all the necessities of an unequal struggle there has been no act on our part to impair personal liberty or the freedom of speech, of thought, or of the press.”

Noting the financial troubles in the North, Davis predicted a Federal economic collapse: “The period is near at hand when our foes must sink under the immense load of debt which they have incurred, a debt which in their effort to subjugate us has already attained such fearful dimensions as will subject them to burdens which must continue to oppress them for generations to come.”

Davis expressed his view that the war was a test of what the southern people were willing to endure to defend their freedom: “It was, perhaps, in the ordination of Providence that we were to be taught the value of our liberties by the price which we pay for them.”

Trying to turn a negative into a positive, Davis cited unexpected benefits from European powers adhering to the Federal blockade:

“If the acquiescence of foreign nations in a pretended blockade has deprived us of our commerce with them, it is fast making us a self-supporting and an independent people. The blockade, if effectual and permanent, could only serve to divert our industry from the production of articles for export and employ it in supplying the commodities for domestic use.”

However, he also acknowledged the recent defeats in the Western Theater and North Carolina:

“After a series of successes and victories, which covered our arms with glory, we have recently met with serious disasters. But in the heart of a people resolved to be free these disasters tend but to stimulate to increased resistance. To show ourselves worthy of the inheritance bequeathed to us by the patriots of the Revolution, we must emulate that heroic devotion which made reverse to them but the crucible in which their patriotism was refined.”

Davis concluded:

“With humble gratitude and adoration, acknowledging the Providence which has so visibly protected the Confederacy during its brief but eventful career, to thee, O God, I trustingly commit myself, and prayerfully invoke thy blessing on my country and its cause.”

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References

Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 217-18; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 113; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 84-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 174; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 402-03, 433; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 265-67; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q162