Late Scenes in Richmond

A war reporter describes the Confederates' flight from Richmond and Lincoln's visit the next day
More

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.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In