American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

Evacuation of Richmond

A Richmond newspaper at that time, writing of this day, said:

"It was late in the afternoon before the people really began to know that their city was indeed lost to them. Wagons on the streets were being hastily loaded with boxes, trunks, etc., and driven to the Danville depot. . . . Carriages suddenly, arose to a value that was astounding; and ten, fifteen, and even a hundred dollars was offered for a carriage. Suddenly, as if by magic, the streets became filled with men, walking as though for a wager, and behind them excited negroes with trunks, bundles and luggage of every description. All over the city it was the same—wagons, trunks, band-boxes, and their owners, filling the streets. The banks were all open, and people were as busy as bees removing their money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of paper money were destroyed, both State and Confederate. Night came, and with it came only worse confusion. There was no sleep for human eyes in Richmond that night.

"The City Council had met in the evening and resolved to destroy all the liquor in the city, to avoid the temptation to drink at such a time. About the hour of midnight the work commenced, under the direction of citizens in all the wards. Hundreds of barrels of liquor were rolled into the streets and the heads knocked in. The gutters ran with liquor freshet, and the fumes filled the air. Fine cases of bottled liquors were tossed into the street from third-story windows and wrecked into a thousand pieces. As the work progressed some straggling soldiers, retreating through the city, managed to get hold of a quantity of the liquor. From that moment law and order ceased to exist. Many of the stores were robbed, and the sidewalks were covered with broken glass, where the thieves had smashed the windows. The air was filled with wild cries of distress or the yells of the robbers.

An order had been issued from Gen. Ewell's headquarters to fire the four principal tobacco ware-houses in the city. The ware-houses were fired. The rams in the James River were blown up. The Richmond, Virginia, and another one were all blown to the four winds of heaven.

"The bridges leading out of the city were also fired, and were soon wrapped in flames.

"Morning broke upon a scene such as those who witnessed it can never forget. The roar of an immense conflagration sounded in their ears, tongues of flame leaped from street to street."

By seven o'clock, Monday morning, the Confederate troops were out of the city, leaving Richmond in flames. The streets were still filled with crowds of men and women, black and white, loaded down with their plunder from burning houses and stores.

Here was a negro with a bag of coffee or of sugar upon his back; another with a bag crammed with shoes or hats; a third with several pieces of cotton or woollen cloth on his head, or with an armful of ready-made clothing; a woman with a dozen hoop-skirts; and even children with boxes of thread, ribbons, and other small goods. The Babel of their voices was almost drowned in the roar of the flames and the explosion of gunpowder. Capitol Square was crowded with frightened women and children, huddled among piles of furniture and household goods saved from their burning homes. The Confederate rear-guard had scarcely left when a cry of "The Yankees! the Yankees!" arose in Main Street.

In marched the Union troops. As they entered the city, bursts of cheers went up from each regiment. "Richmond was taken!" and the war was really over.

Lee at once left Petersburg, hastening with his forces towards the West. Grant followed close upon him. There was little need to pursue them; for so broken and exhausted were they, that thousands threw down their arms, too weak and ill to carry them. On the 9th of April, Grant and Lee met, and agreed upon the terms of surrender. It did not take them very long. The "Army of Virginia" was to disband and go home, each man promising to fight no more against the Union.

Lee rode back to his camp, sad and silent. His men received him with a cheer. He looked at them sorrowfully and said, "Men, we have fought the war together; and I have done the best I could for you."

On the 12th of April, the Confederate army came out for its last parade. Grant generously kept his troops out of sight, while Lee's men stacked their guns, and covered them over with the Confederate flags, in sign of surrender.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - IV by Mara L. Pratt