Roe, Alfred S.; The Twenty-Fourth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers. 1907. pp. 388-395


Lee had not surrendered when the Twenty-fourth was ordered to Richmond to have a part in preserving order in the late rebel capital. On April 8th came the command transferring the regiment to its new scene of service. Of the trip itself, one of the regiment wrote: “We had a pleasant ride up the river, taking note of the rebel works on both sides: the much-talked-of and useless Dutch Gap Canal, Butler’s failure, and the rebel rams, blown up, their old hulks looking as though they had seen better days. All nature was taking on a robe of beautiful green, and we could see plainly what, in the ‘64 campaign, we had tried so hard to possess. We landed at Rockets, near which the troops were having a review in light marching order, so we just filed by in heavy marching order and, as usual, we made the best appearance.” The embers of the conflagration started by the departing rebels were scarcely cooled when the Massachusetts men came in, and, from their first camp, near the former headquarters of the Confederate War Department, essayed the part of peace preservers in Richmond, a duty to be performed through many a month of the immediate future. A permanent stopping-place was soon found on the corner of Franklin and Nineteenth Streets, in Wright’s Tobacco Factory, where is now manufactured “The Pride of Virginia,” a favorite among users of the weed. After two months tarrying here, a move was made to Howard Grove Hospital, where in what had been rebel soldiers’ barracks, the remainder of the Richmond stay was spent.

Among the duties of this Richmond tour was the looking after Libby Prison and Castle Thunder, both of them filled with ex-rebels detained for a variety of reasons, and the city jail with its complement of malefactors of all colors and creeds. Its situation was just back of what had been the residence of Jefferson Davis, in other words, the White House of the Confederacy, in later years a museum of Rebellion relics. In the jail-yard was the old whipping-post, a reminder of other times and other rule, now a curiosity for the northern soldier. The destitution of the people was a source of wonder and regret to the tender-hearted Federal, and, as far as he could, he was more than ready to relieve it. Aside from dividing rations, however, he was powerless, but it would not have been in accordance with nature if he had not done some piloting of the suffering citizens to Uncle Sam’s commissary stores. The situation is most happily set forth in the words of one to the manor born, who was there when the distress was on:

In all this tune of horror I don’t think, anything was much harder than making up our minds to draw rations from the Yankees. We said we would not do it-we could not do it! But as hunger gained upon us and starvation stared us in the face, Mrs. Sampson rose up in her might: “I’ll take anything I can get out of the Yankees!” she exclaimed.” They haven’t had any delicacy of feeling in taking everything we’ve got. I’m going for rations.”

And go they did, though the results were not quite so appetizing as they had expected, since the piece de resistance in each case was likely to be a dried codfish, which, however orthodox to the New Englander, was not much of a luxury to one of the Old Dominion, but with the accompanying bit of bacon and some potatoes, life was maintained after a fashion, though it is related that the ancient and fish-like smell that accompanied the “ration” compelled the recipients, in most cases, to hang the food outside the window. Perhaps the coffee thus obtained was most appreciated. It was no infrequent sight, that of well-dressed women, evidently of the best families of the city, applying for aid. At one time, the soldier inquired of replied that he did not know in what way he could be of service, impressed by the evident gentility of the woman. When he mentioned work, with his northern sentiments on that subject, he was told that she knew very little about work, and that her servants had all been scattered by the war. “Do you know who that lady is?” asked a citizen of the guard. “No, I do not, but she is a lady, whoever she may be,” was the reply. “Well, she represents one of the oldest and most wealthy families in Virginia. Her father once possessed hundreds of slaves, but the folks are in terrible straits now.”

However, native intelligence and energy soon began to tell and it was not long before order was evolved from all of war’s carnage and confusion. The rebels, or those lately in rebellion, began to discover that the Yankees were not so had as they had been painted; some of the gentler sex even gave their hearts into the keeping of soldiers from the North, and some of the latter made Richmond or other southern cities places of permanent abode. Long years after it was all over, a southern writer says this of those troublous days: “Our grandchildren can’t understand how such nice people as the Yankees and ourselves ever could have fought each other. ‘It doesn’t seem reasonable,’ says Nellie the third, who is engaged to a gentleman from Boston, where we sent her to cultivate her musical talents, but where she applied herself to other matters. ‘It doesn’t seem reasonable, grandmamma, when you could just as easily have settled it all comfortably without any fighting. How glad I am I wasn’t living then! How thankful I am that Old Glory floats alike over North and South now.’ ‘And so am I, my darling, so am I’”

Across the river from Bermuda Hundred resided a family of the Carters, for generations one of the proudest and best in the South. This particular branch had remained faithful to the Union, though the most of the name had affiliated with the Rebellion; indeed the wife of Robert E. Lee was a relative, and to her a message had been intrusted with Major Ordway, with the understanding that lie should deliver it in person. This in due time he undertook to do, but lie found the entrance to the presence of the chieftain’s companion, a great granddaughter of Washington’s wife, was not so easily effected. To enter the vestibule and to be met by a colored servitor who inquired his business, was one thing, but to meet Mrs. Lee was quite another. Notwithstanding his repeated statement that he was to deliver his message personally, he received only the same reply, “Tell the gentleman that Mrs. Lee is not at home,” and the valiant and fastidious Major was obliged to retire discomfited, his message unimparted, at least not in person, and his failure was a source of some merriment to his brother officers. Later when he had led to the altar a daughter of Richmond, and became a resident of that noted city, it is probable that his entrance into the elite of the capital’s society was more easily effected.

Among all the prisoners committed to the care of the Union soldiers in Richmond, the most famous was Dick Turner, the man who had made himself so hateful to the unfortunate northern men confined in Libby Prison. That he was a tyrant every one agreed, and he was given a taste of his own provisions, in that he was at first incarcerated in one of the dungeons beneath the very structure over which he had formerly held so hard and high a hand. When the troops from the armies further south began to pour through the capital, there were many men appearing whom he had tyrannized over, in some cases had maltreated. All wanted to see him; some were civil and courteous to him, others were quite the reverse. One especially, an officer who had suffered terribly at the hands of the former keeper, was determined to shoot him. It required a deal of effort and wisdom to prevent the death of the rebel by his half-crazed foe, on account of his deeds in other days. But prudence and the protection accorded prisoners among civilized people prevailed and Turner’s life was spared. Not so very long after the guarding of the ex-keeper became a part of the regiment’s duties, a Union officer called at the prison and on learning where the Confederate was confined remarked, “I wonder that he doesn’t find out that one of the bars at his window is of wood.” It appears that the officer himself had once been imprisoned in that very place, and that in his plans for escape had substituted wood for iron in the bars at the window, but departing in another manner, before he had used this avenue of escape, the false bar had remained. Acting on knowledge thus imparted, the cell of Turner was visited at once, but too late, for the prisoner had learned of the deception, taken advantage of it and had departed. However, his liberty was of short duration, since he was speedily retaken and this time was placed in Castle Thunder, where, for the sake of surety, he was heavily ironed. Strong chains connected his wrists, and his feet were united in a similar manner, while an iron rod reached from his feet to his hands, and to make his escape still more improbable, the entire assemblage of links, rods and gyves was securely chained to the ceiling, his manacles reminding one of those with which Pizarro bound the Inca of Peru. The Government, evidently intent on leaving the least number of scars possible, did not punish Davis and, as for the keepers of southern prisons, the hanging of Wirtz apparently sufficed, and Turner eventually went forth unscathed. “He was not a particularly bad fellow as far as looks, language and manners were concerned,” was the general comment of the men who saw him frequently. His rations when thus kept in the very building over which he had lorded so long were simply hard tack and water, a not over-appetizing layout, but one that gave his former captives, now his visitors, a great deal of pleasure as they asked him how he liked it himself.

The marching through Richmond of Sherman’s army and that of the Potomac was a source of much pleasure to all beholders, and possibly there was some pride mingled with the sight as the men of the trip from Atlanta to the Sea strode through the Confederate capital, in sight of the edifice in which had been evolved the plans and plots which kept up the strife during four long years.

One who was there thus describes the passage of the Second and Fifth Army Corps:

Yesterday (May 6th) Richmond saw what she never saw before, viz.: the passage of about 40,000 troops of the Union Army on their way to Washington. They commenced to come over from Manchester on the pontoon bridge, about 6 a.m., and were till 4.30 crossing. On their march they passed by Libby Prison and Castle Thunder, on which we had placed large signs so that the soldiers might know what they were passing. Their remarks as they passed and gazed were more forcible than polite. Thence they passed onto Main Street, where the Third Division of the Twenty-fourth Corps was formed in line to receive them. They thus stretched along two miles or more. Some of the reviewing soldiers recognized old friends in the Massachusetts regiments as they swung along the route. By this time, the Twenty-fourth had resumed some of its Readville dignity and style and was wearing dress coats with scales oil the shoulders, appearing very little like the men of Drewry’s Bluff and the Petersburg trenches. Some of the men on guard were in full regalia and even wore white gloves, an amount of “put-on” quite too much for the rough-and-ready fellows just in from the field, and they, thinking the starched soldiers were regulars, stigmatized them as “band box” regiments and slurred them to their hearts’ content, little realizing that in the preceding season they were all alike. The passage of the wagon train was even more interesting than that of the army. If northern people all turn out to see a circus, I don’t know what they would do for this.

Then, too, when later in the month of May, the Sixth Corps came along from its tour of guard-duty in southern Virginia, there was another chance to compare notes with soldiers who had warred with the Army of the Potomac, in the Shenandoah Valley, and, in the battle of Sailors’ Creek, had won the last great victory against the Confederacy. Those were pleasant days for the Twenty-fourth, and to the younger members of the regiment they were almost delightful. Says one of the survivors: “One of the proudest moments of my life was when, as Corporal, I was in charge of a squad of colored soldiers, going with them across the pontoon bridge over to Manchester. I had noticed that, with their old-time subserviency, they were giving way to every ex-reb they met, so I just told them not to give a single inch when they met any more of the secesh. This was what they had been anxious to hear, and the way they stood up and the way they walked through the next party of their old enemies was a sight to see. I felt as if I had accomplished something in teaching these men that they had rights, and that the uniform they had on wasp entitled to respect no matter who wore it.”

It would be idle to assert that all the men enjoyed the sanssouci life in Richmond. While it was pleasant for some of the officers and for many of the younger members, to the man who had enlisted for putting down the Rebellion and whose family and business required him at home, the stay was irksome in the extreme. It was during these days that many men, as will be seen by reference to the Roster, took French leave. They had in many cases been admirable soldiers, some of them even were reenlisted veterans, but the call of home was too strong and they heeded the prompting. Government recognized the provocation, and some years later ordered that all men thus taking leave of the service, after the surrender, and on making due application, should have their names removed from the list of deserters and should be entitled to all the privileges of those who stayed through. Very many, however, paid the debt to nature due before this ruling was had, and some excellent names still rest under a shadow. Nor did the days pass by without some remonstrance from the sober-minded men who were doing ditty for fifty cents a day, and who were worth dollars at any one of a score of employments in the North. In July a petition was carried in to headquarters representing that the men were tired of soldiering and desired to have measures taken to secure the muster-out of the regiment. The signers went up in a body and the hospital steward carried in the paper.

[remainder of memoir not transcribed.]

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