Evacuation of Richmond

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From the Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 13 (1885), p. 247.

Evacuation of Richmond.

SPRING HILL, TENN., December 20th, 1865.

General R. E. LEE, Lexington, Va.:

GENERAL,- About the middle of February last I received a communication from you, enclosing a law which I was directed to carry out. This law required preparations to be made for destroying the cotton, tobacco, &c., which the owners could not remove, in places exposed to capture by the enemy. I immediately sent Major

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Brown, of my staff, to Mayor Mayo with the document, and requested him to call a meeting of the Common Council to give their opinion as to the measures proper to be taken. After a free discussion with some of the Council and by their advice, I issued a circular to the "merchants and owners of cotton and tobacco," embodying the substance of your order and the law that accompanied it. This I entrusted to those gentlemen and to Major Isaac N. Carrington, Provost- Marshal, for distribution. Being informed a few hours later that it was misunderstood as to take effect at once, I substituted another, stating expressly that the "necessity had not yet arisen." Together with Mr. Scott, a tobacco- owner and councilman, I visited and inspected all the warehouses containing tobacco, and after consulting the keepers, we concluded they could be burned without danger of a general conflagration. I gave instructions to Major Carrington to make the necessary arrangements, and requested Mr. Scott and the other members of the Council to consult with him and give him their views. The Ordnance Department offered to furnish barrels of turpentine to mix with the tobacco so as to insure its burning; but this I declined, for fear of setting fire to the city. I sent for the Mayor and several of the most prominent citizens, earnestly urged upon them the danger of mob violence, should we be forced to evacuate and the entrance of Federal troops be delayed, and begged them to endeavor to organize a volunteer guard force for such an emergency, proffering the necessary arms. I regret to say but one man volunteered, and the rioters, as predicted, were unchecked. On the night of Saturday, 1st April, I received a dispatch from General Longstreet, telling me he was going to the south side with two divisions, that Kershaw would be left on the lines, directing me to move whatever troops I could collect down the Darbytown road, and to ride by his headquarters for further instructions. I left my staff to see to the movements and collection of troops (of which only the cadets and three battalions of convalescents from the hospitals were in town), and rode down, but General Longstreet had gone before I reached his headquarters, and I received orders from his Acting Adjutant- General, Colonel Latrobe, to relieve and send forward two brigades left on picket, which was done soon after sunrise by Colonel Shipp, commanding the cadets and convalescents. At 10 A. M. of Sunday I received a message from Major Chestney, my Acting Adjutant- General, to return at once to the city, and on doing so received the order for the evacuation, and to destroy the stores which could not be removed. All that time allowed was done.

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General G. W. C. Lee's division being mostly composed of heavy artillery, was almost without transportation, which was procured by impressing all that could be found. All the guard- forces were required to take the prisoners from the Libby and Castle Thunder, and as the militia had dispersed (being mostly foreigners), no troops remained in town except a few convalescents. A mob of both sexes and all colors soon collected, and about 3 A. M. set fire to some buildings on Cary street, and began to plunder the city. The convalescents then stationed in the Square were ordered to repress the riot, but their commander shortly reported himself unable to do so, his force being inadequate. I then ordered all my staff and couriers who could be spared, to scour the streets, so as to intimidate the mob by a show of force, and sent word to General Kershaw, who was coming up from the lines, to hurry his leading regiment into town. By daylight the riot was budded, but many buildings which I had carefully directed should be spared, had been fired by the mob. The Arsenal was thus destroyed, and a party of men went to burn the Tredegar Works, but were prevented by General Anderson's arming his operatives and declaring his intention to resist. The small bridge over the canal on Fourteenth street was burned by incendiaries, who set a canal boat on fire and pushed it under the bridge. This was evidently doe in hopes of embarrassing our retreat, and General Kershaw's division passed the bridge while on fire at a "double quick." By 7 A. M. the last troops had reached the south side, and Mayo's and the railroad bridges were set on fire.

From the hills above Manchester we watched for some time the progress of the flames, and all at once saw fire break out through the roof of one of the large mills on the side farthest from the burning warehouses, the flames from which scarcely reached half way up the sides of the mill. It was considered a fire- proof building, and extra precautions had been taken by the owners. I cannot conceive how it could have caught in such a place, unless set on fire. I have been told that Mr. Crenshaw found his mill full of plunderers, whom he got out by agreeing to give them all the provisions in the mill, ad that they were in the act of building a fire on the upper story of the mill when discovered. I tried to find out if this was true, but no reply has come to the letters written for that purpose. If correct, it affords exact proof of what I am firmly convinced is the case, that the burning of Richmond was the work of incendiaries, and might have been prevented by the citizens. General G. W. C. Lee's division crossed the river at Drewry's and united with Kershaw a few miles from Manchester

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We marched very rapidly to joint he main body, and though delayed by the swollen condition of the Appomattox, came up with it near Amelia Courthouse on the 5th of April. We were to march all that night, but owing to the slow progress of the trains and troops in front, had only reached Amelia Springs, seven miles off, by 8 A. M. Parties of cavalry here appeared on our left flank, and about 11 A. M, made an effort to get to the road on which our trains were moving past us. Gordon's corps, the rear- guard, was being hard pushed at the same time. I threw out as skirmishers part of Colonel Atkinson's command of heavy artillery of General Lee's division, and a battery of light artillery acting as infantry under Captain Dement, which had just been assigned to me. These troops soon repelled the enemy's cavalry skirmishers. Their demonstrations continued from 11 A. M. till 2 P. M., and I retained my troops in position to cover the passage of the trains. As soon as they were out of the way, I followed General Anderson's corps, and was followed by General Gordon, who brought up the rear of the trains, constantly fighting. On crossing a little stream known as "Sailor's Creek," I met General Fitz. Lee, who informed me that a large force of cavalry held the road just in front of General Anderson, and were so strongly posted that he had halted a short distance ahead. The trains were turned into a road nearer the river, while I hurried to General Anderson's aid. General Gordon's corps turned off after the trains. General Anderson informed me that at least two divisions of cavalry were in his front, and suggested two modes of escape, either to unite our forces and great through, or to move to the right through the woods and try to strike a road that ran toward Farmville. I recommended the latter alternative, but as he knew the ground and I did not and had no one who did, I left the dispositions to him Before any were made, the enemy appeared in rear of my column in large force, preparing to attack. General Anderson informed me that he would make the attack in front, if I would hold in check those in the rear, which I did until his troops were broken and dispersed. I had no artillery, all being with the trains. My line ran across a little ravine which leads nearly at right angles towards "Sailor's Creek." General G. W. C. Lee was on the left, with the Naval Battalion under Commodore Tucker behind his right; Kershaw was on the right. All of Lee's and part of Kershaw's divisions were posted behind a rising ground that afforded some shelter from artillery. The creek was perhaps three hundred yards in their front, with brush pines between and a cleared field beyond

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it. In this the enemy's artillery took a commanding position, and finding we had none to reply, soon approached within eight hundred yards and opened a terrible fire. After nearly a half an hour of this, their infantry advanced, crossing the creek above and below us at the same time. just as it attacked, General Anderson made his assault, which was repulsed in five minutes. I had ridden up near his lines with him to see the result. When a staff- officer, who had followed his troops in their charge, brought him word of its failure, General Anderson rode rapidly towards his command. I returned to mine to see if it were yet too late to try the other plan of escape. On riding past my left, I came suddenly upon a strong line of the enemy's skirmishers advancing upon my left rear. This closed the only avenue of escape, as shells and even bullets were crossing each other from front and rear over my troops, and my right was completely enveloped. I surrendered myself and staff to a cavalry officer who came in by the same road General Anderson had gone out upon. At my request, he sent a messenger to General G. W. C. Lee, who was nearest, with a note from me telling him "he was surrounded, General Anderson's attack had failed. I had surrendered, and he had better do so, too, to prevent useless loss of life;" though I gave no orders, being a prisoner. Before the messenger reached him, General Lee had been captured, as had been Kershaw and the whole of my command.

My two divisions numbered about three thousand each at the time of the evacuation. Twenty- eight hundred were taken prisoners, about one hundred and fifty killed and wounded. The difference of over three thousand was caused mainly by the fatigue of fore days and nights almost constant marching, the last two days with nothing to eat. Before our capture I saw men eating raw fresh meat as they marched in ranks. The heavy artillery brigade of Lee's division was closely engaged for the first time on this occasion, and spite of the fall of its commander, Colonel Crutchfield, displayed a coolness and gallantry that earned the praise of the veterans who fought alongside of it, and even of the enemy.

I was informed at General Wright's headquarters, whither I was carried after my capture, that thirty thousand men were engaged with us when we surrendered, viz: two infantry corps and Custar's and Merritt's divisions of cavalry, the whole under command of General Sheridan.

I deem it proper to remark that the discipline preserved by General G. W. C. Lee in camp and on the march, and the manner in which

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he handled his troops in action, fully justified the request I had made for his promotion. General Kershaw who had only been a few days under my command, behaved with his usual coolness and judgment.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Late Lieutenant- General, C. S. A.


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