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Chapter 38: after the death blow was dealt.

  • The form of surrender
  • -- Federals March in -- Richmond in flames -- blue-coats fight the fire -- sad scenes -- Automatic Shelling -- discipline Wins -- at the provost -- marshal's -- a city of the dead -- starvation plus suspense -- the tin-can brigade -- drawing rations -- rumors and reality -- the first gray jacket returns -- General Lee re-enters Richmond -- woman, the Comforter -- Lincoln's Assassination -- resulting Rigors -- Baits for Sociability -- how ladies acted -- Lectures by old friends -- the emigration mania -- fortunate collapse of agreement -- the negro's status -- to work, or starve -- woman's aid -- dropping the curtain.
    Just as dawn broke through the smoke-eddies over the deserted Capital, the morning after its evacuation, two carriages crept through the empty streets, toward the fortifications. In them-grave-faced and sad-sat the Mayor of Richmond and a committee of her council, carrying the formal surrender to the Federal commander on the northern bank of the James.

    Many a sad, a few terrified, faces peered at them through closed shutters; but the eager groups about the fires, striving still to secure scraps from the flames, never paused for a glance at the men who bore the form of the already accomplished fact.

    Before long, eager watchers from Chimborazo Heights saw bluecoats rise dim over the distant crest. Then came the clatter of cavalry, sabers drawn and at a trot; still cautiously feeling their way into the long-coveted stronghold. Behind followed artillery and infantry in compact column, up the River Road, through Rockett's to Capitol Square. There they halted; raised the Stars-and-stripes on the staff from which the Stars-and-bars had floated-often in their very sight --for four weary, bitter years!

    It was a solemn and gloomy march; little resembling the people's idea of triumphal entry into a captured city. The troops were quiet, showing little elation; their officers anxious and watchful ever; and dead silence reigned around them, broken only by the roar and hiss of flames, or the sharp explosion as they reached some magazine. Not a cheer broke the stillness; and even the wrangling, half-drunken bummers round the fires slunk sullenly away; while but few negroes showed their faces, and those ashen-black from indefinite fear; their great mouths gaping and white eyes rolling in curious dread that took away their faculty for noise. [361]

    By the time Weitzel's brigade of occupation had been posted-and several regiments massed on the Capitol--the fire had become general. Intending only to destroy munitions and supplies of war-the firing party had been more hasty than discreet. A strong breeze sprang up, off the river, and warehouse followed warehouse into the line of the flames. Old, dry and crammed with cotton, or other inflammable material, these burned like tinder; and at many points, whole blocks were on fire.

    A dense pall of smoke hovered low over the entire city; and through it shone huge eddies of flames and sparks, carrying great blazing planks and rafters whirling over the shriveling buildings. Little by little these drew closer together; and by noon, one vast, livid flame roared and screamed before the wind, from Tenth street to Rockett's; licking its red tongue around all in its reach and drawing the hope — the very life of thousands into its relentless maw!

    Should the wind shift, that rapidly-gaining fire would sweep uptown and devour the whole city; but, while the few men left looked on in dismayed apathy, deliverance came from the enemy. The regiments in Capitol Square stacked arms; were formed into firesquads; and sped at once to points of danger. Down the deserted streets these marched; now hidden by eddying smoke-again showing like silhouettes, against the vivid glare behind them. Once at their points for work, the men went at it with a will; and-so strong was force of discipline — with no single attempt at plunder reported!

    Military training never had better vindication than on that fearful day; for its bonds must have been strong indeed, to hold that army, suddenly in possession of city so coveted-so defiant-so deadly, for four long years.

    Whatever the citizens may vaguely have expected from Grant's army, what they received from it that day was aidprotection-safety! Demoralized and distracted by sorrow and imminent danger; with almost every male absent — with no organization and no means to fight the new and terrible enemy — the great bulk of Richmond's population might have been houseless that night, but for the disciplined promptitude of the Union troops. The men worked with good will; their officers, with ubiquitous energy. If the fire could not be stayed, at any particular point, a squad entered each [362] house, bore its contents to a safe distance; and there a guard was placed over them, Sad and singular groups were there, too. Richmond's best and tenderest nurtured women moved among their household gods, hastily piled in the streets, selecting this or that sacred object, to carry it in their own hands — where? Poor families, utterly beggared, sat wringing their hands amid the wreck of what was left, homeless and hopeless; while, here and there, the shattered remnant of a soldier was borne, on a stretcher in kindly, if hostile, hands, through clouds of smoke and mourning relatives to some safer point.

    Ever blacker and more dense floated the smoke-pall over the deserted city; ever louder and more near roared the hungry flames. And constantly, through all that dreadful day, the whoo / of shells from magazines, followed by the thud of explosion, cut the dull roar of the fire. For-whether through negligence or want of timecharged shells of all sizes had been left in the many ordnance stores when the torch was applied. These narrow brick chambers-now white hot and with a furnace-blast through them-swept the heaviest shells like cinders over the burning district. Rising high in air, with hissing fuses, they burst at many points, adding new terrors to the infernal scene; and some of them, borne far beyond the fire's limit, burst over the houses, tearing and igniting their dry roofs.

    Slowly the day, filled with its hideous sights and sounds, wore on; and slowly the perseverance of man told against the devouring element. The fire was, at last, kept within its own bounds; then gradually forced backward, to leave a charred, steaming belt between it and the unharmed town. Within this, the flames still leaped and writhed and wrangled in their devilish glee; but Richmond was now comparatively safe, and her wretched inhabitants might think of food and rest. Little had they recked of either for many a dread hour past!

    The provost marshal, that unfailing adjunct to every occupation, had fixed his office at the court-house. There a mixed and singular crowd waited gloomily, or jostled eagerly, for speech of the autocrat of the hour. Captured officers stood quietly apart, or peered out earnestly through the smoke drifts, while their commitments to Libby Prison were made out; anxious and wan women, of every sphere in life, besieged the clerk preparing “protection papers;” while a fussy [363] official, of higher grade, gave assurance to every one that guards should be placed about their homes, For the deserted women of Richmond dreaded not only the presence of the victorious enemy, but also that of the drunken and brutalized “bummers” and deserters who stayed behind their own army.

    The guards were really stationed as promptly as was practicable; the fire-brigade men were sent to quarters; pickets in blue patroled the outskirts; and, by nightfall, the proud Capital of the Southern Confederacy was only a Federal barrack!

    For two days after their entrance the Union army might have supposed they had captured a city of the dead. The houses were all tightly closed, shutters fastened and curtains drawn down; and an occasional blue-coated sentry in porch, or front yard, was the sole sign of life. In the streets it was little different. Crowds of soldiers moved curiously from point to point, large numbers of negroes mixing with them-anxious to assist their new found brotherhood, but wearing most awkwardly their vested rights. Here and there a gray jacket would appear for a moment — the pale and worn face above it watching with anxious eyes the unused scene; then it would disappear again. This was all. The Federals had full sweep of the city — with its silent streets and its still smoking district, charred and blackened; where, for acre after acre, only fragments of walls remained, and where tall chimney stacks, gaunt and tottering, pointed to heaven in witness against the useless sacrifice.

    For two days this lasted. The curious soldiers lounged about the silent town, the burned desert still sent up its clouds of close, fetid smoke; the ladies of Richmond remained close prisoners. Then necessity drove them out, to seek food, or some means to obtain it; to visit the sick left behind; or to make charitable visits to those who might be even less provided than themselves.

    Clad almost invariably in deep mourning — with heavy veils invariably hiding their faces — the broken-hearted daughters of the Capital moved like shadows of the past, through the places that were theirs no longer. There was no ostentation of disdain for their conquerors --no assumption of horror if they passed a group of Federals-no affected brushing of the skirt from the contact with the blue. There was only deep and real dejection-sorrow bearing too heavily on brain and heart to make an outward show — to even note smaller [364] annoyances that might else have proved so keen. If forced into collision, or communication, with the northern officers, ladies were courteous as cold; they made no parade of hatred, but there was that in their cold dignity which spoke plainly of impassable barriers.

    And, to their credit be it spoken, the soldiers of the North respected the distress they could but see; the bitterness they could not misunderstand. They made few approaches toward forcing their society-even where billeted in the houses of the citizens, keeping aloof and never intruding on the family circle.

    For several days the water-approaches to the city could not be cleared from the obstructions sunk in them; all railroad communication was destroyed, and the whole population was dependent upon the slender support of the wagon trains. Few even of the wealthiest families had been able to make provision ahead; scarcely any one had either gold, or greenbacks; and suffering became actual and pinching. Then came the order that the Federal commissary was to issue rations to those needing them. Pinching themselves, as they did; preferring to subsist on the slenderest food that would sustain life, to accepting the charity of the enemy-many of those suffering women were driven by sheer hunger-by the threatened starvation of their children, or of the loved wounded ones near them — to seek the proffered bounty. They forced their way into the surging, fighting crowd of greasy and tattered negroes, of dark-faced “bummers” and “loyal” residents-and they received small rations of cornmeal and codfish; bearing them home to be eaten with what bitter seasoning they might of tears from pain and humiliation.

    The direst destitution of the war had been nothing to this. With their own people around them, with hope and love to sustain them, the women of Richmond did not wince under the pinch of want. But now, surrounded by enemies, with not a pound of flour, or a cent of currency, actual starvation — as well as humiliation-stared them in the face. The few who went to draw rations, sat down in blank despair. They could not make up their minds to go again. The fewer still, who had the least surplus from immediate wants, distributed it freely; and a cup of sugar from a slender stock was bartered here for a few slices of the hoarded ham, or a pound or two of necessary meal.

    Meantime, sutlers, peddlers and hucksters swarmed in like locusts, [365] on the very first steamers up the river. They crowded Broad street, the unburned stores on Main, and even the alleyways, with great piles of every known thing that could be put up in tin. They had calculated on a rich harvest; but they had reckoned without their host. There was no money in Richmond to spend with them; and after a profitless sojourn, they took up their tin cans, and one by one returned North-certainly wiser and, possibly, better men. It was peculiar to note the universality of southern sympathy among these traders. There was scarcely one among them who didn't think the war “a darned shame;” they were intensely sympathetic and all came from South of the Pennsylvania line. But the supporters, either of their principles, or their trade, were the few lucky negroes who could collect “stamps,” in never so small qualities; and to such the sutlers were a joy forever.

    Shut off entirely from any communication with their retreating troops and mingling so little with their captors, Richmond people got only most startling and unreliable rumors from the army. Clinging, with the tenacity of the drowning, to the least straw of hope, they would not yet give up utterly that army they had looked on so long as invincible — that cause, which was more than life to them! Though they knew the country around was filled with deserters and stragglers; though the Federals had brigades lying round Richmond in perfect idleness-still for a time the rumor gained credit that General Lee had turned on his pursuer, at Amelia Court House, and gained a decisive victory over him. Then came the more positive news that Ewell was cut off with 13,000 men; and, finally, on the 9th of April, Richmond heard that Lee had surrendered. Surely as this result should have been looked forward to-gradually as the popular mind had been led to it-still it came as a blow of terrific suddenness. The people refused to believe it — they said it was a Yankee trick; and when the salute of one hundred guns rang out from forts and shipping, they still said, bitterly, it was a ruse to make them commit themselves.

    Gradually they came to accept the inevitable; and, as the last ray of hope died out, its place was filled with the intense yearning to know the fate of those lost and loved ones — to know if they had died at the bitter ending, or lived to be borne away into captivity. Forgetting pride, hostility-all but their anxiety for those so precious [366] to them now — the women caught at every shred of information; questioned ignorant soldiers eagerly; and listened patiently to the intelligible news the officers were only too willing to give. And at last these rumors assumed tangible form — there was no longer any room to doubt. General Lee, weakened by desertion and breaking down of his men-by General Ewell's capture and by the sense of hopelessness of further resistance, had on the morning of the 9th of April, surrendered 24,000 men-including the volunteer citizens, and the naval brigade of all the Richmond ship's-crews-and with them 8,000 muskets! Such, too, was the condition of the horses that the Federals refused even to drive them away from their stands. Little need, indeed, had there been for those extra brigades around the city.

    Then Richmond, sitting like Rachel in her desolation, waited for the return of her vanquished — heroes still to her. News came of the general parole; and every sound across the river-every cloud of dust at the pontoon bridge — was the signal for a rush to doorstep and porch. Days passed and the women — not realizing the great difficulties of transportation-grew impatient to clasp their loved ones once more to their hearts. False outcries were made every hour, only to result in sickening disappointment and suspense. At last the evening of the third day came and, just at dusk, a single horseman turned slowly into deserted Franklin street.

    Making no effort to urge his jaded beast, travel-stained and weary himself, he let the reins fall from his hands and his head droop upon his chest. It was some time before any one noticed that he wore the beloved gray — that he was Major B., one of the bravest and most staunch of the noble youth Richmond had sent out at the first. Like electricity the knowledge ran from house to house-“Tom B. Has come! The army is coming!”

    Windows, doorsteps and curbstones became alive at the wordseach woman had known him from childhood-had known him joyous, and frank, and ever gay. Each longed to ask for husband, son, or brother; but all held back as they saw the dropped head, and felt his sorrow too deep to be disturbed.

    At last one fair wife, surrounded by her young children, stepped into the road and spoke. The ice was broken. The soldier was surrounded; fair faces quivering with suspense, looked up to his, as [367] soft voices begged for news of--“somebody's darling;” and tender hands even patted the starved beast that had borne the hero home! The broad chest heaved as it would burst, a great sob shook the stalwart frame, and a huge teardrop rolled down the cheek that had never changed color in the hottest flashes of the fight. And then the sturdy soldier-conquering his emotion but with no shame for ittold all he could and lightened many a heavy heart. And up to his own door they walked by his side, bareheaded and in the roadway, and there they left him alone to be folded in the embrace of the mother to whom he still was “glorious in the dust.”

    Next morning a small group of horsemen appeared on the further side of the pontoons. By some strange intuition, it was known that General Lee was among them, and a crowd collected all along the route he would take, silent and bareheaded. There was no excitement, no hurrahing; but, as the great chief passed, a deep, loving murmur, greater than these, rose from the very hearts of the crowd. Taking off his hat and simply bowing his head, the man great in adversity passed silently to his own door; it closed upon him, and his people had seen him for the last time in his battle harness.

    Later others came, by scores and hundreds; many a household was made glad that could not show a crust for dinner; and then for days Franklin street lived again. Once more the beloved gray was everywhere, and once more bright eyes regained a little of their brightness, as they looked upon it.

    Then suddenly the reins were tightened. On the morning of the 14th, the news of Lincoln's murder fell like a thunderclap upon victor and vanquished in Richmond. At first the news was not credited; then an indignant denial swelled up from the universal heart, that it was for southern vengeance, or that southern men could have sympathy in so vile an act. The sword and not the dagger was the weapon the South had proved she could use; and through the length and breadth of the conquered land was a universal condemnation of the deed.

    But the Federal authorities-whether sincere in their belief, or not --made this the pretext for a thorough change of policy in Richmond.

    First came uniform orders, that none of the insignia, or rank marks, of the South should be worn — a measure peculiarly oppressive [368] to men who had but one coat. Then came rules about “congregations of rebels,” and three Confederates could not stand a moment on a corner, without dispersion by a provost-guard.

    Finally came the news of Johnston's surrender — of the last blow to the cause, now lost indeed. Still this fact had been considered a certain one from the date of Lee's surrender; and it bore none of the crushing weight that had made them refuse to believe in the latter. Confident as all were in General Johnston's ability to do all that man might, they still knew his numerical weakness; that he must ere long be crushed between the upper and nether millstones. So this news was received with a sigh, rather than a groan.

    There was a momentary hope that the wise covenant between Generals Johnston and Sherman, as to the basis of the surrender, would be indorsed by the Government; but the result of its refusal and of the final surrender on the 13th--was after all little different from what all had expected. Even the wild and maddened spirits, who refused to accept Lee's cartel, and started to work their way to Johnston, could have had no hope of his final success in their calmer moments.

    But Johnston's surrender did not lift the yoke from Richmond, in any degree. Police regulations of the most annoying character were imposed; the fact of a parole bearing any significance was entirely ignored; no sort of grace was shown to its possessor, unless he took the oath; and many men, caught in Richmond at this time and far from home, were reduced to distress and almost starvation by the refusal of transportation.

    All this the southern people bore with patience. They submitted to all things but two: they would not take the oath and they would not mix socially with their conquerors. In that respect the line was as rigorously drawn in Richmond, at that time, as ever Venice drew it against the Austrian. Not that any attempt was omitted by the Federals to overcome what they called this “prejudice.” There was music in Capitol Square, by the best bands of the army, and the ladies were specially invited by the public prints. Not one went; and the officers listened to their own music in company with numbers of lusty black emancipated, who fully felt themselves women and sisters. Next it was given out that the negroes would not be admitted; but then the officers listened alone, and finally gave it up. Failing in [369] public, every effort-short of rudeness and intrusion, which were never resorted to — was made to effect a social lodgment in private. But no Federal uniform ever crossed a rebel threshold, in those days, save on business. The officers occupied parts of many houses; but they were made to feel that the other part, occupied by the household, was private still.

    Another infliction, harder to bear, was the well-meant intrusion of old friends from the North. Pleasure parties to Richmond were of constant occurrence; and for the time quite eclipsed in popularity, with the Washington idlers, the inevitable pilgrimage to Mt. Vernon. Gaily dressed and gushing over in the merriment of a party of pleasure, these visitors often sought out their ante-bellum friends; and then and there would condone the crime of rebellion to them-sitting in desolation by the ashes of their household gods. It is not hard to understand how bitter was proffered forgiveness, to those who never admitted they could have been wrong; and perhaps the soft answer that turneth away wrath, was not always given to such zealously officious friends.

    There was little bitterness expressed, however much may have fermented in the hearts of the captured; and, as a general thing, the people were grateful for the moderation of the Yankees, and appreciated the good they had done at the fire. But, deeper than any bitterness could have sunk, was that ingrained feeling that there were two peoples that these could never again mingle in former amity, till oil and water might mix. The men especially-and with much apparent reason — were utterly hopeless of the future; and, collecting in knots, they would gloomily discuss the prospect of emigration, as if that were the sole good the future held. There can be little doubt that had the ability been theirs, a large majority of the young men of the South would have gone abroad, to seek their fortunes in new paths and under new skies. Luckily, for their country, the commander at Richmond failed to keep his agreement with the paroled officers; and-after making out rolls of those who would be granted free permission and passage to Canada, England or South Americathose rolls were suddenly annulled and the whole matter given up. Thus a number of useful, invaluable men who have ever since fought the good fight against that outrage — the imposition of negro dominance over her — were saved to the South.

    24 [370]

    And that good fight, begun in the natural law of self-preservation, has eventuated to the interests of a common country. For no one who does not intimately understand the character of the negro-his mental and moral, as well as his physical, constitution-can begin to comprehend the sin committed against him, even more than against the white man, by putting him in the false attitude of equality with, or antagonism to, the latter.

    No one, who did not move among the negroes, immediately after conquest of the South-and who did not see them with experienceopened eyes-can approach realization of the pernicious workings of that futile attempt.

    Writing upon the inner details of the war and its resulting action upon the morale of the southern people, omission can not be made of that large and unfortunate class; driven-first by blind fanaticism, later by fear of their own party-existence-into abnormal condition by the ultra radicals. The negro rapidly changed; “equality” frittered away what good instincts he had and developed all the worst, innate with him. It changed him from a careless and thriftless, but happy and innocent producer, into a mere consumer, at best; often indeed, into a besotted and criminal idler, subsisting in part upon Nature's generosity in supplying cabbage and fish, in part upon the thoughtlessness of his neighbor in supplying chickens and eggs.

    Yet-so powerful is result of habit; on so much foundation of nature is based the Scythian fable — the negroes of the South, immediately succeeding the surrender, used the new greatness thrust upon them with surprising innocence. Laziness, liquor and loud asseverations of freedom and equality were its only blessings claimed; and the commission of overt acts, beyond those named, were rare enough to prove the rule of force of habit. Lured from old service for a time, most of them followed not far the gaudy and shining Will-o‘--the-Wisp; and almost all-especially the household and personal servants-soon returned to “Ole Mas'r” once more, sadder and wiser for the futile chase after freedom's joys. But, even these were partly spoiled and rendered of far less practical use to themselves, or to their employers.

    The “negro question” to-day is made merely a matter of politics, rather than one of political economy. At the date of the Confederacy's death, it is a matter of history. [371]

    Gradually-by very slow degrees-people in Richmond — as elsewhere in the South, further removed from victor's contact-began to grow so far accustomed to the chains imposed upon them, that they seemed less unbearably galling. Little by little-forced by the necessities of themselves and of those still dearer-men went to work at new and strange occupations; doing not what they would, but what they could, in the bitter struggle with want for their daily bread. But, spite of earnest resolve and steady exertion,

    There was little to earn and many to keep-

    and every month it seemed to grow harder and harder to make the bare means of life. And not alone did the men work-hard and steadily, early and late. As the women of the South had been the counsellors, the comforters, the very life of the soldiers when the dark hour was threatened; so they proved themselves worthy helpmeets now that it had come.

    No privation was too great, no work too unaccustomed for them to undergo. Little hands that had never held even a needle until the war, now wrought laboriously at the varied-sometimes even menial --occupations that the hour demanded. And they worked, as they had borne the war — with never a murmur; with ever a cheering word for the fellow-laborer beside them — with a bright trust in the future and that each one's particular “King should have his own again.”

    And here the author's task is ended-albeit far from completed; for so little has been told, where there was so much to tell. But, there was no longer a Rebel Capital, to offer its inside view; and what followed the fall — were it not already a twice-told tale — has no place in these pages. Disjointed sketches, these have perchance told some new, or interesting, facts. Certes, they have omitted many more, well worth the telling, noted during those four unparalleled years; but plainly not compressible, within the limits of one volume.

    Happily, the trials, the strain, the suffering of those years remain with us, but as a memory. That memory is, to the South, a sacred heritage which unreasoning fanaticism may not dim — which Time, himself, shall not efface. To the North that memory should be cleared of prejudice and bitterness, becoming thus a lesson priceless in worth.

    Happily, too, the sober second thought of a common people, [372] aided by the loyalty of the South--to herself and to her plighted faith --has changed into recemented union of pride and of interest, that outlook from the crumbled gates of Richmond, which made her people groan in their hearts: Solitudinem faciunt appellantque pacem!


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