War Papers

Joel C. Baker, First Lieutanant, 9th Vermont Infantry, U.S. Volunteers
Paper Presented to the Vermont Commandery
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
Read September 13, 1892

Transcribed by Douglas R. Niermeyer, Commander-in-Chief
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
(August 2005)

The month of March 1865, was a season of stirring activity in military circles in and around the Confederate Capitol. During the winter just passed, the Army of the Potomac, commanded by the indefatigable and veteran Meade, and numbering 69,751 effective men, was coiled in heavy folds about the easterly and southeasterly fronts of Petersburg, with the bulk of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia in close contact upon its interior lines. The Army of the James having present for duty, fully equipped, 27,701 officers and men, with the finished soldier, Maj. General Edward O. C. Ord at its head, stretched northerly from the James river, until its, lines included a view of the spires and steeples of Richmond, and scarcely five miles of Virginia's sacred soil lay between the picket lines of the Twenty-fourth corps and the historical capitol of the old dominion, in which the rebel Congress made its laws and turned out for issue to a deluded people its bonds and currency, which a few days' active work reduced from the dignity of a nation's money to a mass of paper curiosities that would not sell for thirty cents a bushel in any part of the world. On the inner circles of these lines lay the veteran divisions of Longstreet, G. W. C. Lee and Ewell. Sheridan's cavalry bearing upon its returns the names of 13,595 invincible horsemen, was rapidly approaching from the valley, and welding into a compact body these three grand armies. Gen. Grant had in hand for his final struggle 111,047 of the best and most effective troops that ever met an enemy or stole a chicken. The field returns of the Army of Northern Virginia, dated February 20, 1865, showed an aggregate present and absent of 160,411 men, but with an effective present for duty of only 57,094.

As auxiliary to the army of Grant, though not within supporting distance, was a magnificent body of travellers, commanded by one Sherman, who were leisurely advancing through the Carolinas towards the doomed cities invested by the Armies of the Potomac and the James. Gen. Sherman gives the number of his troops as 88,948, with ninety-one pieces of cannon. Sherman was relied upon to prevent reinforcements being sent from Joe Johnson to Lee, but further than that, his part in the immediate work in hand was in the nature of moral support rather than participation.

On the 24th day of March Gen. Grant issued his orders for the movements that were destined to capture Richmond, Peters-burg and the confederate Army of Northern Virginia. At first the order left the 6thand 9thcorps in the trenches in front of Petersburg, but all of the Army of the Potomac except the 9th corps, was to be considered as under marching orders. Gen. Ord with two divisions of the 24th corps and one division of the 25th from the Army of the James was to join the moving column, while Weitzel was to command the balance of the Army of the James north of the river and on the Bermuda front. The cavalry with the Army of the Potomac under Crook, and all the cavalry of the Army of the James commanded by Kantz, were ordered to join Sheridan. When the force was mobilized it was found in round numbers that Meade would move with 60,000; Ord with 17,000, and Sheridan with over 12,000, being in all about 90,000.

The orders of Gen. Grant set forth the objects of the campaign, and at the same time contained a blind, that might be used in case of disaster to modify public clamor, and, as the saying is, let the army down easy. On the 29th inst., says the order, the armies operating against Richmond, will be moved by our left, for the double purpose of turning the enemy out of his present position around Petersburg, and to ensure the success of the cavalry under General Sheridan in its efforts to reach and destroy the Southside and Danville railroads. On the night of the 27th, Ord was to proceed to the left of the Army of the Potomac, and relieve the old Second corps, then commanded by Humphrey. When the army moved on the morning of the 29th, Warren and Humphrey were to move across Hatcher's Ran, and at the same time Sheridan advancing by the Weldon and Jerusalem plank roads, far enough to clear the infantry was then to turn north and west against the right and rear of the enemy. The Sixth corps was ordered to remain in the trenches between Ord and Parke waiting, like Lord Micawber, for something to turn up.

The troops were to have four days' rations in haversacks, and eight in wagons. Sixty rounds of ammunition were distributed, and six or eight guns were allowed to a division at the option of army commanders. This paucity of artillery was caused by the nature of the country and the state of the roads. The forces of Parke and Wright were to be massed and ready to attack, in case the lines in front were weakened, and Weitzel was instructed to keep vigilant watch and break through at any point where it might prove at all practicable. A success north of the James, said Grant, should be followed with great promptness. An attack, however, said he, will not be feasible unless it is found that the enemy has detached largely. In that case it may be regarded as evidence that the enemy are relying upon their local reserves for the defence of Richmond.

By these instructions, continues the official programme, a large part of the armies operating against Richmond is left behind as. The enemy knowing this, may as his only chance, strip his line to the merest skeleton, in the hope of advantage not being taken of it, whilst they hurl everything against the moving column and return. It cannot be impressed too strongly upon the commanders left in the trenches, not to allow this to occur without taking advantage of it. The fact of the enemy coming out to attack, if he does so, may be regarded as almost conclusive evidence of such a weakening of his lines. I would have it particularly enjoined upon corps commanders that, in case of an attack from the enemy, those not attacked are not to wait for orders from the commanding officer of the army to which they belong, but they will move promptly, and notify the commander of their action. I would also enjoin the same action on the part of division commanders when other parts of the corps are engaged. In like manner I would urge the importance of following up a repulse of the enemy.

I have thus paraphrased this order of Grant preparatory to the final struggle for two purposes. First, it throws light upon what was afterwards done to bring about the Fall of Richmond, as all the movements were in general as directed in the order, and second, to call attention to the persistence of the Lieutenant-General in carrying out his plan fully matured when he plunged into the Wilderness eleven months before. It was to be a campaign by the left flank still, and if Lee lengthened his right to corresponds Grant saw that he must let go of Richmond and Petersburg, or break in two somewhere. He went in to take advantage of any contingency, and he trusted corps and even division commanders with the discretion, yea, more, he gave them orders to take every advantage of a weakened line, or a mistake in strategy.

Gen. Lee was an astute and farsighted general. He wanted to know the purposes of his adversary, and he saw ominous movements that were mysterious and filled him with forebodings, and he started a scheme similar to the one that drove McClellan from the peninsula in 1862. This scheme was commenced by an attack upon Fort Steadman at half past four o'clock on the morning of March 25th. This attack was successful, and a long line of our works were taken, and many prisoners fell into the hands of the enemy. The gallant commander of the Ninth corps was on the alert, and before the Confederate skirmish line could reach the military railroad connecting Meade's headquarters with City Point, Parke had brought up his division and soon hurlrf the men of Gordon's corps, and Bushrod Johnson's command back and regained all our captured works. Neither Meade nor Grant knew of the attack until Steadman had been retaken. The enemy held an important part of our line for a few hours, but paid as a penalty besides his killed and wounded, a loss Of nineteen hundred and forty-nine prisoners captured by Hartranft when he advanced to take the fort, The enemy were permitted under flag of trace to carry away their dead and wounded. This attack was the first and only unprovoked assault made by Lee after the battle of Spottsylvania.

I said that the order of the commander-in-chief was in part a blind. That this was so, we have the authority of Grant, of Sheridan and of Gen. Horace Porter. The instructions contained a clause which in certain contingencies ordered Sheridan to proceed south along the Danville railroad, and cooperate with Sherman in Joe Johnson's rear. Sheridan was not pleased with that feature, and Grant followed him out and said to him that it was a blind, so that if he did not meet with entire success, the people of the north who were restless and apt to become discouraged, might not look upon a temporary check as an entire defeat of a definite plan.

Those of you who were with the Army of the Potomac when the time came for the movement to commence, doubtless remember the condition of things. It had rained in torrents all night, and continued without interruption to pour all day. Swamps filled up and overflowed. Whole fields became beds of quicksand. Horses and wagons were stalled, and one soldier said if he should be asked in his old age if he had been through Virginia, he could answer: "Yes, in a number of places." Inquiries were made as to when the gunboats were coming up, and in irreverent bummer asked the telegraph operator to inform the government that Grant must be recalled, and Noah be sent to save the army.

The state of the weather and deplorable condition of the roads were most discouraging. The officers generally, in command of corps and divisions, felt that it was no use to undertake offensive operations, but Sheridan was vehement in his opinion that it was just the time to begin smashing things, and Grant agreed with him. It is not my province to give the details at Five Forks, or the splendid work of the Army of the Potomac in breaking, the lines around Petersburg. Every corps of that army covered itself with imperishable honor, and all the fighting and bloodshed in the capture of Richmond was south of Petersburg, but I know nothing about it except the published record and the story of the participants, and that would be hear-say, and would be excluded if I should undertake to testify to it.

I will therefore only say that at 4:45, in the morning of Sunday, April 2, 1865, the thunder of an hundred guns bearing on the works around Petersburg shook the earth like an earthquake. Thirty minutes later the old Sixth corps went through the rebel works, and were pushing the fleeing rebels to the right and left before their victorious columns. Only a few moments were needed to carry the Ninth corps over the outer rebel lines and place itself alongside of Wright's legions. Next our brothers of the Army of the James broke through the entrenchments in their front, and Humphrey led the old Second corps on a gallant charge that routed all armed men who opposed his impetuous advance. At twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock that morning, Grant wrote his dispatch to President Lincoln, announcing his victory, followed by one later inviting the President to pay headquarters a visit in Petersburg. It was only an hour or two after Grant announced his victory to President Lincoln, that Gen. Lee sent to Jefferson Davis, the dispatch that told that the end had come. Davis was in church, and he at once left the house of prayer to prepare for flight.

The foregoing is a brief and mild recital of the stirring events that culminated in the capture of Petersburg and its entrenchments, and led to its necessary sequel, The Fall of Richmond. It was my duty that Sunday morning to go to the picket line directly in front of Fort Gilmer for a tour of picket service. My detachment covered about half a mile of front, and was made up principally of men from the 12th New Hampshire and my own regiment. The rest of the picket line of the 3rd division of the 24th corps stretched from our right to the extreme right of our picket line on the Richmond front. The officers of the 9th Vermont with the picket in order of rank, were Capt. Abel E. Leavenworth, myself and Lieut. Burnham Cowdry. Our line lay between the Varina and the New Market roads into, Richmond. The rebel picket line was but a few rods from us, and the main line, and a very strong one, was within easy rifle range. Fort Johnson with its threatening guns frowned upon the negroes of the 25th corps, and Gilmer faced our position and Laurel Hill farther to the right of our line was so manifestly the key to the rebel line that it seemed to invite an assault. Heavy earth works connected these forts, and outside of their whole line were strong lines of chevaux de frise, with one of abbatis about fifteen feet inside, and torpedoes planted thickly between the two. The day was a perfect spring day. The soft balmy air seemed to give life to animal and vegetable existence. The trees were vocal with bird songs, and the springing grass and leaves inspired us with hope and life and spirits. I remember well that my senior officer on the outpost spent his hour between his detail and guard mounting in sowing oats about his quarters, and left his crop for others to harvest as he never went back from that guard mount to the place where his tent stood. We marched out that morning to relieve the men who had preceded as for twenty-four hours with expectations that before we returned, great events would transpire near us. More than half the force in front of Richmond had gone to the south side a week before. The camp of our cavalry brigade was silent, and we had been under marching orders for days. Not a cloud floated in the clear sky except that in the south there appeared to rise a white, smoky cloud that everybody guessed was made by burning gun powder. Occasionally the booming of a gun would come across the space between us and the position of our friends beyond Petersburg. We supposed a battle was in progress, and strained our eyes and ears for every indication upon which to build a theory of the progress being made, where the struggle was most desperate. I stood most all day near the remaining chimney of a burned dwelling house and watched what could be seen, and it was mighty little I could see or find out in that way. The Johnnies on their picket line near us, paced their beats or stood at their posts in silence. There was no good natured banter or propositions to, trade coffee for tobacco that day, and when I offered half a dollar for a Richmond newspaper, I got only a shake of the bead in reply. Soon after noon the activity took a new direction, bushes were brought by the enemy from their rear and built up the parapet of Fort Johnson until we could not see anything beyond, and this was extended for some distance along the curtain towards Gilmer. Wagons tumbled all day, and we could catch glimpses of marching infantry beyond the works. At four P. M. an engineer officer from Weitzel's staff came to the picket line with the vague news that Grant had won the fight, and we must attack at daylight the next morning. He staked out a small earthwork, and said that after dark he should send out half a thousand negroes to throw up the work, and ordered me to show his stakes to the officer in charge. No one ever came to shovel dirt in that place to my knowledge.

When the night came on, the ominous silence of our opposing pickets became more oppressive. No fires were built, and absolute stillness reigned. The night was absolutely black, not a ray of light was visible, not even a lightning bug gave us his cheerful presence. No match was scratched to ignite cigar or pipe. An occasional staff officer visited us, and the officer of the day stood with us on the most advanced ground covered by a vidette. The weary hours passed, not a man was sleepy at all. Troops marched behind us, and we sent to ascertain the cause and found a brigade massing to charge Laurel Hill at daylight. At two o'clock we heard the first move, near us in the front, and a whispered voice said: "Billy, where are you?" And we exchanged whispered salutations with the first deserter from the rebel army that had come to us that night. He was a bright young man, and said when safely behind our reserve that the jig was up. We questioned him for news, only to find that he had no positive knowledge. He only knew that at midnight the picket line was withdrawn and the men ordered to proceed as silently as possible to their several commands, and he added : "I am a Virginian, and shall not go further south. When the government abandons Virginia it abandons me." We sent the man in to the Division Provost Marshal. As I reached my post again with the advanced vidette, there shot up from Fort John-son, a round, solid column of fire. Apparently it was the size of a tar barrel, and brightly illumined the heavens, and threw into the surrounding darkness a brilliant illumination that tendered every object distinct and vivid. For four or five minutes this signal light burned brightly, and went out almost as suddenly as it appeared. Instantaneously all was bustle and confusion inside the rebel works. Lights were plenty, and we could see that every tent that we could see at all was illumined. Teams and artillery moved briskly towards the river and for an hour all was hurry and confusion in what proved to be the retreat of the whole force. At four o'clock we received orders to take possession of the rebel picket line as soon as we could see where it was, and as the streaks of gray appeared in the east and cast their shadows upon the earth, dispelling enough of the darkness so that we could discern the lay of the land, we advanced forward to the line where rebel watchers had paced when we last saw it. Only six men remained of the two hundred we had seen there the day before, and I never saw a more bewildered set of fellows than these six Rebs. They did not seem to know anything, and to care for little except to get a place of safety. We asked them questions, but they would give us no information, and answered with "We uns don't know," to all inquiries. Selecting the one who looked the best, Col. Bamberger, 5th Maryland, the officer of the day, ordered him to show as the way inside the works. He protested that he should be shot if he did so, but we soon convinced him that he would be shot if he didn't, and he com-promised by pointing out the path upon condition that he should be sent to the rear as a prisoner of war as soon as the first gun was fired against us. Our new guide seemed to suddenly remember something, and cautioned us not to get over the chevaux de frise, as the ground was full of torpedoes there. He showed us the path upon which the pickets came out, and that torpedoes were planted beside it, leaving a clear space of only three feet. We advanced to the chevaux de frise and halted, then faced the line on the left of the path by the right flank and marched in single file through the course pointed out, and around the end of a parapet and by Fort Gilmer, and deployed in the rear of the rebel works. The other part of the line was brought through and deployed and Fort Gilmer was captured with the loss of one life, and not a man was found, in it or near it. One man on the right of our detail, a Maryland soldier, did not halt with the line, but placing his hand on a spike of the chevaux de frise, he vaulted clear over it and struck square upon a torpedo and was instantly killed.

As soon as the line was formed and it had been ascertained that the whole line was abandoned, our line was advanced as skirmishers toward the river, and wheeled to the right and proceeded rapidly towards Richmond. The men were all enthusiasm, and the officers behind the line of skirmishers shook hands with each other as often as presidential candidates are expected to greet the freemen who are to vote for electors at an approaching election. At the junction of the Osborn turnpike and New Market road, about two and one-half miles outside of Richmond, the skirmish line was rallied and pushed forward as rapidly as possible. The next mile was a neck and neck race between our detachment and a portion of Draper's brigade of colored troops. This race taxed the endurance of both sides, but Anglo-Saxon muscles washed by Caucasian blood proved superior to the hardened and abused blacks who had been born in slavery and nurtured under a system that dwarfed the inferior physical build of the African. There would have been a poetic justice to send as the captors of the proud and aristocratic rebel capitol, the despised negro soldiers, clad in the garb of the national army, carrying aloft in dignified power the flag of our nation's authority and greatness, but it was not an hour when men reasoned upon sentiment, and the best men won the race. The mayor and officials of the city came out two miles and made surrender to a staff officer. As the head of the running column approached the river, the rebel gunboat, Jamestown blew up, and threw pieces of the boat beyond the road where we were approaching. At Rockets Gen. Weitzel and part of his staff galloped past us and entered the city, and we followed closely behind the horses. Nearly one-third of the city was burning, and there was a roar of exploding shells in the arsenals that sounded like a battle in front of up. We found the streets packed with the colored people, all jubilant with enthusiastic fervor. Many were kneeling, all were shouting thanks and hallelujahs. It was with difficulty that we could prevent being embraced by the joyful blacks of both sexes. Small Union flags appeared from hidden receptacles. By dint of hard work we pressed through the throng, and marched as rapidly as we could to the house of Jefferson Davis, where we remained for a fall half hour the sole representatives of the Union army, except about forty men from the headquarters guard of Gen. Weitzel and a few staff officers. At the end of that time martial music reached our ears, and upon going to the capitol we saw filing up the streets, the first brigade of the third division of the 24th corps, led by Brevet Brig. Gen. Edward H. Ripley, its commander. The bands were playing patriotic airs, and the march was in a quick step, with every officer and soldier in place, arms at right shoulder. The regimental flags fluttered in the morning air, the movements were executed with precision, and the triumphal entry of the Union army into the treason stained city that for nearly four years had been the capitol of the confederacy, and the home of its executive, legislative and military power, was complete. The scene was an imposing one. The terrific explosion of ordnance stores, the rush and crackle of thousands of burning buildings, made the scene tumultuous and exciting. Tens of thousands of freedmen and women were upon the miles of streets and wherever, the heat would allow them to be, were shooting praises to God, and singing the songs of thankfulness that the full benefits of emancipation were brought to them by the blue coated soldiers of the government. They had waited four full years for this day, and loyalty and religious fervor was manifested by words and acts of frenzy. In the midst of all this the leading brigade marched as steadily as if on parade. As the head of the column reached the eastern gate of the capitol square, it was halted and its commander, Gen. Ripley, passed to the porch of the capitol, and reported to General Weitzel, and received his orders as commandant of the captured city, with no directions except to stop the conflagration and save the city if within the bounds of human possibility.

Having pursued this narrative so far as to have got the Union army in full possession and command, perhaps I should pause here, but there are a few incidents that came under my observation that I wish to refer to as well as to indulge in a few general remarks.

When our detachment arrived at the Jeff Davis homestead, we found it unoccupied and every room in confusion. The rebel chieftain left rather hurriedly but little over twelve hours before we made our morning call. We did not expect to see him that morning, but we thought he might have left a servant to allow us the family silver and linen. He had forgotten that little courtesy, and callers prior to as had left but little movable property. There was a flag staff in the yard west of the house, and lying at its foot, attached to its cords, was a nearly new Confederate battle flag. I took a man with me and cut the ropes and brought away the flag. As I came out through the gate with the flag Col. Bamberger, who had not been relieved as division officer of the day, rode up, and at his command I tacked a corner of the flag under his saddle girth, arid he galloped about the city until the troops came in, with that flag trailing in the dirt. Col. Bamberger presented a unique figure that morning. He had been a tall athletic man, but early in the war was shot through the lungs, and when he could again take the field he was doubled tip so that in sitting upon his horse, his face was within ten inches of the mane of the animal; his back projecting upward more than a foot above any part of his head; and with a broad red sash over his shoulder, and Jeff. Davis' flag trailing from his saddle girth, he typified the battered and decimated military power of the nation triumphantly humbling, arrogant, proud hearted arid murderous secession. After an hour or two, Col. Bamberger returned to me the flag and I brought it home with me. A few years after it was loaned to a companion of this commandery. I hope he still has it and at some future time will present it to the Loyal Legion of this State, to be suitably labeled to indicate where it came from, and be kept at our headquarters.

About ten o'clock that morning as I was passing along a street outside the burning district, a white haired old gentleman with an intelligent face and cultured voice, called to me from the window of a house. He said he desired to learn the wishes of the Federal authorities in regard to citizens, and upon my suggestion that so far as practicable they had better stay in their houses, be replied that such course would doubtless be best. He then asked if I knew Daniel E. Sickles, and upon my reply that I never had a personal acquaintance with Gen. Sickles, but knew him by reputation, he introduced himself as Mr. Radcliffe, and said he was one of the leading counsel for Gen. Sickles before the war, when he was tried for the murder of Philip Barton Key. That trial took place during the last half of Buchanan's administration. Robert Ould, the rebel Commissioner for exchange of prisoners, was district attorney, while the leader for the defence was Edwin M. Stanton, assisted by Radcliffe, James T. Brady, Thomas F. Meagher and others. I talked a few moments with the old gentleman, and as I was leaving he gave me an urgent invitation to dinner, which I accepted conditionally. When the dinner hour arrived I was still on duty in that locality, and I went to Mr. Radcliffe's house and took dinner with him. The table was set with costly china, much of it cracked or broken, coarse white spreads covered the table, and the dinner consisted of bacon, a biscuit made from flour and wood ashes and some acid. and an inferior syrup. That was all. The family consisted of Mr. Radcliffe and three females of uncertain age, each of them most uncompromising rebels. It was evident that to them my presence was not agreeable, and I eat but little, as army rations were quite sumptuous in comparison; but before I left Mr. Radcliffe gave me a very careful narrative of the condition of affairs in Richmond during the last few weeks. The wonder to me was, that the people of that city did not work out their own deliverance long before that time.

The first duty of the troops assigned as garrison was to fight fire. It took but a few moments to get the men at work, and before the sun passed below the horizon the conflagration was stayed, and though the city and surrounding country were filled by the rising smoke for days, the fire was confined to the space where Ripley's brigade had stopped its progress. There has been a great deal written about the source and cause of this conflagration. To us, at the time, it appeared a most ruthless barbarity of the rebel authorities, and I have no reason to change my mind. There is nothing in history more brutal than this attempt to burn the city of Richmond, filled to overflowing with the defenseless women and children of the southern official life. Thousands of the most refined of southern ladies front all parts of that land of chivalry were congregated in the capitol city, with no possibility for escape, and no protectors except excited negroes, until the arrival of the hated invader whose victorious arms bad broken the military power of the rebellion. Under such circumstances, with full knowledge that the destruction of the city would not stay for a moment the downfall of the lost cause, and would injure no one except its own people, the rebel leader deliberately ordered the government warehouses, situated in the thickly settled part of the town, to be fired, and also that the live bridges across the river should be destroyed by fire so far as possible.

In the midst of the bright and dazzling light made by the flames, and breaking the rising smoke, stood Libby prison unscathed and untouched by fire. Its black walls and roof remained when the fire was over, the only building standing in the midst of acres of smouldering rains. Of course the first thing thought of was to release the prisoners in Libby, but we did not get there quick enough, as they had already released themselves. The old prison with its sacred memories of suffering and sorrow was put to its first use in our hands as a place of confinement for rebel stragglers; but it became totally inadequate for that pur-pose as the list lengthened to over seven thousand, and it soon degenerated into one of the curiosities of the rebellion, and stood as a black mark on the pages of our history, until the enterprise of the showman moved it bodily to other scenes where it call be kept and looked upon for a consideration paid to the owner. I do not understand that any of its former occupants desire a reurn to its savory walls, and but few would pay anything to see its materials away from the atmosphere where they suffered and cursed out the days of their confinement. The sacred recollections of Libby include as essential features, the brutal guard, the mouldy and maggoty bread, the smell of tainted meat, and the active insect life that made nerves a nuisance and life a border. Without the incidents of prison life, and the visible comradeship of emaciated, starving men, the old tobacco shed is devoid of interest, and might as well have fed the flames of the 3rd of April 1865, as to have withstood them while nobler and better structures were destroyed.

Perhaps no more vivid account has been given of the scenes in Richmond before our arrival, than that of Capt. Clement Sulivane, C. S. A., and I quote a paragraph:

"By daylight on the 3rd, a mob of men, women and children, to the number of several thousand, had gathered at the corner of 14th and Cary streets and other outlets, in front of the bridge, attracted by the vast commissary depot at that point; for it must be remembered that in 1865 Richmond was a half starved city, and the Confederate Government had that morning removed its guards, and abandoned the removal of the provisions, which was impossible for the want of transportation. The depot doors were forced open and a demoniacal struggle for the countless barrels of hams, bacon, whiskey, flour, sugar, coffee, etc., etc., raged about the buildings among the hungry mob. The gutters ran whiskey, and it was lapped as it flowed down the streets, while all fought for a share of the plunder."

There was a great deal of the manifestation which accompanies hunger among the people, after we got there. It was by no means confined to the poor. Ladies dressed in elaborate toilets begged for food, and would accept a hard cracker with eagerness. The city had been given over to plunder and negroes, and white women and children were staggering in all directions under loads of food, furniture and substantial property. One of the first orders issued by Gen. Patrick as Provost Marshal, was to post a guard on each street corner and stop the carrying of plunder through the streets by persons who could not give a good account of how they came by it. I undertook to execute that order on a few corners near the Davis house, but before I got a guard of twenty men posted, the first of them had accumulated a wagon load of property. In thirty minutes my men had as many fall loads for army wagons of truck, varying in kind and value, from a grand piano to a package of tobacco pipes. I appealed to Gen. Patrick for relief, and after hearing my story, he coolly said: "Change your guard to the opposite corner." This I did, and the piles disappeared fully as fast as they had been gathered. At one place a full barrel of apple jack and an old two-bladed axe were among the trophies; as I changed the guard I struck that axe against the head of the barrel, and the fiery liquid ran down the gutters. Immediately thereafter there appeared a motley crowd of boys, white, black and mixed, who with cups and basins and their bands, sought to save and pour into their open months the mixture of apple jack and dirt that was running away in that paved gutter. Orders to go away were unheeded and apparently unheard, and I drew my saber and sailed in. I hit but one or two before the glitter was clear within my reach, but outside the length of my arm the work of absorbing liquid went on, and as I advanced the youngsters avoided me and fell in behind me until there were no signs of liquor, left except the smell. That experience convinced me that Virginia was not a prohibitory State, and that apple jack was a beverage that could not be destroyed by turning into the gutters of the city.

As night approached I began to think it was time to find my regiment, and marched such men as I could find back out of the city, and after many inquiries and a long march, I found the Second brigade of Deven's division, and took the first place vacant in which to take a nap. The last forty hours bad been full of excitement, of endurance, of continuous work, but when compared with the struggles on the other side of the river which made our entry into Richmond possible, was a safe and peaceful trip to a city where we were not welcome, but where our presence was endured as an evil that could not be avoided.

The fall of Richmond was the downfall of the rebellion. Whatever resistance might take place after that was the hopeless struggle of desperate men. The city was captured by the strategy of the great commander, who pounded the rebel armies into pieces miles away and forced the flight of the Confederate government in all its departments, and our part in the struggle was comprehended in Grant's orders, which required Weitzel to follow up victory on the north side, and force the enemy if the lines should be weakened. The work on the south side was well done; the weakening of the lines was a precipitate withdrawal, and we followed up the victory and seized the prize that for four years had defied us. On to Richmond was no longer the cry of the press, and six days of racing and fighting culminated in the surrender of Lee, and the end of the war between the sections of our reunited country.


Baker, J.C. 1892. THE FALL OF RICHMOND. Paper Presented to the Vermont Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Read September 13, 1892, Published by the Commandery, Volume 1, 16p.

Copyright © 2005 Douglas Niermeyer, Missouri Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

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