The Fall Of Richmond
[From the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, February 3, 1902.]
Graphic Description of Events of Evacuation-Day.
SURPRISE AND CONSTERNATION.
Faith In Lee and His Men so Great That Both Citizens and Officials Were Unprepared for Abandonment of City--From Gay to Grave--Boys and Their Plunder--Searching for "Bev." Tucker--Personal Recollections of General Meade.
The following personal reminiscences of the evacuation of Richmond are contributed to the Dispatch's Confederate Column by Rev. Dallas Tucker, now of Bedford City:
In this article I do not propose to describe any of the military operations which led up to the evacuation of Richmond, nor, of course, what occurred in connection with it in official circles. Of these, I was then too young a lad to know really anything, and I am not now sufficiently informed or competent to write on these subjects. What I shall record here will be, as the title indicates, reminiscences of things which came under my personal observation, and in which, as a youngster, I took part. Years, indeed, have passed since these things occurred, but the tremendous impression they made upon me has never been effaced, and is to-day as fresh in my mind as though they were of yesterday.
As I recall that period, nothing seems more remarkable to me than the absolute surprise the fall of Richmond caused in Richmond itself. Whether or not it was anticipated by the government, I do not know; but there can be no doubt that outside of official circles--that is, to almost every one in the city--the announcement came with the unexpectedness and surprise of an earthquake. My father, who, at the commencement of the struggle, entered the Confederate army as a surgeon, was at the time in charge of or connected with the medical department of Libby Prison, and, from both his official position and social standing, had more than usual opportunity for observing and knowing the trend of events. But I am sure neither he nor one of his associates who lived with us had the least idea that the end, if near, was at all so imminent as it proved to be. Among the people generally I do not think it was seriously thought of, certainly, boys like myself did not do so. The fact is, though several times threatened by raiders, and although we had often heard the cry, "The Yankees are coming," yet, Richmond had come to be regarded, through its long practical siege, as an impregnable Gibraltar, and the army defending it as invincible as a Grecian phalanx. Time and again "Uncle Bob," as the soldiers lovingly and familiarly called General Lee, had hurled back the advancing forces of the Federal army, and it was felt that as long as Lee stood for the defence of Richmond, Richmond was safe. I remember, indeed, that as a boy I felt some anxiety when the conqueror of Vicksburg was placed in command of the Army of the Potomac; but it never seriously occurred to me, or to any one else, that Lee could not successfully cope with General Grant, and this conviction grew steadily stronger as the former defeated the latter in battle after battle, from the Wilderness to the Crater before Petersburg. On the other hand, the people little realized with what an ever-increasing superior force General Lee had to contend, how attenuated his lengthened line of defence had become, and how decimated and nearly starved his army was. But however explained, the fact remains--I am sure it was a fact among my playmates--that as late as Sunday morning, April 3, 1865--the fatal day--there was hardly a thought among the people that such a thing as the evacuation of the city was either near or probable. Final success was expected. Confidence prevailed. A sense of security remained, except, as may have been the case, in high official circles. Mr. Davis, of course, must have known much of which I and 10,000 like me were absolutely ignorant; but even Mr. Davis was in church on that eventful day, seemingly as placid and confident as others, and certainly as attentive to the services as any one present. As there was nothing, so far at least as the people generally knew, in either the political or military condition of things to betoken the approaching collapse, neither did external nature suggest--supposing it to have such power--anything of the kind. There were no physical portends for superstition to feed on. On the contrary, the day was as perfect a day as Richmond had ever seen; the budding trees, the flowers of spring, the balmy atmosphere, the clear sky, bright sunlight, all combining to make it a spring-day of unsurpassed loveliness. Then, too, it was Sunday; and this, strange as it may seem, added somewhat to its quiet, sweet brightness. Richmond had enough during those four years to make it sad, and there were, indeed, many mourners and much sorrow.
But in the midst of all this there was, as I recollect, much gayety also. This was not merely rejoicing over a victory which seemed to bring final success nearer, but that social gayety which nature demands, and in which, it would seem, a people must indulge, even when otherwise heavily oppressed. Thus it was that crowds promenaded on the Capitol Square, afternoon after afternoon, to music furnished by the government or city, walking, talking, and laughing. In house after house the young people met at what were called "starvation parties" to enjoy "the feast of reason and the flow of soul," to dance and make merry, and to do, indeed, everything usual on such occasions, except eat. Food was the severest problem in those days. Richmond laughed while it cried, and sang while it endured, and suffered and bled. With all the suffering in and around it, Richmond was yet not a sad place during the war. And of all days, taking it as a whole, there was none during which, in at least some respects, life assumed a more stirring and animated appearance than on Sunday. On this day the streets, especially in the resident portion of the city, were thronged with people, variously dressed, but all dressed in their best, going to some church, for Richmond was then, and still is, for aught I know, a great church-going place. Among these churches to which, perhaps, an unusually large crowd might have been seen going on Sunday. April 3, 1865, none was more popular and has become so historically interesting as St. Paul's. Architecturally, this church always seemed to me a rather strange combination of the Greek temple surmounted by a tall, graceful spire. But, nevertheless, it is a noble, dignified building, at the corner of Ninth and Grace streets, near the main gate of the Capitol Square, and within almost a stone's throw of the Washington monument. Its rector then, and for years before and after, was Rev. Charles Minnigerode, a German by birth, who had come to this country in consequence of some revolutionary complications in the Fatherland. He was a small man, striking in personal appearance, of great learning, earnest religious faith, strongly southern in his patriotism, eloquent in the use of the English language, which, however, he spoke with a slight German accent. If it be said this church was the fashionable one of the city, nothing more is intended than that a large percentage of the wealth, the refinement, the culture of Richmond was found among its members. Moreover, officialism for the most part found its religious home in this church. Here General Lee worshipped when in the city, and here also Mr. Davis and his family were seen Sunday after Sunday, and many others whose names stood high in both the legislative and executive departments of the Confederate Government.
In this church, it was my privilege to be brought up, and its dear old rector was my father in the faith, as ever Paul was such to Timothy. With boys of that day--certainly with me--it was as customary to go to church on Sunday as it was to go to school during the week, and this memorable Sunday found me in my proper place, and yet, by a strange accident, not exactly in my place either. Our family pew was No. 15, and here along with the family I usually sat, but on this particular Sunday, for some reason I cannot now recall, I was allowed to go up into the gallery, which I well remember to have considered a great privilege and liberty. The church on that day was thronged as usual, and my seat on the front row of pews was on exact line with the President's pew down stairs, so that I not only saw him, but had a full view of the congregation except that portion immediately beneath me. It was inspiring to look down on that throng of beautiful women and fine-looking men assembled to worship Almighty God. But this was as nothing compared to the scene destined to take place then and there. For it was here that Mr. Davis was notified that General Lee's lines had been broken, and Richmond would have to be abandoned. How can I describe how this was done, and the wild, terrific scene which followed. The morning service proper had been concluded, and Dr. Minnigerode was delivering one of his stirring and fervid communion addresses (for the communion was to follow), when the sexton of the church was seen to walk up the aisle. He was a large, pompous, swaggering kind of a fellow, whose Sunday costume at the time was a faded blue suit with brass buttons and a shirt with waving ruffles at the bosom and wrists. His supreme delight, aside from keeping us boys in order, was seemingly to walk up the aisle with a message for some one. On this occasion his manner was in perfect keeping with his usual consequential air, only it was more so, for this time he was the bearer of a message to the President of the Southern Confederacy. Gently and respectfully touching Mr. Davis on the shoulder, he handed him something, whereupon the latter immediately arose and left the church. I have often thought since then that moment must have been the most trying one in Mr. Davis's remarkable career. Yet, whatever his feelings, and they must have been excruciating, his self-control was perfect, and he withdrew from the sacred edifice with a quiet grace and dignity that was not only superb, but well calculated to disarm suspicion and allay excitement. I can see now his lithe, erect, stately figure as it disappeared down the aisle, and I shall never forget it, for it was the last time I ever saw him. His withdrawal was so quiet that the service was in no wise interrupted, and I believe it would have been concluded in the usual way but for what followed. Hardly had Mr. Davis disappeared than the sexton came in again and spoke to General Joseph R. Anderson, who at once went out. This made people look up and shoot inquiring glances at each other. Then the sexton came again, and the excitement became manifest. But when the sexton appeared the fourth time, all restraint of place and occasion yielded, and the vast congregation rose en masse and rushed towards the doors. I sat still for a moment, wondering and withal listening to the preacher's earnest appeal to the people to remember where they were and be still. Good Dr. Minnigerode, he might just as well have tried to turn back the waters of Niagara Falls. Something had happened; and the congregation knew it without being told, and nothing could have kept the people in the church. At any rate nothing did, and I went along with the crowd, excited and alarmed. If the scene in the church was all excitement, outside the vast crowd that thronged the spacious church porch and the pavement beyond was standing for the most part in dumb, bewildered silence. I shall never forget the first thing which met my eyes as I gained the open street. Just across the street in a large house there were a number of government offices, and before these, in the middle of the street, were several piles of government documents burning their way to destruction. I think these burning papers were the first intelligent intimation the people had of what was occurring. They told me, as they told others, and it was pathetic to see that crowd melt away, too full of forebodings and anguish to express the surprise and despair which possessed every mind.
I have no recollection how the rest of that Sunday was spent, but I do remember that before it closed there was a widespread impression that the rumors and fears of the early morning were false. When my father's friend, Dr. Harrison, carne home that night, he told us it was a false alarm; that there had been a crisis, but it was safely passed. It may seem strange, but such was our unwillingness to believe the worst, and such our confidence in Lee and his army, that in the absence of any official announcement we all went to bed that night feeling little or no concern. I do not know how many others in the city did this, but we did, and, what is more, we slept the sleep of the just until suddenly awakened in the early hours of Monday morning by a tremendous shock, which rocked the house and rattled the windows. At first we thought it was an earthquake, but very soon concluded, from the terrific report, it must be an explosion of some kind. It was not long before we learned it was, in fact, the blowing up of the government powder magazine just beyond the city limits. Then we knew for sure the fears of the day before were not idle fears. With the advancing morning all doubts were dissipated, and as the sun rose it shone with fiery redness through a dense blackness, which at first we took to be heavy clouds, but soon saw was in reality a great volume of smoke passing over the city from south to north. Richmond was on fire. My first impulse, as this became a settled fact, was to go and see for myself what was happening in the lower part of the city. I was deterred, however, from carrying out this impulse at once by certain household duties. I had to go to market, and my experience there must not go unnoticed. Food was the scarcest thing in Richmond towards the close of the war. Money, such as it was, was the most plentiful. It seemed to grow on trees. At the time of the evacuation, we had an unusual quantity of it, which, in consequence of its bulk, was kept in a box in a closet. Arming myself with the inconsiderable sum of $500, I sallied forth to make such purchases as I might be able to do for our day's need. When I arrived at the market-house I found only one butcher's stall open, and noticing here a piece of mutton about as big as my two fists, I asked the price. It was only after some persuasion that the kindly butcher let me have it for $250, which I paid at once. Then seeing a grocery store open on the next square, I went there, and offered to purchase several things, but could only get three quarts of blackeye peas, for which I paid $25 a quart. This closed my marketing operations for that day, and I went home with my mutton and peas in my basket, and $175 change in my pocket. I had some feeling, as I did so, that I had been greatly imposed on by these voracious merchants, but events showed me, and I have ever since thought those purchases the cheapest I ever made. Free now to indulge myself, I started off down town. On my way I was joined by several friends of about my age, ----, now one of Richmond's most distinguished lawyers; ----, at present a leading merchant of the same place; ----, now dead, and others whose names I cannot recall. Together we hastened down Main street, and soon stood face to face with a fire, which was destined, as the day grew longer, to lay in ashes almost the whole of the business portion of the city. At that early hour it had not reached much north of Cary street, but such was its fierceness and the rapidity with which it was spreading that, in sheer despair, warehouse after warehouse was thrown open, and the gathered crowd of hungry, despairing people were told to go in and help themselves. Pell-mell they went, without regard to position in life. I remember to have seen one of the richest men in the city going up the street with what I was told was a bolt of red flannel under one arm and a bolt of something else under the other. Naturally I and my friends, like others, suited our action to the opportunity, and to the word of permission, and went in where to some extent angels might have feared to tread. For there was some danger in doing this. I remember how several times, when we were on the second or third story floor of a large building, the cry would be raised: "This building is on fire; get out quickly "; and down we would scramble, only to try our fortune elsewhere. I do not recall how long this looting continued, but the net result of it was ridiculously small, as I remember. We had all filled our hands, our pockets, and our arms with such things as we could find, and when the pillaging was over, we each had a great variety of things of one kind or another. Some had, however, more shoes, or more stockings, or more of something else than others, and we decided to equalize things by exchanging. With this in view we went to an alley running from Main to Cary street, where we dumped the booty into one pile, and proceeded to distribute it equally. I remember the spot well, not only because of what has already been said, but because it was while standing here, thus engaged, that we were startled by the cry: "The Yankees are coming." And, sure enough, there came the advance guard of the Federal army up Main street. Now we were, or at least we thought we were, a lot of very brave fellows, but I must say the alarm and sight of the Federal troops so demoralized the whole crowd that we took to our heels, leaving almost all of our booty in the alley. The only thing I took home with me was a pair of rough, tanned, brogan shoes, such as corn-field hands might wear. These, however, I did save, and in the hard times that followed they were the only shoes I had for months.
In the excitement and stampede which followed the appearance of the Northern army our party became separated, and I have no recollection of how the others reached their homes. But what happened to me is as distinct in my mind to-day as it was the day after it occurred. I was living at that time on Seventh street, between Clay and Leigh, and my most direct way home was to go diagonally through the Capitol Square, entering it at Eleventh and Bank streets and leaving it at Ninth and Capitol. This route I took. It carried me by the old Library Building, since destroyed, then by the front of the Capitol itself, and so by the Washington Monument. When I arrived here my experiences of the day reached a final climax. When I started up town a few minutes before, the Federal advance force of occupation was coming up Main street. This street was followed until Ninth street was reached, where a turn was made to the north in the direction of St. Paul's Church, and just as I reached the Washington Monument, I was little less than horrified to see the troops entering the Square through the main entrance facing Grace street. In my youth I was not, at least, notoriously either a bad or cowardly boy, but that sight, so new and unexpected, was rather too much for my surprised nerves, and for one thing I quickly betook myself to the largest tree I could find and hid myself. Here I stood as the soldiers swept into the Square, passed the Monument, and went on to the Capitol. It was then only a few minutes later--so my memory serves me--that I saw the United States flag appear on the flag-pole above, where the Stars and Bars had floated for years. Four years before this, on a day, I think, in this same month of April, my father, always a strong secessionist, had taken me to this same Square to a great meeting in ratification of the ordinance of secession, and I recollect to have seen then the flag of the Confederacy raised on the Capitol where the Stars and Stripes had waved from time immemorial. Putting the two things together. I have often said that, as a boy, I saw the Alpha and Omega--the beginning and the end--of the Southern Confederacy in old Virginia. As to the first, I was, of course, far too young to be in any way affected by it, but as to the latter, I must say, as I stood behind that tree and saw what I saw, I remembered my dead soldier brother, what we had suffered for what we deemed right, and my young heart was filled with bitter hate, and my lips, which had never before uttered an oath, poured maledictions on our triumphant foes. Then I went home, and so practically closed those two days in my life, which of all others will ever stand forth as living, dreadful pictures before my mind.
HUNTING "UNCLE BEV."
Within a few weeks of the evacuation two things occurred, with an account of which these reminiscences will be closed. One of these things is a somewhat unpleasant memory, and [ shall relate it first. It is, of course, well known that after the dastardly assassination of Mr. Lincoln a reward was offered by the government for the arrest of certain Southern gentlemen who were supposed to have been accomplices of J. Wilkes Booth. Among those thus charged was my uncle, Mr. Beverley Tucker. He was as innocent as a newborn babe, and utterly incapable, by nature, of having had anything whatsoever to do with this deed. Nevertheless he was supposed at the time to be one of several conspirators, and a reward of $25,000 was offered for his apprehension Some time after things had quieted down in Richmond, perhaps late in May or early in June, we had a small company at our house, and among those present was a son of my uncle, who bears his father's name. He is now quite a distinguished minister of the Episcopal Church, having charge of the old historic parish of St. Paul's in Norfolk, Va. At the time of which I write he had just returned from the war, and I think the little party was given in honor of his and his brother's safe arrival home.
During the evening, a gentleman, whom we afterwards learned was General Dent, a brother-in-law to General Grant, came to pay a visit to a Mrs. Young, occupying rooms on the third floor, and to whom General Dent had been, and was always, uniformly most kind. Instead of ringing the bell at once, General Dent waited several minutes--so long, indeed, as to create a pause in the conversation--and I was sent to the door. After asking for Mrs. Young, he passed up to her parlor, but stayed so short a while as to cause some slight remarks downstairs. Nothing much, however, was said, and after the company left, we retired as usual. My father, Dr. Harrison, and myself slept down in the basement, and the rest of the family up on the parlor floor. I think it must have been about 12 o'clock, when we were aroused by heavy footsteps on the porch, and a vigorous ringing of the doorbell At my father's suggestion I went to the basement window, and opening it, asked: "Who is there?" I was answered by the question: "Does Dr. Tucker live here?" Replying again to me, our midnight visitor said, in a very commanding way: "Well, I wish him to dress at once, and go with me to headquarters. He is wanted there." This brought both my father and Dr. Harrison to the window, where a vigorous conversation ensued. The party declined to give his name or authority, or in any way to explain his conduct, and it was natural, therefore, that my father declined positively to leave the house at that unearthly hour. I am sorry to say, some pretty strong language was used on both sides, but the immediate result was, the man left, not, however, without threatening us with all kinds of horrible things. We thought the episode strange, but considered it closed. But this was by no means the case. Early in the morning our cook came rushing into the house, saying it was surrounded by soldiers. It was even so. They were on the front porch and back porch, they were in the street and side alley--they were everywhere, bristling with arms, and under orders to allow no one to go in or out. In my simplicity, I remember starting out into the yard to look after some chickens, and being sent back at the point of the bayonet. We were prisoners, not knowing why, and so we remained, shut up and ignorant, for hours. About 11 o'clock in the day, an officer of low rank--and, I must think, of lower character-grain--appeared, saying, with chilling coldness, he had orders to search the house for Mr. Beverley Tucker. When told that he was not in the house, and had not been there, the man simply told us we lied, and proceeded to show that he honestly thought so. He looked in the closets and under the beds. He looked between the mattresses and up the chimney. He looked in every nook and corner, and when this search proved unsuccessful, he proceeded to look for clues of my uncle's whereabouts. In doing this he was absolutely without mercy, or even decency. He ransacked bureau-drawers, rummaged through trunks, and sitting down, as to a specially sweet morsel, he read much of our private family correspondence, all the while commenting on what he read in th3 most impertinent and insulting manner. After he had done all he could, he demanded to know where my uncle was, saying it was perfectly well known by the authorities that he had been in the house the night before; that General Dent had heard him spoken to. It then dawned on us what it all meant, and we told the man it was not Mr. Tucker who had been with us, but his son, who had his father's name. Whether he believed us or not, I do not know, but at any rate, as there was nothing else to do, he took his departure, withdrew the soldiers, and we were left to life, liberty, and something to eat.
VISIT FROM GENERAL MEADE.
Of a different kind, and far more pleasant is the last thing I shall put down in these reminiscences. More pleasant because it relates to a visit we had from General George C. Meade. My mother, who still lives a vigorous old lady--though she doesn't think so--of 80 years, was a daughter of the late George M. Dallas, Vice-President under Mr. Polk, and was related to or connected by marriage with General Meade. They had known each other well before the war, but, of course, had not seen each other since it began, as my mother was all the while in Richmond. One morning we were much surprised, and, indeed, somewhat startled, by seeing a very distinguished-looking man, wearing the insignia of a United States general, stop and dismount before our front door. He was accompanied, I think, by his staff, in full uniform, and was followed, not unnaturally, by quite a crowd of negroes. I presume these latter thought, perhaps, we were all to be arrested and sent to the calaboose, as our strong Southern sentiments were pretty well known. But such, I am happy to say, was not in the programme. After he dismounted, General Meade, followed by one of his staff, also my mother's cousin, came on the porch and rang the bell. It fell to my lot to answer this call, and as this was the first time I had ever been so close to a "Yankee general," I felt, boyishly, half resentful and half abashed. Of course, I did not know either who it was or what he wanted. Just as he asked, in the kindliest tones, if Dr. Tucker lived there, my little sister, a flaxen-haired girl, appeared in the hall, and, with a smile on his face, the General quickly said: "I know he does, for that child is the image of her mother"-calling my mother by her maiden name. Then he told who he was, and asked for my mother. He was shown into our little parlor, and soon the latter came in also. Naturally, both seemed at first a little awkward, and bowed stiffly--my mother especially, I think--and sat down, when a silence ensued, which neither party seemed to know exactly how to break. As a matter of fact, it was broken at last by the General, in tones of deep sympathy. My recollection is he said this: "L----, it has certainly been awful, but I have not come to discuss the past, but to see what you and your family need, and what I can do for you." These words, spoken in such quiet dignity, yet with so much warm sympathy, broke the icy reserve, and, in the conversation which followed, not only were many pleasant things said on both sides, but the good offices of the General were pledged and gratefully accepted. Let it be said, he was true to every offer, and among his many, many subsequent kindnesses, he secured for my mother and the children, excepting myself, free transportation to Philadelphia. In no way was there anything wanting in General Meade's generosity as a man, kindness as a friend, sympathy as a relative, dignity as a soldier, or loyalty to his country; and so I shall never forget the opportune visit, the goodly offices, and the soldierly bearing of General George C. Meade.
Instead now of hate, war, and death, we have faith, hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity. Esto perpetua.
Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXIX. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1901.
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