A Great Conflagration Is Apprehended

Currier & Ives, The Fall of Richmond, Va. on the Night of April 2d. 1865.
Currier & Ives, The Fall of Richmond, Va. on the Night of April 2d. 1865.

April 3d.—Another clear and bright morning. It was a quiet night, with its million of stars. And yet how few could sleep, in anticipation of the entrance of the enemy! But no enemy came until 9 a.m., when some 500 were posted at the Capitol Square. They had been waited upon previously by the City Council, and the surrender of the city stipulated—to occur this morning. They were asked to post guards for the protection of property from pillage, etc., and promised to do so.

At dawn there were two tremendous explosions, seeming to startle the very earth, and crashing the glass throughout the western end of the city. One of these was the blowing up of the magazine, near the new almshouse—the other probably the destruction of an iron-clad ram. But subsequently there were others. I was sleeping soundly when awakened by them.

All night long they were burning the papers of the Second Auditor’s office in the street—claims of the survivors of deceased soldiers, accounts of contractors, etc.

At 7 a.m. Committees appointed by the city government visited the liquor shops and had the spirits (such as they could find) destroyed. The streets ran with liquor; and women and boys, black and white, were seen filling pitchers and buckets from the gutters.

A lady sold me a bushel of potatoes in Broad Street for $75, Confederate States money—$5 less than the price a few days ago. I bought them at her request. And some of the shops gave clothing to our last retiring guards.

Goods, etc. at the government depots were distributed to the poor, to a limited extent, there being a limited amount.

A dark volume of smoke rises from the southeastern section of the city, and spreads like a pall over the zenith. It proceeds from the tobacco warehouse, ignited, I suppose, hours ago, and now just bursting forth.

At 8½ a.m. The armory, arsenal, and laboratory (Seventh and Canal Streets), which had been previously fired, gave forth terrific sounds from thousands of bursting shells. This continued for more than an hour. Some fragments of shell fell within a few hundred yards of my house.

The pavements are filled with pulverized glass.

Some of the great flour mills have taken fire from the burning government warehouses, and the flames are spreading through the lower part of the city. A great conflagration is apprehended.

The doors of the government bakery (Clay Street) were thrown open this morning, and flour and crackers were freely distributed, until the little stock was exhausted. I got a barrel of the latter, paying a negro man $5 to wheel it home—a short distance.

Ten a.m. A battery (United States) passed my house, Clay Street, and proceeded toward Camp Lee. Soon after the officers returned, when I asked the one in command if guards would be placed in this part of the city to prevent disturbance, etc. He paused, with his suite, and answered that such was the intention, and that every precaution would be used to preserve order. He said the only disturbances were caused by our people. I asked if there was any disturbance. He pointed to the black columns of smoke rising from the eastern part of the city, and referred to the incessant bursting of shell. I remarked that the storehouses had doubtless been ignited hours previously. To this he assented, and assuring me that they did not intend to disturb us, rode on. But immediately meeting two negro women laden with plunder, they wheeled them to the right about, and marched them off, to the manifest chagrin of the newly emancipated citizens.

Eleven a.m. I walked down Brad Street to the Capitol Square. The street was filled with negro troops, cavalry and infantry, and were cheered by hundreds of negroes at the corners.

I met Mr. T. Cropper (lawyer from the E. Shore) driving a one-horse wagon containing his bedding and other property of his quarters. He said he had just been burnt out—at Belom’s Block—and that St. Paul’s Church (Episcopal) was, he thought, on fire. This I found incorrect; but Dr. Reed’s (Presbyterian) was in ruins. The leaping and lapping flames were roaring in Main Street up to Ninth; and Goddin’s Building (late General Post-Office) was on fire, as well as all the houses in Governor Street up to Franklin.

The grass of Capitol Square is covered with parcels of goods snatched from the raging conflagration, and each parcel guarded by a Federal soldier.

A general officer rode up and asked me what building that was—pointing to the old stone United States Custom House—late Treasury and State Departments, also the President’s office. He said, “Then it is fire-proof, and the fire will be arrested in this direction.” He said he was sorry to behold such destruction; and regretted that there was not an adequate supply of engines and other apparatus.

Shells are still bursting in the ashes of the armory, etc.

All the stores are closed; most of the largest (in Main Street) have been burned.

There are supposed to be 10,000 negro troops at Camp Lee, west of my dwelling.

An officer told me, 3 p.m., that a white brigade will picket the city to-night; and he assured the ladies standing near that there would not be a particle of danger of molestation. After 9 p.m., all will be required to remain in their houses. Soldiers or citizens, after that hour, will be arrested. He said we had done ourselves great injury by the fire, the lower part of the city being in ashes, and declared that the United States troops had no hand in it. I acquitted them of the deed, and told him that the fire had spread from the tobacco warehouses and military depots, fired by our troops as a military necessity.

Four p.m. Thirty-four guns announced the arrival of President Lincoln. He flitted through the mass of human beings in Capitol Square, his carriage drawn by four horses, preceded by out-riders, motioning the people, etc. out of the way, and followed by a mounted guard of thirty. The cortege passed rapidly, precisely as I had seen royal parties ride in Europe.

— Diary of John B. Jones, 2 April 1865.

Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply