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Richmond after the Departure of the Confederates

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1315, p. 479-481.

May 20, 1865


The first vessel that went up the James River to Richmond after the evacuation of that city by the Confederates on Monday, April 3, was a private yacht, the steamer Octavia, of 430 tons, built in America, but belonging to an English gentleman, Mr. T. W. Kennard, the chief engineer of the Atlantic and Great Western Railway, who was accompanied by his son and several other gentlemen in this early visit to the fallen capital of the South. We have been favoured by Mr. Kennard with the sketches from which our Illustrations on page 481 are engraved. One of them is a view of Fort Powhattan, with the encampment on the extreme left of the Federal position before Petersburg, about half way up the river in going from Fortress Monroe to Richmond. The yacht passed this place on the Monday morning, and saluted with two guns. The salute was returned by Fort Powhattan, and the troops cheered. At that hour Mr. Kennard had not heard of the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, which had taken place the sane morning; but he met a number of large steamers, crammed with Confederate prisoners, coming down the river. Upon his arrival at City Point, the head-quarters of General Grant, he learnt that both Petersburg and Richmond were abandoned, and the Confederate army in full retreat. Mr. Kennard then landed at City Point, and called upon General Collis, the Federal officer in command. Next morning, having been summoned by Admiral Porter to attend on board the flagship, Mr. Kennard did so, and made a satisfactory apology for having ventured, without a pass, to bring his yacht up the river, as the Federal authorities had ordered that no vessel should go above Fortress Monroe. The next two or three days were spent in exploring Petersburg and the country around that town. On the Friday Mr. Kennard and his party proceeded to Richmond. He gives the following account of his visit to the ruined city:--

"After waiting some hours on that day at the bridge over the Appomattox, at Petersburg, for the rails to be laid down for us, we safely crossed over on to the Richmond Railway in the first United States car that had run on the line for years past. En route to the fallen city we passed exploded ammunition-trains and railway d├Ębris, not forgetting numbers of niggers profuse in broad grins, salutations, and elaborate bows. These poor fellows were only too glad to let us have all the Confederate currency they had about them in exchange for any trifle we liked to give. Upon arriving at Manchester, on the south side of James River, we found the fine railway-bridge, three quarters of a mile long, destroyed by fire. Nothing remained but the stone piers. All the other bridges were destroyed in the same way, and we entered the town over a bridge of boats thrown across by the Federal troops. The scene of ruin and devastation presented on entering the place is beyond description. The main street, and the entire blocks of buildings stretching down to the river, had been totally destroyed by fire--some

Page 481

say by order of General Ewell, others by accident. At any rate, nearly half the city has been reduced to ashes, notwithstanding the efforts of the Federal troops to arrest the flames. Only one hotel was open, and but few shops, and those very bare of goods. The Capitol was visited, also Jeff Davis's house, Castle Thunder, and the notorious Libby prison, crammed to overflowing with Confederate prisoners. Both are miserably small holes, originally warehouses. The stories we heard with regard to the treatment of Federal prisoners in the Libby are contradictory; one Colonel, who, with 150 other officers, had been confined in it for three months, speaks well of the treatment; on the other hand, there are statements of shocking ill-treatment and suffering. One of the first regiments in the city was negro, and black troops were on guard in every street.

"No pillage or destruction of property had taken place; and, to the great honour of the Federal arms be it fairly said, never before did cities like Petersburg and Richmond, entered by excited troops after years of siege, suffer to so trifling an extent. Tobacco was the only temptation that could not be resisted. There was not a whisper amongst the inhabitants conversed with, other than that they had been treated in the most humane and proper manner. We can all certify to the fact that out of the thousands upon thousands of troops we have seen only one man has been detected the worse for drink. This is accounted for by the fact that spirits are forbidden both in the army and navy on service. One could not fail to remark the deep mourning worn by the ladies moving about the streets, or the careworn expression of their countenances. The 'darkie' element, on the contrary, was decidedly jubilant. The return to City Point was by way of the James River, steamers having arrived while we were in the town. We thus had an opportunity of seeing part of the vast system of fortifications and works that surrounded the fallen city, extending over eighty miles. The number of guns left by the Confederates must have been enormous. The celebrated Atlanta was lying in the neighbourhood of Dutch Gap, in company with five Federal monitors. The gap appears about 200 yards in length, cut through a very high bank, under fire of the Confederate guns. Had the work been successfully carried out, seven miles of batteries through which the gauntlet had to be run by the invading fleet would have been saved. From the enormous strength of the shore batteries and number of torpedoes sunk it seems almost impossible that any ship could have reached Richmond. Suspicious little red flags stack in floating logs of wood commanded the greatest possible respect from the man at the wheel. These had been placed by a torpedo-hunting gun-boat to mark the proximity of its deadly game; but not without reason was this respect paid, for it is rumoured a river-steamer that passed us en route to Richmond deviated from the proper course, struck a torpedo and was sunk, the majority of those on board being killed. The torpedoes fished up by the hunters were lying on each bank--one containing no less than 1700 lb. of powder. In all excursions some of the party get adrift. One of ours did on this occasion, a circumstance he had no reason to regret, as he passed the evening with General Weitzel, who occupies Jeff Davis's house, and visited points of interest in the fugitive President's carriage. Saturday was spent at City Point in making our adieus to all those who had shown our party such great and unusual attentions. We saw a train of 2000 men dispatched to bring back some 12,000 prisoners captured on Thursday, including General Ewell and five other generals. Upon our way back to the yacht the English portion of the party called upon the President, who had been here for some time on board the River Queen steamer. The President received us with the greatest courtesy, and we enjoyed a long and interesting conversation with him, not the least amusing part of it being a history he gave of General Grant's career, winding up with a happy anecdote of a boyhood adventure of the General. The President looked very careworn, and with feeling expressed his delight at the prospect of a speedy close of this dreadful war."

There is a melancholy interest now belonging to this record of so late a conversation with President Lincoln, whose fate was not known when Mr. Kennard wrote his letter. The view of the City of Richmond, and that of Mr. Jefferson Davis's House, are likewise engraved from Mr. Kennard's sketches.

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