Campbell, John A. Recollections of the Evacuation of Richmond, April 2d, 1865. Baltimore: John Murphy & Co. 1880.


April 2d, 1865

By John A. Campbell

Baltimore: John Murphy & Co. 1880

Recollections of the Evacuation of Richmond By the Confederate Army and Government, in April, 1965, and of incidents that followed it.

I have been often requested to make a record of my reminiscence of the occurrences in Richmond, at the time of its evacuation in 1865, by the Confederate Government; and of the intercourse between President Lincoln and myself after that event. I proceed to comply with the requests.

It was evidence to any considerate observer, that the war must terminate in the spring of 1865 by the overthrow of the Confederacy. Their armies had suffered disastrous defeats and losses during the winter of 1864-5; their territory had become circumscribed; their seaports were all captured; their soldiers and laborers in workshops were deserting, supplies were exhausted and the population disheartened; the army before Richmond was besieged, and its communications for the most

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part, occupied or destroyed. On Sunday morning, the 2d April, 1865, I was as usual at the War Office. During the forenoon three telegrams came from General Lee to the War Office, One reported an engagement and heavy loss the preceding day; the second reported the disaster and loss to have been more serious and heavy than was supposed at first; the third reported the disaster and loss as irreparable, and directed an evacuation of the city.

The remainder of the day and the following night were employed in the collection together of the officers of government and their removal with the archives, army, and a large number of citizens from the city in the direction toward Danville. My son, two sons-in-law and a nephew left the
city with the army to which they belonged.

I remained in the city and was at the War Office till late in the evening. Before midnight the trains had gone and all the public buildings were empty. The only sounds came from the march of troops and the passage of wagons across the streets and bridge. About 3 A.M. of Monday morning, the explosion of the Navy Magazine below Richmond, shook the buildings and aroused the slumbering population. Not long after, I went down to the War Office and the Treasury building, and walked down to the canal. There were lights in the Shocco tobacco warehouse

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resembling lamps at the distance, but in a little time there was a blaze of light and flame. I witnessed the conflagration and its extension to the flour mills near by and the stores in Carey street in front. One of the last acts of a retreating soldier must have been the firing of the warehouse. There was no appearance of fire as I came along the streets, nor until I saw the lights in the warehouse. I returned to my house and remained there till noon. The entry of the troops of the United States in the city, the appointment of a military governor, the establishment of guards and patrols, all occurred in the forenoon. The conflagration continued till the afternoon and had extended over some twenty blocks of buildings along the main and other streets near.

There was discipline and order among the troops of the United States and they rendered much aid in subduing the flames. In the afternoon of Monday, I visited a number of the families of persons who had gone from the city, and found that there had been no molestation suffered among them.

On Tuesday morning, I reported to General Shepley, the military governor of the city, and informed him of my submission to the military authorities. General Shepley had argued causes before the Supreme Court while I was a member of it, and had obtained reputation as an able lawyer. I had made his acquaintance, but had not had any

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personal intercourse. He gave me an order, securing myself and my family protection, and spoke with some freedom of the course of affairs. He said, that the public authorities would pursue a conduct of liberality and forbearance, one not calculated to wound the sensibilities of the people. That the State would probably be placed under a military government, but the Governor would be selected from the State, and would not be obnoxious. I understood that such were his own views.

In the course of this conversation, he mentioned that President Lincoln was then at City Point, below Richmond. I said that I should be pleased to see him, and asked for a permission. General Shepley replied that he would consult General Weitzel, the commander of the troops in Richmond, and would send a telegram to the President with his consent.

During the same afternoon, President Lincoln came to Richmond. He was escorted along with streets of the city by a small body of cavalry, and was followed by a multitude of persons, mostly colored, who testified joy and exultation. He was carried to the house which had been vacated, not forty-eight hours before, by Mr. Davis, and was now the head-quarters of the General commanding the United States troops. Shortly after his arrival a staff officer came for me, and I was conducted to

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a small room in that building, where I met President Lincoln and General Weitzel. I had seen President Lincoln in Washington City, and a short time before at Hampton Roads. His manner indicated that he expected some special, and perhaps authorized, communication to him from the Confederate Government. I disabused his mind of this by saying I had no commission to see him. I told him that in parting with General Breckenridge, the Secretary of War of the Confederate States, I had informed him I should not leave Richmond, and that I should take the earliest opportunity to see Mr. Lincoln on the subject of peace, and should be glad to have a commission to do so, but I had no reply, and received no commission. I then told the President that the war was over, and all that remained to be done was to compose the country.

I told him, there had been much discussion among individuals on the subject of peace, and how one could be obtained, and of the conditions of a settlement. There had been a great number of prominent persons who had desired a settlement. There had been divisions as to the power to make one on the conditions he had announced. Some thought a convention of the States would be needed, others supposed the President, or President and Senate, or Congress, or the Generals might arrange for one; that none had undertaken the task, and the result was that every man
was left to make his

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own peace. I spoke to him particularly for Virginia, and urged him to consult and counsel with her public men, and her citizens, as to the restoration of peace, civil order, and the renewal of her relations as a member of the Union. I urged, that although there had been passion, petulance and animosity in the secession movements, that there were also serious differences of opinion as to the constitutional obligations and responsibilities, upon which there was a ground for opposing opinions.

That these had not been settled by the authorities of the country and perhaps could not be otherwise settled than by a war. That Virginia had not been a party in any intemperate agitation and had not precipitated the measures of secession. War existed when her final resolution was taken.

Mr. Lincoln asked me to whom I alluded, in asking him to take counsel with the public men of Virginia? I mentioned among others Mr. Rives, Mr. Hunter, Gov. Letcher, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Caperton, Mr. Holcombe, &c., and General Lee himself. Mr. Lincoln, at the end, answered that my general principles were right; the trouble was how to apply them. That he was impressed with what I had said of the difficulty of finding any one willing to deal with the subject of peace. He said he "wanted to have another talk," and for that purpose would remain in Richmond that

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night. His officers would not listen to his suggestion of remaining in Richmond, and it was agreed that I should visit him on the gunboat (Malvern) on which he had come to Richmond from City Point, and that I might bring with me citizens of the place. I sent invitations to several, but most of them were absentees, other declined to go with me.

The following day (5th of April) in company with Mr. Gustavus Myers, a member of the Richmond bar, and General Weitzel, I went to the gunboat Malvern, lying in James River, near Richmond. The President was prepared for the visit and spoke with freedom and apparent decision. No one could hesitate to believe that he desired to restore the Union to the condition that it had been, and in doing 'so, to leave a few occasions for animosities, grudges or resentments as the extraordinary circumstances allowed. In the course of the conversation, he produced a paper written by himself, but not signed, nor addressed to any one. This paper he read over and then commented upon each clause at some length and handed the paper to me. The following is a copy of the paper:

"As to peace, I have said before, and now repeat that three things are indispensable:

1. The restoration of the national authority throughout the United States.

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2. No receding by the Executive of the United States on the slavery question from the position assumed thereon in the late annual message, and in preceding documents.

3. No cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government. That all propositions coming from those now in hostility to the government,
not inconsistent with the foregoing, will be respectfully considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality.

I now add that it seems useless for me to be more specific with those who will not say that they are ready for the indispensable terms, even on conditions to be named by themselves. If there be any who are ready for these indispensable terms, on any conditions whatever, let them say so, and state their conditions, so that the conditions can be known and considered. It is further added, that the remission of confiscation being within the executive power, if the war be now further persisted in by those opposing the government, the making of confiscated property at the least to bear the additional cost, will be insisted on, but that confiscations (except in case of third party intervening interests), will be remitted to the people of any State which shall now promptly and in good faith withdraw its troops from further resistance to the government. What is now said as to the remission of confiscation had no reference to supposed property in slaves."

I did not perceive any material difference between the terms expressed in this paper and those announced by the President at the conference at Hampton Roads, in February of the same year, at which I was present and had participated. The demand for the restoration of the national authority as an indispensable condition for settlement was embodied in the inaugural address of the

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President, and had not been abated or withdrawn for an instance since that date. There was no opposition possible now. The President in publishing his proclamation in 1862, for the emancipation of the slave population, had resorted to an extreme and extra constitutional measure. If carried into execution it changed the constitution, and the social organization of all of the States to which it had been applied. The power to accomplish by proclamation of the President such a social and constitutional change -- such a revolution might well be questioned.

The President here, as well as at Hampton Roads, said he spoke only for himself as the Executive of the United States. He repeated here with the same emphasis as there, that he would be steadfast to the measure proposed in those papers.

My opinion at the time of the Hampton conference was that the Confederate States were powerless to make resistance, and on my return I favored negotiations for peace. I had not under estimated the condition of the Confederacy. General Lee had now retreated from Richmond, destitute and incapable of making resistance. There was no other army organized to resist. My answer to President Lincoln was that I did not believe there would be any opposition to his terms. That I had regarded his proclamation as one of those acts that com-

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mitted the government fatally and beyond recall, and that the institution of slavery after it, was as much an issue in the war as was the restoration of the Union. In the existing condition I believed there would be no contention on the subject. He referred to the laws imposing fines and penalties as not mentioned in his paper. He said he had not mentioned this in his paper because he did not think he ought to force any one to take a pardon; that Mr. Davis had said he would
not have one, but he himself would say, that most any one might have one for the asking.

Mr. Lincoln told me he had been meditating a plan, but that he had not fixed upon it, and if he adopted it, he would write to General Weitzel from City Point. This was to call the Virginia Legislature together, "the very Legislature which had been sitting in Richmond," -- "been sitting up yonder," pointing to the Capitol, "to vote the restoration of Virginia to the Union." He said he had a government in Virginia -- the Pierpont government -- but it had a very small margin, and he was not disposed to increase it. He wanted the very Legislature that had been sitting in Richmond to vote the restoration of Virginia to the Union. He said Virginia was in the condition of a tenant between contending landlords. The tenant would attorn to the landlord which shows the best title.

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President Lincoln addressed inquiries to Mr. Myers, who was a prominent member of the bar of Richmond, relative to the composition of the Legislature -- whether it had been adjourned or was dissolved -- the character of its members, and whether it could be assembled in its entirety. We were several hours in conversation, and parted with him with expressions of mutual good- will.

The following day, the letter the President had been meditating, came to General Weitzel and was shown to me, by the direction of the author as expressed in the letter. I have no copy of the letter, and have not seen it since that time. The interpretation I placed upon its terms, will appear from the contemporary papers, I prepared to carry it into execution, which I annex to this narrative.

I understood that the President desired from that Legislature a repeal of all laws hostile to the United States, the renewal of their bonds of Union, and their obedience to the Constitution, and the restoration of the national authority so far as they could do so authoritatively or individually.

My impression is that he expected they would sanction the resolution of Congress, which proposed the thirteenth amendment to the constitution.

My own hope was, that what remained of civil order in the State, would be upheld, so as to assist in composing the elements of social disorganization and disorder, which would abound from the dis-

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banding of the armies, and the abrupt and compulsory emancipation of the slaves. I did not suppose that the President, nor the Virginia Legislature could do more than to initiate measures which would result in a full and legal restoration of public order and domestic tranquility.

The members of the Legislature in Richmond were called together, and a committee was formed of which General Anderson, of Richmond, was chairman, to summon the members and other persons. The papers I subjoin being a letter by me to the committee, and the letter of the committee will show all that was done by us. These papers were inspected and revised by General Shepley, the military governor, and General Weitzel. They were examined by Charles A. Dana, assistant Secretary of War, who had established a branch of the War Department in Richmond. While they were being read to Mr. Dana, Vice-President Johnson and Mr. Preston King came in and heard them. The former, I was told, expressed himself afterwards, strongly and profanely hostile, but this was not known at the time to me. Apparently there was but one sentiment in Richmond, that of cordial approbation. On the 13th of April, I received a letter from General Ord, who had succeeded General Weitzel, saying: "I am instructed by the President to inform you that since his paper was written on

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the subject of reconvening the gentlemen who acted under the insurrectionary government as the Legislature of Virginia, events have occurred anticipating the objects had in view, and the convention of such gentlemen is unnecessary. He wishes the paper withdrawn, and I shall recall my publications assembling them."

I replied to the letter of General Ord the same day, and enclosed the paper the President had given to me; and stated that "the communication of President Lincoln to him, in respect to convening the Legislature of Virginia, was addressed to General Weitzel. I read this communication by the authority of the writer, and imparted its import to those who were interested in fulfilling its requirements. The object was to restore peace to Virginia on the terms mentioned in the enclosed paper by the agency of the authorities that have sustained the war against the United States. I still think that the issue would have been most favorable. The events that have occurred since, have removed some impediments to the action sought for, and preclude the possibility of its failure."

The surrender of the army of General Lee on the 8th and 9th of April, was foreseen some time before it took place. In the interview with General Weitzel, on the 6th of April, he told me that he understood then the force of my remark to Mr.

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Lincoln, "that the war was ended," for that he had captured a letter of General Lee. Upon inquiry I found it was a letter that had been written to the Secretary of War, (Breckenridge), dated about the 10th of March, 1865, in answer to a request from the Secretary to inform him of his ability to maintain a campaign. The letter of General Lee reported "that the situation was full of peril and difficulty, and required prompt action." In the course of the letter he stated that unless his condition was improved "that he could neither hold his lines before Richmond, nor could he remove from them."

General Weitzel spoke of the letter as a noble one, and that General Lee had spoken frankly and faithfully.

This letter I had read with General Breckenridge. It, with others from the Quarter-Master General, Commissary General, Chief of Ordinance, not more encouraging, had been communicated to the President of the Confederacy, and by him to Congress. These were captured among the other papers of that body.

Whatever resources of munitions or supplies those departments had for the campaign in Richmond, remained in Richmond at the evacuation, and were captured or consumed in the flames.

Mr. Hunter came to Richmond to meet the Legislature when it should be assembled, and on

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the 13th was ordered to leave in twenty-four hours, under the orders of the Commander Ord. He proposed to me to go with him to Washington City to see President Lincoln, to which I assented. A telegram was sent to the President in our names by General Ord, about noon of the 14th of April. No answer was even given.

The same night the President was assassinated.


The assassination of President Lincoln on the night of the 14th of April, 1865, at Washington City, and the horrible attempt by the conspirators to massacre other officers of the government of the United States, naturally aroused wild and improbable suspicions as to the extent of the conspiracy, and a corresponding exasperation and abhorrence.

Vice-President Johnson, who succeeded Mr. Lincoln, participated in the current excitement and the measures of his cabinet show the influence that event exerted upon them.

The measures for reorganization which President Lincoln had under consideration before his death, were not disposed of, and his liberal spirit and purposes as to amnesty and the confiscation of property, were not embodied in the proclamation made the last of May of that year, (1865). A

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report of the evidence taken by the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representative of Congress in the spring of 1867, relative to the charges against President Johnson, throws some light upon the plans and purposes of President Lincoln, and his proceedings at Richmond. He returned to Washington from Richmond, and heard of the surrender of the army of General Lee on the 9th of April. Secretary Stanton testified to the committee "that President Lincoln went to the city of Richmond after its capture, and some intercourse took place between him and Judge Campbell, formerly of the Supreme Court of the United States, and General Weitzel, which resulted in the call of the rebel Legislature to Richmond. Mr. Lincoln on his return from Richmond reconsidered the matter. The policy of undertaking to restore the government through the medium of rebel organizations was very much opposed by many persons, and very strongly and vehemently opposed by myself. I had several earnest conversations with Mr. Lincoln on the subject and advised that any effort to reorganize the government should be under the Federal government solely, and to treat the rebel organizations as null and void. On the day preceding his death, a conversation took place between him, the Attorney General and myself upon the subject at the Executive mansion. An hour or two afterwards, and

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about the middle of the afternoon, Mr. Lincoln came over to the War Department and renewed the conversation.

"After I had repeated my reasons against allowing the rebel Legislatures to assemble, or the rebel authorities to have any participation in the business of reorganization, he sat down at my desk and wrote a telegraph to General Weitzel, and handed it to me. 'There' said he, 'I think this will suit you.' I told him no, it did not go far enough, that the members of the Legislature would probably come to Richmond, that General Weitzel ought to be directed to prohibit their assembling. He took up his pen again and made that addition to his telegraph and signed it. He handed it to me. I said that was exactly right. It was transmitted immediately to General Weitzel, and was the last act ever performed by Mr. Lincoln in the War Department." Mr. Stanton was not decided as to whether the President had intended to call the Legislature together at all, and whether he had intended to use them for any purpose except to withdraw the troops of Virginia from the Confederacy; and that he stated he had been misunderstood.

The telegram to General Weitzel is in the report of the Congress committee, and the following is a copy:

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Washington, D.C., April 12th, 1865


I have just seen Judge Campbell's letter to you of the 7th. He assumes, it appears to me, that I have called the insurgent Legislature of Virginia together, as the rightful Legislature of the State to settle all differences with the United States. I have done no such thing. I spoke of them not as a Legislature of Virginia in support of the rebellion,' I did this on purpose to exclude the assumption that I was recognizing them as a rightful body. I dealt with them as men having power de facto to do a specific thing, to wit": 'To withdraw the Virginia troops and other support from resistance to the general government,' for which, in the paper handed to Judge Campbell, I promised a special equivalent, to wit" A remission to the people of the State, except in certain cases, of the confiscation of their property. I meant this, and no more. Inasmuch, however, as Judge Campbell misconstrues this, and is still pressing for an armistice contrary to the explicit statement of the paper I gave him, and particularly as General Grant has since captured the Virginia troops, so that giving a consideration for their withdrawal is no longer applicable, let my letter to you and the paper to Judge Campbell both be withdrawn or countermanded, and he be notified of it. Do not now allow them to assemble, but if any have come allow them safe return to their homes.


I have detailed the conversations and acts of President Lincoln at Richmond, and the expectations and hopes he excited. Mr. Secretary Stanton had deposed to the successful efforts made by him-

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self to frustrate them. I have not complained that the President revoked his orders nor that he deemed the meeting unnecessary, nor even that he should have directed that those who came at the invitation should have been told that unless they returned home in twenty-four hours they would be imprisoned. What the course of Mr. Lincoln would have been had his life been spared, is beyond our knowledge or our conjecture.

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