From the Richmond Whig, 4/5/1865 (reprinted in the Washington Constitutional Union, 4/8/1865, p. 1, c. 5)
From the Richmond Evening Whig, April 5.
THE GREAT CONFLAGRATION.
We gave in yesterday afternoon’s edition of the Whig the main history of events which marked the evacuation of Richmond by the Confederate Government and army, and its occupation by the forces of the United States. An inspection of the burnt district this morning shows that we did not over-estimate the extent of the area burned over, or the number of houses destroyed. The fire, commencing at the Shockoe Warehouse, radiated front and rear, and on two wings, burning down to, but not destroying M. L. Jacobson’s store, No. 77 Main street, south side, half way between Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets, and back to the river, through Cary and all the intermediate streets. Westward, on Main, the fire was stayed at Ninth street, sweeping back to the river. On the south side of Main the flames were stayed at Mitchell & Tyler’s jewelry store, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets. From this point the flames raged north side of Main up to Eighth street, and back to Bank street. The familiar aspect and face of Main street is changed so completely that those best acquainted with the buildings cannot point them out with certainty. The busy street of a few days ago is the ghost of its former self, and amphitheatre of crumbling walls and tottering chimneys.
The Custom House, late Confederate Treasury, passed through the ordeal of fire unscathed, from the fact the edifice is of granite and fire-proof. The Bank of the Commonwealth presents a granite front, but is a mere shell, as also is the Bank of Virginia. At one time during the morning the Spotswood Hotel was in great danger, the flames leaping towards its location with great rapidity; but a merciful providence caused a lull in the breeze, and blew the flames out of their tracks.
PUBLISHING ESTABLISHMENTS BURNED.
By a second survey of the burned district we perceive that several additional publishing establishments are to be included among those destroyed. These are the job printing establishment of Edward J. Ayres, publisher of the Illustrated News; the old office of the Literary Messenger, corner of Twelfth and Bank streets; the office of the Evening Courier, in the Dispatch building; the office of the Central Presbyterian, Southern Churchman and Religious Herald. Mr. Ayres saved all his type and stock, having moved them several days previous.
INCIDENTS OF THE EVACUATION.
Sunday morning, April 2, broke upon Richmond calmly and pleasantly, and without anything portentous in events immediately transpiring. There were rumors of evacuation, but very few supposed the event was upon us and at hand. The church bells rang as usual, with nothing of alarm in their tone, and worshippers were as prompt and devout as was their wont. But by the hour of noon nervous people began to snuff danger in the air, and one’s ears were filled with the most terrible rumors. Then there cam an unusual increase in the number of wagons on the streets; boxes and trunks were being hastily loaded at the departments and driven to the Danville depot. Those who had determined to evacuate with the fugitive government looked on with amazement; then, convinced of the fact, rushed to follow the government’s example. Vehicles with two horses, one horse, or even no horse at all, suddenly rose to a premium value that was astounding, and ten, fifteen, and even a hundred dollars in gold or Federal currency was offered for a conveyance. Suddenly, as if by magic, the streets became filled with men, walking as though for a wager, and behind them excited negroes totting trunks, bundles and luggage of every description. All over the city it was the same – wagons, trunks, bandboxes and their owners, a mass of hurrying fugitives, filling the streets. The banks were all open, and depositors were as busy as bees removing their specie deposits; and the directors were equally active in getting off their bullion. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of paper money was destroyed, both State and Confederate. Night came, and with it came confusion worse confounded. There was no sleep for human eyes in Richmond Sunday night. The rapid tramp of men upon the streets, the rattle and roar of wagons, the shouts of soldiers retreating through the city to the South side, went on the whole long, long, weary night.
THE COMMISSARY STOREHOUSE.
At daybreak, Monday morning, the scene at the Commissary Depot, at the head of the dock, beggared description. Hundreds of Government wagons were loaded with bacon, flour, and whiskey, and driven off in hot haste to join the retreating army. Negroes with their peculiar “heave oh!” sweated and worked like beavers; but the immense piles of stores did not seem to diminish in the least. Thronged about the depot were hundreds of men, women, and children, black and white, provided with capacious bags, baskets, tubs, buckets, tin pans and aprons, cursing, pushing and crowding, awaiting the throwing open of the doors, and the order for each to help himself. When the Government wagons had gotten off all the stores possible, it was found that several hundred barrels of whiskey remained in the upper story.
A WHISKEY CATARACT.
One after another, in hasty procession, the barrels were rolled to hatchway, the heads knocked out, and a miniature whiskey Niagara poured continuously down, pouring into the dock in a current almost strong enough to have swept a man off his feet. Between 200 and 300 barrels were thus poured out – a big drink to the finny inhabitants of the river.
About sunrise the doors were opened to the populace, and a rush that almost seemed to carry the building off its foundations was made and hundreds of thousands of pounds of splendid bacon, flour, &c., went into the capacious maw of the public.
And here we may remark that while the Confederate Government was making such a poor mouth over the reported failure of supplies, while the people were being starved that the army might be fed, this immense storehouse was bursting with fullness and plenty, to come finally to utter wreck and waste.
A PAPER TORNADO.
A whirlwind sweeping through dead leaves in autumn scattered them no more wildly than official documents, pamphlets, &c., were scattered on Monday evening. Confederate bonds, Confederate notes, bank checks, bills, flecked and whitened the streets in every direction – all so worthless that the boys would not pick them up.
While the city was burning, about nine o’clock on Monday morning, terrific shell explosions, rapid and continuous, added to the terror of the scene, and led to the impression that the city was being shelled by the retreating Confederate army from the Southside, but the explosions were soon ascertained to proceed from the Government arsenal and laboratory, then in flames.
THE LIBBY PRISON,
Which ever since the war has been used as a prison-house for Union prisoners, is now serving the same purpose for Confederate prisoners, several thousand being now confined there, and the number is increasing daily. Hundreds of Confederate deserters and stragglers are being hunted out and confined there.
THE HAXALL MILLS.
We are glad to be able to correct the report widely circulated and generally believed yesterday that the extensive Haxall Mills had been burned. The Warwick Mills were burned.
VISIT OF HIS EXCELLENCY PRESIDENT LINCOLN
Was the event of yesterday afternoon. The President, accompanied by Admiral Porter, of the United States navy, with an escort of army and navy officers, were landed at Rockets yesterday about 3 p. m., from a gunboat, and were enthusiastically cheered by the populace and Federal soldiers all the way up Main street to the market, and up Franklin street to Governor street. The President was on foot, and walked rapidly, towering above the crowd, flanked on his right by Admiral Porter, on his left by his son Thaddeus.
The President was dressed in a long black overcoat, high silk hat, and black pants, giving to his form a very commanding appearance. The President and escort moved up Governor to Twelfth street, out Twelfth to Marshall street and the mansion of Jeff. Davis, late President of the Confederate States, and now the headquarters of Major General Godfrey Weitzel. The crowd surrounded the mansion, and sent up cheer after cheer as the President entered the doorway and seated himself in the reception room and reception chair of Jefferson Davis. Three cheers for Admiral Porter were then proposed and given with a hearty good will.
A brilliant collection of Union officers assembled in the hall were the presented to the President, and afterward the citizens general were allowed the opportunity of shaking the President of “our whole Union” by the hand. Subsequently the President and suite, with a cavalry escort of colored troops, appeared on the square, drawn in a carriage and four, which was driven around the walks, the President inspecting the condition of the troops and exhibiting an unwonted interest in everything.
Everywhere the reception was the same, the bands playing and the people besieging the grounds, each anxious for a closer inspection of the distinguished occupants of the carriage.
While these ceremonies were going on, a salute of guns was fired from the steamers at Rockets.
The President is still in Richmond, we believe, but we are not informed what are to be his future movements.