William Clemens Letters.
Online at: http://www.civilwarsignals.org/brown/signalmen/williamclemensletters2.pdf

[April 4, 1865]

At last my wish has been gratified and as you see I write this from the late Capitol of the Southern Confederacy over which the National flag is now flying. It seems to us all here more like a dream than a reality when we think of our being here and that we now have absolute possession, not only of the City itself, but also of all the immense fortifications, which have been erected during the last four years for its defense. I wrote you last night informing you of the fact of the capture of the city, but no one can form any idea of the immense amount of property to which has fallen into our hands in consequence of their sudden departure. On the North bank of the James all the artillery, as far as we can learn, has been left undisturbed which proves conclusively that the enemy made a very hasty exit in this vicinity and had little expectation of such results.
This morning at eight o'clock we got under weigh at City Point and started up the river with the "River Queen," a steamer bringing carriage and saddle horses and two gun boats as convoys. We arrived in due time opposite a battery and found the obstructions removed so that we could proceed in safety, upon arriving at Drury's Bluff we stopped, the obstructions at that point preventing our going any further, one gun boat having already gotten fast on them. There was room enough however for a tug to pass through and it was concluded to use it to transport us up to this city. The Admiral very kindly invited me to accompany him in his barge as also Capt. Adams of the staff, which was a great compliment, as the balance of officers had a tug assigned them to follow after. Our tug took us in tow and when we got as far as the bridge about two miles below the city it was closed and we could not get the tug through for some time and the Admiral concluded to pull up in the barge and let the tugs follow after.
In this way we were all of the party who arrived at the city as soon as expected. When we got opposite the city it was soon noted that the President was there and a crowd soon began to flock down to the wharf. We had brought a Marine guard but it was left behind on the tug so that when we landed we were without conveyance or escort of any kind, as no one knew we were coming.
As soon as we landed we took our boats crew of eight men and we took up our line of march with the President and Admiral Porter leading and Capt. Adams and myself following. We at once found that we had a hard road to travel as the crowd was getting more dense at every moment, almost impossible to get through as it was not an ordinary task to keep the people back or prevent them from enveloping us entirely – whilst there was one incessant roar of cheering from the almost frantic population, and at every corner it was augmented and the streets on all sides were filled with people running to get a glimpse of Old Abe.
We soon arrived at Gen. Weitzel's Head Qrts. And I was indeed glad when we had gotten safely in the house. Outside, the crowd was swaying to and fro constantly increasing until there were thousands and it was one incessant cheer from old and young white and black – the latter being almost unable to restrain themselves and it was amusing to see their gyrations and performances gone through by them.
All the Army officers in the vicinity came to pay their respects and the house was soon filled with the shoulder strap gentry of all grades. After remaining there about an hour, we were informed that the steamer carrying the horses had arrived and that the carriages and saddle horses were ready at the door. The President, Admiral Porter, Gen. Weitzel, Kautz, Sheply and some other Generals, whom I did not know, occupied one carriage, whilst your humble correspondent, with three other officers, occupied the other. A Regiment of Cavalry had arrived to act as escort, together with about fifty mounted officers and we started for a trip around the city.
Away we started, the crowd running along side and yelling their utmost, whilst the dust was intolerable and I was almost choked before we got to our journey's end. We rode through all the principal streets, but, to tell the truth, we could see little of the city, for the crowd was so dense, the dust so thick and the excitement too great to witness anything calmly, and we finally reached the dock where our boats were in waiting to take us off to the ship and I have no doubt but that all of our party were much pleased when we arrived safely on board.
Gen. Weitzel has his Head Quarters in Jeff Davis' Mansion, the one presented to him by the Rebel government, and indeed it is a splendid house, handsomely furnished with everything to add to the comfort of the arch traitor and here in the height of luxury reveled the leader of the Confederacy but now occupied by the Yankees. The furniture is all left, together with his housekeeper and some of the servants, but if he expects to be able to save anything by this, I think he is mistaken.
Davis left Richmond on Sunday for some point further south where he expects to find it rather cooler than it would be for him here but where he has gone no one here knows. On Sunday morning he and Gen. Lee were in church and during the services Gen. Lee rec'd a dispatch from the battle field which he handed to Davis and immediately the congregation saw that something was wrong and the services were stopped and Jeff told them the truth that the city would have to be evacuated and that they could govern themselves accordingly. It must have been a hard blow for all but there was no alternative and the work of destruction was immediately commenced.
They set fire to all the immense warehouses, which were filled with tobacco and the fire spreading rapidly burning block after block until a great part of the business portion of the city as well as a number of private residences were destroyed. The amount of property destroyed is immense and many a man's wealth has suddenly slipped away from him in consequence. Our troops getting into the city early on Monday morning saved much and prevented the fire from spreading any further. I send you by this mail two copies of the "Richmond Whig" which is now published under Union influence, the late editors having taken their departure. This is the first issue and I send them as a relic. Give one to the Journal. In it you can see the amount of property destroyed and damage done by the rebels before they left the city.
I have seen the famous Libby Prison, but under more favorable auspices than many others, but now the tide has changed and instead of Union men being the inmates, we have about seven hundred (700) rebels penned up there and guarded by Uncle Sam's troops. It is a great change and I tell you we can look with satisfaction at those fellows imprisoned there, where so many cruelties have been committed against the thousands of our poor boys who were unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. I do not know how long we will remain here but I do not think we will stay more than a day or two, which will give us plenty of time to see everything.
I was ashore tonight and took a walk around the city in the moonlight, but it seemed as though it was entirely deserted, there being no one in the street but the sentinel posted at the different points, and it did indeed seem strange that in so large a city that all should be as still as death and no signs of life anywhere – but there are orders issued allowing no citizens or enlisted me to be out after eight o'clock and it is for this reason that everybody is confined to his house. I forgot to mention that amongst our captures there are forty locomotives, fifty passenger cars and two hundred-fifty freight cars, quite enough to keep the U. S. Military Railroads in this vicinity in rolling stock for some time yet. We will, in a day or two, have Rail R. communication between City Point and Petersburg and also between the latter place and this city and soon Uncle Sam's Cars will be rattling over the same roads which only a day or two since were held by the rebels.
Our victories here have been complete and I suppose the whole North has been electrified by the good news, which indicates a return to peace at no distant day. The President is still aboard here, busy writing in the office and expects to leave tomorrow sometime. At nine o'clock tomorrow morning Judge Campbell of Richmond is coming aboard to see the President. He was one of the Peace commissioners who lately went to Fortress Monroe with Hunter and Stevens, at which time he met the President. We do not know why he is coming aboard, but suppose it is only a friendly visit, as he has always been in favor of peace.
This has been a lovely day, but part of the time it was quite hot. The trees here are all beginning to look green and the fruit trees are in blossom whilst vegetables can be seen in all the gardens. Give one of the papers as soon as possible to the Journal that they may publish some extracts from it, if they wishing in next issue. As it is now nearly one o'clock I shall close. There is much more to write about but I have already written, perhaps, too much. Do not neglect to write me soon and send Journal. I wrote you a long letter last night, enclosing certificate of deposit, which I hope you will receive in due time.
With much love to Mother Tillie and all at home with kind regards to all my friends.
I am your affect. Son

[after April 15, 1865] ....I can hardly realize the fact that the President is dead as only a few days since I had the pleasure of entering Richmond with him and passing as he did safely through the City without any protection whatever and at a time when it was more than probable that there would be some one who might attempt violence to his person – it is indeed a pity that in his own home he should have met with the death he did. What an episode in our Country's history!!!!!!

[April 27, 1865] ...As I said before I am happy to know that I was with him during his visit to Richmond and had the pleasure of conversing with him without the least restraint on my part and without any reserve on his. The impressions, which he made upon me, were of so pleasant a character that I could not help but love him and I firmly believe that a better, more pure and more conscientious a man can not be found to fill his position. Although the south may exult over his death I think they have cause for regret, for they have lost the best friend they had in the whole north. The greater part of his conversation in the boat on our way up the river, was occupied with expressions of kindness and forgiveness towards those who have for the past four years been trying to break him down and although he would at times enliven us with an anecdote or two yet still he would refer often to Him in whose hands he had placed his destiny and upon whom he relied for support. I believe Abraham Lincoln was a Christian and an honest man in every sense of the word, one in whom the love of country was paramount to all else, and one who at all times realized the weighty responsibilities which he had assumed, striving with utmost strength to do that (in which no one else has succeeded) to please all, and his name will ever remain a monument unto which our nation, as long as it exists, will look with admiration....

Go to top