LT: April 3, 1865 Theodore Lyman

   

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in Lyman Theodore

April 3, 1865

We began our day early, for, about light, I heard Duane say, outside my tent: “They have evacuated Petersburg.” Sure enough, they were gone, across the river, and, at that very moment, their troops at Richmond, and all along the river, with their artillery and trains, were marching in all haste, hoping to join each other and get to Burkeville Junction, en route for Danville. How they succeeded will be seen in the sequel. General Meade, to my great satisfaction, said he would ride in and take a look at the place we so long had seen the steeples of. Passing a series of heavy entrenchments and redoubts, we entered the place about eight in the morning. The outskirts are very poor, consisting chiefly of the houses of negroes, who collected, with broad grins, to gaze on the triumphant Yanks; while here and there a squalid family of poor whites would lower at us from broken windows, with an air of lazy dislike. The main part of the town resembles Salem, very much, plus the southern shiftlessness and minus the Yankee thrift. Even in this we may except Market Street, where dwell the haute noblesse, and where there are just square brick houses and gardens about them, as you see in Salem, all very well kept and with nice trees. Near the river, here large enough to carry large steamers, the same closely built business streets, the lower parts of which had suffered severely from our shells; here and there an entire building had been burnt, and everywhere you saw corners knocked off, and shops with all the glass shattered by a shell exploding within.

We then returned a little and took a road up the hill towards the famous cemetery ridge. Petersburg, you must understand, lies in a hollow, at the foot of a sort of bluff. In fact, this country, is a dead, sandy level, but the watercourses have cut trenches in it, more or less deep according to their volume of water. Thus the Appomattox is in a deep trench, while the tributary “runs” that come in are in more shallow trenches; so that the country near the banks looks hilly; when, however, you get on top of these bluffs, you find yourself on a plain, which is more or less worn by water-courses into a succession of rolls. Therefore, from our lines you could only see the spires, because the town was in a gully. The road we took was very steep and was no less than the Jerusalem plank, whose other end I was so familiar with. Turning to the left, on top of the crest, we passed a large cemetery, with an old ruined chapel, and, descending a little, we stood on the famous scene of the “Mine.” It was this cemetery that our infantry should have gained that day. Thence the town is commanded. How changed these entrenchments! Not a soul was there, and the few abandoned tents and cannon gave an additional air of solitude. Upon these parapets, whence the rifle-men have shot at each other, for nine long months, in heat and cold, by day and by night, you might now stand with impunity and overlook miles of deserted breastworks and covered ways! It was a sight only to be appreciated by those who have known the depression of waiting through summer, autumn and winter for so goodly an event! Returning through the town, we stopped at the handsome house of Mr. Wallace, where was Grant and his Staff, and where we learned the death of Lieutenant-General A. P. Hill, who was killed by one of our stragglers whom he tried to capture. Crowds of nigs came about us to sell Confederate money, for which they would take anything we chose to give. At noon we left the town, and, going on the river road, camped that night near Sutherland’s Station.1,2

[SOPO Editor’s Note: Thus ends Theodore Lyman’s chronicle of the Siege of Petersburg.  Lyman’s letters go on to cover the brief Appomattox Campaign, and if you’d like to pick up from here and read the rest of the book, go to Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865; Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox on Google Books and start on page 341 near the bottom of the page.]

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Source/Notes:

  1. Editor’s Note: Theodore Lyman was General George G. Meade’s aide-de-camp from the fall of 1863 through Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  An intelligent and outspoken individual, Lyman’s letters to his wife provide great insight into the happenings at Meade’s headquarters.  These letters, taken from the now public domain book Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865; Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox and written by Lyman to his wife, appear here at the Siege of Petersburg Online exactly 150 years to the day after they are written.  Since this site is concerned solely with the Siege of Petersburg, the letters start on June 12, 1864 and end on April 3, 1865.  See the bottom of this and every other letter for a list of all the letters which have appeared to date.
  2. Agassiz, George R. Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865; Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox. Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1922, pp. 339-341

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