Some Reminiscences of the Second of April, 1865.1
By Hon. H[ORATIO]. W. BRUCE, of Louisville, Ky.
[The following paper was read by Judge Bruce before the Louisville branch of the Southern Historical Society at a recent meeting.]
On Sunday, the 2d day of April, 1865-a day always sadly to be remembered by every Confederate-I attended the morning services in St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Richmond, Va., of which the learned and distinguished Rev. Dr. Minnegerode was then, and is yet, I believe, the beloved pastor. St. Paul’s was the church in which President Davis and his family worshiped during the war between the States-a war waged, as we all believe, by the Northern States against the Southern States of the American Union for the purpose of overthrowing institutions of the latter States and the construction given by most southern and many northern statesmen to the Constitution of the United States. This war commenced many years before hostilities with deadly weapons were inaugurated.
President Davis and his family were in their pew that morning. I saw the church sexton go to that pew in the midst of the services and speak to the President and the President retire from the congregation. I was not feeling very well that morning. I felt that something was going wrong with our cause when I saw the President withdraw; and this, in connection with the indisposition referred to, caused me also to retire from the church. I repaired at once to my lodgings, on Second street, not far from the residence of Dr. Morris, in Linden row, on Franklin street. Dr. Morris-a brother of our friend, Colonel John D. Morris, well-known to most of us present this evening-was President or General Superintendent of the telegraph lines in the Confederate States. Immediately on reaching my lodgings I met a friend, who asked me if I had heard the news. I responded “No; what is it?” He replied: “Dr. Morris’s little daughter was just over here, and said that her father had just come home and stated that General Lee had telegraphed President Davis that the enemy had broken the Confederate lines, that the army would have to retire further South, and Richmond would have to be evacuated.” Our beloved General John C. Breckinridge was then Secretary of War. I proceeded right away to his residence. I did not find him there, but met my colleague in the Confederate Congress, Hon. E. M. Bruce, who had seen the War Secretary; and from Mr. Bruce I learned that the appalling news was literally true. Like others away from home, as well as many citizens of Richmond, I commenced without delay making preparations to leave the place. I packed my clothes and some books and papers in my trunk and a traveling-bag. The trunk I had placed in General Breckinridge’s baggage wagon, and the traveling-bag I carried in my hand. What journeys my trunk took through the Southern States I am not able to describe. Suffice it to say, through the kind offices of my young friend Hannibal Hewitt, then in the employment of the Adams Express Company, it was reclaimed, and safely restored to me in Kentucky about four or five months after I had it placed in the baggage wagon of the Secretary of War at Richmond, and long after he had reached a foreign country. I must not forget to dispose of my valuable traveling-bag. I clung to it until I reached Greensburg, N. C., where I replaced it, for convenience of horseback transportation, with a pair of old-fashioned saddle-bags, or saddle-pockets, as sometimes called. To these I clung, also, until my return to Richmond in June, where and when, in turn, I replaced them with a more aristocratic species of baggage, to wit-a black enameled-cloth carpet-sack, to which I held fast until reached home on the 19th of June . You see I had determined to visit Washington, D. C., and thence, if not hindered, to proceed to my home in Kentucky; and it did not seem to be becoming in an ex-member of the Confederate Congress to be lugging among the elite of the Northern States, through some of which I expected to pass, a pair of rusty old saddle-bags. It would have been a reflection upon the Confederate Congress, of which I had been last elected had not yet expired; in fact, did not expire until the 18th of February, 1866. Again, such luggage might have attracted attention to my Confederate character, which my retiring disposition forbid my then publicly parading.
The hours I remained in Richmond on that melancholy Sunday, after leaving St. Paul’s, were among the saddest of my life. I felt that our cause was then the Lost Cause. Many of the scenes witnessed by me as I went to and fro through the streets of that good old city were heartrending. The bad news had spread with lightning speed all over town. Having spent much of the time during the war in Richmond I had formed many acquaintances among its noble and hospitable citizens; and, am proud to say, some of them had become my dearest friends. The men, generally, were on the street, and large numbers of the ladies stood in the doors and on the steps of their houses, many bathed in tears, making inquiries and giving utterance to woeful disappointment and anguish. Many, many times was I hailed by my acquaintances and friends from their doors as I passed along the streets with inquiries for the news; for my opinion as to the effect of the disaster, and with every variety of expression of disappointment and hopelessness, occasionally, but rarely, a very sanguine one expressing the belief that all was not yet lost, and that we should ultimately succeed in maintaining our rights and independence. The scene, as a whole, was one of bitterest sadness, such as I trust never again to behold; such as, I am sure, I shall never again witness, since such scenes rarely occur in the lifetime of any people. And certainly so grand and patriotic a people cannot deserve more than one visitation of the character to which I have rather alluded than described, for it baffles all of my powers of portrayal in words. About nightfall I took my seat in a car of the train at the Danville depot preparing to start southward with its sad and disappointed human freight. The President and his Cabinet were on the same train. By this time I had become much exhausted by the fatigues of preparation and visits to attached friends for the purpose of leave-taking, and had almost succumbed to the indifference resulting from irremediable loss and disappointed hopes. My fellow-passengers, both male and female, in the crowded car were very much in the same plight. I never knew so little conversation indulged by so large a number of acquaintances together, for we were nearly all acquainted with each other, and, I may say, fellow fugitives driven by the same great calamity and wrong. Very few words were interchanged. Sleep soon overcame most of us. This, I well remember, was my case, for I dropped to sleep before the train started from Richmond and was not aware of its departure when it left. I slept quite soundly nearly all the night through. I believe we did not leave Richmond until pretty late in the night, and when day broke in on us the morning of April 3d we were somewhere in the neighborhood of Burkeville Junction, probably between that place and Roanoke. We stopped at every station on the way, crowds thronging to the train at each to make inquiries, for the bad news in this case preserved its proverbial reputation for fast traveling. Everybody sought to see, shake hands with and speak to the President, who maintained all the way a bold front, gave no evidence by word or appearance of despair, but spoke all along encouragingly to the people.
We reached Danville, on the southern border of Virginia, late in the afternoon of the 3d. The telegraph had, of course, conveyed full intelligence to that little city, and our arrival was anticipated. Its hospitable and noble citizens met us at the depot with carriages and other vehicles of conveyance, and we were conveyed, not to public hotels, but to private residences of the generous citizens of Danville.
The President, I remember, was provided for at the hospitable mansion of Major Southerland. I had the singular good fortune to fall into the kind hands and home of Mr. Witcher Kean, who, and his most excellent wife, were as noble specimens of Virginia hospitality and large-heartedness as one could ever wish to meet. I can never forget those true-hearted people. Among my many companions under Mr. Kean’s hospitable roof, I cannot refrain from mentioning one who belonged to my own profession. I mean the Hon. James D. Halyburton. He had been a United States District Judge for the Eastern district of Virginia, and in his judicial capacity had for years before the war, been wont to sit in the United States Circuit Court, with that great Judge, and pure Magistrate, Chief Justice Taney, about whom Judge Halyburton talked much to me, dwelling upon Chief Justice Taney’s grand character, with delight and veneration. The venerable Halyburton, at the commencement of the war, without counting the cost, but with pure and lofty patriotism, adhered to his own country and people, resigned his United States Judgeship, and was appointed to a similar office by the Confederate Government. He was a judge of spotless purity, proved patriotism and great learning, and a most entertaining and accomplished gentleman. Like Judges in the South generally, he was financially poor, and he was then old. But, true, to his Government, as to every civil and social duty, he was following his Government which had not yet surrendered, nor been entirely overthrown. He accompanied us, I believe, no further South, for having received at Danville the crushing intelligence of what had transpired at Appomattox C. H. on the 9th, the last spark of hope was extinguished in every breast, and the venerable Judge returned to Richmond soon after to terminate and earthly career full of honors and toils, I am sorry to say, in a condition of destitution. I give this as only one of the many sad and cruel results of that most unjust war. This is not the place to argue that question, but I can not refrain from observing that a war more unjust in our estimation, was never waged by one people against another, than that waged by the Northern States and portions of the border States against the Southern. They had no just cause of war against us, and the war they waged against us war, as we think, a flagrant violation of the most cherished and fundamental principles of American institutions.
Receiving at Danville the melancholy intelligence of the overthrown of that grand and noble soldier, General Lee, at Appomattox, all intelligent persons perceived that our cause was finally subverted, and that the conquest for which the war had been waged was virtually accomplished. I then felt more sensibly than ever before the force of the conviction to which I had given utterance in a public speech made in the court-house at Louisville on the fall of Fort Sumter, that the election of Mr. Lincoln upon the principles which elevated him to power, although not in legal form, was practically a repeal of the Constitution of the United States. Its full restoration to recognition is scarcely yet completed. From Danville we journeyed on by rail until we reached Greensboro, N. C. Here it was understood that Johnston was soon to capitulate-which he did. Here was the last I saw of President Davis, until I met him some years afterwards in Louisville; for I got back to Louisville, Kentucky, from Greensboro, North Carolina, by this circuitous rout, to-wit: From Greensboro to Charlotte N. C. on horseback, camping out at night on account of the large number in our party; from Charlotte to Chester S. C, by rail, carrying our horses on the cars; from Chester via Newberry, where I bought a horse for $7,000, to Augusta, Georgia, on horseback, before reaching which we were met by the horrible intelligence of the assassination of President Lincoln; stopping at the Planters’ House, where I first paid $50, then $100, and before I left only $2.50 a day for board, and where I ordered of a merchant tailor a pair of cassimere pantaloons, for which I paid him $1,000; from Augusta again on horseback to Halifax county, Virginia, passing through South Carolina where I ate of the first and only piece of kid I ever saw served upon a table as diet-and while passing through which an old lady told me she understood that Mr. Lincoln was in a stage with his wife going to the threatre when he was killed; from Halifax county, where I gave my horse away, to which county I had come directly from the generous home of my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Elisha Kean, in Pittsylvania, with whom I had spent about ten days, and bidding adieu to my dear friends, the Barkesdales, I proceeded by rail to Richmond, from Richmond by steamboat to Baltimore, thence by rail to Washington city, thence by rail to Cincinnati, and thence by a steamboat, commanded by the unfortunate Captain Godman, to Louisville, where I landed on the morning of the 19th of June, 1865, about two and a half months after the evacuation of Richmond, and nearly four years after I had left home to take part with my own people in resisting wrongful and unjust aggression, that people having made a gallant and heroic defense, but having been compelled to succumb to the overwhelming numbers and power of the Northern people, aided, as the latter were, by pretty much all the European nations; thus concluding a long, devastating and cruel war, for which, in my opinion, the North was wholly responsible, which saddled upon the people of this country a gigantic national debt, which for generations unborn will probably not be paid, making the people to groan under such burthens of taxation as were never before known in this country, introducing such all-pervading corrupt practices in the administration of the General Government as appalled the civilized world, and clothing the political party in office with such vast powers as to make it impossible for the people to install in office a President of their own choice after they had elected him.
- Bruce, H. W. “Some Reminiscences of the Second of April, 1865.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 9, pp. 206-211 ↩
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