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NP: April 21, 1865 The Bedford Inquirer: 206th PA Enters the Burning City of Richmond, April 3, 1865


RICHMOND, April 8th, 1865.

This being an idle day with me, I will, therefore, give you in as brief a manner as possible, some ideas of the reception of the Federal forces by the people of Richmond.

On the morning of the 3d [April 3, 1865], we (the 1st Brigade, 4d [sic, 3rd] Division, 24th Army Corps) [1/3/XXIV/AotJ]1 received orders to pack up and be ready to march at a moment’s warning. This being done, in a few minutes came the order “fall in,” and next came “forward,” when we moved off at a quickstep in the direction of the Rebel works, and when within about 300 yards of their fortifications we were halted, and ordered to load our pieces, after which we again moved forward, expecting every minute to hear their guns open upon us. But to our great astonishment, and no less gratification, found both guns and works deserted. They, however, being kind enough to leave a note which I saw a sergeant pick up, asking us very politely to “come in, but not to stay.”

Image of Richmond burning as Confederate soldiers march away across the James River on the night of April 2, 1865

After Confederate soldiers fled their Capital on the night of April 2, 865, Union soldiers including Sergeant Songster of the 206th Pennsylvania entered the following morning.(Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Adele S. Colgate, 1962)

After getting safely through the first line of works we began to look anxiously for the second line, which, on approaching was found to be deserted like the first. It now became evident to all, that the evacuation of Richmond was taking place, which thought so stimulated the boys that they seemed to forget that they had a heavy knapsack on their back.2

We were now within three miles of the city, and yet not a “Reb” was to be seen except here and there a straggler, who was [?] the latter being the most likely. We soon passed through the third line of works, and found these as the two former ones, only not as strong. We did not halt to inspect them, but “on to Richmond” went. Just at this time and place, our already bright prospects of occupying the Rebel Capital were made still brighter by a dispatch carrier who galloped past us, shouting, “Richmond has just surrendered.”

A few more minutes, and we found ourselves entering the lower part of the City by Main street, which now became a scene of excitement. The people came forth from their houses to bid us welcome, some clapping their hands, others sending up cheers that seemed to rend the air, whilst aged mothers came forward, and so filled were they with joy, that they burst into a resistless flood of tears. Yet onward we proceeded and as we went, flags that the dust of four years had settled on, were brought forth and unfurled to the breeze, amidst the deafening sound of bursting shells from the burning arsenal, and the roaring of flames, and shouts of myriads. On arriving near the center of the city we halted, but for a moment only, as it did not appear safe to remain there long on account of the bursting shells and falling houses.3 We, the 206th P[ennsylvania]. V[olunteers]., were then marched off to the northern outskirts of the city, where we unslung knapsacks, and then sent out patrolling parties through the city, whose duty was to order all citizens to their homes, and pick up stragglers. After these parties returned we were again marched back to the State House yard, where we encamped for the night, the Stars and Stripes floating proudly above us, upon the once Rebel capitol.

Yours respectfully,

Serg’t. Co. K, 206th P[ENNSYLVANIA]. V[OLUNTEERS].5

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Roy Gustrowsky.

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Per Dyer’s Compendium, the 206th Pennsylvania was attached to Devens’ 3rd Division, XXIV Corps, Army of the James from March 27 to April 22, 1865. The regiment itself belonged to the Third Brigade, First Division, XXIV Corps, or 3/1/XXIV/AotJ.  Given the above information, the letter writer probably wrote “3d Division,” and perhaps a typesetter mistakenly placed a 4 where the 3 belonged. In any event, the 206th Pennsylvania was definitely attached to Devens’ Third Division, Army of the James as it marched on Richmond on April 3, 1865.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Portions of the Army of the James, stationed north of their namesake river and in the Bermuda Hundred lines, were perfectly positioned to move into Richmond on the morning of April 3, 1865.  As mentioned above, the Confederates had abandoned Richmond and were moving west in a campaign that would close on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House with the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Confederates had set certain important buildings afire as they left the city and evacuated to the west.  Unfortunately for the citizens of Richmond, houses started catching fire and soon a decent sized area near the James River burned out of control from April 2-3, 1865.  This was afterwards referred to as the “burned district.”  For more on this fire, see Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital by Nelson Lankford
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: I was unable to find a man named Songster in Company K of the 206th Pennsylvania. If you know the identity of this letter’s author, please CONTACT US.
  5. “Army Correspondence.” The Bedford Inquirer (Bedford, PA), April 21, 1865, p.3. c.2.
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Lisa Fulton March 8, 2021, 9:45 am

    The other perspective: Here is the entry in Lt. William G. Hinson’s diary, dated April 2 and 3, 1865. Hinson was in the 7th SC Cavalry, commanded by General Martin Gary:

    2nd & 3rd Ordered to move to Darbytown Road about 5 PM. The evacuation of Richmond has commenced. Gary’s Brigade are the rear guard on the Richmond side. Remained on horseback near the trenches until just before daylight, and then commenced to fall back slowly. Passed through Richmond at 7 A.M. Witnessed a sight that will never be forgotten, thousands of ladies weeping and wringing their hands as they saw their last hope departing. Would that every one of the army could have seen it! The heart must indeed be a craven one, that would not be fired to noble deeds by the sight.

    We could scarcely get through the mob at the commissary’s; we came near being hemmed in by the flames which had been started in several directions. To witness the apparent madness and recklessness with which the women were pillagers and the skulking and deserting men also, is enough to give us a contemptible opinion of human nature. But thank God we do sometimes meet pure characters which bolster up our respect for mankind. Lt. John Warley says when I am forty I will think as poorly of human nature as he does. God forbid.

    We crossed and burnt the bridge at 8 o’clock just as the enemy dashed past the head of street, but so intent in being first to place their flag on the capitol, noticed nothing else apparently. Bivouacked 12 miles from Richmond, suffering from hunger; roads very bad and horses very poor. Paul [Hinson’s servant] was cut off from me; guess he is all right in hands of Yanks, but my mare is not.

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