WHO WAS LAST SOLDIER TO LEAVE BURNING CITY
The September  Confederate Veteran contained a statement that there was dispute concerning what soldier, or command of soldiers, was the last to leave Richmond on the morning of April 3, 1865, and asked information. Colonel Clement Sulivane, of Cambridge, Md., replied in the December  Issue, and as his communication must be of interest to all Times-Dispatch readers as part of the history of Richmond, I beg leave to submit it for their benefit:
“There should be no dispute about it,” to give Colonel Sulivane’s answer verbatim. “It was a fragment of General G. W. C. Lee’s command, known as the Local Defense Brigade, and attached to his division, placed under my command, then assistant adjutant of Lee’s Division, by Lieutenant-General Ewell on the morning of April 2 . This was immediately after receipt of the news that our lines had been broken before Petersburg. The last bridge over the James—Mayo’s—at the foot of Fourteenth Street, was guarded by this command from about 4 A. M. on April 3 until General M. W. Garey’s [sic, Gary’s] Cavalry Brigade crossed over at 8 A. M. and at 8:15 (in pursuance of instructions from Lieutenant-General Ewell given me just before daylight) I burned the bridge with my own hands, assisted by an engineer officer, who had placed barrels of tar along it at intervals from shore to shore for that purpose. I never knew his name, having simply found him there to await my orders. This was in the face of the cavalry of General [Godfrey] We[i]tzel’s army [corps], who had poured down Fourteenth Street in pursuit of Garey [sic, Gary]. I then marched on and overtook my division on the road to Amelia Courthouse about 2 P. M. that day.”
Coincidence of Promotion.
This same account was published in the “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War,” issued by the Century Magazine some twenty-five or thirty years ago. That magazine having learned in some manner that I was the last soldier of General R. E. Lee’s army to leave Richmond, wrote to me for a narrative of the circumstances of my retreat.
Colonel Sulivane has written elsewhere: “Concerning that retreat from Richmond there has been a curious coincidence of record between Lieutenant-Colonel H. Kyd Douglas, of Hagerstown, Md., and myself. When not quite twenty-three we both left our homes in Maryland and enlisted as private soldiers in the Confederate Army in the spring of 1861. That fall we were both promoted to the staff as first lieutenants and aides-de-camp. In 1864 we were both in the Adjutant-General’s Department with the rank of captain on the brigade staff. When our respective generals became major-generals in the early spring of 1865, we became entitled to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, but application was not made for our commissions as such because we were both recommended to be made brigadier-generals. The order for such commissions was issued by President Davis, but did not reach us in the general turmoil and confusion of the last days of Richmond. When General Ewell was ordered by General Lee, on April 2 , to evacuate the north branch of the James and march on Amelia Courthouse, he selected me to command his extreme rear guard, and placed me in command for that purpose. When Lieut.-Gen. Gordon was directed by General Lee to cover his retreat on the south side of the James, that officer selected Kyd Douglas, in command of his brigade, for that purpose. And thus it happened that in that famous fighting army the same posts of honor and danger were entrusted to two young Marylanders, each twenty-six years of age. Each made good his retreat. One was the last to see the Capitol dome of Richmond, the other the last to see the spires of Petersburg. Finally we both surrendered within a week, and returned to our respective homes in June, 1865, after having served throughout the entire war in exactly parallel lines. X. X.1
- “Who Was Last Soldier to Leave Burning City.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. February 6, 1910 p. 3, col. 6-7 ↩