Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
WAS SEAWELL LAST SOLDIER TO LEAVE BURNING CITY?
Mayor Jones, of Newport News, Thinks Honor Belongs to Private of 24th Virginia Cavalry.
BY HON. MARYUS JONES,
Mayor of Newport News.
I noticed recently in the Confederate Column a discussion as to who was the last Confederate soldier to leave Richmond on the day of its evacuation by the Confederate forces. I am convinced that it will be very difficult at this late day to say with absolute accuracy who he was, but I can say this, as a matter of fact:
Company D, of the Twenty-fourth Virginia Cavalry, of Gary’s Brigade, was composed of many young men, and among them was William F. Seawell, whose father was a nephew of President John Tyler, and was a veteran of the Mexican War, with the rank of major.
Seawell was on picket the night before the evacuation, and was not called in, in time to cross Mayo’s Bridge. [On April 3, 1865] When he reached the Richmond end of the bridge it was on fire, and consequently he could not cross. He turned his horse and rode back, determined to go up the north side of the James River. When he got to the street leading up the river he met a column of Federal cavalry. He fired into the head of the column, shot a man from his horse; the horse broke from the ranks. Willie seized the reins and galloped off with the horse and made his way up to the residence of that splendid old Virginia gentleman, John Randolph Bryan, who then lived in Fluvanna county.
Arrives at the Bryans.
The writer has heard Colonel Warner T. Jones tell of Seawell’s getting to Mr. Bryan’s with his two horses. Colonel Jones was representing the county of Gloucester in the Legislature, and he, not knowing what the enemy would do with the legislators, left Richmond and went up to Mr. Bryan’s home.
The morning after the evacuation a servant came in and told Mr. Bryan that he reckoned the Yankees were coming, because he saw some cavalry coming down the lane. Mr. Bryan, in his impulsive manner, told Colonel Jones to run and get out of the way. The colonel got behind a chimney to await developments. He peeped out from his hiding place and recognized Willie Seawell, and called to Mr. Bryan that it was all right; it was nobody but Willie Seawell from Gloucester. Mr. Bryan rushed out and almost took Willie in his arms off the horse. Willie said: “Wait, Mr. Bryan, before you sent my horses to the stable, let me unpack.” And very carefully he took his pack from behind the saddle, where it had been strapped, and out rolled from an old oil cloth a fiddle and a bow, which Willie had carried all through the war. Mr. Bryan, in his peculiar way, raised his hands and shouted, “A Seawell, a Seawell and his fiddle!” Then Willie told them of his adventure.
Poor fellow, a good and true soul he was. He came home from the war, found his property all gone, entered upon life’s labors with a true, firm and brave heart, but Providence called him to the Great Beyond, and his comrades could only say, “Another true man has gone; peace to his ashes!”1
- “Was Seawell Last Soldier to Leave Burning City?” Richmond Times-Dispatch. April 17, 1910 p. 3, col. 2-3 ↩