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NP: April 4, 1965 Petersburg Progress-Index: Siege Centennial, Part 41: A Postscript – The Occupation

A Postscript: The Occupation

(The following is the forty-first and final in a series of articles published in observance of the centennial of the 1864-65 campaign for Petersburg. Yesterday was the one hundredth anniversary of the occupation of the city by General Grant’s armies.)

Petersburg lost its military importance and its distinction as a global cynosure after the Confederate forces crossed the bridges over the Appomattox River into Chesterfield County, but for the city remained the problem of adjustment to a new and unwanted condition, that of military occupation. Occupation and other novel experiences would continue for a long time, but the entrance of Union forces on April 3, 1865 makes a relevant postscript to its military story.

Many thousands who had fought to bring about the fall of the city never entered it. The progress of the campaign had distributed them all around the city, south of the Appomattox River, and those units which did not have to pass through Petersburg moved on from the points where they happened to be at the time of the evacuation. The exception was the IX Corps, which manned the lines east of the city and which had been present from the beginning and had taken the major part in the Crater and Fort Stedman engagements.

The night of April 2-3 was another noisy one, what with explosions resulting from destruction of supplies and artillery duels. The flashes of fire could be seen and the roar of the guns could be heard at City Point. About 4 o’clock in the morning units of the IX Corps discovered what had happened and began to advance across the empty works opposite them.

It was about the same hour that members of the Petersburg council met as agreed and broke up into small groups which proceeded to all principal entrances. Some carried white handkerchiefs on walking sticks to indicate their mission. A paper signed by W. W. Townes, mayor, and D’Arcy Paul and Charles F. Collier, as a committee of the common council, offered the surrender of the city and requested protection for persons and property.

Instruments of surrender seem to have been accepted by other officers, including General Wright whose VI Corps had broken the lines on April 2, but Petersburg was surrendered about 4:28 o’clock in the morning to Colonel Ralph Ely, commanding the 2nd brigade, 1st division IX Corps.

Municipal authorities were assured of protection, and guards were placed on the streets. The Confederate flag of the Courthouse was removed by the First Michigan Sharpshooters and was replaced with the flag of the United States. This is the flag which a few years ago was returned to Petersburg by a grandson of Colonel (later General) Ely and which may be seen in Centre Hill Mansion Museum.

Other regiments raised the flag of the United States on other buildings. In some instances festoons of small flags were added.

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Genera Grant entered the city about 9 o’clock in the morning and made temporary headquarters at the residence of Thomas Wallace, at the southwest corner of South Market and Brown Streets. Although he was eager to be on his way, he had invited President Lincoln to visit him in Petersburg.

Lincoln arrived wearing a high silk hat and a long-tailed black frock coat. “Do you know, general”, he is supposed to have said to Grant, “that I have had a sort o[f] sneaking idea for some days that you have intended to do something like this?”

The two men were the observed of all observers, the observers consistently chiefly of Negroes dressed in their holiday best and offering to sell Confederate money as souvenirs. Not until later would Grant learn of the fall of Richmond, so he was not able to impart that news to his visitor. As soon as Lincoln left, Grant turned to the business at hand. He spent the night at Sutherland Station on the Southside Railroad.

*     *     *     *

Union soldiers explored the city. Some of them recorded their impressions of public buildings, churches, the destruction of shelling, and of the city in general. Sutlers accompanying the army moved into vacant stores and began doing business with those who could produce currency of the United States. Residents gradually came out of seclusion, to discover that with a few exceptions order prevailed.

Major Eaton of [the] Fifth Michigan Cavalry took over the plant of the Petersburg Express and began publishing Grant’s Petersburg Progress, an addition to local journalism which lasted for almost two weeks.

The 2nd brigade, 1st division, IX Corps was left behind for provost duty. The commander, Major General George L. Hartsuff, established headquarters in Centre Hill, one of the city’s larger residences. Public buildings and other residences were put to similar use.

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At this point it might be in order to explain why the matters treated in this article and in the long series of articles preceding it have been developed in what may appear to be inordinate length and detail.

The explanation, simply, is that although the events in question are not the only ones of consequence which ever occurred here, they are, as tragic and as unpleasant as they were, far and away the most momentous local happenings and the ones of which the remainder of the world has any considerable knowledge or interest.1

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The Petersburg Progress-Index Siege of Petersburg Centennial Series, 1964-65:


  1. “A Postscript: The Occupation.” Petersburg Progress-Index.  April 4, 1965, p. 4, col. 1-2
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