interesting letter from a young woman describing the conditions and popular sentiment in Richmond at this time; describes the Fourth of July Celebration in Capitol Square and notes that Mary Walker read the Declaration of Independence to the crowd – also notes that “Mr. Chase” (Salmon P.?) has a large tent in the square. Notes visiting Lee right after his return to Richmond, a visit to Belle Isle and the Battlefields of the Seven Days.
From the Washington (DC) Daily National Republican, 7/19/1865 (Extra Edition), p. 2, c. 1
MATTERS AND THINGS IN RICHMOND.
An Interesting Letter from Miss Mary E. Thropp.
Celebration of the Fourth in Capitol Square – The Declaration of Independence Read Twice – Whittiers’s powm “Barbara Fritchie” Read by Mr. Chase – The New Free Schools of Richmond – Interesting Reminiscences of the Rebellion – Nineteen Thousand Dollars withheld from our Prisoners Unearthed by General Mulford – Latest Rebel Sentiment, etc.
Having been permitted to see a letter of Miss Mary E. Thropp’s, (now in Richmond,) to her father at Valley Forge, we take the liberty of publishing it:
RICHMOND, VA., July 12.
MY DEAR FATHER: You wish to know how I spent the Fourth in Richmond. Rather late, certainly, but in a manner peculiar enough to be not uninteresting, perhaps. The dawn, clear and beautiful, was ushered in by a salute of 36 deafening guns from Capitol Square, whither we repaired later in the day to spend our Fourth at Mr. Chase’s tent. This spot merits a description. It is a triple tent, or rather two tents, probably twelve feet square, connected by an open-sided one between, situated in the very centre of Capitol Square, under a magnificent canopy of trees. To the left of the entrance stands the delicate mimosa, and from the tall trees overhead, forming a graceful curtain in front, floats, fair and bright, with its crimson bars and golden stars, the dearest flag I ever saw, in magnificent proportions.
From the door of the tent looking northward stands the stately Capitol, the crown of Richmond. Eastward a couple of hundred yards the grey walls of the burned court-house, over which the fine old trees droop their graceful branches, golden and green, making a picture of mournful beauty. To the west, about the same distance, stands the watch-tower, and to the south – Oh, what a view! In the foreground the Custom-house; beyond, right and left, stretch the ruins; beyond them the shining river winds its solitary way afar off, and beyond it the fair green fields and sunny uplands of the beautiful South stretch away far as the eye can see to the blue horizon. For this tent has been selected decidedly the fairest spot in Richmond, and why? Pro bono public. It is the headquarters of the American Union Commission. From this spot in quiet unostentatious benevolence have gone out means for two large free schools for the children of the poor whites, a soup society, hundreds of barrels of flour, seeds for planting, farming implements, religious books and papers, etc., to the poor whites and the colored people of Richmond.
But to return to the celebrations: About ten o’clock a crowd, composed of citizens, soldiers and colored people, gathered round the Capitol to hear Mrs. Dr. Walker, a lady surgeon in the Union army – not long since a prisoner in Castle Thunder – read the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the Capitol. I regret that the feminine voice could not make itself heard by the audience, and I should like to have had it sounded clearly into every ear in Richmond. At noon, another tremendous salute, and the people retired for a time. In the afternoon a large crowd, composed mainly of soldiers, contrabands, and children – most of them beneficiaries – sprung up spontaneously around Mr. CHASE’S tent, when he went out and read to them our own WHITTIERS’S touching and beautiful poem, “Barbara Frietchie,” which was published some time ago.
This was followed by three cheers for the dear old flag, as hearty and genuine as any I ever heard in my life, while many an eye, moved even to tears, turned lovingly to the beautiful symbol floating in peaceful beauty above us. Ah! We had our patriotism all right in our heads before this war – we have it in our hearts now, sacred and dear as the altars of our God.
Mr. Chase was then called on to read the Declaration of Independence, which he did; and this time it was heard, and listened to well by even the children. Then followed a general distribution of religious papers. The child’s paper, for which hundreds of little black and white hands reached out impatiently, had a picture of Mr. Lincoln and his son Tad in it. I asked one little colored girl if she knew what Mr. Lincoln had done for her? “Oh, yes,” she replied, and her eyes grew radiant, “I was a slave and he set me free.” Hath he not his reward?
At sunset another salute was fired, after which the band played a long time in the upper part of the square, though most of the people had gone to their homes. Later the full moon rose in unbounded splendor, and shining down over that ???? ????of fountains, trees and solemn ruins, while the sweet music floated, lingered and died in the distance, continued the celebration of the fairest Fourth ever vouchsafed to an American.
Last Sabbath I attended St. Paul’s, (Dr. Minnedegroves’s,” under whose ministrations Davis and Lee could not be cured of treason, and not feeling as reverently as I ought, perhaps, under a secession pastor, I glanced round during prayers, and, to my surprise, saw every head which had been devoutly lowered before go up while the prayer for our President was read, and bow reverently down again as soon as it was over.
The servant who waits on us here, Emily, formerly a slave, but a most intelligent, truthful woman, informs me that during the war the colored people were not allowed to remain and have prayer-meetings after service in their churches, for fear the prayers of the bondmen were more fervent and prevailed more mightily with Jehovah than those of their oppressors, and the hymn, “Pharaoh, let my people go,” they were not permitted to sing under any circumstances. “But, bress de Lord, honey,” added the poor woman touchingly, “His deliverance is done come anyhow – dey can’t stop dat, and dese eyes am dis like two small showers of tears, dey’s so glad.”
Our two free schools for the poor whites you will glad to learn my dear Father, are doing splendidly. They are kept in the Baptist and Methodist Churches, on Oregon Hill – a part of Richmond proverbially loyal throughout the war – the place where our dear old flag floated last in Richmond. The schools commenced with about 30 pupils each, but the girls’ school now numbers 110, the boys’ 140, and the cry is “still they come,” though the teachers are about closing for the summer holidays. The children are enthusiastic, and in September the good work will go bravely on again.
Speaking of the flag on Oregon Hill reminds me of an incident that occurred a week or two ago. The “misguided” brethren and sisters of secessia determined to have a little jollification in the shape of a pic-nic all to themselves, for which our dear indulgent “Uncle Sam” generously provided all the ambulances, and the “misguided” went on their way rejoicing.
On their return in the evening, when they reached Major Alberger’s headquarters, the “misguided” were all heard singing at the top of their lungs the “Bonnie blue flag,” whereupon Major Alberger stepped out and politely informed them that they could walk better, he thought, to the employment of that tune, and insisted upon having the ambulances, which they were oliged to vacate rather ruefully and walk back to Richmond, a matter of three miles. May we not echo the memorable words of the western judge, “Sarved ‘em right.”
I suppose you have heard the fact that $19,000 of the money sent on for the relief of our prisoners has just been ferreted out from the detaining parties and sent on to the authorities at Washington by Colonel Mulford. “Are they not all honorable men” – the chivalry – “most honorable men?”
If my voice had any weight, and could only reach the people of the North, I would earnestly entreat them to be on the lookout for Southern sharpers now. Many of the tales of distress of fine ladies, for whom our officers generously make up purses, I have had reason to know, are mere fabrications. These people will not work, and they think it no harm to get what they can from Northerners, as they say they have taken all their property from them.
Fruit here is abundant and good. The crops are also. Business is reviving, and if the people will only work there need be no further wants, unless it may be among the negroes next winter. The planters say they will not feed the negroes next winter, as they will not raise more than enough food for themselves; nor will they employ them, in order to prove to them that bondage is better to them with plenty, than freedom with starvation. The result, I fear, of this system – barbarous as it is universal – will be insurrection, as the negro, having once tasted the sweets of liberty, will never be enslaved again.
There is a manifest disposition to extort from northerners in Richmond, which is very reprehensible. At this time it is not possible to get genteel private boarding under fifteen dollars a week – many charging a dollar for a night’s lodging and three dollars a day for meals, as they do at hotels. I have been shown a list, furnished a benevolent gentleman, by a prominent clergyman here, of indigent first families, too delicate to beg and yet in extreme want, whom he urged him to seek out and succor. On investigation, these families were found to be living in handsome homes, dressing elegantly, and contemplating northern tours. Let us be on our guard, then, against the unscrupulous, and bend all our benevolent energies to the tuition of the innocent children of the poor whites and to the care of the despised, and as yet improvident negro, until he gets accustomed to the new order of things.
The Richmond “Whig” has just been suppressed for its tone inimical to the Government. It will be a good lesson to the other papers here, for they are almost unendurable to a northerner. What is needed in this city of Richmond above every other thing is a true Union paper, ably, judiciously conducted, wherein the pure truth will be told, and the people, through its columns, educated to a better knowledge than they have hitherto possessed.
My dear mother reproved me for calling on Mrs. Robert E. Lee when in Richmond, at Easter, out of idle curiosity, as she said. The truth is, we stopped at Mrs. Lee’s on our way to church Easter Sabbath to deliver to her the message of a dying rebel soldier, and were received by Lee himself, who had, unknown to us, returned to his home the evening before. Tell her I have never gone into Davis’ mansion, but that I have visited Chief Justice Marshall’s house, and the church in which Patrick Henry made that memorable speech – “Give me liberty or give me death.” I could not be a true daughter of hers, nor would I be worthy to be born at Valley Forge, were I capable of paying any respect to traitors, and thereby sanction treason.
Our friends have kindly taken us through the fortifications on the eastern side of the city, across the fatal swamps of the Chickahominy, on to Cold Harbor; but as your own son and my precious brother, heroic in those seven days’ battles, has given you with his own lips more graphic accounts than I can pretend to do, I spare you the description.
Again: we have been taken to Belle Isle. This time rowed over the James by moonlight – the full moon shining from a cloudless heaven. A more beautiful scene than the now peaceful James, studded with its emerald islets, lying out there in the calm beauty of that exquisite summer night, I have never seen. And yet when I thought of the aching hearts that turned away despairingly from the same solemn beauty less than a year ago, and laid them down to die, my heart grew full to weeping. Since my last visit the Christian Commission has tenderly enclosed the grave. But is not Virginia one vast graveyard of heroes, martyred in the cause of liberty? It has indeed become “sacred soil” forevermore.
A secessionist asked me what the Government would do with “President Davis.” I told her it might not think it worth while to let secessionists make a States-right martyr of Davis, or it might hang him. “Why,” said she, indignantly, “what has he done?” But I pointed to the quiet resting place of our buried dead, and replied, “Does not every grave in the land cry out against him?”
But, my dear father, my letter is already quite too long. You may hear from me again ere my return to Philadelphia about the middle of August, preparatory to the reopening of my own school in September. Meantime, good bye, and may God bless you.
Lovingly, your daughter, M. E. T.