Unpublished Memoir of Lt. Col. T. G. Barham (24th Va. Cav.)
…On Sunday, the second of April, 1865, I was at Longstreet’s headquarters in consultation with him and Gen’l. Kershaw about the organization of the force when he received a dispatch telling him of the disasters on Gen’l. Lee’s right flank, and directing him to prepare to evacuate the lines covering the front of Richmond during that night. This was the saddest news I ever received, for I knew then that all was lost that I had been battling for. We were almost stricken dumb; brave men who had faced death a thousand times were choked with grief. We said little, in fact none but few of the officers knew what was going on. Rations were cooked – but there were little of these to cook, ammunition issued and the men supposed we were to be attacked or moved to the South side. At 2 o’clock A. M. April the 3rd the move began. My command in the rear of Kershaw’s division, a few cavalry beinging up the rear. Between daylight and sunrise, while we were passing up the banks of James River, the ironclads blew up almost under our feet. The explosion was terrific.
We began the march into Richmond by way of Cary Street from Rocketts. The scene here defies description and appears to me as some livid dream of horror. The city everywhere near the river was on fire – women and children houseless and screaming, filled the streets with their cries, while bands of thieves of all ages, sexes and colors were plundering wherever they could. Houses not yet on fire were broken open by these wretches, the contents carried away before the eyes of the rightful owners and in many cases the houses fired over their heads when all had been taken away. As we marched up Cary Street the gutters were running with whiskey, which had been poured out into the street, while white men and negroes were giving themselves up to drunken orgies. Appeals of the most heartrending character were made to us for help by women along the line of march, and the temptation was strong to turn the soldiers loose on the howling mob, but I knew that one begun, no man could stop it, no man could tell the end, and that hundreds of innocent people would be hurt. So the men were with difficulty restrained, confining themselves to arresting the most flagrant cases. I don’t think many of these desperadoes ever crossed James River, some were shot in the alleys leading into 14th Street near the river, while others were shot on the bridge and thrown into the river. I was detained by col. Preston Johnson and Gen’l Breckinridge to put out the fire on the canal bridge for the last of the ordnance wagons to pass over, and with these two officers passed over last. We weer the last three men who ever crossed the old bridge, as it was fired as we crossed over, and was consumed.
When I got to Manchester I enquired for the prisoners and was told that they had escaped. I afterwards learned the facts as related above.