From the Richmond Dispatch, 4/3/1890, p. 1, c. 3

A Bare Outline of the Most Momentous Event in the History of the Old Dominion’s Capital.

April 3, 1865, the Confederate forces evacuated the city of Richmond and the Federal army occupied it.

Twenty-five years have passed since then – an eventful quarter-century in the history of Richmond, Virginia, and the United States.

The Confederates began leaving the city on Sunday afternoon and were all gone by sunrise Monday morning. Late Sunday night the city was shaken from centre to circumference by the blowing up by the Confederates of their ironclad fleet in James river (only a few miles below the city) and of the powder magazine on Poor-House hill – that is to say, what is now the north end of Fifth street. About daybreak of the 3d the tobacco warehouses and bridges across the river were fired by the retreating troops, and while the air was then a calm a wind soon afterwards arose and speeded the flames into Main and Cary streets from Ninth to Fourteenth and all along the river-front from the Tredegar-Works to Shockoe creek.


Hundreds of business houses were burned.

Millions of dollars’ worth of property was destroyed.

With the fire came riot and robbery.

Mayor Mayo Judge Meredith, and a number of the civil officials went out of the city a few miles on the Osborne turnpike and surrendered the city to the enemy’s advancing cavalry, and forthwith the Union troops came in in great bodies and went to work assisting the citizens to fight the flames.

The State court-house in the Capitol Square was burned. The Capitol caught, but the flames were extinguished by Mr. Henry Exall and others.

The Gallego Mills, the State Armory, the Dispatch office, American Hotel, and Dr. Read’s church (Eighth and Franklin), nearly all the tobacco warehouses, the Richmond and Petersburg and the Richmond and Danville and Mayo’s bridges across James river, and the Petersburg and the Danville railroad depots were among the buildings destroyed.

The Haxall Mills and Tredegar-Works escaped. So did the Spotswood Hotel.


At this time, as for many years before, the Capitol, the State Armory, and the penitentiary were guarded by the Public Guard, a uniformed company of infantry troops in the permanent service of the State.

When the Governor and Legislature withdrew from Richmond the Public Guard were also taken away. Thus the penitentiary was left in the hands of a few of the interior guard. The mob which had been sacking the city all night on Monday morning broke into the prison and robed its stores, while the convicts seized the opportunity to liberate themselves.

In the midst of this melee the building was fired, and a considerable portion of it was destroyed before, with the aid of the Federal troops, the flames could be conquered. Nearly all of the prisoners escaped. A few only were recaptured.


Libby prison, emptied the day before of Federals (who were sent to their lines in a flag-of-truce boat), was now filled with Confederates.

Colonel Robert Ould, Confederate commissioner for the exchange of prisoners, and Major Isaac H. Carrington, provost marshal, were, some days after the evacuation, among its inmates.

The military took possession of the city and State, and we were not free from their rule until Governor Walker was elected (July 6, 1869) and the State (some months later) was readmitted to the Union.

Of old the colored people celebrated evacuation day with great parade and pomp.

To their credit, be it said, the custom has fallen into deserved disuse.

Why the City Was Fired.

The reason for the firing of the city is explained in the following deposition given by Major Isaac H. Carrington, Confederate Provost Marshal of Richmond, in a deposition in 1866, in the case of Graeme vs. the Mutual Assurance Society:


I am requested to state my knowledge of facts connected with the fire of April 3, 1865, in the city of Richmond. I was at that date Provost Marshal of the city under appointment of the Secretary of War of the Confederate States. I reported to General Ewell as my commanding officer in all matters relating to the city.

Some weeks before the evacuation of Richmond General Ewell sent for me, and informed me that he had orders to destroy all tobacco, cotton, and military and naval stores in the city in the even that its evacuation became necessary. He instructed me to make inquiry as to the amount and location of these articles in the city.

I soon after reported to him that there was no considerable quantity of any of these articles excepting tobacco, of which there was a large quantity.

General Ewell took steps for having the leaf-tobacco in the city, as far as possible, kept in Shockoe and Von Groning’s warehouses, on Cary street, and in the warehouse at the Petersburg depot.

We had frequent conversations on the subject, in which he deplored the necessity for executing the order, and expressed the hope that it could be avoided.

On Sunday, April 2, 1865, General Ewell sent for me, informing me that the city must be evacuated, and directed me to prepare for burning the warehouses aforesaid, but not to apply fire until the last moment. I sent officers to these three warehouses with orders to prepare combustibles in such manner that they could be quickly fired, and to place a sufficient guard at each to prevent any disturbance.

I also sent an officer to communicate with the Chief of the Fire Department of the city to inform him of the location of fire, and to require him to have the firemen and their engines on the ground to prevent the spread of the flames. The officer reported that he had communicated with the person second in authority, the Chief of the Fire Department being out of the city.

During Sunday night I was several times at the office of the Secretary of War (General Breckinridge). I recollect that I informed him of the orders I had received, and of the action I had taken. He said that it was a necessity; that the orders must be carried out, with all precautions taken to prevent a spread of the fire.

My final orders from General Ewell were to remain in the city as long as I could with safety, and to preserve order as far as possible with the troops under my command, and to fire the tobacco before I left.

General Ewell and General Breckinridge left the city together, by way of Mayo’s bridge, about or a little before daybreak of Monday, 3d of April. I parted with them at the corner of Fourteenth and Cary streets as they rode off.

General Ewell said to me, just as he left, that the firing of the tobacco could not be longer delayed.

I gave the order to two of the men with me, and they at once communicated them to the officers on guard at the warehouses. The fire was applied at once to Shockoe and Von Groning’s warehouses.

The officers at the warehouse at the Petersburg depot sent me word that a number of wounded Confederate soldiers had been laid in that warehouse, and that they could not be removed. I directed the combustible collected at that place to be removed, and countermanded the order for burning it.

The night was remarkably still. I remarked the fact several times during the night that there was not a breath of air stirring. Very soon after the warehouses were fired the wind rose from the southeast, and in a short time quite a breeze was blowing from that direction.

I left the city just about sunrise Monday morning by the River road or Plank road, going up the river.


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