From the National Tribune, 8/17/1899

A Union Man in Richmond

Personal Recollections of the Great Rebellion, by a Man on the Inside.
Copyright, 1899, by the Publishers of THE NATIONAL TRIBUNE.

Let us go back to the Winter of 1863. Both my mother and wife having passed away from earth during the Summer of 1862, also one of my children, I determined to leave the South and make my way North, if possible, to rest again under the shadow of the "Stars and Stripes" of my country, never having once, even, wavered in my allegiance to the "Grand Old Banner." And with that purpose in view I discontinued housekeeping, put my two little boys with good friends, and, at the suggestion of my good friend George W. Sizer, occupied his apartments in connection with him.

He had rented two good rooms on the upper floor of a house near "Saddler's Tavern," for privacy and retirement; and I may here stat that the papers, soon after, stated that there was a "Union League," beyond doubt, in the city, and that the Confederate authorities were searching the city for its location. They likely referred to us, because, while it was not an organized league, none but Union men came to our rooms, and they mostly mechanics, who gathered news, which we exchanged at night. One little fellow, who was brought to us by a friend who knew him, was interesting indeed. He was 18 years of age, but did not look more than 15. He was a blockade runner, and the cutest little fellow in Richmond; and the Confederate authorities never suspected him, even, during the war. His route was to Norfolk, via Petersburg and the Nansemond River, which he crossed near its mouth. He carried valuable and important letters for from $3 to $5 in gold, and brought back some few light but valuable articles, on which he realized a large profit. It makes no difference now to say that he had a friend, an officer, at Petersburg, and who assisted him greatly. I shall give no names, however. He was always welcome, and enjoyed himself with us. One of our party vouched for him, and he was among friends.

Frequently strangers would climb up two flights of stairs to our rooms, and inquire if Mr. "Smith" or Mr. "Jones" lived there. Being informed in the negative, they would retire, after scanning our rooms and surroundings with inquisitive eyes. During the Winter of 1862, there was much gaiety at the Spotswood Hotel and Exchange and Ballard House. A large number of officers made their headquarters at these hotels, and many were the balls and suppers given; also, much whisky flowed in torrents. The theaters in operation were few, and performances of a cheap character. "Oliver Doud Byron," the actor, was holding forth at a small theater just beyond the Exchange Hotel, in a building which was formerly a church. I went one night, to while away the time, and there was a scene in the theater not on the bills.

When the people started out after the performance, a provost-guard barred the exit with glittering muskets, ad cried out "All persons must show their exemptions before passing out." There was great consternation among the audience, as many had no exemption, and had come to the theater because the conscript guard had not formerly appeared after dark. The actors were much alarmed; and Oliver Doud Byron opened a window and jumped down into Exchange Alley, and was never heard from, or seen in the South again; but I seem to remember having seen in a Northern paper where "Oliver" would appear in the "Lady of Lyons" as "Claude Melnotte." Thus we "play many parts" on the stage of life.


The sporting fraternity abounded, and the "scarlet woman" was in stronger evidence than ever. Many professional "sports" came through the lines from Baltimore, and opened houses on Main and Pearl streets, while Exchange Alley, Pearl street, and neighboring places were literally overflowing with sports, like unto a glass of lager beer. The sports did not take to the Confederates or their rebellion, and finally the Confederate Government gave orders, so the papers stated, that all gamblers should promptly be arrested and conscripted into the Confederate ranks, regardless of any other conditions whatever.

Speaking on this subject with a "sport" just after the war closed, he informed me that the "Worshams" and other large gamblers paid their way through, while some returned the way they came, to Baltimore; while several others remained in very secret places, and, after a while, were forgotten by the Confederate authorities, the Yankees keeping them so busy that faro, roulette and poker were forgotten.

Now there were hard times in Richmond, except among the rich and high office-holders, while the poorer classes lived upon the "crumbs that fell from the rich man's table"; and the women made tobacco bags and got more or less work at the Confederate Quartermaster's depot, making clothing for the Confederate soldiers, but these sources of income were utterly inadequate to supply their daily wants, as everything had advanced in price from five to 10 times their original value. Benevolent ladies did much to alleviate the distress, but the situation was approaching a climax, as will be seen presently.

One morning I had called at Mrs. Askew's, on Mayo street, her youngest daughter being a pupil of mine. While conversing about the war, its probable duration, etc., there came a tremendous uproar from the streets. Being requested by the family to go out and see "what in the world" was the matter, I hastened out and, following the crowd, who were moving up town in the direction of the Capitol Square, opposite the west end of the square, we came upon a scene tat was dramatic indeed. Occupying the street in front and about the Spotswood Hotel were congregated nearly a thousand women, and in their immediate vicinity were assembled as many more citizens of all conditions.


"The Women's Bread Riot" was on. As I reached there, the Amazons went for the stores on the south side of Main street. The leader of the rioters was a woman named "Jackson," the widow of a former butcher in the Old Market. She carried a large hatchet - it might have been her former husband's meat-ax, or cleaver; a small pistol being partly concealed by a broad belt around her waist. Mrs. Jackson was a lady much above the ordinary size, with an exceedingly bold and determined appearance. Several others, I observed, carried hatchets. "Forward, women," came the command, just as though she had waited for my arrival. The "sappers and miners" moved to the front, and a dash was made for the nearest grocery store. It was being closed as the Amazons rushed in, as soldiers would charge a weakened fortress. Everything in sight was seized, no one interfering, and a passing dray was captured, and the "colored gentleman," the driver, was forced, much against his will, to back up to the door, and the dray was filled and went down town under a female guard of some 20 or 30.

Much was also carried along by the individual ladies. Next they went for a jewelry store, and took some. I could not observe how much, the proprietors finally persuading them to desist. The merchants now took the alarm, and some began closing up their shutters hastily. I followed close to them from beginning to end of the wonderful raid. They dashed for "Sandy" Knott's shoe store, he trying to close, but they burst the doors in, or cut them down, and in they went and brought out the shoes in bundles, over their shoulders, carrying them off in person or by wagon, which they seized.

The crowd augmented in numbers every minute, and at this moment the cry came that the soldiers were coming, and, getting to the middle of the street, I saw a battalion of soldiers coming on the double-quick from Camp Lee. No notice was taken of them by the bread-rioters. As they arrived, some 200 or 300 strong, they formed in front of "Sandy" Knott's shoe store, facing the building, just outside the curbstone, but said nothing then.

At this moment, a woman, just out of the store, asked me, hurriedly, to hold the bundle of shoes, while she went for another. I shook my head in a friendly manner, which she understood, and pointed to a then passing wagon. They pounced upon it, partly loaded it, and off it went under guard down town. Another woman then appeared with a bundle of shoes, directly in front of the commanding officer of the battalion - a pleasing looking young officer, and he, rather gently, I thought, mildly rebuked her, when she deliberately, and with flashing eyes, spat, or attempted to do so, in his face.

He dodged the attack, and, in doing so, slipped on the round cobblestones with which the street was paved, and stumbled backwards. I quickly caught him on my right arm, when he recovered his position and said to me: "Thank you, sir," and adding: "This is a dreadful affair." I answered in low tones: "Too true, sir; and you will be lenient with them; their necessities are many." He slightly smiled in a friendly manner.

Just then the women left Knott's and moved on a dry-goods store nearby. The soldiers moved also behind them, seeming to be only acting as a guard of honor. Now they approached a clothing store kept by a Hebrew, who was trying to close his doors. He was brushed aside, and in the rioters went in fine style. The Jew fell back, crying out, "You ruins me, good ladies, if you takes mine goods!" but he kept on towards his back door. The police were now appealed to for protection, but they replied that the military had charge of the matter. Their sympathies were clearly with the poor women.

Now we have a charming scene. The rioters crossed the street and swarmed to the doors of the large family grocery store of Mr. Hiram Tyler, near the St. Charles Hotel. The store was wide open, and Hiram, smiling and fairly beaming, upon the approaching mob, stood just inside his door as Mrs. Jackson with her troops as thick as forest leaves, came up and said: "We came not for smiles and bows, we came for bread, Mr. Tyler." Now, this diplomatic gentleman performed, probably, the finest act of his life:

"Mrs. Jackson," he said, "you have but to command me; you shall have what you desire; only do not ruin my store, ladies.

"Good for Hiram!" came from many voices, and the ladies said: "Oh, how charming, perfectly delightful, more than lovely! Why, he's an angel in disguise!"

Men applauded again mildly, and the soldiers positively looked uneasy, and began slowly to move off.

"Now," said Hiram to his clerks, "bring the order-book; now, Mrs. Jackson, we will take down any articles desired and send them to any designated place you may mention." Was there going to be an end of all things, and was Gabriel going to blow his trumpet? Not at all.

They next struck a store at the Old Market; and I noted several bolts of cloth trampled in the mud. The riot was over, and the "fair ladies" in considerable numbers went their various ways home, richly laden, besides having sent quantities of goods to some place below the market. Many, however, crossed the market place and proceeded up Franklin street. I left them at this point, but I learned from those who still followed that Mrs. Jackson and some followers proceeded to the Exchange Hotel and Ballard House, where Jeff Davis mounted a dray or wagon and told the rioters that he regretted that they had defamed the fair fame of the city, and added that if any were in want, to come to his house and he would divide the last crust with them. Mrs. Jackson replied: "Give us back our husbands and sons you have taken from us, and we do not want your bread!" there was no reply. "It were done well when it were well done!"


In the early Spring of 1863, I determined upon passing through the lines. Many had started by the way of Williamsburg and Fort Monroe, and by the way of Petersburg, also by way of Fredericksburg. A number had been captured and sent to the army at once, and some imprisoned for various periods of time, as I understood. I acquainted my friend Geo. W. Sizer with my determination. We roomed together at the time. We considered, first, how I should get out of Richmond. Every railroad and County road was guarded by soldiers; even Mayo's Bridge, leading to Manchester, was guarded.

I remember that some ladies, one an old school friend, from Portsmouth, kindly hunted me up in Richmond, and when we reached the Manchester Bridge, I was told by the guards that I could not go over; but the ladies were permitted to return to Manchester, because their pass read: "Pass to Richmond and return." We separated, with kind adieus, on the bridge.

I first applied to Provost-Marshal Cook, from whom I had gotten my exemption paper, but he politely informed me that he could not comply with my request, and was sorry, but that Gen. Winder had issued an order that all passes for persons to leave the city must be signed by him. Now, I saw fun ahead, indeed; I knew al about Winder, from private sources. He had been sent there from a far Southern State to rule over Virginians. He was a martinet, vain and impertinent to citizen callers for favors.

I told Geo. Sizer that I thought Winder would not think quite so much of his abilities after I had gotten through with him; and George replied that he thought we were, or would be, fully equal to the occasion, and that he was with me. Enough.

I marched up town to Winder's headquarters; a soldier at the door admitted me, and in a moment I stood before the marvelous Gen. Winder whom scarcely anybody liked. He was writing, but raised his head, and, looking at me sharply, said: "What is your business, sir?" I replied that I desired to visit some friends in Staunton, Va., and called to get a pass from him. He said: "You can't go to Staunton, sir; the Yankees are now near Staunton; and, moreover, are you exempt from military duty?" I said I was, and handed my exemption to him. Without a word, he took down a large book, turned to a page, then looked at me and inquired: "What is your name and profession?" I answered him correctly. Again looking at the book, he turned to me and said sharply: "You can't go, sir!" I replied, "I can't go, General, of course, unless you think proper to give me a pass," and I bowed myself out.

After telling George Sizer all about it, we considered the case, and George said: "I have it; I am a mechanic, and have been to Petersburg on a pass from Winder. I will get one from him to Staunton; then you can get on the cars, and I know you can manage the rest. The guards won't know you of course. "Eureka!" It was good! George got the pass for himself a day or two after, and I proceeded to the depot of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad [Virginia Central during the war. Ed.], with George following close behind. On arriving, I found one end of the passenger car locked up and the other end guarded by four soldiers. Waiting until the cars were about to start, I stepped briskly forward and presented the pass of George Washington Sizer to Staunton. George then came to my window and we shook hands, and, as per agreement, I left the pass in his hand. The train moved off the next second.

There were no soldiers on board then, but at the next station a spruce young Lieutenant, with a small detachment of some half a dozen men, got on board and seated themselves near me. I greeted the Lieutenant, who returned the greeting in a very polite manner. I then turned to Frank Bonavita, a friend, who had met me on the cars by agreement, and whispered to him, asking if he had any whisky with him. He replied by handing me a quart bottleful. I noted that the soldiers' eyes fairly twinkled when they observed the bottle. I at once turned to the Lieutenant and asked him if he would "join me" in a drink. He promptly accepted; and one or two of the guards asked me for a drink, if it could be spared - why, it was for them, if they had but known. The Lieutenant having no objections, I handed the bottle to them, for which they thanked me profusely. And no wonder! whisky was worth then $10 or $12 a gallon, and drinks a dollar each! At this point the Lieutenant said to me:

"You have your pass, of course?"

Of course I had my pass, and I searched my pockets and pocket-book, then under the seat, when I exclaimed that "I must have dropped it in some way when I got on board." Frank, at a wink from me, assisted in the search on the floor of the car. Not found, when I said to the Lieutenant: "You know I must have had the pass to get by the guards at the car door." The Lieutenant replied: "Of course you had the pass to get by the guards; perhaps, in your hurry, you dropped it on the car platform; but it is all right." Of course I had dropped it - in George Sizer's hands.

The officer then informed me that he was Lieut. Avis, commanding the Provost-Guard at Staunton, and that Capt. John Avis was his father. Everybody remembers Capt. Avis, of John Brown fame. He hung John Brown, or Brown was hung under his auspices, I do not know which.


[Author goes on at length about his stay in Staunton, VA. This was not transcribed.]

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