Bloody Crimes

Bloody Crimes by James L. Swanson Read Free Book Online

Book: Bloody Crimes by James L. Swanson Read Free Book Online
Authors: James L. Swanson
Tags: Autobiography
morning, when it was still burning. “As we neared the city the fires seemed to increase in number and size, and at intervals loud explosions were heard. On entering the square we found Capitol Square covered with people who had fled there to escape the fire and were utterly worn out with fatigue and fright. Details were at once made to scour the city and press into service every able-bodied man, white or black, and make them assist in extinguishing the flames.”
    Constance Cary ventured outside to bear witness to the ruined and fallen city. Horrified, she discovered that Yankees had desecrated the Confederate White House merely by their presence. “I looked over at the President’s house, and saw the porch crowded with Union soldiers and politicians, the street in front filled with curious gaping negroes who have appeared in swarms like seventeen year locusts.” The sight of ex-slaves roving freely about disgusted her. “A young woman has just passed wearing a costume composed of United States flags. The streets fairly swarm with blue uniforms and negroes decked in the spoils of jewelry shops…It is no longer our Richmond…one of the girls tells me she finds great comfort in singing ‘Dixie’ with her head buried in a feather pillow.”
    The gloom suffocating President Davis’s train vanished with the morning sun. Secretary of State Benjamin, Secretary of the Treasury Trenholm, and the president’s aides all contributed to the change in mood. Benjamin, a larger-than-life epicurean and bon vivant, talkedabout food and told stories. “His hope and good humor [were] inexhaustible,” recalled Secretary Mallory.
    With a playful air, Benjamin discussed the fine points of a sandwich, analyzed his daily diet given the food shortages that plagued the South, and showed off, as an example of his “adroit economy,” his coat and pants, both tailored from an old shawl that had kept him warm through three winters. Mallory, who appointed himself unofficial chronicler of the evacuation train, admired Benjamin for his “never give up the ship air” and took notice when Benjamin “referred to other great national causes which had been redeemed from far gloomier reverses than ours.”
    Colonels John Taylor Wood and William Preston Johnston, “gentlemen of high character, cultivated minds, and pleasing address,” agreed. “They were quiet,” recalled Mallory, “but professed to be confident, saw much to deplore, but no reason for despair or for an immediate abandonment of the fight.” Colonel Frank Lubbock, the former Texas governor and Davis’s favorite equestrian riding partner during the war, entertained his fellow travelers with wild Western tales. Mallory summed him up with a pithy character sketch: “An earnest, enthusiastic, big-hearted man was Colonel Lubbock, who had seen much of life, knew something of men, less of women, but a great deal about horses, with a large stock of Texas anecdotes, which he disposed of in a style earnest and demonstrative.”
    The most important contributor to the jolly mood might have been Secretary of the Treasury Trenholm. Although ill, semi-invalid, and unable to regale his colleagues, Trenholm contributed an essential ingredient to the cheery mood aboard the train: a seemingly inexhaustible supply of “old Peach” brandy. “As the morning advanced our fugitives recovered their spirit,” testified Mallory, “and by the time the train reached Danville…all shadows seemed to have departed.”
    Lincoln was unaware of what was happening in Richmondthroughout the night. But in the morning he telegraphed Edwin M. Stanton in Washington, informing him that the Confederacy had evacuated Petersburg, and probably Richmond too.
Head Quarters Armies of the United States
City-Point
April 3. 8/00 A.M. 1865
Hon. Sec. of War
Washington, D.C.
This morning Gen. Grant reports Petersburg evacuated; and he is confident Richmond also is. He is pushing forward to cut it off if possible, the

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