On April 3, 1865, United States soldiers, most of them African Americans. entered what had been the capital of the Confederacy, freeing what had been Richmond’s enslaved population. Although there were other days in the war when more people were declared free by proclamation, legislation, or constitutional amendment, this day 150 years ago freed a great many human beings, although the entrance of US forces into Charleston, South Carolina, again spearheaded by black soldiers, secured the freedom of another large number of human beings.
It interests me that there is very little art commemorating this wonderful moment in American history. There are far more representations of Abraham Lincoln’s arrival in Richmond than of the actual liberation of the city. We might want to ponder the implications of that.
And so US officers scrambled to the top of the Confederate state house–a building designed by Thomas Jefferson–and raised the Stars and Stripes atop the building. The officer responsible, Johnson de Peyster, hailed from New York.
Does this make him the only flagger that matters in Richmond’s history? Too soon?
I don’t think so.
As the expression goes, the news spread like wildfire throughout the North, electrifying the excited population. After all, for years people had been waiting to hear that Richmond had fallen, and now it had.
Over the next several weeks, photographers would record how the Confederates destroyed Richmond as they abandoned it. Yet no one today reminds us that it was Robert E. Lee who was responsible for this destruction and subsequent suffering visited on the very people he claimed to love. Why is that?
Meanwhile, in Petersburg, Lincoln met Grant for the final time during the campaign at the Wallace House.
Here’s how the house looks now:
Grant had no time to visit Richmond. He knew that unfinished work remained before him. Rather, he was already directing the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was determined that this time Lee would not elude his grasp.
Still, the war was one step closer to being brought to a close.
And so that’s the way it was, April 3, 1865 … on the 1865th post on this blog.