April 3, 1865: The Liberation of Richmond

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.

7 thoughts on “April 3, 1865: The Liberation of Richmond

  1. Bob Nelson April 3, 2015 / 2:53 pm

    Can’t ignore the irony that this is the 1865th post on your blog. At the time, Reuben Eaton Fenton (see above) was the governor of New York. Elected in 1864, he served a single term from January 1, 1865 to December 31, 1868. Born in Frewsburg, NY on July 4, 1819, he was a lumber merchant who also studied law and first entered politics as a town supervisor. In 1852 he was elected to Congress as a Democrat where he opposed the extension of slavery into the territories and helped organize the Republican Party in 1854. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1869 to 1875. One of the signers of the charter for Cornell University, he died in 1885.

  2. OhioGuy April 3, 2015 / 2:55 pm

    Well, in my recent visit to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, I was pleased that they didn’t shy away either from the fact that many Colored Infantry regiments were involved in the fall of Richmond or that CSA troops had started many of the fires. This pleased me greatly, and probably does not please the modern-day flaggers. I really liked your graphic of the original VA flagger in Richmond. Now that’s flagging with a reason! 😉 One thing about the history of that period actually makes me angry is that when I was growing up in the 1950s in Ohio, we were not taught one blasted thing about the United States Colored Infantry (or the USCC or USCA). More than 180,000 African American soldiers had been totally eliminated from my high school textbooks and from our collective memory. We were, in essence, taught a Lost Cause version of history in the North. As some have said, the South lost the war but won the PR battle after the war. It is a crying shame that it has taken over a hundred years to reclaim the battle for the memory of what actually happened. I have read David Blight’s book and he describes in pain-staking detail how this happened, but that still doesn’t make it easy for me to come to grips with this travesty on a psychological basis. Pardon me for this, but my gut reaction to this twisting of history is that Jubal Early and his Lee Cult are a bunch of SOBs! These folks spent the rest of their lives perpetuating the myths that came to be known as the Lost Cause. They are worthy of nothing but scorn. The Union Forever!

  3. OhioGuy April 3, 2015 / 3:09 pm

    Let me add two things to my post above: 1. I very much admire some ex-Confederates after the war. Two that spring quickly to mind are James Longstreet and John Mosby, the Gray Ghost. Both of these men worked for reconciliation and abandoned their previous views on race to a remarkable extent. 2. Though I have been angry about the twisting of Civil War history for a long-time, my anger has gotten more pronounced since about five months ago my youngest daughter gave birth to our second grandchild. She is the g4granddaughter of a slave, who the neo-Confederate idiots in Alabama have designated as a “black Confederate.” They even erected a new tombstone for him indicating he served with the 6th Alabama, complete with an SCV emblem. It took a friend of mine, who is now a history doctoral student, about fifteen minutes of online research to discover that this gentleman (Daniel Boone Coleman) was a slave cook, who had been owned by one man and then loaned to another who was serving in this regiment. The utter gall of these folks is just beyond the pale. I guess Jubal Early would be proud. [Let me add that I’m 97.3 percent European in my heritage, as reveal by a recent DNA analysis. Most of it is Northern European. I’m very light skinned. My daughter, obviously, married an African American.]

  4. Donald R. Shaffer April 3, 2015 / 6:25 pm

    Reblogged this on Civil War Emancipation and commented:
    Brooks Simpson at Crossroads reminds us that Richmond’s fall was also a significant moment in emancipation of slaves in the Civil War, especially as the main Union troops to enter the city first were African Americans of the U.S. Colored Troops.

  5. David & Jan April 4, 2015 / 12:15 pm

    Dear Brooks,I have been following your blog for several years and find it most informative and enjoyable.Keep up  your excellent work.Congratulations on your 1865th blog!Best,David Swanson, Past Camp CommanderPicacho Peak Camp No. 1Arizona Camp-at-LargeSons of Union Veterans of the Civil War   From: Crossroads To: swanson1854@yahoo.com Sent: Friday, April 3, 2015 1:24 PM Subject: [New post] April 3, 1865: The Liberation of Richmond #yiv3431163754 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv3431163754 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv3431163754 a.yiv3431163754primaryactionlink:link, #yiv3431163754 a.yiv3431163754primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv3431163754 a.yiv3431163754primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv3431163754 a.yiv3431163754primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv3431163754 WordPress.com | Brooks D. Simpson posted: “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 decla” | |

  6. Noma April 4, 2015 / 6:41 pm

    Brooks — I notice that you include Benjamin West Clinedinst’s illustration of Grant and Lincoln meeting in Petersburg (from Horace Porter’s Campaigning with Grant). There are a number of incidents in Grant’s life for which Clinedinst is the only illustrator that I know of (such as Grant’s crossing of the James River).

    However, I have never been able to figure out where to obtain copies of the original color paintings of those illustrations. Do they still exist? Do you have any idea of where to obtain them? Thanks!

  7. Rosemary April 6, 2015 / 8:27 am

    Congrats, Dr. S, on 1865+ posts!
    I love the end-of-war series you are running now. Thank You!

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