Raising a Flag in Richmond, Virginia

When United States forces took possession of Richmond, Virginia, on April 3, 1865, soldiers vied for the honor of raising the first flag over the liberated city. Young Johnston de Peyster, a member of a prominent New York military family. was more than prepared for the event. Serving in the Army of the James, de Peyster had secured possession of the national colors that had once flown over New Orleans when it was under the command of George F. Shepley.  Shepley had given the flag to de Peyster, who was ready to raise it once more, this time over the capital of the Confederacy, with the capitol building as his target.

Originally de Peyster thought that he would participate in a massive assault against Richmond, and was prepared to die in the attempt; however, with the Confederate evacuation, he and his fellow soldiers would enter the city unopposed. Another aspirant for the honor of raising the first flag in Richmond beat him to the roof of the capitol building, but all he had to raise was a guidon: de Peyster, along with Captain Loomis L. Langdon, chief of artillery for the XXV Corps, would be recognized as the first to raise the national colors.

depeysters moment

Note that de Peyster lost his hat.

The young officer wrote home the same day, describing the moment:

Headquarters, Army of the James
Richmond, April 3, 1865.

My dearest mother,— This morning, about four o’clock, I was got up, just one hour after I retired, with the information that at six we were going to Richmond. At six we started. The rebs had gone at three, along a road strewn with all the munitions of war. Richmond was reached, but the barbarous South had consigned it to flames. The roar of the bursting shells was terrific.

Arriving at the capitol, I sprang from my horse, first unbuckling the stars and stripes, a large flag I had on the front of my saddle. With Captain Langdon, chief of artillery, I rushed up to the roof. Together we hoisted the first large flag over Richmond, and on the peak of the roof drank to its success.

Our line of march, when near the city, was lined with men, women, and boys, colored and  white, all shouting welcome. The excitement was intense: old men, gray and scarred by many battles, acted the part of boys, shouting and yelling at tbe top of their voices.

In the capitol I found four flags—three rebel, one ours. I presented them all, as the conqueror, to General Weitzel. It is glorious. I am tired out, however, and have been busy with only one hour’s sleep for 48 hours.

I will write soon more at length. I am fagged out.

I have fulfilled my bet, and put the first large flag over Richmond. 

I found two small guidons, took them down, and returned them to the 4th Mass. Cav., where they belong.

The people are abusive in the extreme, of the Rebels. Costumes are numerous. Women here have no hoops whatsoever. Men have curious mixture of material and colors.

I write from Jeff. Davis’s private room. Genl. Shefley is Military Governor. 

Love to all

I remain ever Your Atft. Son

Johnston

The right flag was now flying in Richmond once more.

2 thoughts on “Raising a Flag in Richmond, Virginia

  1. Jeffry Burden April 3, 2015 / 5:47 pm

    I’m a friend of the great-grandson of Major A.H. Stevens, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, who was the federal officer Major Joseph Mayo first ran into east of town, and to whom Mayo tendered the surrender of the City. Stevens rode into town, and raised the cavalry guidon that was the first federal flag atop the Capitol. The delicious irony? Mayo tendered that surrender on the Osborne Turnpike farm owned by Franklin Stearns…one of Richmond’s leading Unionists.🙂

  2. Will Hickox April 5, 2015 / 7:44 am

    At the New York State Library I read postwar letters written by de Peyster, who was calling upon his family’s connections to try and get a Medal of Honor. He was also assigned to the same company in the 13th New York Heavy Artillery as my far less exalted g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, though de Peyster doesn’t seem to have spent much time with his company at the front.

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