Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital, By John Beauchamp Jones

April 6th.—Showery morning.

I perceive no change, except, perhaps, a diminution of troops, which seems to confirm the reports of recent battles, and the probable success of Lee and Johnston. But all is doubt and uncertainty.

The military authorities are still reticent regarding the fate of those remaining in Richmond. We are at their mercy, and prepared for our fate. I except some of our ladies, who are hysterical, and want to set out on foot “for the Confederacy.”

April 5th.—Bright and pleasant.

Stayed with my next door neighbors at their request last night— all females. It was quiet; and so far the United States pickets and guards have preserved perfect order.

The cheers that greeted President Lincoln were mostly from the negroes and Federals comprising the great mass of humanity. The white citizens felt annoyed that the city should be held mostly by negro troops. If this measure were not unavoidable, it was impolitic if conciliation be the purpose.

Mr. Lincoln, after driving to the mansion lately occupied by Mr. Davis, Confederate States President, where he rested, returned, I believe, to the fleet at Rocketts.

This morning thousands of negroes and many white females are besieging the public officers for provisions. I do not observe any getting them, and their faces begin to express disappointment.

It is said all the negro men, not entering the army, will be put to work, rebuilding bridges, repairing railroads, etc.

I have seen a New York Herald of the 3d, with dispatches of the 1st and 2d inst. from Mr. Lincoln, who was at City Point during the progress of the battle. He sums up with estimate of 12,000 prisoners captured, and 50 guns.

The rumor of a success by Gen. Lee on Monday is still credited. Per contra, it is reported that President Davis is not only a captive, but will soon be exhibited in Capitol Square.

The Rev. Mr. Dashiell, who visited us to-day, said it was reported and believed that 6000 South Carolina troops threw down their arms; and that a large number of Mississippians deserted— giving such information to the enemy as betrayed our weak points, etc.

Three P.M. I feel that this Diary is near its end.

The burnt district includes all the banks, money-changers, and principal speculators and extortioners. This seems like a decree from above!

Four P.M. The Square is nearly vacated by the negroes. An officer told me they intended to put them in the army in a few days, and that the Northern people did not really like negro equality any better than we did.

Two rumors prevail: that Lee gained a victory on Monday, and that Lee has capitulated, with 35,000 men.

The policy of the conquerors here, I believe, is still undecided, and occupies the attention of Mr. Lincoln and his cabinet.

April 4th.—Another bright and beautiful day.

I walked around the burnt district this morning. Some seven hundred houses, from Main Street to the canal, comprising the most valuable stores, and the best business establishments, were consumed. All the bridges across the James were destroyed, the work being done effectually. Shells were placed in all the warehouses where the tobacco was stored, to prevent the saving of any.

The War Department was burned after I returned yesterday; and soon after the flames were arrested, mainly by the efforts of the Federal troops.

Gen. Weitzel commanded the troops that occupied the city upon its abandonment.

The troops do not interfere with the citizens here any more than they do in New York—yet. Last night everything was quiet, and perfect order prevails.

A few thousand negroes (mostly women) are idle in the streets, or lying in the Capitol Square, or crowding about headquarters, at the Capitol.

Gen. Lee’s family remain in the city. I saw a Federal guard promenading in front of the door, his breakfast being just sent to him from within.

Brig.-Gen. Gorgas’s family remain also. They are Northern-born.

It is rumored that another great battle was fought yesterday, at Amelia Court House, on the Danville Road, and that Lee, Johnston and Hardee having come up, defeated Grant. It is only rumor, so far. If it be true, Richmond was evacuated prematurely; for the local defense troops might have held it against the few white troops brought in by Weitzel. The negroes never would have been relied on to take it by assault.

I see many of the civil employees left behind. It was the merest accident (being Sunday) that any were apprised, in time, of the purpose to evacuate the city. It was a shameful abandonment on the part of the heads of departments and bureaus.

Confederate money is not taken to-day. However, the shops are still closed.

April 3d.—Another clear and bright morning. It was a quiet night, with its million of stars. And yet how few could sleep, in anticipation of the entrance of the enemy! But no enemy came until 9 A.M., when some 500 were posted at the Capitol Square. They had been waited upon previously by the City Council, and the surrender of the city stipulated—to occur this morning. They were asked to post guards for the protection of property from pillage, etc., and promised to do so.

At dawn there were two tremendous explosions, seeming to startle the very earth, and crashing the glass throughout the western end of the city. One of these was the blowing up of the magazine, near the new almshouse—the other probably the destruction of an iron-clad ram. But subsequently there were others. I was sleeping soundly when awakened by them.

All night long they were burning the papers of the Second Auditor’s office in the street—claims of the survivors of deceased soldiers, accounts of contractors, etc.

At 7 A.M. Committees appointed by the city government visited the liquor shops and had the spirits (such as they could find) destroyed. The streets ran with liquor; and women and boys, black and white, were seen filling pitchers and buckets from the gutters.

A lady sold me a bushel of potatoes in Broad Street for $75, Confederate States money—$5 less than the price a few days ago. I bought them at her request. And some of the shops gave clothing to our last retiring guards.

Goods, etc. at the government depots were distributed to the poor, to a limited extent, there being a limited amount.

A dark volume of smoke rises from the southeastern section of the city, and spreads like a pall over the zenith. It proceeds from the tobacco warehouse, ignited, I suppose, hours ago, and now just bursting forth.

At 8½ A.M. The armory, arsenal, and laboratory (Seventh and Canal Streets), which had been previously fired, gave forth terrific sounds from thousands of bursting shells. This continued for more than an hour. Some fragments of shell fell within a few hundred yards of my house.

The pavements are filled with pulverized glass. Some of the great flour mills have taken fire from the burning government warehouses, and the flames are spreading through the lower part of the city. A great conflagration is apprehended.

The doors of the government bakery (Clay Street) were thrown open this morning, and flour and crackers were freely distributed, until the little stock was exhausted. I got a barrel of the latter, paying a negro man $5 to wheel it home—a short distance.

Ten A.M. A battery (United States) passed my house, Clay Street, and proceeded toward Camp Lee. Soon after the officers returned, when I asked the one in command if guards would be placed in this part of the city to prevent disturbance, etc. He paused, with his suite, and answered that such was the intention, and that every precaution would be used to preserve order. He said the only disturbances were caused by our people. I asked if there was any disturbance. He pointed to the black columns of smoke rising from the eastern part of the city, and referred to the incessant bursting of shell. I remarked that the storehouses had doubtless been ignited hours previously. To this he assented, and assuring me that they did not intend to disturb us, rode on. But immediately meeting two negro women laden with plunder, they wheeled them to the right about, and marched them off, to the manifest chagrin of the newly emancipated citizens.

Eleven A.M. I walked down Brad Street to the Capitol Square. The street was filled with negro troops, cavalry and infantry, and were cheered by hundreds of negroes at the corners.

I met Mr. T. Cropper (lawyer from the E. Shore) driving a one-horse wagon containing his bedding and other property of his quarters. He said he had just been burnt out—at Belom’s Block —and that St. Paul’s Church (Episcopal) was, he thought, on fire. This I found incorrect; but Dr. Reed’s (Presbyterian) was in ruins. The leaping and lapping flames were roaring in Main Street up to Ninth; and Goddin’s Building (late General Post-Office) was on fire, as well as all the houses in Governor Street up to Franklin.

The grass of Capitol Square is covered with parcels of goods snatched from the raging conflagration, and each parcel guarded by a Federal soldier.

A general officer rode up and asked me what building that was —pointing to the old stone United States Custom House—late Treasury and State Departments, also the President’s office. He said, “Then it is fire-proof, and the fire will be arrested in this direction.” He said he was sorry to behold such destruction; and regretted that there was not an adequate supply of engines and other apparatus.

Shells are still bursting in the ashes of the armory, etc.

All the stores are closed; most of the largest (in Main Street) have been burned. There are supposed to be 10,000 negro troops at Camp Lee, west of my dwelling.

An officer told me, 3 P.M., that a white brigade will picket the city to-night; and he assured the ladies standing near that there would not be a particle of danger of molestation. After 9 P.M., all will be required to remain in their houses. Soldiers or citizens, after that hour, will be arrested. He said we had done ourselves great injury by the fire, the lower part of the city being in ashes, and declared that the United States troops had no hand in it. I acquitted them of the deed, and told him that the fire had spread from the tobacco warehouses and military depots, fired by our troops as a military necessity.

Four P.M. Thirty-four guns announced the arrival of President Lincoln. He flitted through the mass of human beings in Capitol Square, his carriage drawn by four horses, preceded by out-riders, motioning the people, etc. out of the way, and followed by a mounted guard of thirty. The cortege passed rapidly, precisely as I had seen royal parties ride in Europe.

April 2d.—Bright and beautiful. The tocsin was sounded this morning at daybreak, and the militia ordered to the fortifications, to relieve some regiments of Longstreet’s corps, posted on this side of the river. These latter were hurried off to Petersburg, where a battle is impending, I suppose, if not in progress.

A street rumor says there was bloody fighting yesterday a little beyond Petersburg, near the South Side Road, in which Gen. Pickett’s division met with fearful loss, being engaged with superior numbers. It is said the enemy’s line of intrenchments was carried once or twice, but was retaken, and remained in their hands.

I hear nothing of all this at the department; but the absence of dispatches there is now interpreted as bad news! Certain it is, the marching of veteran troops from the defenses of Richmond, and replacing them hurriedly with militia, can only indicate an emergency of alarming importance. A decisive struggle is probably at hand—and may possibly be in progress while I write. Or there may be nothing in it—more than a precautionary concentration to preserve our communications.

Mrs. Davis sold nearly all her movables—including presents— before leaving the city. She sent them to different stores.

An intense excitement prevails, at 2 P.M. It pervaded the churches. Dr. Hoge intermitted his services. Gen. Cooper and the President left their respective churches, St. James’s and St. Paul’s. Dr. Minnegerode, before dismissing his congregation, gave notice that Gen. Ewell desired the local forces to assemble at 3 P.M.—and afternoon services will not be held. The excited women in this neighborhood say they have learned the city is to be evacuated to-night.

No doubt our army sustained a serious blow yesterday; and Gen. Lee may not have troops sufficient to defend both the city and the Danville Road at the same time.

It is true! The enemy have broken through our lines and attained the South Side Road. Gen. Lee has dispatched the Secretary to have everything in readiness to evacuate the city to-night. The President told a lady that Lieut.-Gen. Hardee was only twelve miles distant, and might get up in time to save the day. But then Sherman must be in his rear. There is no wild excitement—yet. Gen. Kemper was at the department looking for Gen. Ewell, and told me he could find no one to apply to for orders. The banks will move to-night. Eight trains are provided for the transportation of the archives, etc. No provision for civil employees and their families.

At 6 P.M. I saw the Hon. James Lyons, and asked him what he intended to do. He said many of his friends advised him to leave, while his inclination was to remain with his sick family. He said, being an original secessionist, his friends apprehended that the Federals would arrest him the first man, and hang him. I told him I differed with them, and believed his presence here might result in benefit to the population.

Passing down Ninth Street to the department, I observed quite a number of men—some in uniform, and some of them officers— hurrying away with their trunks. I believe they are not allowed to put them in the cars.

The Secretary of War intends to leave at 8 P.M. this evening. The President and the rest of the functionaries, I suppose, will leave at the same time.

I met Judge Campbell in Ninth Street, talking rapidly to himself, with two books under his arm, which he had been using in his office. He told me that the chiefs of bureaus determined which clerks would have transportation—embracing only a small proportion of them, which I found to be correct.

At the department I learned that all who had families were advised to remain. No compulsion is seen anywhere; even the artisans and mechanics of the government shops are left free to choose—to go or to stay.

A few squads of local troops and reserves—guards—may be seen marching here and there. Perhaps they are to burn the tobacco, cotton, etc., if indeed anything is to be burned.

Lee must have met with an awful calamity. The President said to several ladies to-day he had hopes of Hardee coming up in time to save Lee—else Richmond must succumb. He said he had done his best, etc. to save it. Hardee is distant two or three days’ march.

The negroes stand about mostly silent, as if wondering what will be their fate. They make no demonstrations of joy.

Several hundred prisoners were brought into the city this afternoon—captured yesterday. Why they were brought here I am at a loss to conjecture. Why were they not paroled and sent into the enemy’s lines?

At night. All is yet quiet. No explosion, no conflagration, no riots, etc. How long will this continue? When will the enemy come?

It was after 2 o’clock P.M. before the purpose to evacuate the city was announced; and the government had gone at 8 P.M.! Short notice! and small railroad facilities to get away. All horses were impressed.

There is a report that Lieut.-Gen. A. P. Hill was killed, and that Gen. Lee was wounded. Doubtless it was a battle of great magnitude, wherein both sides had all their forces engaged.

I remain here, broken in health and bankrupt in fortune, awaiting my fate, whatever it may be. I can do no more. If I could, I would.

April 1st.—Clear and pleasant. Walked to the department.

We have vague and incoherent accounts from excited couriers of fighting, without result, in Dinwiddie County, near the South Side Railroad.

It is rumored that a battle will probably occur in that vicinity to-day.

I have leave of absence, to improve my health; and propose accompanying my daughter Anne, next week, to Mr. Hobson’s mansion in Goochland County. The Hobsons are opulent, and she will have an excellent asylum there, if the vicissitudes of the war do not spoil her calculations. I shall look for angling streams: and if successful, hope for both sport and better health.

The books at the conscript office show a frightful list of deserters or absentees without leave—60,000—all Virginians. Speculation!

Jno. M. Daniel, editor of the Examiner, is dead.

The following dispatch from Gen. Lee is just (10 A.M.) received:

“Headquarters, April 1st, 1865.

“His Excellency President Davis.

“Gen. Beauregard has been ordered to make arrangements to defend the railroad in North Carolina against Stoneman. Generals Echols and Martin are directed to co-operate, and obey his orders.

“R. E. Lee.”

A rumor (perhaps a 1st of April rumor) is current that a treaty has been signed between the Confederate States Government and Maximilian.

March 31st.—Raining; rained all night. My health improving, but prudence requires me to still keep within the house.

The reports of terrific fighting near Peterburg on Wednesday evening have not been confirmed. Although Gen. Lee’s dispatch shows they were not quite without foundation, I have no doubt there was a false alarm on both sides, and a large amount of ammunition vainly expended.

“Headquarters, March 30th, 1865.

“Gen. J. C. Breckinridge, Secretary Of War.

“Gen. Gordon reports that the enemy, at 11 a.m. yesterday, advanced against a part of his lines, defended by Brig.-Gen. Lewis, but was repulsed.

“The fire of artillery and mortars continued for several hours with considerable activity.

“No damage on our lines reported.

“R. E. Lee.”

We are sinking our gun-boats at Chaffin’s Bluff, to obstruct the passage of the enemy’s fleet, expected soon to advance.

Congress passed two acts, and proper ones, to which the Executive has yet paid no attention whatever, viz.: the abolition of the Bureau of Conscription, and of all Provost Marshals, their guards, etc. not attached to armies in the field. If the new Secretary has consented to be burdened with the responsibility of this contumacy and violation of the Constitution, it will break his back, and ruin our already desperate cause.

Four P.M.—Since writing the above, I learn that an order has been published abolishing the “Bureau of Conscription.”

Gov. Vance has written to know why the government wants the track of the North Carolina Railroad altered to the width of those in Virginia, and has been answered: 1st, to facilitate the transportation of supplies to Gen. Lee’s army from North Carolina; and 2d, in the event of disaster, to enable the government to run all the locomotives, cars, etc. of the Virginia roads into North Carolina.

March 30th.—Raining rapidly, and warm.

Again the sudden change of weather may be an interposition of Providence to defeat the effort of the enemy to destroy Gen. Lee’s communications with his Southern depots of supplies. I hope so, for faith in man is growing weaker.

Our loss in the affair of the 25th instant was heavy, and is now admitted to be a disaster; and Lee himself was there! It amounted, probably, to 3000 men. Grant says over 2000 prisoners were registered by his Provost Marshal. It is believed the President advised the desperate undertaking; be that as it may, many such blows cannot follow in quick succession without producing the most deplorable results. The government would soon make its escape—if it could. Mrs. Davis, however, soonest informed of our condition, got away in time.

Dispatches from Generalissimo Lee inform the Secretary that large expeditions are on foot in Alabama, Mississippi, etc., and that Thomas’s army is rapidly advancing upon Virginia from East Tennessee, while no general has yet been designated to command our troops.

The papers say nothing of the flank movement commenced yesterday by Grant. This reticence cannot be for the purpose of keeping the enemy in ignorance of it!

I am convalescent, but too weak to walk to the department today. The deathly “sick man,” as the Emperor of Russia used to designate the Sultan of Turkey, is our President. His mind has never yet comprehended the magnitude of the crisis.

Custis says letters still flow in asking authority to raise negro troops.

In the North the evacuation of Richmond is looked for between the 1st and 25th of April. They may be fooled. But if we lose the Danville Road, it will only be a question of time. Yet there will remain too great a breadth of territory for subjugation—if the people choose to hold out, and soldiers can be made of negroes.

It is reported (believed) that several determined assaults were made on our lines yesterday evening and last night at Petersburg, and repulsed with slaughter; and that the attack has been renewed to-day. Very heavy firing has been heard in that direction. Gen. Lee announces no result yet.

We have 2,000,000 bread rations in the depots in North Carolina.

March 29th.—Slightly overcast, but calm and pleasant.

I am better, after the worst attack for twenty years. The only medicine I took was blue mass—ten grains. My wife had a little tea and loaf-sugar, and a solitary smoked herring—and this I relish; and have nothing else. A chicken, I believe, would cost $50. I must be careful now, and recuperate. Fine weather, and an indulgence of my old passion for angling, would soon build me up again.

The papers give forth an uncertain sound of what is going on in the field, or of what is likely to occur. Unless food and men can be had, Virginia must be lost. The negro experiment will soon be tested. Custis says letters are pouring in at the department from all quarters, asking authority to raise and command negro troops: 100,000 recruits from this source might do wonders.

I think Lee’s demonstrations on Grant’s front have mainly in view the transportation of subsistence from North Carolina.

Mrs. President Davis has left the city, with her children, for the South. I believe it is her purpose to go no farther at present than Charlotte, N. C.—rear of Sherman. Some of their furniture has been sent to auction. Furniture will soon be low again.

It is now believed that the government will be removed with all expedition to Columbus, Ga. But it is said Richmond will still be held by our army. Said! Alas! would it not be too expensive— “too much for the whistle?”

Shad are selling at $50 per pair. If Richmond should be left to strictly military rule, I hope it will rule the prices.

It is reported that Gen. Johnston has fallen back on Weldon; some suppose to attack Grant’s rear, but no doubt it is because he is pressed by Sherman with superior numbers.

A dispatch from Gen. Lee, to-day, states the important fact that Grant’s left wing (cavalry and infantry) passed Hatcher’s Run this morning, marching to Dinwiddie C. H. The purpose is to cut the South Side and Danville Roads; and it may be accomplished, for we have “here no adequate force of cavalry to oppose Sheridan; and it may be possible, if Sheridan turns his head this way, that shell may be thrown into the city. At all events, he may destroy some bridges—costing him dear.” But pontoon bridges were sent up the Danville Road yesterday and to-day, in anticipation, beyond the bridges to be destroyed.

March 28th.—Cloudy and sunshine; but little wind. Too ill to go to the department, and I get nothing new except what I read in the papers. Some of the editorials are very equivocal, and have a squint toward reconstruction.

The President, and one of his Aids, Col. Lubbock, ex-Governor of Texas, rode by my house, going toward Camp Lee. If driven from this side the Mississippi, no doubt the President would retire into Texas.

And Lee must gain a victory soon, or his communications will be likely to be interrupted. Richmond and Virginia are probably in extreme peril at this moment.