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

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“… the city is to be evacuated to-night.”–A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary

April 2, 2015

A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital, By John Beauchamp Jones,The American Civil War

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.

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