Magill, on the initial hours of the evacuation of Richmond

Posted on April 2, 2015 by

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Picking-up from the previous post, and continuing with Magill’s account:

No pen can describe the horror of the moment. In the streets all was confusion. Officers hurried to the different departments of the Government. The Banks were open, and the depositors eagerly embraced the opportunity to withdraw their gold, while the Directors superintended the removal of the bullion. Wagons drive hurriedly up to the doors of the different offices, were loaded and driven off, while others took their places, to be loaded in their turn and follow on. Officers rode madly about the streets, giving orders. The female clerks stood sadly about the doors of their offices, or vented their feelings by giving energetic assistance in packing and burning the documents over which they had spent so many useless hours. Householders busily occupied themselves secreting their valuables, and preparing for the sacking of the city which every one predicted as certain; while the lower orders of people stood in squads about the streets, with lowering faces, watching the progress of events, and commenting thereon in low murmurs. So the day wore away, and night fell upon the grief-stricken city – a night whose horrors rarely have been surpassed. The evacuation by the army was fixed for eight o’clock, but it extended through the night, and the wail of agony rose for the first time over the partings between friends who scarce expected to meet again on earth. Hundreds of the citizens determined to leave the city with the army, and all the vehicles were pressed into the service or hired at a premium exceeding belief.

At eleven o’clock at night the train on the Danville road bore off the officials of the Government and their valuables, and all who could escaped in any way which presented itself.

But soon a more terrible master than the Federal Government ruled the city. Who gave the order for the firing of the Government tobacco-warehouses is not known; the recklessness of the people to consequences alone could have justified it, as they occupied a position in the heart of the city, and the fire spread with fearful rapidity. To add to the horror of the scene, a mob of men, women and children went wildly from place to place, breaking open warehouses and bearing off whatever fell in their way. Wishing to prevent them from getting hold of the liquor which was stored by the Government, orders were issued by the city officials to pour it into the streets. The gutters ran with it, and the mad flame rejoicing in the approach of this its kindred spirit, leaped to meet it, and soon, roaring, crackling, and dashing in blue, red, and yellow waves, the demon whirled down the streets, carrying destruction with it and driving the frightened crowd before it.