April 6th, 2015
Guest blog post by Brandi Oswald, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC.
This week marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War in Virginia. This blog post focuses on West Virginians present at the war’s end, at both the evacuation of Richmond, the Confederate capital, and the surrender at Appomattox Court House.
After the defeat and retreat of Lee’s army outside of Petersburg following the battle at Five Forks on April 1, 1865, it became clear that Richmond could no longer be protected from the advancing Union Army and would need to be evacuated. On April 2, government officials, soldiers, and prominent men fled the city, taking with them many official government documents. Remaining Confederate soldiers destroyed warehouses full of tobacco, cotton, and other items that could be of use to the advancing Union soldiers. The fires, along with others lit to destroy remaining government documents, soon spread flames to the city’s business district and industrial areas near Tredegar Iron Works.
Engraving of “Richmond in Flames” depicting the arrival of the Union Army into the former Confederate capital.
On the morning of April 3, 1865, Union soldiers entered the city and raised the American flag over the capitol building for the first time since 1861, signaling the Union Army’s arrival and occupation of the fire-ridden and war-torn city. Union soldiers helped put out the fires and reestablished order in the city. In the aftermath of the evacuation, the 15th West Virginia Infantry arrived in Richmond as part of the occupying Union force. Lieutenant Philip H. Heermans, an officer from the regiment, found a souvenir while in the city, picking up and carrying home an old government document that he found in the street. The document (A&M 578), from May 1776, brought charges against a man named David Ross for inciting Indian attacks in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
Attached to the bottom of the document is a note, likely attached by Lieutenant Heermans, that reads, “This writing was picked up in the street of Richmond, Va. in 1865 after the evacuation of the city by the rebels, by Lieut. P.H. Heermans of the 15th W.Va. Infantry.”
Another West Virginian, Lieutenant Fabricius A. Cather, from Flemington in Taylor County, also served with the Union forces during the final Appomattox campaign in Virginia. Cather, an officer with the 1st West Virginia Cavalry, served in numerous battles and skirmishes at the end of the war. He recorded his wartime service in a series of diaries, which can be found in in the WVRHC’s A&M 3633.
Fabricius A. Cather in uniform
Perhaps recognizing the importance of the actions in which he took part, Cather used smaller than usual handwriting in his diary to cram in as many details as possible about each day in early April 1865. Cather wrote on April 1, 1865, about the “heavy battle” at Five Forks, where “the rebels were whipped and badly demoralized.” He also detailed his involvement in the numerous other battles and skirmishes, including Amelia Court House, Jettersville, Sailor’s Creek, Stony Point, and Appomattox Station.
On April 9, 1865, Cather wrote about the truce between the two armies as they faced off near Appomattox Court House, Virginia. “The enemy advanced at daylight & attacked our lines. Are repulsed and driven beyond Appomattox C.H. about 1 mile, when Gen’l Longstreet sent a flag of truce to Gen’l Custer asking a suspension of hostilities until terms of surrender could be agreed upon.” He went on to describe the surrender of the Confederate Army: “In the afternoon Gens. Lee and Grant with other officers of their respective armies met at the house of Wilmer McLane [sic, actually McLean] north of the court house and agreed upon the terms of surrender… During the suspension of hostilities officers and men of both armies mingled + talked as freely and friendly as friends.”
Cather continued to serve until he was mustered out of service as a major in the summer of 1865.
Furguson, Ernest B. Ashes of Glory: Richmond at War. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1996. (Available for check-out in WVU’s Downtown Library)
“The Fall of Richmond.” Civil War Trust. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/warfare/richmond.html. Accessed March 31, 2015.