Northern Editorial Celebrates Richmond’s Capture
It took a grueling ten-month siege and tens of thousands of casualties, but the North had cause for wild celebration when the Union army captured the Confederate capital city of Richmond, Virginia, on April 3, 1865. General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia had held out for as long as they could, but the overwhelming pressure brought to bear by the massive Union Army of the Potomac, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, was finally too much to withstand. On April 2 Lee informed Confederate President Jefferson Davis that he was evacuating Richmond and the nearby city of Petersburg, and the next morning at 8:15 Union General Godfrey Weitzel accepted the formal surrender of Richmond. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House six days later, and the Civil War was essentially over.
This northern editorial celebrates the capture of Richmond, noting that it was especially poignant that the first Union force to occupy the defeated Confederate capital was the XXV Corps, a unit of African American troops. This editorial was published by the Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts) on April 4, 1865:
Whatever great events the war may still have in store for us, none of them will so fill the heart of the country as the fall of Richmond, or hold the same place in the public sentiment with that long-deferred victory. Even the return of peace is not likely to bring any one moment when the hope and suspense of years are so brought to their climax and culminate in sudden triumph; for peace is likely to return by a gradual subsidence, at no point in which we can say that here the war closes. Richmond, however, with its outwork Petersburg, have fallen at the instant when the interest of the contest was at its height, after three days in which giants wrestled for the mastery, and at the close of which the Rebel commander found himself thrown back, broken and exhausted, from the line which was the key of his position. In these days the burning anxiety of many past campaigns was revived and reinforced the hopes of the present; and with the crowning victory the recollections of years of brave effort, baffled but still renewed, throng the mind and fill the measure of our joy and gratitude.
It was lately hinted by a dissatisfied foreign observer of the progress of our arms, that critics would hereafter have something to say on the policy which led the Rebels to expend so much strength and risk their cause upon the possession of their capital. That policy having been adopted, it is hardly possible on our part to fail now of recognizing a providence in the seeming fatality which has baffled our attack until now. The terrible struggles which for the three years since the war was fairly organized have drenched in blood every line of approach to Richmond, and the fierce counter-movements which have temporarily transferred the contest to Maryland or Pennsylvania—these have been the incidents of a trial of strength between mighty forces, which might have joined issue in Tennessee or in Georgia as well as in Virginia, but which, wheresoever they might meet, had this terrific rivalry to settle. Whether before Richmond or in the heart of the South, there was the issue to be fought out to the end, strength to be measured and endurance tried, until one or the other should be the acknowledged victor. The enemy accepted Virginia as his battleground—a fatal gift from that once proud State, made almost as the condition of her adhesion to the Confederacy. He poured into Virginia his choicest troops and spent there his chief strength, and as the steady pressure of our forces continued, he made good all wants there, whoever might suffer elsewhere. At that point has the strength of the rebellion been slowly sapped, while our armies have been making their way through the other parts of the South; and now when the capital has at last fallen, there is scarcely the wreck of a Confederacy left behind on which to fall back and gather up for another struggle. While Lee has held Richmond, Tennessee, the Mississippi valley, Georgia, the cities on the coast, the Carolinas, all have been torn from the grasp of a power too much occupied elsewhere to hold them firmly; and now the capital falls like the ripe fruit and nothing is left. Had this event come two years or even one year sooner, when the retreat to the heart of the South was open, and thus have transferred the final struggle to that distance from the sources of our strength, some weary months of painful anxiety and sorrow might yet be before us. The lives that have been laid down, from Gettysburg and Antietam to the Wilderness and the Southside Railroad, have not been sacrificed in vain; for if Providence withheld the reward for a season, it was only to grant it at last, more complete and glorious, and more worthy of the noble offering, than if the victory had come before this fullness of time.
The mind can hardly resist a feeling of regret, however, that it did not fall to the lot of some portion of the historical Army of the Potomac to first enter the city, the conquest of which has for three years been a dream of its ambition. The wish cannot be repressed that some of those tattered banners, inscribed with the memorable names of Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, might have been the first to be carried in triumph through those streets. But the Army of the Potomac is at work upon what is after all its real task, trying conclusions with that other army, the destruction of which, and not the capture of Richmond, is the real object of its efforts and its hopes. And it is a consummation of historical justice, even more signal, perhaps, that the troops who were first to enter Richmond were, at least in part, of that despised race whose wrongs have entered so largely into the merits of this struggle. It was fit that negro troops should first occupy the capital of a Confederacy, of which, in the days of its hope, African slavery was pronounced by the highest authority to be even the cornerstone.
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