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Here are no such palatial residences as dazzle the eye in New York, Chicago, and other Northern cities; but in their place you see handsome rows of houses, mostly of brick, shaded by trees, and with a certain air of comfort and elegance about them which is very inviting. The streets are sufficiently spacious, and regularly laid out, many of them being thrown up into long, sweeping lines of beauty by the hills on which they are built. The hills indeed are the charm of Richmond, overlooking the falls of the James, on the left bank of which it stands; giving you shining glimpses of the winding river up and down, - commanding views of the verdant valley and of the hilly country around, - and here, at the end of some pleasant street, falling off abruptly into the wild slopes of some romantic ravine.
In size, Richmond strikes one as very insignificant, after all the noise it has made in the world. Although the largest city of Virginia, and ranking among Southern cities of the second magnitude, either of our great Northern towns could swallow it, as one pickerel swallows a lesser, and scarcely feel the morsel in its belly. In 1860 it had a population of not quite thirtyeight thousand, - less than that of Troy or New Haven, and but a little larger than that of Lowell.
I had already secured a not very satisfactory room at a crowded hotel, when, going out for an afternoon ramble, I came by chance to Capitol Square. Although a small park, containing only about eight acres, I found in its shady walks and by its twinkling fountains a delightful retirement after the heat and dust of the streets. It is situated on the side of a hill sloping down to the burnt district which lies between it and the river. On the brow of the slope, at an im. posing elevation, its pillared front looking towards the western sun, stands the State Capitol, which was also the capitol of the Confederacy. Near by is Crawford's equestrian statue of Washington, which first astonishes the beholder by its vast proportions, and does not soon cease to be a wonder to his eyes.
Coming out of the Park, at the corner nearest the monu
ment, I noticed, on the street-corner opposite, a hotel, whose range of front rooms overlooking the square, made me think ruefully of the lodgings I had engaged elsewhere. To exchange a view of back yards and kitchen-roofs from an upper story for a sight from those commanding windows, entered my brain as an exciting possibility. I went in. The clerk had two or three back rooms to show, but no front room, until he saw that nothing else would suffice, when he obligingly sent me to the very room I wished. Throwing open the shutters, I looked out upon the Park, the Capitol, the colossal Washington soaring above the trees, and the far-off shining James. I caught glimpses, through the foliage, of the spray of one of the fountains, and could hear its ceaseless murmur mingle with the noise of the streets.
I took possession at once, sent for my luggage, slept that night in my new lodgings, and was awakened at dawn the next morning by a sound as of a dish of beans dashed into a ringing brass kettle. This was repeated at irregular intervals, and with increasing frequency, as the day advanced, breaking in upon the plashy monotone of the fountain, and the rising hum of the city, with its resounding rattle. Stung with curiosity, I arose and looked from my open window. Few white citizens were astir, but I saw a thin, ceaseless stream of negroes, who would not work,” going cheerfully to their daily tasks. The most of them took their way towards the burnt district ; some crossed Capitol Square to shorten their route; and the sounds I had heard were occasioned by the slamming of the iron gates of the Park.
WHY THE REBELS BURNED THE CITY.
THE BURNT DISTRICT.
AGAiN that morning I visited the burnt district, of which I had taken but a cursory view the evening before.
All up and down, as far as the eye could reach, the business portion of the city bordering on the river lay in ruins. Beds of cinders, cellars half filled with bricks and rubbish, broken and blackened walls, impassable streets deluged with débris, here a granite front still standing, and there the iron fragments of crushed machinery, - such was the scene which extended over thirty entire squares and parts of other squares.
I was reminded of Chambersburg ; but here was ruin on a more tremendous scale. Instead of small one- and two-story buildings, like those of the modest Pennsylvania town, tall blocks, great factories, flour-mills, rolling-mills, foundries, machineshops, warehouses, banks, railroad, freight, and engine houses, two railroad bridges, and one other bridge spanning on high piers the broad river, were destroyed by the desperate Rebel leaders on the morning of the evacuation.
“ They meant to burn us all out of our homes,” said a citizen whom I met on the butment of the Petersburg railroad bridge. " It was the wickedest thing that ever was done in this world !. You are a stranger; you don't know ; but the people of Richmond know, if they will only speak their minds.”
“But," said I, " what was their object in burning their own city, the city of their friends ?”
- The devil only knows, for he set 'em on to do it! It was spite, I reckon. If they could n't hold the city, they determined nobody else should. They kept us here four years under the worst tyranny under the sun; then when they found they could n't keep us any longer, they just meant to
burn us up. That's the principle they went on from the beginning."
I had already conversed with other citizens on the subject of the fire, some of whom maintained that it was never the design of the Confederate leaders to burn anything but the railroad bridges and public stores. But this man laughed at the idea.
“ That's what they pretend; but I know better. What was the water stopped from the reservoirs for ? So that we should have none to put out the fire with !”
“But they say the water was shut off in order to make repairs.”
“ It 's all a lie! I tell ye, stranger, it was the intention to burn Richmond, and it 's a miracle that any part of it was saved. As luck would have it, there was no wind to spread the fire ; then the Federals came in, let on the water, and went to work with the engines, and put it out."
- Why did n't the citizens do that?”
“I don't know. Everybody was paralyzed. It was a perfect panic. The Yankees coming! the city burning! our army on a retreat! — you ’ve no idea of what it was. Nobody seemed to know what to do. God save us from another such time! It was bad enough Sunday. If the world had been coming to an end, there could n't have been more fright and confusion. I was watchman on this railroad bridge, — when there was a bridge here. I was off duty at midnight, and I went home and went to bed. But along towards morning my daughter woke me. •Father,' says she, “the city 's afire!' I knew right away what was the matter. The night was all lit up, and I could hear the roar of something besides the river. I run out and started for the bridge, but I'd got quite near enough, when the ammunition in the tobacco-warehouses begun to go off. Crack ! — crack ! - crack, crack, crack! One piece of shell whirred past my head like a pa’tridge. I did n't want to hear another. I put home and went to getting my truck together, such as I could tote, ready to leave if my house went."
. Subsequently I conversed with citizens of every grade upon this exciting topic, and found opinions regarding it as various as the political views of their authors. Those aristocrats who went in for the war but kept out of the fight, and who favored the Davis government because it favored them, had no word of censure for the incendiaries.
“ The burning of the city was purely accidental,” one blandly informed me. .
“No considerable portion of it would have been destroyed if it had n't been for private marauding parties,” said another. * The city was full of such desperate characters. They set fires for the purpose of plundering. It was they, and nobody else, who shut off the water from the reservoirs.”
The laboring class, on the other hand, generally denounced the Confederate leaders as the sole authors of the calamity. It was true that desperadoes aided in the work, but it was after the fugitive government had set them the example.
Here is the opinion of a Confederate officer, Colonel D whom I saw daily at the table of the hotel, and with whom I had many interesting conversations.
“ It is not fair to lay the whole blame on the Confederate government, although, Heaven knows, it was bad enough to do anything! The plan of burning the city had been discussed beforehand: Lee and the more humane of his officers opposed it; Early and others favored it; and Breckinridge took the responsibility of putting it into execution.”
Amid all these conflicting opinions there was one thing certain — the fact of the fire; although, had it not been written out there before our eyes in black characters and lines of desolation, I should have expected to hear some un blushing apologist of the Davis despotism deny even that.
And, whoever may have been personally responsible for the crime, there is also a truth concerning it which I hold to be undeniable. Like the assassination of Lincoln, like the systematic murder of Union prisoners at Andersonville and elsewhere, - like these and countless other barbarous acts which have branded the Rebel cause with infamy, — this too was in