The Calm Before the Storm in the Capital of the Confederacy
Sallie A. Brock’s narrative of the final days of the Confederacy in Richmond was published in 1867 and based largely on Edward Pollard’s The Last Year of the War. The author’s description tells us quite a bit about the drastic changes that took place beginning on April 2, but it also tell us as much (if not more) about how Brock and others chose to remember so soon after the Confederacy’s fall.
The morning of the 2d of April, 1865, dawned brightly over the capital of the Southern Confederacy. A soft haze rested over the city, but above that, the sun shone with the warm pleasant radiance of early spring. The sky was cloudless. No sound disturbed the stillness of the Sabbath morn, save the subdued murmur of the river, and the cheerful music of the church bells. The long familiar tumult of war broke not upon the sacred calmness of the day. Around the War Department, and the Post Office, news gatherers were assembled for the latest tidings, but nothing was bruited that deterred the masses from seeking their accustomed places in the temples of the living God. At St. Paul’s church the usual congregation was in attendance. President Davis occupied his pew. (p. 362)
The clearness of the morning sky, a quite military front and a city headed to church helps to create a defined space between four years of war and the final chapter that is about to be unleashed on the city. It’s a moment that the reader can’t help to anticipate, but Brock also hopes to evoke the innocence of the Confederacy and the virtuousness of its cause. It is the Confederacy’s that is about to be swarmed by overwhelming numbers of Yankees, who had been kept at bay for so long. It is their civilization that is about to be upended.
Within no time…
- Black and white Union soldiers will march down Broad Street.
- Abraham Lincoln himself will enter the capital and sit in Jefferson Davis’s chair.
- Warehouses and other buildings in the city’s financial district will be engulfed in flames.
- The government and military will abandon the city.
- In one week Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia will surrender.
- Richmond’s slave population will be freed.
For white Southerners their world was about to be turned upside down even as black Richmonders would come to view the next few days and weeks very differently.
Finally, it is also worth remembering that Sallie Brock wrote this passage and account of Richmond’s destruction and the end of the Confederacy as an actor in an unfolding drama. The year that Brock published her narrative saw the beginning of Military Reconstruction throughout much of the South.
Sallie may have wondered whether she would ever again experience the peacefulness and beauty of April 2, 1865.