|A distraught President Davis wrote General Lee
that he had "been laboring without much progress to advance the raising of Negro
troops" and he admitted, "The distrust is increasing and embarrasses in many
ways." "I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our
position tonight", telegraphed General Lee to President Davis in Richmond. The
Confederate capital of Richmond was doomed and with it the whole Petersburg-Richmond
front. At 4-40AM, Federalized advances under way and was everywhere
successful. Horatio Wright's Sixth Corps dashed through the defenses to the South
Side railroad. Along Hatter;s Run the Confederate lines vanished. West of
Boynton Plank Road, Lt. General A.P. Hill was killed.Lee determined to hold inner
fortifications until night enabled him to withdraw. The delaying action at Forts
Gregg and Baldwin did buy enough time for new lines to be formed. In a few places
the Confederates stiffened in the afternoon but it was obvious they had to pull out.
Orders were issued in midafternoon to evacuate Petersburg and for the defenders north of
the James River to retreat through Richmond and join the remainder of the Army of Northern
The retreat soon began with Amelia Court
House, some forty miles west, the concentration point. Federals may have numbered
over 63,000 engaged with 625 killed, 3189 wounded and 326 missing for 4140 total. Possibly
18,500 Confederates were engaged; losses are unknown. During the day Lee told an
officer, "This is a sad business, colonel. It has happened as I told them in Richmond
it would happen. The line has been stretched until it has broken."
In Richmond a messenger had entered St. Paul's Church as
the minister gave the prayer for the President of the Confederate States. Mr. Davis
left quietly and went to his office to hear of the disaster to Lee's army. Mrs. Davis and
the children had already left the capital. By 11 PM, Davis and most of the Cabinet
departed on a special train for Danville VA. Scenes in Richmond were heart-rending
as the news spread. Many wept openly and then prepared eiher to stay and face the
enemy or to attempt evacuation. Rail stations were jammed and the streets filled
with many of the local citizens and refugees crowding the city. Soon the unruly
began looting. Inmates broke from the state prison and the Local Defense Brigrade
was unable to keep order. Government records were either sent away or burned.
Cotton, tobacco, and military stores were set afire, and the fires soon raged out of
control; others were set by looters. Shells from the arsenals roared upward as the main
section of Richmond became a great inferno. Many business houses, hotels, and
residences, factories and warehouse were destroyed. In the James River, Confederate
gunboats exploded shaking the city.
After four years and many threats, Richmond at last was
falling. On the train going into the night toward Danville, "Silence reigned
over the fugitives." But the Confederate government still existed in transit,
the war was not quite over.