It was the beginning of the end of the American Civil War: The National Republican, a Washington, DC newspaper, reports that the city of Richmond, VA, which was the capital of the Confederacy, was captured by Union forces on April 3, 1865. And the US Colored Troops – the “black troops” – led the way.
The US Colored Troops consisted primarily of African American soldiers. One of those soldiers experienced an unexpected family reunion which exemplifies the meaning of the war to African Americans, especially those who had been enslaved. See the blog post below.
Source: From the April 3, 1865 extra edition of The National Republican, a Washington, DC newspaper; as noted in the African American Civil War Museum blog.
On April 3, 1865, Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the Confederate States of America – was captured by the Union army. Soldiers in the United States Colored Troops (or USCT – Union regiments primarily composed of African American soldiers) were the first to enter the city. Meanwhile, other USCT and Union regiments continued to pursue Confederate forces in the area led by General Robert E. Lee. General Lee would finally surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9th, 1865, at Appomattox, Virginia. By the end of June 1865, almost all of the Confederate forces had surrendered and the Civil War, for all practical purposes, was over.
One member of the US Colored Troops that entered Richmond was a chaplain named Garland White, of the 28th US Colored Infantry. Chaplain White wrote for the Christian Recorder, a newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) church. In the North, the AME was the most important church organization for free blacks. Garland White was a runaway slave from the Richmond/Petersburg area who fled to Canada, returned to the US, and joined the Union army after policy changes by the federal government allowed black enlistment. In a Christian Recorder article (1), he wrote about the fall/liberation of Richmond; the joyous reactions of the city’s black residents; the presence of Abraham Lincoln; and an unexpected family reunion:
I have just returned from the city of Richmond; my regiment was among the first that entered that city. I marched at the head of the column, and soon I found myself called upon by the officers and men of my regiment to make a speech, with which, of course, I readily complied. A vast multitude assembled on Broad Street, and I was aroused amid the shouts of ten thousand voices, and proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind. After which the doors of all the slave pens were thrown open, and thousands came out shouting and praising God, and Father, or Master Abe, as they termed him.
In this mighty consternation I became so overcome with tears that I could not stand up under the pressure of such fullness of joy in my own heart. I refired to gain strength, so I lost many important topics worthy of note.
Among the densely crowded concourse there were parents looking for children who had been sold south of this state in tribes, and husbands came for the same purpose; here and there one was singled out in the ranks, and an effort was made to approach the gallant and marching soldiers, who were too obedient to orders to break ranks.
We continued our march as far as Camp Lee, at the extreme end of Broad Street, running westwards. In camp the multitude followed, and everybody could participate in shaking the friendly but hard hands of the poor slaves. Among the many broken-hearted mothers looking for their children who had been sold to Georgia and elsewhere, was an aged woman, passing through the vast crowd of colored, inquiring for one by the name of Garland H. White, who had been sold from her when a small boy, and was bought by a lawyer named Robert Toombs (2), who lived in Georgia. Since the war has been going on she has seen Mr. Toombs in Richmond with troops from his state, and upon her asking him where his body-servant Garland was, he replied: “He ran off from me at Washington, and went to Canada. I have since learned that he is living somewhere in the State of Ohio.” Some of the boys knowing that I lived in Ohio, soon found me and said, “Chaplain, here is a lady that wishes to see you.” I quickly turned, following the soldier until coming to a group of colored ladies. I was questioned as follows:
“What is your name, sir?”
“My name is Garland H. White.”
“What was your mother’s name?”
“Where was you born?”
“In Hanover County, in this State.”
“Where was you sold from?”
“From this city.”
“What was the name of the man who bought you?”
“Where did he live?”
“In the State of Georgia.”
“Where did you leave him?”
“Where did you go then?”
“Where do you live now?”
“This is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”
I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends. But suffice it to say that God is on the side of the righteous, and will in due time reward them. I have witnessed several such scenes among the other colored regiments.
Late in the afternoon, we were honored with his Excellency, the President of the United States, Lieutenant-General Grant, and other gentlemen of distincfion. We made a grand parade through most of the principal streets of the city, beginning at Jeff Davis’s mansion, and it appeared to me that all the colored people in the world had collected in that city for that purpose. I never saw so many colored people in all my life, women and children of all sizes running after Father, or Master Abraham, as they called him.
RECEIVING THE PRESIDENT. Abraham Lincoln riding through Richmond, April 4th, 1865, after the evacuation of the city by the Confederates.
Source: The Black Phalanx: African American soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, p 452, by Joseph T. Wilson; published 1890; book is available online at Project Gutenberg.
To see the colored people, one would think they had all gone crazy. The excitement at this period was unabated, the tumbling of walls, the bursting of shells, could be heard in all directions, dead bodies being found, rebel prisoners being brought in, starving women and children begging for greenbacks and hard tack, constituted the order of the day. The Fifth [Massachusetts] Cavalry; colored, were still dashing through the streets to protect and preserve the peace, and see that no one suffered violence, they having fought so often over the walls of Richmond, driving the enemy at every point.
Among the first to enter Richmond was the 28th U.S.C.T. better known as the First Indiana Colored Volunteers…
Some people do not seem to believe that the colored troops were the first that entered Richmond. Why, you need not feel at all timid in giving the truthfulness of my assertion to the four winds of the heavens, and let the angels re-echo it back to the earth, that the colored soldiers of the Army of the James were the first to enter the city of Richmond. I was with them, and am still with them, and am willing to stay with them until freedom is proclaimed throughout the world. Yes, we will follow this race of men in search of liberty through the whole Island of Cuba. All the boys are well, and send their love to all the kind ones at home.”
(1) Source: Edwin Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men, p 175; from Chaplain Garland H. White, 28th USCI, Richmond, Virginia, April 12, 1865, as written in the Christian Recorder newspaper, April 22, 1865.
(2) White was a slave of Robert Toombs, who was a US senator before the Civil War, briefly the Secretary of State for the Confederacy, and a Confederate general.
More about Chaplain White and the 28th Infantry Regiment – USCT/First Indiana Colored Volunteers is here, from the Forged through Fire blog.