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  • Kendrick Gibbs

"Joy In Richmond" - Lancaster County's Response to the fall of the Confederate capital

“The Union Army Entering Richmond, VA., April 3,” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1865
“The Union Army Entering Richmond, VA., April 3,” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1865

There was one black cloud at Richmond yesterday that did not make the hearts of the people sad, viz: the entrance of the colored regiment with the lightnings of the old flag dancing over their heads, and the thunders of "John Brown" rolling from their lips.

-Forney's War Press, Philadelphia, April 1865

During the first week of April 1865, news of the fall of Richmond dominated the headlines of northern newspapers: Stories of jubilation in the streets, local men and regiments making their way into the city and pursuing Lee towards Appomattox, and guesses of the whereabouts of Jefferson Davis after he fled the Confederate capital.

Many Union soldiers made their appearance in the city of Richmond on April 3, 1865, but none made the headlines or made a statement as much as regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Lancaster County newspapers were like every other northern newspaper at the time, with stories and articles like the examples listed above, but there is always an opposition to the excitement.

Some early articles reflected the excitement and relief of the fall of the Confederate Capital, and how revolutionary it was that a USCT regiment was the first to enter the city limits.

"Joy in Richmond: It is said there was joy in Richmond when our forces entered. We doubt not it was genuine. It was there the heel of the despot was most firmly planted on the necks of the people. We expect to have it verified that our troops were hailed, not as conquerors, but deliverers..." -The Daily Evening Express, April 5, 1865.

"Yet it must have been a sight to see Richmond taken possession by a corps of black soldiers of the United States. And it must have been an entertaining reflection that the superstructure of the empire whos foundation was negro slavery, was flying from the cornerstone..." -The Daily Evening Express, April 6, 1865.

Though five-and-a-half years removed from the John Brown Raid on Harpers Ferry, it was still fresh in the minds of Americans. After the editorial from Forney's War Press was published, a response was published in the April 12 edition of the Lancaster Intelligencer:

"Before "John Brown" made his memorable descent on Harper's Ferry, he and his fellow-traitors organized a "Provisional Government for the United States. " The property he captured at Harper's Ferry was the property of the United States. The force sent by President Buchanan to retake that property carried the flag of the United States. the marines killed and wounded in capturing Brown wore the uniform of the United States. They were commanded by Robert E. Lee, who was then a colonel in the army of the United States.

Why is it that negro troops now in the service of our government are permitted to enter Richmond with "the thunders of John Brown rolling from their lips?" Did Brown do a meritorious and a patriotic thing when he killed the marines, captured the property and tried to overthrow the government of the United States? If Abraham Lincoln says yes, then he is as great a traitor as Davis. if he says no, then let him see to it that the scandolous song of "John Brown" is not again blubbered under his very nose by thick-lipped negroes in the pay of the United States."

Support of the anti-slavery cause was not a platform with which all northerners agreed, though they all believed in the preservation of the Union. The fall of Richmond, the slaveholders' capital, was seen as a true beginning of the end for the Confederacy and celebrated across the north in many different ways though there was division among its citizens.



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