Rebel Reaction in Richmond to York’s Fall
Richmond in 1861 (from Harper’s Weekly)
Communications during the Civil War were at times hit or miss. The telegraph was the main method of getting news from far-off places quickly, with express delivery (via carriage or horseback) of out-of-town newspapers also eagerly awaited). Perhaps the most frequent method of communications was the relaying of news from mouth-to-mouth, often with garbled or inaccurate information. Sometimes, the news was only half-true, or not true at all. It got worse when one was seeking reliable information from enemy-held territory.
Confederate government and military officials, politicians, private citizens, concerned family members – all anxiously awaited news about the progress of the current summer campaigns. In the Confederate States capital of Richmond, Virginia, news of Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania was eagerly anticipated and widely distributed. In a series of recent posts on his blog, Jim McClure looked at whether or not York surrendered to the oncoming Rebel forces. Here is the rather guarded reaction to the news in Richmond.
A clerk in the Confederate War Department in Richmond, John Beauchamp Jones, recorded in his diary both the official and unofficial news of the day. His entries throughout the war reveal an interesting mix of solid military intelligence and wild, unfounded rumors that were hard to sort out from the facts. His diary entry for the evening of June 30, 1863, is indicative.
“5 o’clock P.M. – The city is now in good humor, but not wild with exultation. We have what seems authentic intelligence of the taking of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania; the City of York, etc. etc. This comes on the flag of a truce boat, and is derived from the enemy themselves. [Robert E.] Lee will not descend to the retaliation instigated by petty malice; but proclaim to the inhabitants that all we desire is PEACE, not conquest.”
The news was half right—York was indeed in Rebel hands, but Old Glory still proudly waved over Harrisburg. Still, the entry indicates how desperately by 1863 many people, including government employees, wanted peace. The hope was that Lee’s invasion might finally bring that possibility. Instead, his defeat at Gettysburg led to two more years of suffering and killing.