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This Day in Richmond History April 3, 1865

Richmond on the night of April 2nd
Richmond on the night of April 2nd

After nearly four years of Civil War, Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, surrenders to Union troops.

It was on this April day that Mayor Joseph Mayo formally surrendered the city of Richmond, following the evacuation of the Confederate government and army the previous day.

Since the previous May, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had been locked into combat with the Union Army of the Potomac. After several bloody battles in May and early June, the armies of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses Grant settled into trench warfare and bloody probing attacks for the next 10 months around Petersburg and the capital of Richmond. While Grant was not able to break through Lee's defenses, this type of warfare slowly weakened the Confederate forces. While Lee's troops suffered from a lack of supplies and no reinforcements, Grant's army had a steady stream of new troops and food.

Finally after defeating a force under General George Pickett at the Battle of Five Forks and cutting the last rail line into Petersburg on April 1, 1865, the end of the long siege was imminent. The next morning Grant launched an all-out attack around Petersburg and to a lesser extent near Richmond. Lee's forces barely held on that day, just long enough to evacuate the two cities.

As the remnants of Lee's army marched west toward their ultimate surrender at Appomattox on April 9th, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis and government officials moved southwest to escape capture, the city of Richmond lay open for capture.

With the city of Richmond completely uncovered and at the mercy of the Union troops nearby, the city council decided it was best to send out a committee to offer to formally surrender the city. Early in the morning of April 3rd, Mayor Joseph Mayo and a small committee rode east in search of the first Union officer they could find in order to surrender Richmond. It was certainly a dangerous venture, riding straight toward the trenches of the Union army without any idea who they would meet along the way.

About two miles outside of Richmond, along the Osborne Turnpike in Henrico County, Mayor Mayo came upon a Union contingent of about 40 men from the 4th Massachusetts, led by a Major Atherton Stevens. Major Stevens accepted Mayo's letter of surrender, and forwarded it to his commander, Major General Godfrey Weitzel.

Later that morning, at 8:15 a.m., General Weitzel formally accepted the surrender of the burning city of Richmond from Mayor Mayo at City Hall. The very next day President Abraham Lincoln visited the still-smoldering city. The Civil War was nearly at an end.

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