There’s always been some dispute as to which Rebel unit was the last to depart Richmond during its evacuation on April 3-4, 1865. But for some there was never any doubt.
One who had no doubt was Captain D.B. Sanford of the Phillips Georgia Legion Infantry, subject of a separate chapter in the novel on its role in the attack on Fort Sanders.
Sanford wrote of the evacuation in Confederate Veteran magazine long after the war:
“There seems to be some dispute as to what soldiers or command of soldiers was the last to leave Richmond…My recollection is that Phillips’s Georgia Legion Infantry were the rear guard and the last soldiers to leave that city on that day.
“When this command crossed the [Mayo] bridge over the James River, the bridge was on fire in many places on each side, and we had to run with all our might and shinney from side to side of the bridge to keep from being burned to death.
“No other soldiers could have crossed this bridge after we did. This command left camp near Drury’s Bluff about twelve o’clock Sunday night, April 2, 1865, and reached Richmond a little after daylight Monday morning. I was captain of the Greene Rifles, Company A, Phillips’s Georgia Legion Infantry.”
But there was at least one other view, and it also concerns a unit that fought at Fort Sanders: Humphreys’ Mississippi Brigade of the 13th, 17th, 18th and 21st Mississippi regiments—the 13th and 17th being in the attack and the other two in sharpshooting support.
J.S. McNeilly, who claimed to be a veteran of the 13th Regiment (though his name appears in none of the accepted muster rolls), recalled for the Mississippi Historical Society long after the war that Humphreys’ brigade was the last through Richmond. He contended that it was April 4 and he also remembered the burning Mayo bridge over the James.
“A detail was made for suppression of the plunder and arson that was rife,” McNeilly wrote. “But the bridge across the James being set on fire prematurely, through error or design, the hindmost men had to double quick to avoid being cut off.
“It is a thing to be noted,” McNeilly added, ” that this brigade of Mississippians were the last of the Army of Northern Virginia to march through Richmond—the passing of their waving banners was the visible emblem of the fall of the Confederate capital.”
Which recollection is accurate? Both, but for a mix-up in recollected dates, or neither? Take your pick.