Guest Blog House 200

Then the Yankees Came…: Federal Commanders in Occupied Richmond, 1865-70

By Guest Blogger Brig. Gen. John Mountcastle 


On April 3, 1865, Federal troops prepared to march into Richmond. A cavalry detachment under Majors Stevens and Graves moved up the Osborne Turnpike, east of Richmond. Here they met Richmond Mayor Joseph Mayo and a small party moving toward them in a carriage flying a white flag.  The Mayor passed a note to Stevens advising him that Confederate forces had withdrawn from Richmond and asking that Federal troops occupy the city, some parts of which were on fire.

Stevens forwarded Mayo’s note to his commander, Major General (MG) Godfrey Weitzel.  At 8:15 A.M. at Richmond’s city hall, Weitzel formally accepted the terms of surrender. The Union forces assisted in extinguishing the fires, started before dawn by Confederate soldiers trying to destroy military supplies.  By midafternoon order had begun to be restored to the city.

Before sundown, African-American troops of the XXV Corps were in the city, and MG Weitzel had sent word to General Ulysses Grant and President Lincoln at City Point, Virginia and also to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in Washington, D.C. that Richmond had fallen.  

The word spread like wildfire on telegraph lines throughout the North. The fall of Richmond, the Rebel Capital, was an extremely significant event in the minds of Americans in the North, even more so than the surrender of Lee’s army a week later at Appomattox.

The occupation of Richmond set in motion a train of events that would see General Officers of the U. S. Army occupying the former White House of the Confederacy as they carried out their official (and complex) duties as military commanders of the Federal units occupying Richmond and later — during the Reconstruction period (1867-1870) — as the uniformed Governors of Military District Number One.

Federal Field Commanding Generals:

MG Weitzel would be on hand to greet President Abraham Lincoln when he visited the conquered city on April 4th and 5th.  The young general would later shift his forces southward, in a move that eventually resulted in his troops occupying Texas.  

Weitzel’s commander, MG Edward O.C. Ord, succeeded Weitzel as the commander in Richmond on April 14th.  During the two months Ord served in Richmond, his troops made major improvements in the well-being of the inhabitants of the city.  Ord earned the respect of many former Confederates for his hard, but fair exercise of authority.

Ord would, in turn, be supplanted as the most senior Federal officer in Richmond by MG Henry Halleck, the former U.S. Army staff chief in Washington.  On April 22, Halleck was assigned as the commander of the new Military Division of the James, headquartered in Richmond. In this position, he supervised the activities of both MG Ord’s Army of Occupation and MG Meade’s Army of the Potomac.  

MG Alfred Terry assumed command of the Department of Virginia when MG Ord departed.  Then, with the departure of MG Halleck on June 30, 1865, Terry became the most senior Federal officer remaining in Richmond.   He held the position in Richmond until August 16th.  

Congressional Reconstruction and the establishment of the First Military District.

In the mid-term Congressional elections of November, 1866, enough Republicans were elected to overcome President Andrew Johnson’s sometimes permissive Reconstruction policies.  On March 2, 1867, the Congress passed the First Reconstruction Act, placing 10 of the former Confederate states under martial rule, in “Military Districts.” Two more Reconstruction Acts would follow, on March 23 and July 19, 1867.  Virginia became Military District No. 1. The district was successively commanded by three “Military Governors.”

The three Military Governors who would hold nearly unlimited power over military occupation troops, civil courts, and governmental activities of all sorts for three years were:

MG John Schofield, August 16, 1866-April 26, 1868
President Johnson appointed Schofield, who had commanded the Federal Army of the Ohio and had served with MG Sherman during the last year of the war, to serve as Military Governor of the First Military District.  Schofield oversaw the elections (in which blacks and whites voted) which resulted in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1868.

Brevet MG George Stoneman, April 26, 1868-April 2, 1869  
Brevet (temporary) MG George Stoneman had served as a Federal cavalry commander during the Civil War.  As a Democrat, he opposed the harsh measures being enacted by the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress.  Stoneman pursued more moderate policies than some of the other Military Governors, which was applauded by white Virginians.  

MG Edward Canby, April 20, 1869-September 6, 1870   
He was assigned to the First Military District in April 1869, serving until September 1870. This assignment put Canby at the center of conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, whites and blacks, and state and federal governments.   His role as Military Governor was concluded after Virginia ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The City of Richmond officially regained possession of the former Confederate White House as Reconstruction in Virginia officially ended in September, 1870.


To learn more, make plans to see Gen. Mountcastle speak at our July House 200 program: A Reconstruction Headquarters and its Commanders