The “Confederate Column” in the Richmond Times Dispatch: A Gold Mine of First Person Accounts

Recently K. S. McPhail, who runs the excellent New Kent County History web site, has been sending me a ton of excellent first person accounts from post-war newspapers, many of which you’ll find on my Siege of Petersburg Postwar Newspaper accounts page.  The articles Mr. McPhail has been sending along are mostly from papers which can be found at the newspaper portion of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site.  On a whim, I decided to search the site for some Siege of Petersburg specific keywords.  Over the course of a few days I stumbled onto a weekly Sunday column in 1910 editions of the Richmond Times Dispatch called “The Confederate Column.”  Further research yielded up the existence of this column for years, back to the Richmond Dispatch, before it merged with the Times, in the notes for the paper:

Printed a weekly column on Sundays entitled, “Confederate Column”.

The earliest I can find of the “Confederate Column” is in the August 11, 1895 edition of the paper.  If anyone knows of earlier dates, please let me know.  Each Sunday, the Dispatch and then the Times Dispatch printed the “Confederate Column”, filling it with first person reminiscences of the Civil War from a Confederate perspective.  The “Confederate Column” is a nice companion to the Southern Historical Society Papers and the Confederate Veteran, but as with those sources, some of the Lost Cause rhetoric must be taken with a grain of salt.  That caveat out of the way, I’ve found quite a few good first person accounts, given the amount of time that had elapsed since the war.

I thought I’d present a few of the articles here.  These, given my current interests, apply to the Siege of Petersburg.  However, in 1910 alone, I saw multiple articles on First and Second Manassas, and many, many articles on Gettysburg, including John S. Mosby writing in about the J.E.B. Stuart controversy.  They are well worth checking out.

First, I have several articles from men claiming to be the last soldier to leave a burning Richmond, Virginia, in the early morning hours of April 3, 1865.  The Confederate Veteran had run an article asking the question, and it prompted multiple responses to the Times Dispatch on the subject.  The February 6, 1910 issue contained an article stating that two Marylanders, Colonel Clement Sullivane, and the famous Lt. Colonel Henry Kyd Douglas, were the last two men to leave the city.


Not to be outdone, Charles T. Price of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry claimed the honors for himself in a February 20, 1910 letter:


Then, on April 17, 1910, a Major Jones of the 24th Virginia nominated William T. Seawell, a private in the regiment, for the honors:


The last nominee was G. Preston Smith, also of the 24th Virginia Cavalry, who claimed that he, and not Seawell, was the last man to leave:


This was the last of four articles I’ve found on the subject so far, and I’ll be transcribing and posting them all at the Siege of Petersburg Online.  If anyone knows of other letters in this and other places resulting from the Confederate Veteran story, I’d love to hear from you.

The last article I wanted to highlight today comes from the August 7, 1910 edition of the paper.  This was the column which led me to stumble, quite by accident, onto the “Confederate Column” in the first place.  It covers Wise’s Brigade of Virginians and their role at the July 30, 1864 battle of the Crater.  Wise’s Brigade held the lines directly to the right of Elliott’s doomed South Carolinians, many of whom were annihilated in the pre-attack mine explosion.  This two column article, written by Brigade commander Colonel John Thomas Goode of the 34th Virginia describes the experience of Wise’s regiments as they desperately attempted to stand their ground and prevent a widening of the breach until help could arrive.


These articles are just the tip of the iceberg.  I also sent Harry Smeltzer of Bull Runnings several articles on First Manassas recently, so you should see those appear at Harry’s fine site some time in the future when he gets a chance to transcribe them.  As I stated earlier, there were many other reminiscences, some covering the Stuart controversy at Gettysburg.

The Chronicling America site is a gold mine of similar information, all freely available to anyone with access to the internet and time on their hands.  If anyone reading this does decide to jump into these old newspapers as a result of reading this, I’d only ask that you keep me in mind and send along articles on the Siege of Petersburg as you find them.  I’ll never “rediscover” them all myself, so any help you can provide is greatly appreciated.


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