“thousands, north and south, of unwrit heroes, unknown heroisms”

--Walt Whitman, Specimen days, 1882


Loomis L. Langdon, Diary, 1865.

Loomis L. Langdon, Diary, 1865.
Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund (MSS 13426)

Langdon, a captain of the U.S. 1st Artillery, was among the first Union soldiers to enter Richmond. He and Lieutenant Johnston L. de Peyster are credited with raising the first U.S. flag over the Virginia Capitol on April 3, 1865. Although Langdon did not mention the flag-raising in his diary entry, he notes, “Every body as happy as they could be possibly.”


Clara Shafer, Diary, 1865.

Clara Shafer, Diary, 1865.
Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund (MSS 12456)

In her entry for April 4, 1865, Richmond resident Shafer expresses disgust and dismay at the presence of African-American soldiers among the city’s military occupiers: “This morning every-thing is quiet in the city, and the Negro soldiers stepping about as grandly as possible.”


The diary transcriptions below recount the events leading up to and following the evacuation Richmond during the last months of the Civil War. On the left, entries from Langdon’s diary offer a terse but elegiac snapshot of an army on the brink of victory. Shafer’s entries (indented) intimately record Shafer’s personal narrative of the night Richmond burned while she and her family stayed behind.


Thursday 30 March: Rained all last night—after the firing ceased—Spent one hour at Hd Qrs—Breakfast late—Rained all day and I did nothing but sleep and worry.
         Tuesday 4 April: How am I to recount the events of the past two days?
Monday 3 April: Awakened at four this morning. The enemy leaving our front—Two or three gunboats blown up…. Busy all day and went to sleep tired out—Every body as happy as they could be possibly.
        Tuesday 4 April: Aunt K. Mr and Mrs L went to church—upon their return they heard
        Richmond was to be evacuated that night—the report was so sudden that we could not credit
        it at first…
Tuesday 4 April: Hd Qrs.—Helping the Citizens—Brought in some artillery—President Lincoln came into town to day—I rode around with the staff and in the crowd that surrounded him.
        Tuesday 4 April: … soon a messenger came from the Clothing Dept. for Mr. L to go down
        immediately to assist in marking goods to be sent away that night. While he was gone Willis
        Bernard came in—all excitement and confusion and the worst reports we had heard…
Sunday 9 April: Hd Qrs—in the morning—Moved into Custom House Received news of Gen’l Lee’s surrender—Follett fired the salute.
        Tuesday 4 April: Mr. L was convinced by this time that the enemy would take possession
        of the city the next day, which banished sleep from the eyes—and as we had serious matters
        to attend to, we did not retire until 4 o’clock in the morn. I never spent such a night and
        hope never may again….
Thursday 13 April: It rained hard this morning—Passed, after it cleared up—over the old battleground of last May—on the turnpike where the rail road crosses it. Found the bones of a man that I saw lying there dead 10th May last—Slept at night at Dunlap’s house.
        Tuesday 4 April: Our forces were leaving the city all night. The last left about day-light—
        after setting fire to all the buildings in which tobacco was housed, several mills, magazines,
        et c. et c. by order it is said of Gen. Ewell—So when the enemy entered the city they found
        many portions of it in flames before the fire was extinguished 16 squares on main street
        containing Richmond’s finest stores—all the banks—the War Department & the American
        Hotel were laid in ruins—our church also (Presbyterian) was burnt to the ground besides
        many private dwellings, the Arsenal of course, was fired….
Friday 14 April: This house was the rebel General Beauregards Hd Qrs during our fighting here last summer in May—Slept in the house—The marching into Richmond on the 3rd inst., the leaving it yesterday—the company here, on the prettiest spot I have yet seen in Virginia, and the prospect of a horrible camp ground to night form strange contrasts to my mind….
        Tuesday 4 April: … one terrific explosion after another of shells and other ammunition added
        tenfold to the horrors of the scene—Such was the situation of Richmond when on Monday
        morning April 3rd 1865 the Yankees entered it as its conquerors.
Friday 21 April: Since our victories we all seem to have lost an object in life and grown spiritless and depressed—I have idled very much to day.
        Wednesday 5 April: The white tents and covered wagons of the enemy are to be seen in all
        directions. We are annoyed by visitors in the kitchen from the Negro camp in as much as
        they keep our servants from their work, but as yet they have not behaved amiss—our
        servants seem to look upon it as a holiday frolic—but are respectful and do what they are
        told with apparent willingness—but how long will this last?