Broadside, from the Committee, 2 April 1866
Was the Civil War fought to preserve the Union? Was it a war for emancipation? Was it a war for southern independence? Was it a war fought to perpetuate slavery? The Civil War has always meant different things to different people. This was as true in 1866 as it is today. In addition to the broadside, two articles from the Richmond Whig are included.
While attending church services on Sunday, 2 April 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis was handed a copy of a telegram written by General Robert E. Lee. In his message, Lee informed the War Department that his lines around Petersburg had been broken, and that he was forced to abandon his position to save the army. This meant that the city of Richmond would fall to forces under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant.
That evening, Jefferson Davis and members of the Confederate government fled the city. To prevent the capture of valuable supplies and to delay Grant's pursuit of Lee, Confederate authorities ordered that tobacco factories and railroad bridges be set afire. High winds carried the fire to adjacent buildings, and early on the morning of April 3, much of the city's business district was in flames. Before the fire was brought under control, 90% of the business district had been destroyed.
As the fire raged, Union troops, including units of African American soldiers, entered the city. Crowds of black Richmonders cheered wildly. The Reverend Garland White, chaplain of the 28th United States Colored Troop, wrote, "It appeared to me all the colored people in the world had collected." Many white Richmonders were horror stricken by these events, especially by the shock of seeing former slaves embrace the U.S. army as liberators. The next day, freedmen and women crowded around President Abraham Lincoln as he entered the city and walked to the former White House of the Confederacy and state capitol.
Over the next year, former slaves sought to make meaning of emancipation. They searched for family members and struggled against the imposition of Black Codes. They fought for the repeal of laws that restricted their movement. They created a network of mutual-aid societies that provided relief and allowed them the opportunity to participate in civic life. Black men formed militia companies. They also joined the Republican Party and demanded equal rights.
On 1 January 1866, African Americans across the nation celebrated the third anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, many Richmond African Americans believed that 3 April 1865, the day the city surrendered to Union forces, should be the date commemorated. Early in 1866, black fraternal organizations and secret societies announced that they were planning a celebration on the first anniversary of Richmond's fall to Union forces—3 April 1866. For freedman and women, the date marked their deliverance from slavery; for many whites, however, it was a humiliating reminder of defeat. Richmond newspapers criticized the choice of dates in the weeks prior to the event. The organizers decided to postpone the celebration, to the relief of many whites. However, on 2 April 1866, the broadside in this lesson appeared throughout the city, announcing the next day's celebration.
Although the Richmond Whig reported much smaller numbers, one source stated that around 2,000 African Americans marched to the state capitol. The paraders were arranged by secret society, and they marched in ceremonial garb. At the capitol, they were joined by about 15,000 spectators. The crowd listened to speeches delivered by both white and black orators. The site selected was especially symbolic, as many African Americans were prohibited from entering the capitol grounds before emancipation.
The parade took place without violence, but some white employers retaliated by firing black workers who had participated in the festivities. On the eve of the event, the Second African Baptist Church was burned to the ground.
A broadside is defined as information printed on one side of an unfolded sheet of paper. Broadsides are often public notices or announcements, and are designed to convey information quickly. In early Virginia, broadsides were posted in courthouses, taverns and other public places; today, they appear on telephone poles, bulletin boards, and abandoned buildings. This broadside appeared on Richmond streets on 2 April 1866. It became a part of the historical society's collection shortly after.
The emancipation day celebration was planned by black fraternal organizations and secret societies. Although the individuals who headed up the committee are difficult to identify, J. Cocks was probably Joseph Cox, a free-born tobacco factory worker who was also president of the Union Aid Society, one of Virginia's largest secret societies. In the spring of 1867, Cox sat on the petit jury called to hear the case of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis in his trial for treason. (The trial was never held.) C. Harris may have been Cornelius Harris, a shoemaker and lay preacher who remained politically active for several decades following emancipation. Like Cox, Harris was born free and served as delegate to the Republican Party's state convention in April 1867. Both Cox and Harris were radical Republicans. At the convention, Harris advocated for confiscating the land of former Confederates and redistributing it to the freedmen.
Both Cox and Harris were literate. The misspelling of Cox's name suggests that he was not directly involved in writing and publishing the broadside. Notice that the authors chose to spell the word "coloured" with a "u."
A broadside is defined as a printed notice. Printer's blocks would have included individual letters of different sizes and fonts as well as a number of standard images, such as the pointing fingers depicted here.
Activities: Teaching the Document
1. Have your students examine the broadside. Ask them how they think broadsides were used.
2. After reading the broadside, have your students explain the conflict. Ask them if they think that the organizers were being honest when they wrote, "We do not intend to celebrate the failure of the Southern Confederacy."
3. Have your students read the two newspaper articles. How do the editors of the Richmond Whig view the events that occurred on 3 April 1865?
4. How do the editors of the Whig describe the freedmen? Who do they see as responsible for the problem?
5. How many African Americans participated in the parade? How many spectators were there? What does the Whig say? What does the Whig say that northern papers claim? Why is there such a difference? Is there any primary source that is likely to report the numbers accurately?
6. Why do you think Joseph Cox and Cornelius Harris may have been leaders in Richmond’s African American community?
• Eric Foner. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution.
• Nelson Lankford. Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital.
• Marie Tyler-McGraw. At the Falls: Richmond, Virginia, and Its People.
• Richard Lowe. Republicans and Reconstruction in Virginia, 1856–70.
• Peter J. Rachleff. Black Labor in Richmond, 1865–1890.
Standards of Learning
• VS.8a, USI.10b, VUS.7c