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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

May 01, 1865

Soldiers’ Riots in Augusta and Washington Recorded

Two women, one in Augusta and one in Washington, Georgia, witnessed similar events on this day - part of the dark side of the war’s ending. First from Augusta.

“What a first of May. It had not occurred to me until I commenced to write - Today I have witnessed what I am sorry shall prove our last experience as a Confederate Nation - A riot has taken place in Augusta - an event often dreaded but never experienced before! Soon after breakfast I heard that soldiers were breaking open the stores on Broad Street and helping themselves - Immediately after I saw numbers of men walking rapidly, some running with large bags, bundles upon their shoulders … . The bright dream of Southern independence has not been realised - The war is over and again we become a part of the United States - how united will depend alone upon treatment we receive from the hands of the North … .” Source: Virginia Ingraham Burr (ed.), The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p. 260.

Then Eliza Frances Andrews of Washington wrote in her diary of hearing of Johnston’s surrender in North Carolina, more on Mrs. Jefferson Davis, and a regiment from Texas that acted much like the one in Augusta in the previous entry.

“…Men were coming in all day, with busy faces, to see Mr. Harrison, and one of them brought news of Johnston’s surrender, but Mr. Harrison didn’t tell anybody about it except father, and the rest of us were left in ignorance till afternoon when Fred came back with the news from Augusta. While we were at dinner, a brother of Mrs. Davis came in and called for Mr. Harrison, and after a hurried interview with him, Mr. Harrison came back into the dining-room and said it had been decided that Mrs. Davis would leave town to-morrow. Delicacy forbade our asking any questions, but I suppose they were alarmed by some of the numerous reports that are always flying about the approach of the Yankees. Mother called on Mrs. Davis this afternoon, and she really believes they are on their way here and may arrive at any moment. She seemed delighted with her reception here, and, to the honor of our town, it can be truly said that she has received more attention than would have been shown her even in the palmiest days of her prosperity. The conduct of a Texas regiment in the streets this afternoon gave us a sample of the chaos and general demoralization that may be expected to follow the breaking up of our government. They raised a riot about their rations, in which they were joined by all the disorderly elements among both soldiers and citizens. First they plundered the Commissary Department, and then turned loose on the quartermaster’s stores. Paper, pens, buttons, tape, cloth - everything in the building - was seized and strewn about on the ground. Negroes and children joined the mob and grabbed what they could of the plunder. Col. Weems’s provost guard refused to interfere, saying they were too good soldiers to fire on their comrades, and so the plundering went on unopposed. Nobody seemed to care much, as we all know the Yankees will get it in the end, any way, if our men don’t. I was at Miss Maria Randolph’s when the disturbance began, but by keeping to the back streets I avoided the worst of the row, though I encountered a number of stragglers, running away with their booty. The soldiers were very generous with their “confiscated” goods, giving away paper, pens, tape, &c., to anybody they happened to meet. One of them poked a handful of pen staves at me; another, staggering under an armful of stationery, threw me a ream of paper, saying: “There, take that and write to your sweetheart on it.” I took no notice of any of them, but hurried on home as fast as I could, all the way meeting negroes, children, and men loaded with plunder. When I reached home I found some of our own servants with their arms full of thread, paper, and pens, which they offered to sell me, and one of them gave me several reams of paper. I carried them to father, and he collected all the other booty he could find, intending to return it to headquarters, but he was told that there is no one to receive it, no place to send it to - in fact, there seemed to be no longer any headquarters nor any other semblance of authority. Father saved one box of bacon for Col. Weems by hauling it away in his wagon and concealing it in his smokehouse. All of Johnston’s army and the greater portion of Lee’s are still to pass through, and since the rioters have destroyed so much of the forage and provisions intended for their use, there will be great difficulty in feeding them. They did not stop at food, but helped themselves to all the horses and mules they needed. A band of them made a raid on Gen. Elzey’s camp and took nine of his mules. They excused themselves by saying that all government stores will be seized by the Yankees in a few days, any way, if left alone, and our own soldiers might as well get the good of them while they can. This would be true, if there were not so many others yet to come who ought to have their share. Our back yard and kitchen have been filled all day, as usual, with soldiers waiting to have their rations cooked. One of them, who had a wounded arm, came into the house to have it dressed, and said that he was at Salisbury when Garnett was shot and saw him fall. He told some miraculous stories about the valorous deeds of “the colonel,” and although they were so exaggerated that I set them down as apocryphal, I gave him a piece of cake, notwithstanding, to pay him for telling them. ” Source: Eliza Frances Andrews, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865 (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1908), pp. 192-195.