April 1865: Chaos and Collapse in Confederate Greensboro Hello, and welcome to Greensboro’s Civil War walking tour. Before proceeding on your tour, be sure that you have downloaded and printed the destination map. Please do not begin walking to the first stop until directed to do so and please take all necessary safety precautions. The UNC-Greensboro public history program presents: April 1865: Chaos and Collapse in Confederate Greensboro. Thank you and enjoy your tour. [30 second music interlude] In 1865, the Civil War came to Greensboro. For four years, this quiet town was mainly untouched by the horrors of the most destructive war in this country’s history. But in the final days of the war, the city was placed at center stage as the Confederacy fell apart. Our memory of the final days of the Civil War perpetuates a myth of a “Gentlemen's Agreement” between North and South, a quiet affair in which opposing generals quietly approve surrender terms to end hostilities and allow their armies to disperse. But this was not Greensboro’s reality. For a short time in April 1865, Greensboro became headquarters for the ailing Confederate government, as President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet stopped during their escape southward. Here, the surrendered Confederate army turned over its arms and state control to Union troops. And here, deserted soldiers and civilians looted stores and warehouses as the Confederacy collapsed and all social order broke down. The people of Greensboro may not have known it at the time, but a chain of events set in motion months before April 1865 sealed their fate. Union General William T. Sherman began marching north through the Carolinas to reinforce General Ulysses S. Grant at Petersburg, Virginia. This allowed Sherman to wreak havoc upon the railroads, arsenals, and depots used by the Confederate military. Sherman’s march further weakened the Confederacy’s resolve to continue the war. The Confederacy made one final attempt to stop Sherman’s advance at Bentonville, North Carolina, but was unsuccessful. Confederate wounded from the Battle of Bentonville were moved to Greensboro, while the rest of Johnston’s army camped around the city. The army’s presence in Greensboro, the Piedmont Railroad station, and supply warehouses made Greensboro Sherman’s next target. Soon after Sherman began to move toward Greensboro, Jefferson Davis arrived in the city by train, and met with General Johnston and his Cabinet members. Johnston urged Davis to negotiate for peace and surrender to Sherman’s army. With Davis’s approval, Johnston eventually met with Sherman, and the Army of Tennessee officially capitulated on April 26. In the end, though, the surrender that ended the war in North Carolina brought crisis and chaos to Greensboro. 2 Please begin walking toward stop number one. From the parking lot, turn right on Elm Street and walk toward the railroad tracks. Cross Elm Street at Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, just on the other side of the railroad tracks. Walk down Martin Luther King Drive and go past the large magnolia tree—this will be on your left side—to the sidewalk beside the train yard. If you need further assistance, consult the printed map and directions to the Arms Factory overlook. Please press pause until you reach stop number one. Stop #1: Arms Factory You are now standing at the Arms Factory overlook and should be facing the railroad tracks and the rear of the railroad station. On your left is a railroad bridge that the road runs underneath. Behind you is the large magnolia tree. During the Civil War, this area would have been bustling with activity. Trains would have been entering and leaving Greensboro on an almost continuous basis, stopping to pick up and drop off supplies for the Confederate war effort. Five weapon companies operated in this county from 1862 to 1865, making Greensboro and the surrounding area an arms production center. Together, they contributed over 3,000 rifles for the Confederate war effort. The largest manufacturer in Greensboro was the J. & F. Garrett Company. Look down the railroad platform across the tracks until you see the single-story brick building on the far right of the platform. This was the Garrett arms factory, and the wall you’re looking at is all that remains of the original building. In 1863, the Garrett firm partnered with inventor and blacksmith Jeremiah Tarpley to produce a weapon of his design for the state of North Carolina. When Tarpley’s guns were being made, the factory and railroad were alive with increased activity. The factory workers were trained artisans, including woodworkers, machinists, and slaves who had been trained as blacksmiths. Smoke, steam, wood dust, and the acrid smell of molten iron and sweat filled the air in which these men worked. Conditions within the factory itself were hot and deafening, and workers had to be constantly alert to the dangers of intense heat and dangerous implements. Arriving trains delivered coal, coke, and pig iron to the factory, which had been located near the train tracks just for this purpose. The roar of passing trains, the clanging of hammers on iron, gasping bellows, and the hiss of hot metal being quenched, all mingled with the yelling voices of slave, artisan, and overseer to form a cacophony of noise never before heard in Greensboro. Unfortunately, Tarpley’s rifle design had two major flaws and North Carolina purchased only 200 of the weapons. Even though the Confederate authorities ceased to purchase Tarpley’s carbine, the company continued to advertise to the public until 1864. In all, about 500 of the weapons were manufactured. On March 23, 1865, two days after the failed attempt to arrest the advance of Sherman at Bentonville, Jeremiah Tarpley was compelled to sell the brick building you’re looking at because of the Confederacy’s military status, which was teetering on the brink of collapse. The foundry and factory had fallen silent. Trains that once carried supplies to the factory were replaced with trains bearing Confederate wounded and the fleeing Jefferson Davis. 3 Please begin walking to walking tour stop number two, the Railroad Station. Turn to your left and go under the railway bridge. Keep following the sidewalk around the curve. At the stop light, turn right on Washington Street. Stop at the historic marker for the Piedmont Railroad directly in front of the train station. Now pause the recording until you reach stop number two, the railroad station. Stop #2: Davis and the Railroad You are now standing at the historic marker for the Piedmont Railroad, located directly in front of a brick building with columns in front. When facing this building, to your left is a large black fence, and to your right is a parking lot for the Greensboro train and bus depot. The columned brick building in front of you would not have been here during the Civil War, but it serves as Greensboro’s current train station. The Civil War- era train station was most likely located near the spot of the one you see now. The original Piedmont Railroad Station would not have been as ornate as the building you’re looking at, but what it lacked in architectural extravagance it made up for in productivity. In April 1865, huge trains of cars swept through Greensboro hourly. The initial railroad line ran north from Greensboro to the southern border of Virginia, and was extremely important for North Carolina because it moved wounded soldiers away from battle and transported supplies to Richmond, Virginia. Near the end of the war, the train carrying the fleeing Confederate government to Greensboro would have stopped at the train station. From the moment that train entered the city with its precious cargo, Greensboro became the temporary capital of the Confederacy. When President Jefferson Davis stepped off the train early on the morning of April 11, 1865, he was met with silence. Very few residents of Greensboro welcomed him. Just days before, he stopped in Danville, Virginia, where the reception had been overwhelmingly positive. The train station there was choked with people hoping to catch a glimpse of their president. But here in Greensboro, the atmosphere was tense and unwelcoming. No one invited Davis and his Cabinet into their homes. The townspeople worried that the Union army would destroy their property if they housed members of the Confederate government. Even President Davis worried about potential retribution by Union soldiers, and slept in his dilapidated, leaky train car at the station. Davis and his Cabinet met frequently during their four-day stay in Greensboro, and during these contentious meetings the President refused any suggestion of capitulating to the North. Finally, early on the morning of April 13th, his Secretary of War brought Davis the devastating news that just four days earlier, his prize general, Robert E. Lee, had surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House. Davis met with his Cabinet members and generals one last time to discuss the fate of the Confederacy. Davis hoped that his armies could hold out long enough to secure appealing terms of surrender. General Joseph Johnston strongly disagreed. He told Davis that his Army of Tennessee was falling apart and that men were deserting every day. His ragged, demoralized army stood no chance of resisting another Federal attack. Davis, whose relationship with Johnston had been cold throughout the war, disagreed, but was alone in believing that the war could continue. Eventually, he realized the situation was hopeless and allowed Johnston to meet with Sherman to discuss surrender terms. On April 15, four days after arrival, Davis and his Cabinet fled Greensboro on horseback. As one Greensboro resident watched Davis and his men ride away, a feeling of gloom came upon him and he wrote, “As these great men passed slowly by me on this 4 gloomy April day with their sad faces turned to the South, and as I gazed for the last time upon their graceful forms and dignified countenances, I wept for them and my country.” At this time, please begin to move toward stop three. Cross Washington Street in front of the train station and continue walking straight on North Church Street. The next stop will be two blocks up at the corner of Church and Market Streets. Press pause on this recording until you reach walking tour stop three, the looting on East Market Street. Stop #3: East Market Street Looting From where you are standing right now, you can see the Dabbs Furniture Company half a block to your right. Right next to you, on your left, is the Greensboro News and Record office and a large parking lot. During the Civil War, this area would have been an open landscape. Look to your right down Market Street. You would have seen a dusty thoroughfare dotted with smaller stores. A large brick warehouse, filled with blankets, clothing, provisions, and medical supplies would have dominated the scenery. On the morning of April 11, 1865 this street would have been filled with hundreds of refugees from the surrounding area. With Sherman’s troops wreaking havoc in eastern North Carolina, these displaced civilians were left with no shelter and no food. Unlike Davis, they knew the war was over, and their only concern was finding food and shelter for their families. On this street, the refugees and Confederate deserters from Lee’s army would have been searching through the warehouses and stores. There were so many people that the streets became muddy and difficult to traverse. They began to loot the Confederacy’s large brick warehouse, located near the tracks. These buildings were filled with clothing, weapons, tools, and other useful items. With Sherman’s troops expected at any time and the end of the Confederacy imminent, looters were emboldened, stealing goods that they otherwise would never have touched. The chaos among the refugees spread to Greensboro’s citizens, who left their homes and joined the mob. Several hours later, as dusk fell over the city, North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance arrived in Greensboro by train. Vance was shocked by the collapse of order within the city. He feared for the safety of the warehouse, and quickly ordered guards to protect the supplies. A small militia probably marched by you to guard that warehouse, but when the mob saw the armed troops they grew violent. They began yelling and throwing weapons, causing tensions to reach a boiling point. Several of the guards fired their rifles into the angry crowd and killed four men. This caused such chaos that the guards were overwhelmed and forced to relinquish control of the warehouse. The supplies in the warehouse were worth over one million dollars, all of which the Confederacy lost. The warehouse on this street was not the only place that the looters ransacked. The mob moved downtown to the stores lining Greene Street, destroying and stealing public and private property along the way. As you continue to the next stop, imagine yourself as part of the mob, a soldier or civilian who has experienced four years of war, of destruction, and of loss. 5 Please turn left on Market Street and walk past the Greensboro News and Record Office and the large parking lot. Walk straight on Market Street until you come to Elm Street. Keep walking straight past the large brick First Citizens’ bank building. At the next light, turn left. You are now on Greene Street. Walk down Greene Street toward the parking garage. Stop four is on the corner of Washington and Greene Streets, right next to the parking garage. Press pause until you reach your next stop. Stop #4: Greene Street looting You are now standing across the street from the Carolina Theatre. Behind you is the Greene Street parking garage. During the Civil War, this street would have held rows of shops and stores, and would have looked similar to East Market Street’s landscape. The looting of the warehouse began because the mob knew that the government would not be able to stop it, but the Greene Street looting was a product of a growing frenzy that spread from the looting of government property to the looting of private property. After the warehouse’s looting, the mob moved quickly through the city toward Greene Street. The spectacle all along this street was gruesome and unforgiving. Onlookers saw men on horseback with piles of tools and weapons, women carrying bundles of spices and blankets for warmth, children straggling along carrying hams, stolen shoes, and bags of flour. Shops were closed, although that did not discourage the looters from shattering glass windows and stealing more goods. At one point, a man was riding down the street on a horse with a new saddle on top of his old one. His horse also carried stolen bags of flour, bundles of blankets, bags of clothes, several pairs of new shoes, and strings of bacon. To make matters worse, stolen alcohol created mass intoxication. Officials, attempting to destroy large barrels of alcohol, started fires in the streets. This was ineffective, and public drunkenness continued to be a problem. The muddy streets filled with pools of liquor and men got down on their hands and knees and drank it like dogs. After the first day of looting, Confederate troops abandoned their posts, leaving only 500 active troops in Greensboro. Those troops walked aimlessly through the streets, ignoring the chaos around them. Confederate authority had broken down to the point that even captured federal troops roamed the city unguarded. By the end of April, Johnston’s troops marched west to Greensboro, with Sherman following closely behind. Johnston arrived at this street but did little to control the chaos. It would take another week for the town to be brought under control. A Union force of 1000 soldiers finally maintained control as the looting dissolved and the cluttered streets were emptied, leaving Greensboro to deal with the remains of a month’s upheaval. Like the rest of the South, shattered by the war, it would take years for Greensboro to rebuild what had been destroyed and recover what had been lost. Please begin walking to your last stop. Continue walking down Greene Street past the Carolina Theatre. Walk past the Visitor Bureau and parking lots. At the next major intersection, turn left. This is McGee Street. Walk straight until you get to the next stop light, at Elm Street. At Elm Street, turn right and walk a block to the railroad tracks. Cross Elm Street and follow Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive to the large magnolia tree. The Army of Tennessee monument is in the grass median, next to the magnolia tree. This will be your last stop of the walking tour. Please press pause until you reach your final stop. 6 Stop #5: Army of Tennessee monument You are now standing on the spot where Joseph Johnston addressed the soldiers in his Army of Tennessee for the very last time. You should be looking at the granite monument located near the large magnolia tree. On April 26, 1865, Joseph Johnston surrendered to Union troops at Bennett Place, and in North Carolina, the Confederacy no longer existed. But he came back to Greensboro in the beginning of May to address his men one last time. It was his sincere hope that these men would embrace peace and help rebuild the shattered southern states with the same zeal with which they had fought the past four years. Johnston told his men: “Comrades: In terminating our official relations I most earnestly exhort you to observe faithfully the terms of pacification agreed upon…You will return to your homes with the admiration of our people, won by the courage and noble devotion you have displayed in this long war…I now part with you with deep regret, and bid you farewell with feelings of cordial friendship and with earnest wishes that you may have hereafter all the prosperity and happiness to be found in the world.” Johnston spoke of peace and friendship, even if this was not what all southerners experienced. The ensuing collapse of the Confederacy caused chaos among soldiers, refugees, and citizens. But it was a day of jubilee for slaves freed from bondage— including those at the Arms Factory—when Union troops took control of the state. It also signaled the beginning of reunion, although questions still remained. Reconstruction would prove to be extremely difficult and would foster resentment among white southerners, leading to southerners’ creation of a romanticized memory of the Confederate cause. The way people remember the Civil War today does not reflect the chaos that you just experienced in the past hour. Typically, what people usually remember is the sentiment of white southerners who romanticized the Civil War. Look at the words on the Army of Tennessee monument in front of you. It says, “They are all gone now, with their tattered flags and their faded uniforms.” Unfortunately, though, this romanticized viewpoint denies the experience of African Americans in the Civil War and still has not resolved the question of freedom. [50 second music interlude] This concludes our tour of Greensboro at the end of the Civil War. On behalf of the Public History Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, we thank you for downloading this audio program. If you are interested in other Civil War-related sites in Greensboro, please download our companion map and information, an extended tour of Civil War sites in Greensboro.
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