Lincoln's Secret Instructions
Major General Godfrey Weitzel & Richmond, Virginia


     The city of Richmond, Virginia had surrendered to Federal Authorities at 8:15 am on the 3rd day of April 1865. After listening the night before to the explosions and watching the night sky light up from the infernos set about Richmond, the 24th and 25th Army Corps, Army of the James moved from their posts along the Varina Road, and entered the Rebel Capitol.

     Mayor Joseph Mayo had duly surrendered the city to Major General Godfrey Weitzel and his soldiers quickly began assisting the city in extinguishing the mass conflagrations throughout.

     After establishing Federal control over the city and the President's April 4th visit past, the Executive Mansion engaged in written instructions to Weitzel regarding how the President of the United States wished to see peace and order restored to the former rebel capitol. These instructions would draw great interest with the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, in that nobody seemed to be aware of Mr. Lincoln's Richmond policy, the instructions to the major general were of the most sensitive nature.

     Word got back to the White House that the Virginia State Legislature was attempting to reassemble in order to take measures on withdrawing all troops who were still resisting the victors. With this in mind, the President gave his consent for that purpose. Should, on the contrary, they attempt anything illegal to the governing authority now present, they were to be notified and told to leave. Anyone left loitering about would be arrested.

     The discussion that the Chief Executive had with the Major General commanding while visiting the capital was to be firm, but easy. Not to press the little points. Lincoln was satisfied that Godfrey Weitzel had been acting in the spirit and temper manifested by him when these instructions were passed on.

     Lincoln's thoughts regarding the meeting of the legislature were however, misunderstood by those cooperating inside the city, misconstrued from what the President intended. Consideration that the President of the United States had just allowed the insurgent legislature to reconvene was a mistake, that as a power de facto their assembly was for one purpose, and one purpose only, to withdraw the rebel troops still in resistance.

     There had only been rumor of this assembly, for between April 6th and the 12th, the body still hadn't met for any such purpose at all. Since the remainder of Lee's Army had surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, there was no further need to allow such a gathering and Lincoln withdrew his permission.

     Although implemented for the sake of harmony after the tragedy, none of these secret policies passed onto General Weitzel sat well with the Radical Republicans in Congress. After the President's assassination, Weitzel would share his testimony before the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of War, only to find his command transferred out to Brownsville, Texas, an out of the way post where the integration of a new reconstruction policy completely contrary to the fallen leader's intent, could be unleashed without fear of opposition from those who supported him


Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2002

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar.net