02 April 2015

The Fall of Richmond: "Sitting in the Ashes"

William Eldridge Hatcher, LL.D., L.H.D. (1834-1912) is best known for his  biography of  the great slave  preacher, John Jasper. (Jasper also became the pastor of Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War.) Hatcher was a godly Christian, Pastor, author and was the epitome of the Virginia Gentleman. Born in Bedford, Virginia in the shadow of the Peaks of Otter, his father was a rugged farmer and his mother a "fair and cultured" Presbyterian. His mother died when he was only 4 years old and she spent her dying breaths praying that William and his brother would become ministers of the Gospel. God heard and answered her prayers. W.E. Hatcher went on to pastor several churches including Grace Street Baptist church in Richmond, Virginia where he served for over 25 years.

He was a prolific writer and lecturer, editing and contributing to numerous Christian periodicals in his time. He also was the founder of Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Virginia. This school is still in existence and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1998. Hatcher was contemporaries with Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody and knew both of them personally. He was a close friend of Spurgeon and preached in Spurgeon's church. Moody preached a series of meetings for Grace Street Baptist. 

The following comes from a Hatcher genealogy page:
"Men of Mark in Virginia" Volume V, pages 197, 198, 199 by Lyon G. Tyler, LL.D. This book has three pages devoted to Dr. Hatcher's remarkable versatility as a lecturer, fundraiser, editor, minister and inspirational leader to the young. He founded Fork Union Academy and held several post of honor and responsibility. He was President of the Board of Trustees of Richmond College, Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, President of the Virginia Baptist Orphanage, President of the Education Board of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and President of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
There are two biographies of Hatcher. One is an autobiography titled, Along the Trail of the Friendly Years and the other is titled simply, W.E. Hatcher. Both books are spiritual feasts, particularly Hatcher's autobiography. The books give an extraordinary insight into life in the South (particularly Virginia), right before and right after the War Between the States. What amazes me when reading these books is how pervasive and deep-rooted Christianity was in the culture at that time. It truly saddens the heart to know what we have lost. 

Relative to the sesquicentennial commemoration of the fall of Richmond in April of 1865 is Hatcher's eyewitness account of the event. The following are two excerpts I found particularly poignant in his autobiography in the chapter titled, Sitting in the Ashes:
In passing through the streets of Richmond many of the soldiers found that the Confederate authorities had abandoned a large supply of food and clothing, and from these stores the boys helped themselves so far as they came in reach of them, and so far as they had the means of transporting them. On the bayonets of many guns hung hams or shoulders, which these needy heroes were lugging along, little knowing when Mars' Robert would ever issue another ration. Deep as my troubles were I was quite lumbered up with Confederate money. In quite a number of cases I found that by generous display of Confederate money, I could bring on a trade for some of this bacon, which same thing I actually did, although I have to confess that in some of those trades the transaction took place before midnight, and if the Sabbath day runs until midnight I have to confess that on that occasion at least I let my eagerness to get a little something to keep my soul and body from prematurely separating from each other to tempt me to infringe the Holy Day.
And then there's this . . . 
But I saw another sight in connection with Richmond's fall which I confess thrilled me a thousand times more than all the glory of the victorious armies of the Republic. It was a spectacle that broke upon me most unexpectedly; it came while the heavens were black with storm and the streets were wild with flooding rains.

What I saw was a horseman. His steed was bespattered with mud, and his head hung down as if worn by long traveling. The horseman himself sat his horse like
a master; his face was ridged with self-respecting griefs; his garments were worn in the service and stained with travel; his hat was slouched and spattered with mud and only another unknown horseman rode with him, as if for company and for love. Even in the fleeting moment of his passing by my gate, I was awed by his incomparable dignity. His majestic composure, his rectitude and his sorrow, were so wrought and blended into his visage and so beautiful and impressive to my eyes that I fell into violent weeping. To me there was only one where this one was; there could be only one that day, and that one was still my own revered and cherished leader, stainless in honor, resplendent and immortal even in defeat, my own, my peerless chieftain, Robert E. Lee.

In that lone way, in the midst of rain and mire, with no crowds to hail him, with no resounding shouts to welcome him, with no banners flapping about him, did he come back from disastrous war. But, ah! we did not know. Conquered and solitary he was, but yet he wore invisible badges of victory; he carried spoils of honor and conquest which could never fail, and in every step of his sad moving he was marching forward to take his place in the palace courts of universal fame. 

You can read the complete book here or, if you're just interested in an eye-witness and detailed personal account of the fall of Richmond, start at page 90.


Eddie said...

Thank you for posting this. Hatcher and his writings were not known to me.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hatcher's writings and life are fascinating, in my view. His Christian worldview comes through so "matter of factly" and refreshing, but not at all "aggressive", if you understand what I'm trying to say.