By now we’re at the bottom of the fourth column out of six on our journey through the May 17, 1864, edition of the Daily Richmond Examiner [pdf]. The editors have just lamented that “the flower of our youth are falling by the scores under the iron hail of death,” and have noted the “soldiers weary, foot-sore, jaded, hungry, and thirsty” tramping through the capital “night and day.”
For all the horrific death we’ve witnessed thus far—the large hole in Mr. Wilcox, the burning blind and paralyzed females, the bullet through Colonel Pate’s head—it is only now that a fog seems to have descended upon the page, and we are greeted with the headline, “Historical Omens.”
On the Monday previously, the Examiner explains, “a tornado swept over Richmond, the prize for which the armies were contending, and threw down the steeple of St. John’s Episcopal Church. This same St. John’s is where, in 1775, Patrick Henry famously dared the king to give him liberty or give him death. “The credulous portion of the residents of Church Hill” saw this as some kind of sign, the newspaper reports, but not the editors. “If there is any ‘sign’ at all in the falling of the steeple,” they contend, “it signifies that the old fabric of liberty and union is rotten.”
In the meantime, the home of the Confederate secretary of the navy, Stephen Mallory, was struck by lightning the following night. “The ancients considered this to be the best of omens, significant of the peculiar favour of the gods,” the Examiner writes. “Perhaps Mallory will now be Malheureux no more.”
This same storm raged over the battlefield where the doomed General Stuart and his “equally brave and gallant compeer” Colonel Pate fought so bravely and gallantly, and afterward two young boys apparently sold the Examiner to Union troops as they crossed the Chickahominy. Union general Philip H. Sheridan read about his “defeat” at Yellow Tavern but, more importantly, how the Confederates had moved two infantry brigades into Richmond. He would stay clear of the capital for now, and in the meantime, he was so impressed by the young paperboys’ intelligence he had them detained as spies.
COMING IN PART VII: Then he fires with deadly aim. The animal falls and struggles convulsively on the ground.
IMAGE: Patrick Henry in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond