Marker recognizing city’s liberation by Union troops near Civil War’s end damaged in East End

George Copeland Jr. and Jeremy M. Lazarus | 3/31/2022, 6 p.m.
An accident or act of intentional vandalism?

An accident or act of intentional vandalism?

Officials with the state Department of Historic Resources are unsure of the cause, but told the Richmond Free Press on Wednesday that the historical marker recognizing the Union Army’s liberation of Richmond from Confederate control on April 3, 1865, leading to the end of the Civil War had been knocked down recently and “damaged beyond repair.”

The marker still has not been replaced days before the 157th anniversary of the event and a celebration marking when and where the Union troops, led by African-American units, entered the city.

“There’s no question we’re going ahead with the program on Sunday,” said Phil Wilayto of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality. “It’s the site that’s important, not the marker.”

The Virginia Defenders, along with the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, organized the anniversary celebration slated for 8 a.m. Sunday, April 3, at East Main and Nicholson streets near the riverfront where the sign used to be.

A news release announcing the event instructed people to meet at the sign. But on Tuesday, a Free Press photographer went to the site and found no sign.

The Free Press and Mr. Wilayto contacted the state Department of Historic Resources, which manages the state highway marker program.

Jennifer R. Loux, who manages the program, responded Wednesday that her office received a report on March 7 that the marker, titled “Union Army Enters Richmond,” had been knocked down.

“Richmond Public Works retrieved the marker and determined that it was damaged beyond repair. We do not know whether the damage resulted from the marker being struck by a vehicle (the most common reason for markers to be knocked down) or whether it was a case of vandalism,” she stated in an email. This is the second time the marker has been damaged in recent years, Ms. Loux stated.

“We hope to replace it, but that will take some time,” she stated.

The marker was first placed at the site in 1994 to recognize the historical importance of Union troops, including Black soldiers, arriving to liberate the enslaved and a city that Confederates set ablaze as they fled.

Nearly 40 blocks of the city were destroyed, from the James River to Capitol Square. Union troops put out the fires and restored order in the city, which had served as the capital of the Confederacy.

Just days later on April 9, 1865, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant formally accepted the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, effectively ending the bloodiest conflict in American history in which more than 600,000 people were killed.

For many years, Richmond’s Black community and its allies held an annual Liberation Day celebration that attracted thousands, Mr. Wilayto noted.

This year’s event will feature a recounting of eyewitness accounts of that day in 1865. People also are asked to share their thoughts about what Liberation Day means to them.

A week of programs hosted in part by the American Civil War Museum are planned from Saturday, April 2, to Saturday, April 9, including a Civil War Emancipation Day Program hosted by the Elegba Folklore Society from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the American Civil War Museum, 480 Tredegar St.

Details, including free registration: www.cwedrva.com/programs.