The Richmond Massacre was an unsuccessful assassination attempt upon Confederate President Robert E. Lee by the "Rivington Men" of America Will Break on March 4, 1868. Lee survived the attack, but many, including Lee's wife Mary, newly inaugurated Vice President Albert G. Brown, and famed general Jubal Early were killed.
The Assassination Attempt
March 4th was Confederate inauguration day. A platform had been set up in Capitol Square at the base of the statue of George Washington. At half past twelve in the afternoon, a procession from the Virginia House of Delegates consisting, in part, of President Jefferson Davis and President-elect Lee, V.P. Alexander Stephens and V.P.-elect Brown, along with both the old and new cabinet members were escorted to the platform. The four incoming and outgoing executives along with Bishop John Johns, Judge J.D. Halyburton, the President of the Confederate Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Virginia Governor William Smith all ascended to the platform for the ceremony.
Bishop Jones gave a benediction and then Brown, followed by Lee took the oaths of office as administered by Judge Halyburton. Lee then began his inaugural address. As he spoke a gust of wind blew his hat from his hand. He chose to bend down to retrieve it and as he did so, a bullet cracked by followed by a second tugging at his coat sleeve. Halyburton immediately swept Lee off the platform and then followed him down with a shoulder wound.
The volume of fire made Lee realize there were multiple assassins armed with repeating weapons but the sound they made was different from the AK-47s he was used to. However, it was clear that it was the Rivington Men who were behind the attack. The honor guard had been armed with AK-47s along with swords but most were down wounded or dead. Nevertheless, many spectators were veterans who began firing back, both with their own handguns and with retrieved AK-47s.
Eventually five assassins lay dead, four from head shots and one bled to death from a thigh wound. A sixth, Konrad de Buys, shot in the right wrist and left shoulder, was captured. Lee questioned him but did not learn much. He did discover that all the assailants had body-armor which turned rifle rounds, hence the difficulty in bringing them down. He also learned the the repeater they were using was called an Uzi, which Lee thought looked like an AK-47 that had shrunk in the wash.
Lee ordered America Will Break headquarters by the Mechanics Hall be seized after taking care to have Judge Halyburton issue a warrant. This was an even harder fought battle as the Rivington Men preferred death to surrender. After the Confederate Army brought up several cannons, they managed, with great difficulty and taking many casualties, to capture the AWB offices. None of the Rivington Men, with the exception of de Buys, survived to be captured.
The casualties from the massacre and the subsequent battle to take the AWB's offices in Richmond were high- at least one hundred in total, as Richmond's primary hospital had that much in capacity and was already filled before all the ambulances completed their work. The Confederate States lost its second Vice President, a famous general from its war for independence, and lost its second President's wife, all on the day of Robert E. Lee's inauguration. The Lee administration, as a result, was marked by a drastic change of security practices in the C.S. capital and regarding the President in particular. Bodyguards wielding AK-47s accompanied the President "everywhere but the bathtub" and Lee observed them to take their duties far more seriously than they had in the days before the Richmond Massacre.
The events of the Richmond Massacre were the beginning of the end for the men of America Will Break; the events that followed as C.S. forces laid siege to Rivington and captured the town ultimately destroyed the AWB. The Massacre also brought a flood of sympathetic telegrams and letters to the Confederate White House. One such telegram came from former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, who wrote, "May God be with you and your country in your hour of sorrow. You are in my prayers."
The Richmond Massacre boosted political support for Lee and his platform of gradual abolition. Lee showed every member of the Confederate States Congress the captured history books from an alternate 2014, under condition that the existence of these books from a now-nonexistent future be kept secret. Even the fiery pro-slavery Texan, Senator Louis Wigfall, was stunned by the scorn and disgust which future generations heaped on slavery and its advocates. The Congressmen also vividly remembered the Richmond Massacre, and ultimately voted to pass Lee's bill, beginning the gradual end of slavery in the Confederate States.
List of known victims
- Mary Anna Custis Lee
- Albert Gallatin Brown
- John Atkins
- Jubal Early
- Five America Will Break assassins
- Several others
- Alexander Stephens
- Judah Benjamin (shot in the calf)
- Jeb Stuart
- John Johns (shot in the arm)
- Sion Rogers
- Rooney Lee (hand wounded)
- J.D. Halyburton (shoulder wounded from fall)
- Charles Dimmock (lower part of right ear shot off)
- Konrad de Buys (AWB, captured) (shot in the right wrist and left shoulder)
- Dozens of others