The Richmond Civil War Centennial Committee presents this publication to those who have requested a short, narrative account of the Civil War history of Richmond, Virginia. It is adapted from a talk delivered at the Centennial Banquet, Centennial Room, Hotel Richmond, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the moving of the Confederate Capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond.
This talk was written and delivered by the HON. C. HOBSON GODDIN, Vice - Chairman, Richmond Civil War Centennial Committee
Adapted and Edited by:
Official Publication of:
RICHMOND VIRGINIA 1861 - 1 865
C. Hobson Goddin
On May 29, 100 years ago, the Capital of the newly formed Confederate Government was moved to Richmond. We should pause for a brief few moments from the events involving our City, State and Nation of today, to retell and commemorate the valiant deeds and sacrifices of our forebears who have established and have nurtured the traditions of our City.
On this historic spot (northwest corner of Ninth and Grace Streets) where we gather in such a genial and attractive atmosphere, we can almost eyewitness the history of this City by reviewing the momentous events which have transpired within the realm of our sight and hearing.
Continuously since 1797 at this location has stood a hotel. First owned by Revolutionary War hero Col. Parke Goodall and known as the Indian Queen Tavern; then as the Washington Tavern; then as the Monumental, in honor of the newly erected Washington Monument; at the outbreak of The War, it was remodelled as Hotel Monument; during The War, it was called the Central; next came the fashionable and luxurious St.Claire; now the present, Hotel Richmond.
You can almost hear the voices of the distinguished statesmen, military leaders, politicians and citizens as they discussed the events of the day. Then, as now, the important decisions were made here or close by.
Opposite this building is historic Capitol Square, better known in early days as Shockoe Hill when, in 1785, Thomas Jefferson's Capitol of Virginia was erected. Across on the south side of Grace Street is St.Paul's Episcopal Church, where many of the great leaders of The War worshipped---- Jefferson Davis and R. E. Lee among them. Just to the west is Saint Peter's, the Roman Catholic Cathedral during The War, where the renowned Bishop John McGill presided. Behind us, at Eighth and Broad Streets stood the terminal of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. Down Ninth Street and along Bank Street, bordering on the Square, stood the buildings which housed the various departments of the Confederate Government, one of which remains today as a portion of our present Post Office Building. Thru out this area were located the homes of the gentry. You must remember that the western boundary of this City of some 38, 000 people had not quite reached Belvidere Street.
To recall briefly Richmond's history prior to the Civil War: Captain John Smith first landed here in 1607 at the falls of the James River. The site was the scene of several unsuccessful attempts at settlement. Then Col. William Byrd founded the present City of Richmond by having Mj. William Mayo lay the town out into lots and promoting a lottery to sell them off.
Patrick Henry rang freedom's cry here in 1775 at Saint John's Episcopal Church, then the largest place of assembly that the small, young City could offer.
Richmond's first baptism of fire was in 1781 when the traitor, General Benedict Arnold, captured and burned a large part of the town. The population was then only about 1, 800.
Chief justice John Marshall was a leading citizen and presided at the famous treason trial of Aaron Burr held in the Capitol Building.
When Richmond was again threatened with invasion by the British in 1813, the citizens rallied successfully to man the fort at Malvern Hill --- later, in 186 2, to be the scene of the fatal Confederate attack closing the Seven Days Campaign.
Richmond's reputation developed as a gay and fun-loving community. Its taverns and coffee-houses (like Lynch's, Mrs. Gilbert's, Bird-in-Hand and Eagle to name but a very few) were renowned far from the borders of the City. Their Catholic stocks ranged from the rarest wines of Spain and Portugal to the rawest of local rums; their fares offered the best of imported delicacies garnished with fresh vegetables from the near-by farms of Hanover County.
Past horses had fathered countless hunting clubs and supported many race-courses. Richmond was famed as one of the thespian centers of the new nation. Before the outbreak of The War, more than a dozen theatrical halls gave the devotee of the footlights his choice of programs from such stars as Jenny Lind (at $105. 00 per seat), Edwin. Booth and Joe Jefferson to earthy burlesque (at 25¢ per seat). But whether you chose the Marshall Theatre or Metropolitan Hall or thrilled to Old Blind Tom at the African Baptist Church, it was well to buy your ticket in advance should you wish to avoid S. R. 0.
William Ellery Channing, Edgar Allan Poe and Albert Gallatin had placed their marks of cosmopolitan culture upon our people with indelibility. The visits of Marquis de Lafayette, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackery had forever removed from us any cover of provincial isolationism. Indeed, Richmond could hold its own, socially or culturally, with New Orleans, New York and Charleston.
Also, it became an important transportation center, with rail and steamer connections, north and south, east and west. The James River and Kanawha Canal was a vital water artery with the West and was used thru out the War for the transfer of troops and supplies.
Richmond's fame is not one of peace, but one of war! As the dark clouds of war gathered and burst, Richmond became the symbol of the hopes of the Southern Confederacy-- so long as Richmond was defended, the Confederacy was alive. When she fell, the death knell of the Confederacy was tolled. So today, Richmond is the citadel of Confederate History and Tradition ---- here in this City was the heart-throb of a new nation—and to the Northern forces, the cry went up for four, long, tragic, painful years-------ON TO RICHMOND!"
As 1861 dawned, gay ladies and grande dames, bedecked in their silks or cashmere from the well-filled shelves of Keen, Baldwin & Company, might be found comparing the imported fruits and candies offered to them by Andrew Antoni's and Andrew Pizzini's stores. The men, sporting a topper from John Dooley's, might tarry a while at Lew Rueger's Lafayette Saloon or at Charlie Richardson's Cigar Store to discuss the latest advices from the deep South. Some of them,who were already wearing the Palmetto insignia, could be seen looking over the fine lines of firearms at Tignor's or Walsh's. Yet, New-York newspapers could still be found side by side with ones from Charleston at J.W.Randolph, Bookseller, and Van Lew & Taylor was still the City's largest hardware establishment in spite of the owner' s pro-Union sentiments. Tredegar was proudly advertising its ability to build engines---- but then, it meant engines of construction, not the deadly engines of destruction which within a few short months would be pouring from its mills.
With Secession on 17 April 1861,the Richmond City Council went to work. On 9 May 186 I, a committee of the Council was appointed to wait on General R. E. Lee to ask his advice as to the expediency of taking steps to put this City in a state of defense, with Mayor Joseph Mayo furnishing the necessary labor from among the unemployed Negroes.
Another early ordinance looking to the welfare of the people was one that would seize all ice supplies in the City and that would put them under the Board of Health. The ice should be sold only on a doctor's prescription. At that time most of our ice supply came from New England and without some restriction there might not be any ice available for the epidemic of fever that annually struck the City in late summer.
A further ordinance provided that the street lamps must be lighted every night "whether the moon shines or not" at all communication centers thru-out the City.
On 25 May 1861, a called meeting of the Council was held on account of the expected arrival of President Jefferson Davis in the City. The following resolution was adopted:
The City also resolved to purchase and make a gift of the home at the southeast corner of 12th and Clay Streets as an official residence for the President. $35,000.00 was authorized for this purpose but the Confederate Government decided that the purchase instead should be made by them in the name of all of the people of all of the states.
Early on the morning of 29 May 186 1, Jefferson Davis arrived by train from Montgomery, Alabama, to establish Richmond as the Capital of the Confederacy. A great crowd was on hand ---- as Virginia had not long before seceded from the Union, which she had done so much to create, to cast her lot with her Southern neighbors.
Governor John Letcher, Mayor Mayo and members of the City Council greeted him. A salute of 15 guns was fired from the Square. Mr. Davis was conducted thru cheering crowds to his quarters at the elegant Spotswood Hotel at the southeast corner of Eighth and Main Streets. Even the newspapers praised the President to the skies, and it was declared "the mantle of George Washington falls gracefully upon his shoulders " .
That evening he rode out to the new fair grounds (Monroe Park) to review the troops that were camped there. Who could foresee that within a short while Mr. Davis would be attacked, criticized and abused from almost every quarter. The failures of the government and the defeats of the forces in the field were placed at his doorsteps.
Richmond in 1861 was one vast army camp --- finely dressed military companies from the Southern States were assembling here ---- the cadets of V. M. I. under Jackson had arrived and were serving as instructors. Not to be thought of, were the horrors of suffering and the grief of the war to be.
But the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) on 21 July 1861 soon brought an end to the glamorous side of war--- 'ere long the trains of the Virginia Central Railroad were bringing in the wounded from the battlefields. Ill-equipped to meet the demand for hospitals, the City was housing the sick and wounded in warehouses, even the parlors of private homes, where they were tenderly administered to by the women.
Captain Sally Tompkins received a commission as a captain in the Confederate Army for her nursing services. With the increasing number of wounded, the faithful women of the City never ceased to care for them.
For the remainder of 1861, knighthood and chivalry, gay parties and receptions were still evident. The blockade and the coming scarcity of food and supplies had not yet been felt.
The "On To Richmond!" cry was heard again in 1862. With the advance up the Peninsula by General George McClellan and the threat to the City by water at Drewry's Bluff, it was rumored by the fainthearted that the City would be surrendered. But the Mayor and City Council joined with the Virginia General Assembly in urging that Richmond be defended "until not one stone shall remain upon another."
The City girded itself for battle. Soldiers were constantly passing back and forth thru the City. Refugees from the outlying countryside poured in.
With the opening of the guns of the first major struggle for Richmond at Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) 31 May - I June 1862, the citizens rushed to the hillsides and to the rooftops to view the repulse of the invader. Out of this series of battles ---- French's Field, Mechanicsville, Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines Mill, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill---- lives the heroic defense of this City ---- and also to emerge was the indomitable R. E. Lee and his renowned Army of Northern Virginia.
But from many doorways waved the black symbol of death --- the once quiet streets heard the continual passing of funeral processions to Hollywood and Oakwood Cemeteries. Richmond had changed from a pleasure-loving City to one of resolute men and women, determined to make any sacrifice for their cause.
On many occasions as the troops passed thru the City, ill-fed and poorly clothed, the citizens would have their own meals brought out on the sidewalk so that the soldiers might have a quick bite. The children would shower the men with flowers so that the ragged army would almost be in bloom from those stuck in the hats of the men and in the gun-barrels.
The Capitol Square was the center of activity. There you would see a steady stream of office-seekers, members of the Cabinet, the Generals. You could discuss the news of the day and, if possible, escape from the horrors of war. At night, it was a favorite spot to promenade or to listen to a military band.
With the tightening of the blockade and the increase in population, prices went up--- coffee was $4. 00 per pound, tea $ 20. 00, cloth and new fashions were rarities. It was not too long before old draperies were transformed into new dresses. The last of Duc de Montebello Champagne had gone from the cellars of Williams & Bros., and, indeed, their stocks of produce were rarely enough to supply the demand. A single hotel meal cost nine Confederate soldiers $600. 00. It was said that formerly when a lady took her purse to market that she needed a basket to carry home her purchases; now she needed a basket for her money and a purse for her purchases. There were no rats or mice in the City---- not even pigeons.
The gnawing of hunger was ever present. In April of 1863, there was a bread-riot in the market area. There was simply not enough food to go around and what there was was so exorbitant in price that many families were forced to sell their most cherished possessions to feed themselves. The citizens kept their faith, tightened their belts---- and hoped.
With the troops came the ever present gamblers, cut-throats, prostitutes, juvenile delinquents and black-marketeers. Richmond had its police problems and there was not a more despised man than Gen. John H. Winder, the Provost Marshal. Many a soldier spent his entire leave in jail because of governmental red-tape in issuing his pass.
The City also had its traffic problems. The City Council declined to allow an extension of the railroad tracks from the R. F. & P. Station down Eighth Street to the Richmond -Petersburg Terminal at Byrd Street because it was too much of a traffic hazard.
Even in war-time, the City fearlessly guarded its powers and required a permit to be issued whenever a train used the temporary tracks from the R. F. & P. Depot to the Virginia Central Depot at 16th and Broad Streets.
In spite of The War moving away from the City in late 1862 and in 1863, there was the ever present danger of cavalry raids into the City. The old men, the invalided soldiers, the clerks, government workers and young boys were organized into the Home Guard. When the alarm bell sounded from the ancient tower in the Square, they rushed to arms. While the Army was fighting at Gettysburg, a Federal threat to the City was averted as the City's defenders, with the help of 8, 000 convalescents held the line.
With the news of the victories of the Army, came the sadness of our losses ---- Stonewall Jackson's body was borne thru the streets to lie in state in the Capitol Building. The gay laughter of J. E. B. Stuart, as he and his men galloped along, was heard no more after that fatal day in 1864 when he was brought mortally wounded into the City from the field of Yellow Tavern--- his life given in defense of the City. Perhaps, The Death March In Saul was heard more often than Dixie.
In 1864, the Union forces again were before Richmond. But now the outcome was inevitable. The superiority of manpower and materiel of war was too much. Yet the City hung on desperately, until even Lee confessed that Richmond was a "millstone" around his neck for he knew that a siege would slowly strangle his Army.
By this time Richmond had become shabby in appearance. Houses needed painting and Sam Landrum's brushes were dry from the lack of paint. Roofs and fences required repair, but Mr. Cooper had no materials with which to work. To a city where a nail, or a needle, was a prized possession and where every sacrifice was for the men in the field, the people could endure.
Starvation parties became popular--- music was furnished, but absolutely no food or drink was served except "the brown water of the James". The swollen population had reached well over 125, 000.
Early in 1864 came H. Judson Kilpatrick's attack on the City along Brook Road. Ulric Dahlgren's simultaneous raid down the James River Valley was turned aside near the present Country Club of Virginia by the Home Guard of old men and young boys. After Dahlgren's death, his body lay at the York River Railroad Depot for all to see--- as it was alleged by some that he had orders to free the prisoners at Belle Isle and Libby; kill the Davis Cabinet; burn the City.
There was always the fear of uprisings among the prisoners, who numbered at one time some 13, 000. And there was an added fear of slave insurrections---- but they remained faithful thru out, "prayed for victory by the South and our suffering soldiers" . Thousands of them worked on the defense fortifications around Richmond and their spade work is much in evidence today.
In April 1864, the prisoner of war exchanges were resumed and to the Capitol Square came a thousand ragged and emaciated men. Picture, if you can, families with all their meager food supply as they roamed thru. The crowd looking hopefully for husbands, fathers, sons and kinsmen.
In May, there was yet another naval attack stopped at Drewry's Bluff. In June, there was heard the fearful bloody roar of cannon at Cold Harbor.1n September, the Union forces almost broke thru Richmond's defenses at Fort Harrison. In October, Godfrey Weitzel's men were repulsed at the very edge of the last line defending the eastern front of the City.
One final social highlight of that winter of 1864/65 was the marriage of General John Pegram at Saint Paul's on 19 January, amid all the pomp that the Capital could muster. But, as a forecast of doom, his funeral was in that same chancel just three weeks later.
On a quiet morning - Sunday 2 April - a messenger came up Ninth Street and moved swiftly down the aisle of Saint Paul's with a fateful message for President Davis. The City must be evacuated! Imagine the excitement and the distress of the people as they came out onto the sidewalk to discuss &what could be done. Richmonders, so long accustomed to their successful defenses and with their faith in General Lee and his heroic army, could scarcely believe that Richmond, at last, had to be abandoned.
As the remaining troops of the Confederate Army left the City by Mayo's Bridge, General Dick Ewell's men began putting the torch to the cotton and tobacco warehouses, the arsenal and the powder magazines. Lawless elements began looting the commissaries and the stores. A half-starved population became a vast uncontrollable, leaderless mob. In such chaos no one could think of sleeping. The fires raged beyond control, munitions were blowing up-- many took what scant belongings that they could gather and sought refuge in Capitol Square to escape the flames. For hours the City was without law and order. A pure state of anarchy existed!
Early the next morning and at the height of the blaze, in marched the Yankee forces. Up Main Street and onto Ninth and thru the entrance gates in front of the Square, they came. Down came the Confederate flag from the roof. Up went the flag of the United States of America--- for the first time in four years, raised by a Massachuetts trooper who had carried this flag for many months hoping just for this occasion. The Federal troops under Major General Godfrey Weitzel set about to put out the fires, to restore law and order, to protect the women and weak and to issue food to the half-starved populace.
Gone was the heart of the business district, completely destroyed. The areas from the north side of Main Street to the James River, 8th thru 15th and from 4th thru 10th, south of Canal Street, were nothing but smouldering ruins and ashes ---- over 900 houses had been destroyed!
The final entry in the minutes of the City Council for 3 April 1865 read most appropriately "there was no meeting of the City Council today, as Federal Troops occupied the City" .
On Wednesday 5 April, President Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond for the first and last time as he was to be assassinated within a fortnight. He walked, slowly and bravely, with his little son Tad holding his hand, up Main Street, thence up Governor Street to Jefferson Davis' White House. Later he rode in an open carriage along Grace Street, viewing the shell of a city.
Just a few days later, mounted on his faithful Traveler, General R. E. Lee turned, rain--soaked, into Franklin Street---- Home from Appomattox----Home after four years of war.
But from the ashes of defeat, Richmond has risen again to a place of prominence in the South and in the Nation. We pause in these Centennial Years to commemorate the valiant deeds and sacrifices of the men and the women of this City, the once proud Capital of the Confederacy, for their dedication to a cause in which they believed.
SIC ITUR AD ASTRA
CIVIL WAR GOVERNMENT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND
Some City offices changed hands during the period 1861 - 1865 by death, resignation, joining the armed forces and just plain failure at reelection. This list reflects those in office at the outbreak of the hostilities.
Copyright © 2004 Civil War Richmond Inc.