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Richmond in the American Civil War

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Title: Richmond in the American Civil War  
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Subject: Confederate States of America, Virginia in the American Civil War, List of capitals in the United States, History of Richmond, Virginia, Battle of the Wilderness
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Richmond in the American Civil War

View of Richmond above the Canal Basin, after the Evacuation Fire of 1865

Richmond, Virginia, served as the capitol of the Confederate States of America for almost the whole of the American Civil War. It was the target of numerous attempts by the Union Army to seize possession of the capitol, finally falling to the Federals in April 1865. Not only was Richmond the seat of political power for the Confederacy, it served as a vital source of munitions, armament, weapons, supplies, and manpower for the Confederate States Army and as such would have been defended at all costs regardless of its political status.

Strategic and symbolic significance

Capitol of the Confederacy

The Confederate States of America was formed in early 1861 from the first states to secede from the Union. Montgomery, Alabama, was selected as the Confederate capitol. After the Confederate army fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861, beginning the Civil War, additional states seceded. Virginia voted to secede from the Union on April 17, 1861, and existed briefly thereafter as an independent republic before joining the Confederacy on June 19. Shortly thereafter, in recognition of Virginia's strategic importance, the Confederate capitol was moved to Richmond, the capitol of Virginia. Richmond remained the capitol of the Confederacy until its fall in the April 1865, at which point the government evacuated and was re-established, albeit briefly, in Danville, Virginia.[1]

Industrial center

The Tredegar Iron Works, sprawling along the James River, supplied high-quality munitions to the South during the war. The company also manufactured railroad steam locomotives in the same period.Tredegar is also credited with the production of approximately 10,000 artillery pieces during the war which was about half of the South's total domestic production of artillery between the war years of 1861–1865. The foundry made the 723 tons of armor plating that covered the CSS Virginia (the former USS Merrimack), which fought the first battle between ironclad warships in March 1862. Numerous smaller factories in Richmond produced tents, uniforms, harnesses and leather goods, swords and bayonets, and other war material. As the war progressed, the city's warehouses became the supply and logistical center for much of the Confederate forces within the Eastern Theater.

Key symbolic landmarks during the war
Virginia State Capitol, used as the Confederate Capitol. To the left is the Customs House, used by the Confederate Department of the Treasury and the offices of the President and Vice-President. 
White House of the Confederacy, home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from August 1861 to April 2, 1865. Library of Congress image, 1865. 
The Tredegar Iron Works, as photographed during the war. 

Peninsula Campaign and Seven Days Battles

In the late spring of 1862, a large Federal army under Major General Virginia Peninsula. McClellan, who had enjoyed early publicity from a series of successes in western Virginia, was assigned the task of seizing and occupying Richmond. His military maneuvers and the resulting battles and engagements became collectively known as the Peninsula Campaign.

McClellan's starting base was the Union-held Fort Monroe at the eastern tip of the Peninsula. Efforts to take Richmond by the James River were successfully blocked by Confederate defenses at Drewry's Bluff, about eight miles downstream from Richmond. The ensuing Union march up the Peninsula by land culminated in the Seven Days Battles. Ruses to make the defending forces seem larger by General John B. Magruder, Richmond's defensive line of batteries and fortifications set up under General Robert E. Lee, a daring ride around the Union Army by Confederate cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart, and an unexpected appearance of General Stonewall Jackson's famous "foot cavalry" combined to unnerve the ever-cautious McClellan, and he initiated a Union retreat before Richmond. Even as other portions of the South were falling, the failure of the Peninsula Campaign to take Richmond led to almost three more years of warfare between the states.

The mid-war years

As a result of its proximity and level of defense, the city processed many casualties of both sides: as home to numerous hospitals, prisons, and cemeteries.

The Confederacy hit its high-water mark at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Subsequent campaigning in the balance of the year failed to bring about a decisive battle, and Richmond residents settled down to the winter of 1863–64 mostly still optimistic about the Confederacy's fortunes. One of the Civil War's most daring prison breaks, the Libby Prison Escape, took place in February 1864 when more than 100 Federal captives escaped and fled into the night. Fewer than half were recaptured, with the majority reaching Union lines and safety.

Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign resulted in Robert E. Lee's Confederate army retiring to the vicinity of Richmond and Petersburg, where they checked Grant's progress.

Richmond skyline after the Evacuation Fire, viewed from across the James. The burnt-out Mayo Bridge is in the foreground

Evacuation and Capture of Richmond

After a long siege, Grant captured Petersburg and Richmond in early April 1865. As the fall of Petersburg became imminent, on Evacuation Sunday (April 2), President Davis, his Cabinet, and the Confederate defenders abandoned Richmond and fled south on the last open railroad line, the Richmond and Danville. The retreating soldiers were under orders to set fire to bridges, the armory, and warehouses with supplies as they left. The fire in the largely abandoned city spread out of control, and large parts of Richmond were destroyed, reaching to the very edge of Capitol Square mostly unchecked. The conflagration was not completely extinguished until the mayor and other civilians went to the Union lines east of Richmond on New Market Road (now State Route 5) and surrendered the city the next day. Union troops put out the raging fires in the city. The event became known as the Evacuation Fire of 1865.

President Lincoln who had been visiting Gen. Grant and staying nearby at City Point, toured the fallen city (April 4–7) by foot and carriage with his young son Tad, and visited the former White House of the Confederacy and the Virginia State Capitol. About one week after the evacuation of Richmond, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9 ending the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. Within the same week, on the evening April 14, Pres. Lincoln was assassinated in Washington D.C. by the Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.

Damage from the Evacuation Fire
Remains of a locomotive of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad 
Damage near the Armory. Albumen print, 1865 
Ruins of the Gallego Mills 
Ruins in the commercial district 


The Jefferson Davis Monument, located at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Davis Avenue in Richmond
The city has a number of markers and monuments commemorating the Civil War and the city's role in the Confederacy. Monument Avenue was laid out in 1887, with a series of monuments at various intersections honoring the city's Confederate heroes. Included (east to west) were J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Matthew F. Maury.

Richmond's Fitzhugh Lee, Henry Heth, and John Imboden. A large, stone pyramid dominates the Confederate Soldiers' section, where over 18,000 (many of whom are unknown) Confederates are buried.

The Richmond National Battlefield Park, a unit of the National Park Service, maintains several battlefields from the Peninsula Campaign and subsequent actions. A driving tour through Civil War sites in Richmond and its surrounding counties is maintained by Virginia Civil War Trails. The White House of the Confederacy (part of the private, non-profit Museum of the Confederacy) has been fully restored to its wartime appearance and is open for daily tours. Immediately next door to the White House, the internationally renowned Museum of the Confederacy houses the largest comprehensive collection of artifacts and personal effects relating to the Confederacy. Other museums include the Virginia Historical Society. A statue of Lincoln, commemorating his visit to the former Confederate capitol was unveiled in 2003, to no little controversy.[2]


  1. ^ Hansen, Harry. The Civil War: A History. Signet Classics, 2002. ISBN 0-451-52849-2.
  2. ^ Moser, Bob (Summer 2003). "Conflicts Arise over Lincoln Statue in Richmond, Va., Cemetery". Southern Poverty Law Center: Intelligence Report. 

External links

  • Richmond in the Civil War
  • Richmond During the Civil War in Encyclopedia Virginia
  • The Story of Virginia: Becoming ConfederatesVirginia Historical Society exhibition,
  • – Richmond
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