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DAY 2 – Richmond, Virginia – The Capital of the Confederacy

What happened here?
Richmond served as the Confederate capital and a main source of munitions, armament, and weapons, for the Southern armies. Here, the Tredegar Iron Works produced vital munitions during the war, including the 723 tons of armor plating that covered the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia. Union armies made several unsuccessful attempts to capture the city during the war before it finally fell to the Federals in April 1865.

Legacy and Aftermath
Five days after the fall of Richmond, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Today, the city still embraces its Confederate legacy, as exemplified by Monument Avenue, which features statues of J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.
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It took the Union armies four years to make it to Richmond; we did it in 45 minutes.

After filling up on a complimentary breakfast consisting mainly of an egg-like substance and coffee-flavored water, the RMU Civil War Study Tour participants and I loaded onto the bus and hit the road to Richmond – the one-time capital of the Confederate States of America.

“Wait ‘til we get to Richmond,” Dr. Barr told me as we rumbled down I-95. “They have an entirely different way of looking at the Civil War.”

I started to understand this as soon as we arrived at The Museum of the Confederacy and I saw the big carp out in front painted with a mural of Confederate generals Lee, Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart (see photo of RMU students around the Rebel fish). Also, in the same plaza, and somewhat more apropos, was the anchor from the C.S.S. Virginia, the legendary ironclad fought to a draw with the U.S.S. Monitor during the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862 (see photo).

Once inside, we were free to tour the three floors of the museum, which featured hundreds of paintings, photos, and artifacts from the war, including some of the actual uniforms worn by Confederate soldiers. Brie, still wearing the same flip-flops she wore to climb Maryland Heights a day earlier, asked Civil War trivia questions to the other students as we viewed the displays.

In the souvenir shop, Ashley, a freshman secondary education major from Republic, Pa., was surprised to find a miniature figure depicting a Zouave – soldiers who adopted the flamboyant, North African–inspired uniforms of the 19th century French infantry.

“You don’t see that very often,” she said.

And she would know. Last March, she took part in the “Military Through the Ages” event in Jamestown, Vir., as a reenactor with the 3rd Regular U.S. Infantry.

Ashley has been interested in the War since the 8th grade. Now she’s hoping to better understand it from a Confederate perspective. “I never really learned about the war from their point of view,” she said. “But this is definitely helping.”

The museum gift shop had everything a Confederacy enthusiast could ever want: Confederate Christmas stockings and ornaments, Confederate breath mints, and even “Johnny Reb Natural Beeswax Lip Balm,” mint julep flavor, which I just couldn’t pass up. Dr. Barr bought a wooden slingshot carved in the likeness of Robert E. Lee (see photo). They even had a Bobby Lee nutcracker.

Next, we walked over the White House of the Confederacy, which sits right beside the museum. Built in 1818, it’s a beautiful, stately home with towering pillars on the back side. Jefferson Davis, his wife Varina, and their children moved into the house in August 1861 and remained there until the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. The house then became the U.S. Army’s headquarters and remained so until 1870. It first opened as a museum in 1896.

Entering the house from the back, we were first brought into a small staging room in the basement with white brick walls, a brick floor, and two large photographs on the walls: one of Davis and one of his wife. There, our spirited tour guide for the day, Dean Knight, gave us a quick run-down of the tour and politely asked us to not take any photographs and not to touch anything.

Minutes later, he politely reprimanded me after I temporarily forgot the rules and touched the wallpaper.

Knight led us to the formal dining room, where a large painting of George Washington hung on the outer wall. “The Confederates lost no opportunity to draw parallels to what they were doing and what Washington had done nearly a century before,” said Knight. “To them, they were fighting the second Revolutionary War.”

After walking through the rest of the house, Knight took us outside for a walking tour of the town. About a block up the street, we paused near the Valentine Richmond History Center (a wonderful name, in my opinion), which once held the eclectic collection of Mann S. Valentine, Jr., the independently wealthy creator of Valentine’s Meat Juice. Doesn’t that just sound yummy?

Next, we strolled over to Capitol Square, where the 60-foot-tall George Washington equestrian monument stands near the Virginia State Capitol and the Virginia Governor’s mansion (see photo).

“Washington’s my boy,” said Brian, a senior secondary ed. major from Bethel Park, with a particular interest in the Revolutionary War. “That’s my homedog,” he added.

After admiring Brian’s “homedog” for a few minutes, we walked a short distance to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where both Lee and Davis attended services during the War. Davis was here attending services on April 2, 1865 when he received a telegram from Lee that the Union army had taken Petersburg and that Richmond would be next. He immediately left and headed over to his official office in the former U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit building, which overlooks the Virginia State Capitol (see photo).

Along the way, we passed by a somewhat out of place statue of Edgar Allen Poe, which Elise, a junior business management major from the North Hills, was rather excited to see. “I was born on Poe’s birthday,” she explained, “which is also Robert E. Lee’s. I guess that’s why I like Lee so much. We’re B.F.F.’s.”

Elise believes so many Americans are still obsessed with the Civil War because of the major impact it had on our society. “It changed the history and structure of our entire country,” she said.

I asked her what she thought of the day’s tour thus far, and she said she liked hearing about Davis’s retreat from Richmond. “I didn’t know all that,” she said, “and I liked getting a different perspective of things from the tour guide’s point of view.”

A little later, eating lunch at an Irish-themed restaurant, I asked Brian what he thought of the Museum of the Confederacy. “I really liked it,” he said. “There was a display of some of the pipes that the Confederates made and used to smoke tobacco. That was cool. That’s a part of the War I never really thought about before.”

Just then, the bartender brought over a bottle of (GASP!) Hunt’s Ketchup for Brian’s fries. “This is an outrage!” he said. “Man, that’s treason.” What else would you expect from a Pittsburgher?

Following lunch, we walked about a mile or so over to the Tredegar Iron Works, the South’s main industrial center during the War, which today houses The American Civil War Center. Our guide was Mark Howell.

“Tredegar was, by far and away, the largest industrial complex in the South,” Howell explained, as we stood among the ruins (see photo). “That’s one of the main reasons the capital was moved here from Montgomery, Ala.”

Howell told us that, much like the foundries in Pittsburgh, Tredegar was built near the water to supply power and as a way to transport coal and other materials to the site. Also, before the start of the War, much of the coal used there to make iron was brought in from Western Pennsylvania for of its higher quality.

After touring the museum, we loaded back into the bus and weaved through the back neighborhoods of Richmond to Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place of over 18,000 Confederates, including President Jefferson Davis, Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, and Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. The cemetery also holds the remains of Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, three children of General James Longstreet, and approximately 2,000 casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg.

The most striking memorial in the cemetery, however, is the 90-foot, granite pyramid that, in 1869, became the first memorial in Richmond to the Confederate soldiers (see photo). An imposing structure, the pyramid was constructed entirely without mortar and sits on top of a mass grave that holds the bones of thousands of unknown Confederate dead.

Our final stop of the day was the remains of the Cold Harbor battlefield. Here, between May 31 and June 12, 1864, Union forces suffered anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 casualties, with nearly 2,000 killed; Confederate casualties numbered around 2,500. In his memoirs, Grant said that he “always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made,” and that “no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.”

As we stood between two cannon overlooking the field, Dr. Barr went through the chronology of the battle to give the students a feel for where they were standing (see photo). Then we followed the park trail, which winded through the woods where most of the fighting took place.

During the walk, students paused to read signs that pointed out the many still visible trenches where soldiers from both sides took refuge during the battle. It was a somber walk for many, who paused in silence to visualize the bloody, two-week battle that took place over this wooded landscape 146 years ago.

Next stop, Fredericksburg….

— Valentine J. Brkich

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. I was in the first Civil War History class to take part in this trip almost 10 years ago. It remains my favorite learning experience in my days as an RMU Student. We did Manassas, Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Gettysburg. It was AWESOME!Adam Gusky

    May 5, 2010

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