Monday, June 07, 2010

Civil War History

It is only 108 miles from Richmond, VA, the capital of the Confederate States of America, and Washington, DC, the capital of the United States of America. That helps to explain why so many battles of the Civil War were fought in this area. In the past we have visited Civil War battlefields in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Tennessee. During our stay here in Virginia we are learning a lot more about the war.

Last week we visited three sites in Richmond. First stop was the Civil War Medical Museum where we learned about Chimborazo Hospital, the South's state-of-art convalescence hospital. When Richmond was flooded with casualties after the first battle of Manassas, quickly overwhelming the existing hospitals, Southern leaders ordered the construction of five general hospitals in Richmond. The largest and most famous was Chimborazo. None of the hospital's buildings still exist, but the museum is housed in a 20th century building on the same site.

"Under the yellow flag," the symbol of military hospitals during the war, more than 76,000 Confederate sick and wounded were treated there.

Between 75 and 80 wards--well-ventilated wooden buildings--were designed to house 3,000 patients. After some major battles, as many as 4,000 were treated there. The death rate during that terrible war is hard to comprehend. According to one display at the Museum of the Confederacy, approximately 850,000 men served in the Southern army. Nearly one-third of them--260,000--died in that service, more from disease than from fighting. In addition, another 216,000 were held in Union prisons at some point.

The Chimborazo museum had a very informative film. After watching that we learned a lot from the National Park volunteer on duty. A fellow RVer, we really enjoyed talking to him. I'm sorry I didn't get his name, but he sure represents park volunteers well.

Our next stop was at the Museum of the Confederacy, located right in the center of downtown Richmond. What with street construction and the busy Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center right there, finding the museum was a test. It is located right next to the Confederate White House, the home were Jefferson Davis lived during the war. We chose not to tour the house, but we understand it is impressive. This is a view of the front door.

The museum gives a great overview of the course of the Civil War, the life of the average soldier and the evolution of public opinion in the 150 years since. The displays include many personal effects of Southern generals, such as this display showing General Robert E. Lee's field tent.

Also, this one showing an officer's uniform.

I got a kick out of these nicknames for the soldiers from the different states of the Confederacy.

And I was touched by this quote from an unknown soldier's letter home. I forget that many people were illiterate at that time in our history.

One floor of displays discussed how, after the war, there were annual commemorations celebrating events of the war. People around the state became increasingly uncomfortable keeping the hard feelings of the war alive that way. Most, if not all, of those events have been discontinued. I also read that there were efforts in the first decades after the war to "win the peace" by making sure the Emancipation Proclamation didn't bring equality between white and black. That conflict wasn't resolved until the last part of the 20th Century.

From the Museum of the Confederacy we drove to the National Park Service Richmond National Battlefield Visitor Center. It is located along the James River at the site of the Tredegar Iron Works, the industrial facility that manufactured much of the Confederacy's artillery, ammunition and other war-related materials.

The iron works are located on the Haxall Canal,

using water power to run some of its equipment. This is one of the huge wheels we saw.

In the days immediately following the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln came to Richmond and walked through the damaged city. This statue behind the iron works includes a line from his second inaugural address, "to bind up the nation's wounds."
Hopefully, that has been largely accomplished.

On a lighter note, as we arrived at the visitor center on a very hot day, we saw these young people cooling off in the James River.


  1. This was a very interesting post. I think during my visit to the area I will avoid the civil war sites as it deserves more time than we have on our trip through the area.

    The Civil war was such a dreadful war of suffering at the level of the common soldier.

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