The above images are from the Virginia Historical Society unless otherwise noted: Sally Witherspoon (1978.27), Unidentified African American Woman (LC-DIG-ppmsca-26991), James Taylor (2002.159.4), L. B. Williams (0000.300), Granburys (0000.274)
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In 1776, George Washington rebelled against the established government of his day. We remember him as a patriot, but to his king and fellow colonists loyal to the king, Washington was the traitor and Benedict Arnold was the patriot.
In 1861, pro-Union supporters defended the nation that had been created in 1776. Pro-Confederates said they were exercising the right, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, to “alter or abolish” unrepresentative and oppressive government. Wherever a Virginian placed his or her loyalty—to the rebel nation of 1776 or the new rebel nation of 1861—he or she was a patriot in the eyes of some and a traitor in the minds of others.
Jubal Early, John Wycliffe Lowes Forster, 1912 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Henrianna Cabell Early, Accession no. 1974.25)
Jubal Anderson Early, a profane army officer-turned-lawyer, argued strongly against disunion at Virginia’s 1861 convention, and even after Lincoln’s call for troops, he was among fifty-five delegates who voted against disunion on April 17. Why is he wearing a Confederate uniform?
Many Virginians shifted allegiance once the state convention voted to secede. Others shifted when the state's voters ratified the ordinance of secession on May 23. Jubal Early accepted the white majority’s decision. He gave his full energy to fighting the Union he had previously struggled to save, and when the war ended, he chose exile to Mexico and then Canada. When he returned to Virginia, he became a leading spokesman for “The Lost Cause” and was an unreconstructed rebel until his death.
Former congressman John Minor Botts called himself "a Southern man with National principles." He failed to prevent secession, then retired to his Richmond home. There he was arrested and imprisoned for openly challenging the legality of the Confederacy and accused of writing a treasonable "secret" history of secession. A search of his home failed to produce the seditious manuscript. After his parole, Botts moved his family to Auburn, a farm in Culpeper County, where he later unveiled his book, The Great Rebellion, its Secret History, Rise, Progress, and Disastrous Failure!
Auburn, Robert Knox Sneden, 1863 (Virginia Historical Society, purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Floyd D. Gottwald, Jr., Call number Mss5.1.Sn237.1.Vol4_0888)
If Judith and Fanny Thomas owned a portrait of their brother George, no doubt they took it down.
In 1848, residents of rural Southampton County had presented Lt. George H. Thomas with an engraved silver sword for gallantry in the Seminole and Mexican wars. He wore it only once—at his 1852 wedding to Frances Kellogg of Troy, New York. Some blamed her for his later pro-Union stance. Because of his army travels, he left the sword in the care of his sisters in Virginia.
In April 1861, Thomas chose to remain in the U.S. Army. His sisters disowned him. His letters were returned unopened and his appeals for the return of the sword ignored. Judith Thomas wrote that he "had been false to his state, his family, and to his friends." They were never reconciled to their brother, who died in 1870.
Sword and Scabbard, Ames Manufacturing Company, 1848 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Judith E. and Fanny C. Thomas, Accession no. 1900.1.A-C)
Secession was the hope of some western Virginians as early as 1829-secession from Virginia. Westerners felt underrepresented in Virginia's legislature, overtaxed, and shortchanged in state spending. In many counties, rugged terrain made slave agriculture impractical.
Following the Richmond vote to secede from the Union, leaders in twenty-seven counties organized to remain. After a half-year of war, they were able to expand their base —reaching across the natural barrier of the Allegheny Mountains —to add twenty -one additional counties and consume two-fifths of the territory of Virginia.
The westerners were divided —even following admission of the new state into the Union in 1863. Pro-Confederate majorities existed in twenty-four of the forty-eight counties, and Confederate sympathizers were active in the others.
Irregular Troops of Virginia, Alfred Wordsworth Thompson, 1861 ( Virginia Historical Society, bequest of Paul Mellon, Accession no. 2000.165.3.L )
These Confederates, shown here gathering in the Shenandoah Valley, were volunteering for Confederate service or already mustered in. Their uniforms and weapons were random, but if, as suspected, this drawing was made in June 1861, these western Virginians were among the victors at First Manassas (Bull Run) a few weeks later.
On this map you can begin to see the outline of the region that became West Virginia. Few slaves were in the lands held by western farmers, who resented the political power of eastern slave owners.
Map of Virginia: Showing the Distribution of its Slave Population, from the Census of 1860, Edwin Hergesheimer, 1861, Virginia Historical Society, purchased with funds from the Frank F. Byram Memorial Fund (Virginia Historical Society, purchased with funds from the Frank F. Byram Memorial Fund, Call number Map.F221.1861.11)
States-Rights Meeting in Harrison [County], April 1861 ( Virginia Historical Society, Call Number Broadside.1861.59.os )
This broadside records an unsuccessful protest by secessionists in Harrison County against the efforts of unionists there to participate in forming a "petty, feeble" new state. It asserts that Lincoln had "no power" to initiate his "unholy battle," that Virginians would not participate in "the destruction of their friends and brothers," and that the crisis was "inaugurating a civil strife in our very midst."
Two years of fighting changed what the war was about. Beginning in 1863, the North no longer fought only to save the Union but also to end slavery. Ending slavery was the only way to win the war and not have to fight again.
Generations of Americans hailed Abraham Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator." In recent decades some historians have minimized Lincoln's role and argued that the enslaved freed themselves. Slaves did take the initiative to escape, but reaching Washington, D.C., or the Ohio River was as impractical as ever. It was the presence of Union lines in Virginia—of Lincoln’s armies—that made successful escape more probable. After January 1, 1863, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation inspired a dramatic increase in the number of escape attempts.
Lack of military successes, growing pressure from radical elements of his party, and fears that France or Great Britain might recognize the Confederacy plagued Abraham Lincoln during the summer of 1862. On September 22, he issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves in areas not returned to federal control by January 1, 1863, "then, thenceforward, and forever free. "The proclamation exempted the loyal slave states, areas then occupied by Union forces, and the forty-eight counties of Virginia in the process of forming West Virginia. The transformation of war aims to include ending slavery elicited contempt among Confederates as well as some resistance within the Union army. The proclamation turned foreign opinion against the Confederacy and encouraged more slaves to escape to Union lines and enlist in the Union army.
President Lincoln Writing the Proclamation of Freedom —January 1st, 1863, David Gilmore Blythe, 1863 (Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-1425 )
Lincoln worried that freeing the slaves might aggravate northerners who had tired of the human and material costs of the war; he hoped it would inspire many of them. Given a noble cause, they might regain a resolve that would match that of their enemy. Many in fact applauded him. This laudatory commentary was drawn by a Pittsburgh artist.
—As Lincoln writes, his hand is placed on a Bible that rests on a copy of the U.S. Constitution—the sources of his inspiration.
—The scales of justice hang badly out of balance. Also on the wall hangs a key—perhaps to open locks and free the slaves. A copy of the presidential oath reminds Lincoln of his pledge to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.
—A bust of Lincoln’s ineffective predecessor, James Buchanan, who allowed the southern states to secede, hangs by its neck.
—A bust of Andrew Jackson—a strong unionist—holds down a paper with his words: “The Union must and shall be preserved.”
—A map of the rebellious states is held in place by Lincoln’s heavy railsplitter’s maul—to suggest that Lincoln will hold the southern states in the Union.
—A map of Europe, with the sword of isolationist president George Washington hanging over it, reminds viewers that foreign intervention is never wanted and that the nation is vulnerable when divided.
Abraham Lincoln Signing the Emancipation Proclamation—A Southern Point of View, Adalbert Volck, c. 1863 (Virginia Historical Society, Call number E647.V92.Rare.OS)
Southern and border state unionists, loyal slaveholders, and Democrats denounced the Emancipation Proclamation as "revolutionizing the war." This virulent commentary was drawn by Baltimore artist and Confederate sympathizer Adalbert Volck, whose images were not published until after the war.
—A portrait of John Brown with a halo, labeled St. Ossawatomie, refers to Osawatomie, Kansas, where Brown helped prevent the territory from becoming a slave state. Like Brown, Lincoln opposed expansion of slavery into the territories.
—An image on the wall depicts the massacre of whites by rebelling slaves on the island of Sainte Domingue (Haiti) in the Caribbean. It suggests that Lincoln would tolerate a similar event in the South.
—The devil holds Lincoln’s inkwell for writing the Emancipation Proclamation.
—Lincoln tramples the Constitution underfoot.
—A liquor container is meant to suggest that Lincoln drinks excessively.
—Lincoln’s opponents sometimes compared him to a baboon. Here a baboon holds what is either the shield of the United States or a hooded statue of Justice.
The Slave Hunt [Dismal Swamp, Virginia], Thomas Moran, 1864 (Virginia Historical Society, Lora Robins Collection of Virginia Art, Accession no. 2000.161)
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed enslaved people in areas in rebellion against the United States. He had reinvented his "war to save the Union" as "a war to end slavery." Following that theme, this painting was sold in Philadelphia in 1864 to raise money for wounded troops. Their costly sacrifice could be justified by the nobility of a cause to end such atrocities as slave hunts.
Some fugitive slaves hid in Virginia’s famed Dismal Swamp during the Civil War. For decades they had hidden there. In 1855, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "The Slave in the Dismal Swamp," and in 1856, when Harriet Beecher Stowe produced a sequel to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she called it Dred: A Tale of the Dismal Swamp.
Slaves and free blacks provided even more labor than usual for Virginia farms when 89 percent of eligible white men served in Confederate armies. Enslaved men were sometimes forced into service to build Confederate fortifications, women to serve as laundresses or cooks for troops in the field. At least partly out of fear that they might lose their freedom if they failed to contribute to the war effort, free blacks often worked beside the slaves, for minimal wages.
Enslaved black men made up much of the workforce at Richmond’s Tredegar Ironworks—which produced half of Confederate cannon—and as teamsters unloading trains, longshoreman unloading ships, as miners, and in road maintenance.
The Burial of Latané, A. G. Campbell, c. 1868, engraving (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2010.1.62)
Inspired by a poem of the same name, Virginia artist William D. Washington committed the 1862 burial of Confederate captain William Latané to canvas. The painting was exhibited in Richmond in 1864 and its popularity grew when published as a postwar engraving. Mrs. Willoughby Newton serves as the central figure in an image that laments the lonely death of a soldier, extols the piety and resolve of Confederate women, and professes the loyalty of enslaved blacks.
The reality of the Confederate home front was more complex than suggested by this single episode. Although women managed household economies in the prewar South, many were frustrated by the larger challenge of supervising widespread agricultural operations. Also, thousands of slaves asserted their desire for freedom by deserting their mistresses or refusing to cooperate with them, thereby undermining slavery long before Union armies triumphed.
Receipt for Work on Fortifications Completed by "Big Jim," a slave of James Gray (Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier)
Slaves and free blacks were called upon to construct breastworks that would impede the advance of the Federal army, particularly at the beginning of the war in the Tidewater and later in central Virginia. Here, payment went to the slave owner, James Gray, and not to "Big Jim," the slave who performed the work. Jim’s labor supported both his owner and the Confederacy.
Young African American in Confederate Uniform, c. 1861–65 (Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier
Thousands of African Americans were forced to support the operations of the Confederate army as teamsters, cooks, body servants, and laborers. In 1863, more than 6,000 accompanied the 71,000 soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania. This unidentified young man was likely a body servant to a Confederate officer.
White women and children were left to fend for themselves, and many became widows and orphans when one in five Confederate soldiers died.
In the countryside, armies destroyed and appropriated property, seized food, burned fences, and turned houses into hospitals. Governments, schools, and churches in their path were closed.
In Confederate-controlled cities, overcrowding, shortages, inflation, and hunger plagued everyone. Residents of northern Virginia, the Eastern Shore, and Norfolk were subjected to curfews, confiscation of property, and sometimes exile by occupying Union forces. The western counties suffered pitiless guerrilla warfare.
Free and enslaved African Americans were separated from their families to labor for the army. Free blacks saw their freedom further restricted as white southerners questioned their loyalty to the Confederacy. Some of the enslaved were removed far from Union lines to prevent their escape. Some families of those who did escape were abused.
A Family of Virginians Leaving their Home and Going South on the Advance of Genl. Patterson’s Army from Martinsburg, Alfred Wordsworth Thompson, 1861 (Virginia Historical Society, bequest of Paul Mellon, Accession no. 2000.165.3.Q)
The artist observed the flight of refugees in anticipation of the advance of Union general Robert Patterson’s forces and both drew and wrote what he saw:
"On the advance of Genl. Patterson in the direction of Winchester. Many Wealthy families of Berkeley, Clark, & Jefferson Counties who from their Secession proclivities considered it unsafe to remain at home, deserted their farms and plantations taking their Servants and such articles of Comfort as could be conveniently carried, and moved off up the Valley, beyond Woodstock of Harrisonburg. For some days after Genl. [Joseph] Johnson fell back on Winchester numbers of Carriages could be seen containing the female portion of a family, the Master of the House riding in advance with fowling piece or rifle slung to his back, such of the woman servants not left behind to take care of the property being sent ahead in a Wagon, the Males marching beside the Carriage each armed with a gun, as they say, ' to keep de d---- Yankees and abunlishioners from harmin de Ladies.'"
Once Virginia seceded, Robert E. Lee's family knew that Arlington, their home overlooking Washington, D.C., would soon be occupied. By war’s end, it would be lost to them forever. On leaving, they were able to carry away some family portraits and heirlooms, including this silver spoon that had once belonged to Martha Washington’s son. It is marked "T.T." for Thomas Tookey, carries London hallmarks for the year 1774, and is engraved with the crest of John Parke Custis (Mrs. Lee’s grandfather).
Many books were taken from the Lee library, and Pvt. Henry E. Rowell of the 1st Michigan Infantry even took as a souvenir their doormat. After the war, Selina Gray, a former slave still living at Arlington, wrote Mrs. Lee that "Your things at the time of the war was taken a way by every body."
Spoon Belonging to Robert E. Lee, c. 1770–80 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2005.235.A)
Winchester was strategically located at the head of the agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley. Union troops occupied the town often. On May 25, 1862, Federal troops were driven out. One eyewitness observed "old men and women, ladies and children, high and low, rich and poor" lining the streets, many "weeping or wringing their hands over the bodies of those who had fallen before their eyes . . . others shouting for joy at the entrance of the victorious Stonewall Brigade." Virginia artist William D. Washington considered the incident a fit subject for this large patriotic painting. The town changed hands so often—around seventy—two times—that Mary Greenhow Lee "did not get up to see whether they were Confederates or Yankees."
Twenty—five thousand Virginia soldiers died during the Civil War, and rarely did next of kin receive timely notification—if any. But when the battlefield was nearby, the horror of death could be quickly conveyed and especially shocking.
At her home in Richmond on July 1, 1862, Elizabeth Munford heard the thunder of cannon fire from the nearby battle of Malvern Hill, where her son Lt. Charles Ellis Munford served with the Letcher Light Artillery. She wrote her daughters that she expected to "hear from Ellis tonight." Late that evening, his lifeless body was brought directly from the field. Charles Munford, Sr., suffered a "dreadful attack." Following the funeral the next day he consoled himself with the thought that his son died "standing up to his duty like a true born Virginian defending his home & his Country."
Vest (Accession no. 1992.140.24), FrockCoat (Accession no.1992.140.26), Forage Cap (Accession no. 1992.140.23.a), Sash (Accession no. 1992.140.18), and Camp Chest (Accession no. 1992.140.17) Belonging to Charles Ellis Munford, c. 1862 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of A. Churchill Young, III)
Equestrian Statue, c. 1800–60 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Mrs. Douglas H. Gordon, Accession no. 1992.113.A-B)
In December 1862, a Union army of 110,000 soldiers was halted by 75,000 Confederates at Fredericksburg, a small community of 5,000 residents. Confederate general Robert E. Lee ordered women and children to leave Fredericksburg for their safety. They took refuge in churches, barns, and tents. Among them were Douglas and Anne Gordon and their three children.
On their return, the Gordons found "every room" in their house "torn with shot, and . . . all the elegant furniture and works of art broken and smashed." One ambitious soldier even carried off the Gordons’ heavy bronze replica of a European statue of Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, a sixteenth-century soldier-prince. The Gordons had acquired it on a wedding trip to Italy. The looter sold the statue to Union colonel Joshua Owen of Pennsylvania.
Less than a year later, Anne Gordon’s sister—in—law Anne Thomas overheard a Union soldier near her Baltimore home give such an exact description that Mrs. Thomas knew he was talking about her brother’s statue of Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy. Using President Lincoln’s physician as an emissary, she demanded and got General Order No. 360 returning the statue to its owner.
Union Troops Burning Out the Shenandoah Valley, Theodore R. Davis, 1864 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Robert M. Hicklin, Jr., Accession no. 1991.76)
Countries at war, frustrated by dogged resistance and military setbacks, often become less discriminating in their targets and tactics. Confederate general Robert E. Lee called Union general John Pope "a miscreant" for ordering in 1862 that personal property (food, forage, animals, and other supplies) could be seized for army use; that civilians could be conscripted for railroad, wagon road, or telegraph repair; that civilians who fired on Union troops would be executed without trial; and that "disloyal" male civilians would be expelled outside Union lines. Pope's reversal of the initial federal policy of conciliation was actually only a return to brutal warfare as it had been practiced for centuries throughout the world.
The whole southern economy that supported Confederate armies became an explicit target of war. Union troops left a ninety-two mile stretch of the lower Shenandoah Valley with "little in it for man or beast."
Letter from Gen. Robert E. Lee to Hetty (Cary) Pegram, February 11, 1865 (Virginia Historical Society, Call number Mss2.L515a21)
Hetty Cary of Baltimore—said to be one of the most beautiful women in the South—escaped to Richmond in the early days of the war. It was there in 1862, at age twenty—six, that she met thirty—two—year—old John Pegram—one of Virginia's most eligible bachelors. The couple was soon engaged, and their January 1865 wedding was a major social event in the besieged Confederate capital. Shortly after the wedding, Hetty took up residence in the Petersburg farmhouse that served as her husband's headquarters.
After eighteen days of marriage, John was killed at the battle of Hatcher's Run. Hetty returned to Richmond with her husband's body, and exactly three weeks after their wedding, John’s funeral took place in the church where the couple had been married.
In his condolence letter to Hetty, Gen. Robert E. Lee wrote, "I cannot find words to express my deep sympathy in your affliction…. As dear as your husband was to you, as necessary apparently to his Country and as important to his friends, I feel assured it was best for him to go at the moment he did….We are left to grieve at his departure, cherish his memory and prepare to follow."
Why was Richmond made the Confederate capital and how did that status change life there?
Once Virginia seceded, the Confederate government moved the capital to Richmond, the South’s second largest city. The move served to solidify the state of Virginia’s new Confederate identity and to sanctify the rebellion by associating it with the American Revolution. Most important were Virginia’s hundreds of factories, whose output nearly equaled that of the rest of the Confederacy.
As capital of the Confederacy, the city’s population soon tripled. An influx of troops, profiteers, and refugees, followed by the wounded, sick, and captives from the battlefront, brought shortages of food and materials, skyrocketing inflation, and the establishment of multiple hospitals and prisons.
The heightened status of Richmond caused both Union and Confederate armies to focus their efforts on the capture or defense of that city. Northerners cheered the federal army forward in Virginia with the cry, "On to Richmond."
Chair, c. 1850—61 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Norma M. McCarthy, Accession no. 1998.84.1)
Richmond served as the home of three governments during the war—city, state, and Confederate. When the war began, bureaucrats and office-seekers flooded into the capital. At the Virginia State Capitol, the Confederate Congress shared quarters with the Virginia General Assembly. This chair served both political bodies. The departments of treasury, state, and war resided in offices on the surrounding streets, while the Confederate "White House"—home to President Jefferson Davis—was three blocks away.
Although tobacco manufacturing and flour milling dominated Richmond's prewar economy, the Confederacy relied on Tredegar Iron Works and a number of other local firms to manufacture everything from heavy ordnance, locomotives, railroad track, and iron cladding for naval vessels to buttons and bullets. By 1864, the Confederacy’s chief ordnance officer asserted that the Confederacy had become self—sufficient in the production of war materiel—much of which originated in the capital city.
Cartridges (The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia)
The dangerous work of making ammunition for the army was typically performed by lower-class southern white women and children. Each of the nearly three hundred employees at the Confederate States Laboratory on Richmond’s Brown's Island could make 1,200 cartridges a day. Accidents were frequent, and a March 1863 explosion killed thirty—one women and injured twenty—five. More than half of the victims were under sixteen—the youngest being only ten years old.
Henry Van Leuvenigh Bird (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 1994.108.6)
At the Richmond Clothing Bureau, twenty—four professional tailors cut out the components for each Confederate uniform. Bundled together with thread and buttons, the various parts and pieces were distributed to thousands of local seamstresses, who assembled the garments in their homes.
In this image, Confederate private Henry Van Leuvenigh Bird, 12th Virginia Infantry, wears a shell jacket produced by the Richmond Clothing Bureau. Established in 1861 at the corner of 14th and Cary streets, the bureau employed twenty-four professional tailors who cut out the components for each Confederate uniform. Bundled together with thread and buttons, the various parts and pieces were distributed to thousands of local seamstresses who assembled the garments in their homes and were paid for each completed piece.
Alabama Twenty-Five Cent Note, 1863. (Virginia Historical Society)
A shortage of medical treatment caused forty-three-year-old Juliet Opie Hopkins to leave Mobile, Alabama, for the army camps of Virginia, where she established three Richmond hospitals for Alabama troops. Hopkins donated $200,000 of her own money to the Confederate war effort. Her efforts of time and money encouraged Alabamians to donate as well—some of the state currency soon included her image, as seen here.
Twenty-eight general hospitals were established in Richmond. Chimborazo consisted of 150 buildings on forty acres and had capacity for 3,000 patients. More than 76,000 were processed there during the war.
Richmond’s Winder Hospital was the “largest hospital in the Confederacy." It was able to accommodate up to 4,300 patients. Among its ninety-eight buildings, the complex boasted such amenities as a library, recreational facilities, bathhouses, employee barracks, and a 125—acre farm for growing food. Frequent appeals were made to Richmonders to donate supplies for its upkeep.
Window Frame, c. 1845–52 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Rochester Museum and Science Center, Accession no. 1990.113)
Warehouses in Richmond were converted into several prisons needed to house the many captured Union soldiers who were brought to the Confederate capital from as far away as neighboring states. Libby Prison, a former tobacco warehouse, became the best-known of the group, though far from the worst, probably because more than 125,000 Union soldiers rotated through it, and some of their letters home and later recollections were published.
Pvt. Edward L. W. Baker, 21st Michigan Infantry, was captured at the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862. He was transported to Richmond as a prisoner-of-war and imprisoned at Libby Prison where he carved his name and unit into this window frame.