Smithfield High School, Isle of Wight County
Isle Of Wight County had a major influence on the Civil War. Established in 1634 as one of the original eight shires of the Virginia Colony, Isle of Wight County, with its quaint towns of Windsor and Smithfield, is rich in history and played a key role in the Civil War. The county served as a hiding place for Confederate soldiers and is known for its religious views. The newly remolded St. Lukes Church is still a place where people go and pray.
Crops were a vital resource during the civil war. Many, such as cotton, peanuts, tobacco, and corn, were cultivated in Isle of Wight County, and some of those same crops are still grown here today. Also, the county is known for its ham, millions of pigs were and still are slaughtered for food. Tobacco was Virginia’s cash crop and was exported throughout the country. People of Isle Of Wight County also depended on those crops for survival.
One of the most historic battles that took place in Isle of Wight County was the battle of Smithfield, which took place in January of 1864 when the Union gunboat USS Smith-Briggs landed where Smithfield Station sits today. After a minor fight, the Confederates trapped 150 Union troops, who then surrendered. The golden eagle from the ship is on display at the Old Courthouse of 1750. Despite not experiencing much fighting during the war, Isle of Wight County remains a historic place.
Slaves played a large role in the county during the Civil War. They were the ones who harvested the crops, fed the animals, and took care of the slaveowners when they were sick. The population of blacks in Isle Of Wight County steadily increased during the Civil War, yet they enjoyed few or no rights at all.
Technology has changed greatly in Isle of Wight County. In the past, people picked cotton by hand, but now they have modern farm equipment that will pick cotton with little human effort. These machines make cotton picking faster and more efficient. Also, animals, such as pigs and cows, required a great deal of effort and planning to transport and slaughter, but know trucks carry those animals to the slaughter house. All of these ideas have been spread by using cultural diffusion.
Hermitage High School, Henrico County
When asked about how the Civil War has affected my community of Richmond, all I have to do is look around. The Civil War is an influence that has never waned in Richmond. I have to maneuver around the A. P. Hill grave and monument when going downtown. A Confederate earthen work stands in the middle of the parking lot where I shop for groceries.
Tourism associated with the Civil War is a huge part of Richmond’s economy—with such sites as Tredegar Iron Works, Hollywood Cemetery, Chimborazo Military Hospital, the Museum of the Confederacy, to name a few. The behavior and attitude (pride, in some cases) that some people display about their ancestor’s involvement is visible in different ways. For example, many have a sticker of the Confederate flag on their car bumpers and windows.
A statue of Jefferson Davis stands across the street from the Virginia Center for Architecture. The veneration that many southerners have for the Confederate president is clearly obvious from the inscribed words on the half-circle at the back of the monument: “Erected by the People of the South in Honour of their Great Leader, Commemorating Their Love for the Man.” There are street names, such as Stuart Circle (J. E. B. Stuart) and (Jefferson) Davis Avenue, that display Richmonders’ respect for these Civil War leaders.
The new parking lot at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts winds around three buildings (the Robinson House, the Confederate Memorial Chapel, and the Confederate Ladies Home) instead of cutting between them or tearing one of them down. These buildings served and housed Confederate veterans and their widows long after the war had ended. The fact that the museum preserved these buildings shows respect for the memory of the Confederate soldiers and their families.
Another way the Civil War shapes Richmond is by sparking controversy and tensions around the new urban planning. In 1995, a monument of Arthur Ashe was to be built on Monument Avenue, a street traditionally reserved for Confederate leaders. Some argued that it shouldn’t be built there because Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy and that that street should be reserved for “our” Civil War heroes; others argued that Richmond was Ashe’s city as well. Farther downtown, a slave cemetery was discovered under a Virginia Commonwealth University parking lot in 2009. VCU wanted to continue paving over it, but many people protested against this action, stating that it is a historic site and is disrespectful to those who are buried there and to the descendants and families of those slaves. Urban planning is designed around Civil War relics and monuments devoted to the Confederate leaders and generals. Everywhere you go in the city, 150 years later, there are reminders of the Civil War.
Western Albemarle High School, Albemarle County
Although the Civil War ended almost a hundred and fifty years ago, it has caused a new struggle. How do we remember Confederate soldiers? Yes, they fought bravely for their beliefs, and many Americans can trace their heritage back to someone who fought for the Bonnie Blue. However, they did take up arms to break up the country. This question is especially pertinent in Virginia, which housed the capital of the Confederacy.
Following Confederate defeat, many in the South refused to give up the “lost cause” and remained bitter. Memorials honoring Confederate heroes popped up all over the South. In the town of Charlottesville, Virginia, there is a park devoted to Robert E. Lee and another to Stonewall Jackson.
Paul McIntire gave two pieces of land to the city of Charlottesville on the condition that the only thing erected on them would be statues of Lee and Jackson. The cost of the Jackson statue alone was $35,000. The local chapters of the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy were placed in charge of unveiling the parks. Jackson Park was opened in 1921, and Lee Park followed in 1924. Each unveiling served as a Confederate reunion, and parades filled the streets with crowds wearing Confederate uniforms and waving Confederate flags. Included in one of these parades was a living Confederate flag composed of school children. A great-great granddaughter of each general pulled off the Confederate flag that covered the statue.
The parks are still maintained by local volunteers. Also, the statue of each general is the only one that stands in each park. Although there might not be any more parades and Confederate festivals associated with the parks, there are still no parks dedicated to Union soldiers. This is just one case that demonstrates that there is still a major issue in how the Civil War is commemorated.
It just goes to show that even to this day some people still feel a greater sense of loyalty to their state than their country. Most Virginia citizens are not still advocating the Confederate cause, but they do find it easier to sympathize with the boys of their state rather than those from the North. The feeling of sectionalism that fueled the Civil War is still present in today’s society. Other than on major battlefields, it would be a difficult task to find a memorial for Union soldiers below the Mason-Dixon Line and vice versa.
Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, City of Suffolk
Living in Virginia, I am surrounded by history dating back to America’s first English settlement in 1607. When I think about the most famous historic sites in Virginia, my thoughts immediately jump to Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Richmond. However, as I have learned, my hometown of Chesapeake proved to be important during the Civil War.
In the eighth grade my class took a trip to Jamestown to learn about how the colonists lived. I remember being amazed by their thatched roofs, meticulous animal-skinning procedures, and their everyday clothing. The daily troubles that the they endured, such as the incredible heat during the day of my fieldtrip, seemed impossible to live with. However, it was the colonists in America, such as those at Jamestown, who made America what it is today.
My family and I travel to Williamsburg several times a year to visit the beautiful colonial town and wonder at its history. As we walk along the streets, we marvel at the long and heavy colonial dresses worn by the store owners and the rich past that will forever be present in the town. The cobblestone pathways and brick buildings combined with the townspeople wearing historic dress while selling colonial items make Williamsburg the most picturesque and one of the most important sites in Virginia.
However, I never thought that the very place where I live, Chesapeake, played an important part in the Civil War. The Chesapeake Bay proved to be one of the most significant waterways in America during the Civil War because the capitals of both the Confederacy and the United States rested on Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Access to the Bay provided the opportunity to transport troops and essential goods. In 1862 the Bay was the setting of one of the most important naval battles in American history, when the first ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimac, battled to a remarkable standstill. This fight was part of the Confederacy’s effort to break the Union’s blockade, which cut off Virginia’s two largest cities, Richmond and Norfolk, from international trade. The unprecedented battle of the ironclads forever changed the face of naval warfare and America. I am constantly reminded of the battle when I cross over the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge, which is named for the landmark event.
The rich history of Virginia and my hometown of Chesapeake enhances my appreciation for where I live and what the original Americans went through to make what our country is today. Without the struggles and tribulations of our ancestors, America could never have developed into the place we know today.
New Kent High School, New Kent County
New Kent County, Virginia, is filled with American History. The first, first lady, Martha Washington, was born and raised in New Kent. In fact, it was on her late first husband’s New Kent plantation, White House, where she met her future husband and president, George Washington. There is, however, some debate over the actual location where they were married. Some believe the wedding took place at St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish (also in New Kent County) while others think it happened at Martha’s home. The only fact that is certain is that the Rev. David Mossum, the rector of St. Peter’s, conducted the ceremony.
Martha Washington is not the only First Lady to hail from the little-known county of New Kent. In fact, John Tyler’s first wife, Letitia Christian Tyler, was born and raised in the county on the large plantation Cedar Grove.
On the eve of the Civil War, Virginia had still not seceded from the union. Nevertheless, on April 17, 1861, the citizens of New Kent voted in favor of secession from the United States. When Virginia made its call to arms, the men of New Kent responded like most in other slaveholding counties and enlisted in large numbers. The war did not directly effect the county until the spring and summer of 1862, with the Peninsula Campaign. When Union general George B. McClellan eventually decided to invade Virginia, he chose to land at Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula between the York and the James rivers. After the battle of Yorktown, Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston withdrew his forces back toward Richmond. McClellan, as always slow to react, split his army. The Union general sent the majority of his forces in direct pursuit of Johnston’s army; they were under the command of Gen. William Sumner. The remainder, under the command of Gen. William Franklin, he sent up the York River to cut Johnston off from the Confederate capital. Their landing point would be Eltham’s Landing in northeast New Kent County on the Pamunkey River. According to today’s standards the battle of Eltham’s Landing, West Point, or Davis Pond would be a major conflict. However; by the standards of the Civil War it was merely a skirmish with a total of 242 casualties (194 on the side of the Union and 48 for the Confederates.)
By the middle of the summer of 1862, New Kent was stuck in the middle of the fierce Peninsula Campaign. With bloody battles like Seven Pines to the west and Williamsburg and Yorktown to the east, it is no surprise that New Kent County would become an important location during the campaign. On June 12, 1862, more than a month after the battle of Eltham’s Landing, Confederate general, J. E. B. (“Jeb”) Stuart and his cavalry set off on one the most celebrated scouting missions in military history—the mission known as “Stuart’s Ride.” Jeb Stuart and his calvary (which included my great-great grandfather, Andrew Davis) rode completely around the Union army. It was Stuart’s father-in law who was given the task of chasing him by General McClellan. Stuart and his men traveled through a large part of New Kent County, including passing by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The Union calvary also camped at St. Peter’s, though they treated the place of worship with less respect. Cavalrymen axed the pews and used the sanctuary as a stable for their horses. They also burned Bibles and hymnals and used them for heat (in June?). If not for the congregation at nearby Olivet Presbyterian Church, the ancient church may have been completely destroyed.
New Kent County still takes pride in the crucial part it played in the Peninsula Campaign and the Civil War as a whole. The aftershocks of the conflict were felt in New Kent when it played a major role in the integration of public schools in Virginia in the 1960s. A parent of a student who attended George W. Watkins, the black school in New Kent (now an elementary school), sued the New Kent County school board because it refused to acknowledge the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Topeka Kansas in 1954. The case, Greene v. New Kent County School Board, was brought before the Supreme Court in 1968.
New Kent is continuing to advance in population, development, and education. However, the county will never lose its deep attachment to its southern heritage and history.
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Maggie Walker Governor's School, City of Richmond
The month of April 2010 marked the official declaration of Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. The declaration had been previously refused by Democratic governors, and the issuing of the new commemorative month, honoring Confederate soldiers, only added fuel to lingering feelings of Virginia citizens. Sheila Jackson, one such citizen, found the declaration to be “academically flawed and personally offensive.” She illustrates the point that not every Richmonder agreed with the governor’s opinion.
On Thursday, May 31, 2011, the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, was vandalized with graffiti that proclaimed “No hero.” This clearly demonstrates that many Virginians still have emotional ties to the war that shaped America into what it has become today. The crime emphasizes the rift between those who feel so strongly about the conflict that molded the United States into the democracy that continues into the twenty-first century and reveals that the two sides still have strong enough convictions to voice their opinions on an event that occurred one hundred and fifty years ago. Deep reverence has been instilled into the hearts of many Virginians and Richmonders regarding those who served in the Confederate army in the four year struggle that began in 1861. Organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy want to preserve their history and continue to showcase it.
The history of the Civil War has left lasting impressions on Richmond and its citizens. In the twenty-first century you many wonder why teenagers care about what happened all of a hundred and fifty years ago. The Civil War makes for heated debate among scholars, but teenagers may view it in a different light. As for me, I see the effects all over Richmond, as on Monument Avenue where we have dedicated statues to many famous Virginia Confederates, including Robert E. Lee, J. E. B Stuart, Jefferson Davis, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The argument that many make is that memorialization of such characters is perhaps too much. The perception that some Richmonders have is that this southern pride has been taken too far and is perpetuating a time period that wasn’t prosperous for all of the commonwealth’s population. Another view to consider would be that, along with all of the Confederate soldiers on Monument Avenue in Richmond, a statue commemorating Arthur Ashe may be extremely out of place because of the distinct differences in principle of the two types of people being commemorated. However, it will forever remain a part of our history, whether or not all of our interpretations will ever be in agreement.
Jamestown High School, Williamsburg-James City County
The Civil War in Williamsburg
Even though Williamsburg is best known for its importance during the American Revolution, it also has a place in Civil War history. At Fort Magruder on the Richmond Road, the battle of Williamsburg took place; the north had 9,000 more troops than the south and used that to help force southern troops back toward Richmond. For the rest of the Civil War, Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary were occupied by Union soldiers. On campus, the Wren Building was actually used as a Union hospital after the battle because they needed as much space as they could get in order to help take care of the large number of wounded. In the Bicentennial Park there is a confederate monument that was donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor all those killed in the battles here. What is now Binn’s Fashion Shop on Duke of Gloucester Street was the place where the Confederate flag was first raised. Union officers began printing their own newspapers here as well. After the war, the press moved down the road to Yorktown then back to Williamsburg, where it started printing the Virginia Gazette (obviously still in existence). The famous Berkeley Plantation was once the supply house of Union troops under Gen. George B. McClellan. It now operates, in part, as a Civil War Museum. There are more than enough places in Williamsburg that have been affected by the Civil War.
Honestly, as a teenager living in Williamsburg, I didn’t really know too much about the Civil War battles that took place here because the emphasis was always put on the colonial and Revolutionary War periods. The Union held out here after a stalemate battle, which sent the Confederates back to Richmond because McClellan was too slow in deciding when to attack or pursue. When I picture the battle on the land that I can see now, I imagine mass chaos; from the Wren Building being burned down to a very busy printing press in town, there must have been constant activity. Walking down DOG street would be have been completely different than it is now because the Colonial Williamsburg that we know didn’t exist yet. Usually my specialty here is on Revolutionary War history, but now I know that there is something more than just that to Williamsburg. By the end of the war and following the destruction of slavery, Williamsburg must have been devastated because much of this land was worked by slaves. Not only has the Revolutionary War shaped Williamsburg, but the Civil War also made places like Binn’s and the Wren Building some of the most historic, hidden secrets. It’s phenomenal to think that not only were these the battlegrounds for our independence from Britain but also for Virginia trying to secede yet again.
Western Albemarle High School, Albemarle County
The Rio Hill Skirmish occurred on February 26, 1864, in Charlottesville, Virginia. The skirmish occurred when Union general George A. Custer was sent into Albemarle County to destroy Confederate supplies and railroads as well as provide a diversion to a Union attempt to free POWs held outside of Richmond. The battle began when Union cavalry, who had broken into Confederate encampments and destroyed artillery supplies, were met by Confederate troops under the command of General J. E. B. Stuart. According to accounts, many soldiers were only armed with clubs and sticks. In the confusion, Confederate artillery began firing at both Union and Confederate soldiers. The Union troops were forced to retreat when Confederate reinforces arrived.
Miraculously, in the single military engagement in Albemarle County of the Civil War, only one Union soldier was wounded and two Confederate soldiers were captured. To the citizens of the county, being in the middle of the Confederacy’s breadbasket and surrounded by most of the fighting during the war, this lack of military activity came as a relief. It allowed Charlottesville and the University of Virginia to survive relatively unscathed. The skirmish is now remembered with a plaque at the Rio Hill Center in Charlottesville.
As an emblem to the war itself, the chaotic cannon fire of the Confederate lines reads as a testament to the indiscriminant killing that often occurs in civil wars. Because of the lack of ethnic or linguistic boundaries between opposing sides, it is difficult to determine friend from foe in the heat of battle.
Despite a lack of battles fought in Albemarle County, its citizens did contribute many men to Confederate units, mostly infantry, and shed their blood in many of the battles fought in Virginia. Albemarle soldiers first saw combat on July 21, 1861, at the first battle of Bull Run (or Manassas). Albemarle would suffer its last battlefield death on March 31, 1865, when C. Ballard was killed at the battle of Dinwiddie Court House. Several other Albemarle County soldiers would die while in prisoner of war camps.
Because of the lack of military engagements in Albemarle County, most of the infrastructure of Charlottesville and the surrounding areas remained intact. By far the largest impact on Albemarle County came after the war with the emancipation of all slaves held in bondage. With Albemarle being a farming county approximately 15,000 of its nearly 26,000 residents were black, with a large number of those enslaved. With the end of the Civil War, a massive labor force and the wealth in human property they represented disappeared overnight.
After the war Albemarle County faced new challenges, such as helping Virginia regain its statehood and reconciling the loss of its main labor force and the displacement of more than 50 percent of its residences. Unlike the rest of the state, Albemarle County did not have to rebuild but simply reshape.
Maggie Walker Governor's School, City of Richmond
Probably the most drastic effect the Civil War had on Richmond was the evacuation fire of April 2 and 3, 1865. The blaze completely destroyed most of the business district by the river and left many Richmonders destitute. Not too long after President Jefferson Davis left the city with the knowledge that Petersburg had fallen, the fires were started to keep powder, tobacco, and warships out of the hands of advancing Union troops. The initial idea was merely to burn the warehouses, ships, and magazine, but while the tobacco warehouses were burning, the wind carried the flames to neighboring buildings. As the wind continued, the fire soon spread out of control. Both the magazine and arsenal exploded, the arsenal sending bits of artillery shells flying through the air. On top of this, the men guarding the jail fled, letting loose hundreds of criminals who promptly formed a mob, cut the fire hoses, got drunk, and looted. By the next day, the mayor’s only option was to surrender the city to the Union army and ask them to help put out the fire.
About a week later the war ended, and Richmond began trying to rebuild its charred center. But rebuilding a whole section of a town a like Richmond was more a burden than anything else. It seems natural to assume that had there not been a need to rebuild the middle of Richmond, there would have been more time and money available to improve the city as a whole. Had there not been a large number of people who lost everything in the fire, the city’s economy might have been stronger. The recovery was surely made even harder financially by the fact that though the fire did keep Richmond’s commercial store of tobacco out of Union hands, the Richmond merchants also lost their investment.
And yet, although it goes without saying that the fire was a disaster for Richmond, it did have a silver lining. The lost area had to be rebuilt with the result that it became modernized much more quickly and completely than it would have otherwise. A vigorous effort to remake the city was already underway by late 1865. It was obviously successful, judging by the number of buildings that still stand in the center of Richmond that were built in the mid to late 1800s. In time the downtown area completely recovered and was perhaps even improved.
Recovery from the fire may also (and this is pure speculation) have helped to ease some of the tensions resulting from surrender. The Union troops who took over Richmond immediately began helping to restore some kind of order. They promptly put out the fire and over the following days and weeks distributed food from their stores to the impoverished families in the city. Historian Virginius Dabney suspected that Union funds also went into the city’s rebuilding because Richmond had little money with which to fund such an energetic reconstruction.
So Richmond suffered an incredible calamity but was restored. It endured its greatest hardship at the end of a war filled with them, yet it finally found prosperity. It lived through desertion, destruction, and defeat, and yet in the end, it achieved peace.