Here in Richmond Virginia I’m experiencing this historical masterpiece of an American city, and one of the key cornerstones in terms of understanding US History. For this first post I’m just free associating my whirlwind introduction to Richmond and Richmond History.
In subsequent posts I’ll feature some of the hundreds of photos and dozens of fascinating stories I’ve heard about Richmond’s remarkable past – a history that spans thousands of years of native American habitation and almost 400 years of US History and important US prehistory.
Note that for this very short visit I’m focusing on Civil War history and just a few battles of the many around Richmond. All the battles of this area from both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War will be featured at the upcoming Battlepedia website, soon to be a comprehensive list of all battles throughout recorded human history.
Richmond Histoy and Travel notes:
My first day in Richmond started at the excellent Quality Inn on Broad, where I’m enjoying a great rate of $45 thanks to a walk-in hotel coupon from the rest area. We’ve had great luck with those coupons when traveling, especially on the east coast and especially when you are not overnighting on Friday or Saturday nights. Great travel strategy: Stay with friends or relatives when you can but if you cannot plan your trips so hotels are Sun-Thursday nights when things are almost always slower.
First stops were on Richmond’s beautiful MONUMENT AVENUE, where statues of civil war heros like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis join a new statue of the US tennis legend and Richmond native Arthur Ashe. The architecture on Richmond’s Monument Avenue reflects some of the best of the Antebellum South, with beautiful, heavy, and ornate styles, often in brick. FYI “Antebellum South” means before the Civil War and comes from the latin anti (before) and bellum (war).
Next stop was … parking for the downtown museums and Virginia State Capitol area. Richmond travel tip – USE the visitor and hospital patient parking deck that is at the downtown medical center. Otherwise you may gat caught with a high fine for going over the two hour limit on many street parking spaces which may be hard to find anyway. If you are visiting the Museum of the Confederacy and Confederate White House / Jefferson Davis Home be sure to get your parking ticket validated at the front desk – this saved me about $10 which is the daily parking cost limit at that parking deck. It looked like other downtown parking ramps cost more than that anyway.
The three floors of the Museum of the Confederacy are an excellent collection of memorabilia and a battle by battle description of the war, but the reason to go here is to see the amazing Confederate White House (also called the “Grey House” since that was closer to the color at the time. The home of Jefferson Davis and his second wife Varina Davis is a spectacular restoration with many period pieces and an excellent historical tour. Here, confederate generals often visited to discuss strategy with each other and the president. I’d expected more “pro confederacy spin” than I got there. In fact the most interesting historical story was about Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a slave in the Davis home who had kept her education and intelligence a secret. When cleaning the upstairs study Bowser would memorize documents and then report the information to Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew. This went on for some time and I believe Bowser’s secret was kept until after the end of the war. Another fascinating item was how Davis’ wife Varina Davis moved to New York City and wrote for Joseph Pulitzer, often defending her late husband’s reputation against attacks by counterattacking his detractors. This writing career blossomed into regular features on cooking and child raising. Varina Davis was seen as an important bridge between the north and south during reconstruction, and was well regarded by many in the north.
My next stop was the excellent Virginia State Visitor Center at the Bell Tower near the Capitol Building, where the staffer gave me a great map, brochures, and an excellent introduction to the area as well as good strategies for optimizing my brief visit.
Just down the street from the tower is St Paul’s church where beautiful stained glass windows memorialize civil war era figures like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Here, Jefferson Davis was attending a service when he was informed that the Union was about to break through to Richmond, an action that was soon to lead to the end of the Civil War with Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Confederate army to Union forces general U.S. Grant at Appomatox Court House near Appomatox, Virginia. Appomatox is about 90 miles west of Richmond.
Tredegar Iron Works was a key foundry for the confederacy, making about half the 2000 cannons used by the South in the Civil War. Here at Tredegar, we see refined versions of the industrial factory model of production that began in England in the Derwent Valley Mills. Waterwheels and steam boilers as power sources with massive heavy presses and ironmaking equipment to create canons, railroad tracks, and more. Tredegar is part of the US National Park system and admission also gets you into the excellent Civil War Museum right next door, though cheapskates might want to dodge the $8 fee simply walk the grounds for a quick “feel” of history. (I’m not sure you can do this, but it looked like it would not be a problem).
… more Richmond Virginia history and travel coming soon..