Scribners Monthly, an illustrated magazine for the people. / Volume 14, Issue 3; July 1877; p. 303-312


WHEN, on the morning of Sunday, April 2d, 1865, Mr. President Davis was informed by a dispatch from General Lee that the Confederate army would be compelled to abandon Petersburg and Richmond that night, there was, as might have been expected, a wild panic in the capitol city, and not only the president, but the leading Confederate officials and generals then in Richmond, made a precipitate flight. In this flight the government warehouses, situated in the lower part of the city, between Cary street and the river, and filled with immense quantities of tobacco and other stores, were devoted to the flames, in order to prevent their rich booty from falling into the hands of the Federal army. By whose order this wanton act was done has heretofore been deemed a matter of hazardous inquiry in Richmond; but in a recent important insurance case tried in that city, involving the liability of parties to the transaction, it seems to have been admitted that the order was issued by General Ewell. The burning of these immense warehouses loaded down the atmosphere with the smell of tobacco for miles and miles around, and added another (and the most grievous of all) to the many calamities which have befallen that city since, in 1781, it was first destroyed by the British, under General Arnold.

The history of Richmond since the fire shows the wonderful recuperative power of its people. Hundreds of the most successful business men in Richmond to-day found themselves, on the morning of the 3d of April, 1865, stripped of their last dollar’s worth of property. Many of them were gentlemen of the oldest Virginia families, owning large ancestral estates before the war, and strangers to want. But not a few of them possessed great resources of mind and body, and philosophy enough to dismiss their regrets for the past, and to grapple resolutely with the exigencies of the occasion. The first thing to be done was to clear away the foundations and rebuild. In this labor they had no such adventitious aid as accrued to Chicago after her great fire, when sister cities a thousand miles away promptly contributed their eight or ten millions in insurance adjustments; for, under the circumstances of its destruction, no insurance policy protected a dollar’s worth of Richmond property. But, nothing daunted, her people went to work, every man putting his shoulder to the wheel. Of the success attained, the following pages will have something to tell.

In this renascence the Tredegar Iron Works, which had been turning out the mighty cannon of the Confederacy, promptly responded to the demands of peace, and began to master new processes of iron manufacture. The ponderous machinery of the Richmond Architectural Iron Works, which had been destroyed, was soon set in motion to repair the general ruin. In less than eight months after the fire, these extensive works were re-erected on their old site, and were filling heavy city orders. The Metropolitan Iron and Brass Works on Cary street, reaching from Seventh to Sixth, soon became a powerful auxiliary in the work of reparation, as did the Shockoe Machine Works, the Phoenix Foundry, the Franklin Machine Company, and many other establishments of lesser note, not to mention the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works on Belle Isle, which had fortunately escaped the general conflagration. In addition to these several extensive works, employing hundreds and even thousands of the best skilled workmen, companies were formed for re-opening the coal mines in the near vicinity, and developing the Richmond granite quarries (the finest in the world), and soon three thousand lineal feet of sheds on the Manchester side of the river covered half as many stone-cutters, engaged in the grand work of restoration now resolutely in progress throughout the city.

In much less time than a similar work was afterward done in Chicago, the burnt district was entirely rebuilt, and with far more substantial, imposing, and beautiful edifices than those which had succumbed to the fire. Main street, the great business artery of the city, was especially improved in the solidity and style of its architecture, and the perfection of its mercantile arrangements.

In the view which we give of Richmond from the Manchester side of the river, the Tredegar Iron Works are seen nestling under Gamble’s Hill, in the left foreground as seen beyond the rapids, while Belle Isle, the Tredegar railroad bridge, the Petersburg railroad bridge, and the Gallego flouring-mill, are, apart from the rapids themselves, the most conspicuous objects that meet the eye in the lower part of the city. Beyond, on the crest of Shockoe Hill, stands the state capitol, an imposing edifice with a handsome Doric portico, below which, and to the right and left, lies the principal business portion of the city. The small church spire to the extreme right, on Church Hill, and almost hidden in the foliage of surrounding trees, is that of the “Old Church,” in which Patrick Henry electrified the whole country in 1775, by his memorable utterance: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

The activity of the Tredegar Iron Works since the war has been remarkable. Since the reorganization of the company in 1867 with a capital of $1,000,000, it has constructed a bridge across the river, with a three-rail track, which enables the Works to connect with both systems of railroad (the narrow and wide gauge) running southward, and with the northern system on the Richmond side of the river, embracing the York River road, the Chesapeake and Ohio, and the Fredericksburg road to Washington and Baltimore. A more complete establishment of its kind is not to be found anywhere in the United States. It has a capacity for working twenty-five hundred hands, mostly skilled mechanics and artisans, and it only requires a general revival of business throughout the country to place the company on a solid footing of prosperity. Had it not suffered heavily from the failure of Jay Cooke & Co., it would hardly have met with any serious embarrassments since the war.

The Works cover somewhat over fifteen acres of ground, and have an unlimited supply of water-power at all seasons of the year. The present capacity is more than double what it was before the war, the rolling-mills turning out over thirty thousand tons of railroad bars, spikes, etc., per annum, and the foundries between twenty and thirty thousand tons of castings, while the machine-shops are capable of an indefinite amount of work, depending upon the extent of force employed and the amount of orders they may have in hand. The car-shops (a branch more recently added) manufacture over two thousand freight-cars annually, while the car-wheels here made are in very wide demand, owing to their superior strength and durability. The Works receive orders from all the principal railroads in the United States, as well as in the Canadas, in Cuba, Peru, Brazil, and other parts of South America. Most of their raw material (the best grades of pig-iron) comes from Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina. Richmond and vicinity furnish the supply of coals,— the best quality that can be had for the general furnace,—as well as excellent grades of sand and clay for casting and puddling purposes.

In addition to the manufactories already mentioned, there are establishments for making steam and fire engines, steam saw-mills, agricultural implements of all kinds, tobacco machinery, carriages, furniture, cabinet furniture, wooden-ware, stone-ware, paper, and almost every description of household utensil. Add to these the sugar refineries, tanneries and sumac-mills, the extensive cotton-mills on the Manchester side of the river, the five large flouring-mills, capable of producing two million barrels of flour annually, and the fifty or sixty tobacco manufactories, and you can have some idea of what Richmond has been doing since the war to restore her shattered industries. And all these enterprises have, in the main, been undertaken and carried forward by Virginia industry and capital,— a circumstance all the more creditable, considering the comparatively brief period since the restoration of the state to the Union—i. e., since January 1, 1870.

The Old Dominion Nail and Iron Works may be seen on Belle Isle, which is much nearer the Manchester than the Richmond side of the river. It is a very extensive establishment, employing over a thousand hands, and has been very prosperous since the war. This island, famous as a Confederate prison, lies in the rapids of the river, with deep and angry currents on all sides. The prisoners were massed in camp on the flat portion of the island, at the eastern or lower extremity of it. On the hill above, and overlooking the camp, were two heavy pieces of artillery, designed to be used in case the prisoners should overpower the guard and attempt an escape. But the place had such natural protections, and presented such formidable barriers against escape, that the guns were never fired, except when some poor fellow paid all too dearly for his foolhardiness in venturing into the current in the vain hope of escaping to the opposite shore; and these volleys were only fired that his body, whirled into the deeper eddies of the stream, might rise to the surface and receive burial at the hands of his comrades. It is believed that no one ever escaped from the island, even when the river was at its lowest, and few attempts were made after the first dozen had resulted fatally. Many prisoners were buried on the island, but their remains were subsequently removed to the National Cemetery, which is about two miles out of the city on the Williamsburg road.

Libby Prison, where most of the Federal prisoners were confined in the earlier stages of the war, is situated on Cary street, at the corner of Twentieth. It has been used since the war as a tobacco-factory, a sumac-mill, and a pail-factory, all in operation at the same time. The full height of the building is not shown in the sketch on the next page, as the entrance on Cary street is to the second story, and not to the first, which fronts on Water street. A block distant, on the opposite side of the street, is Castle Thunder. Both were old tobacco-factories, having thick, heavy walls, grated windows, and powerful supports between floors. The Libby is much the larger building of the two, and capable of holding nearly a thousand prisoners to a floor, though at times it probably held many more.

Passing up Eighth street from the Union Depot, near the Tredegar Works, you turn the corner of Main at right angles, and are brought to the site of the old Spotswood Hotel, quite as notable in the history of Richmond as any institution of which her beauty and fashion can boast. Turning to the right down Main street for a single block, you come in sight of Capitol Square, a splendid inclosure on the crest of Shockoe Hill, containing eight acres, and making one of the handsomest public parks in the country. It is inclosed by a heavy iron fence, is beautifully and tastefully laid out, with shade-trees, graveled walks, fountains, shrubbery and statuary. Near the center of the square stands the state Capitol, a structure which has been severely criticised for its architectural pretensions,—the more perverse critics insisting, not without some reason, that the architect, who ambitiously aimed at reproducing the Maison Carrée, at Nismes, in France, worked from his plan upside down, and put the basement where the eaves should have been, and otherwise reversing the architectural order. The building is not altogether an unimposing one, and has a very handsome portico looking to the south, from which there is a fine view of the falls and the river below.

In the rotunda of the Capitol the visitor will find the celebrated statue of Washington, by Houdon, executed in Paris soon after the close of the Revolutionary war, by order of the General Assembly of Virginia. From the west entrance of the Capitol he may see the equestrian statue of Washington, by Crawford, located on an imposing column of Richmond granite. The entire colossal group is in bronze, and includes standing figures of Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and others, and all but the pedestrian statues of Generals Nelson and Lewis, and the allegorical figures, were the work of Crawford. Mr. Crawford died in 1857, leaving the models of these last unexecuted, and Randolph Rogers was employed to complete the work after the war.

Standing between the equestrian group and the governor’s mansion, on the same plateau, is the recently erected and much admired statue of Stonewall Jackson, presented by certain English gentlemen to the people of Virginia, as a tribute of their sincere admiration for the memory of the “Christian soldier and patriot.” It is reckoned an admirable work of art. On the pedestal is inscribed the fact of presentation, with the simple name of “Thomas J. Jackson.” To this is added the grateful acceptance of the munificent gift by Virginia, in the name of the whole Southern people. The monument was erected about two years ago, with imposing ceremonies, on the hundredth anniversary of the commonwealth’s independence. Underneath the general inscription is this historic line: “Look! there is Jackson, standing like a stone wall!”

Returning to the Capitol, the visitor will find, standing in the eastern entrance or porch, the historic stove of the world. It unquestionably deserves this designation, although it is best known as the “Old Stove,” having been manufactured in England by one Buzaglo, and sent over to Lord Botetourt, in 1770, as a present to the colony of Virginia. This old stove was used in warming the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg until 1779, when the capital was removed from that place to Richmond, and served the state altogether, in heating its legislative halls, for a period of sixty years; after which it was placed in the rotunda of the Capitol, and warmed that portion of the building for about forty years more, when it was laid aside as one of the sacred relics of Virginia.

Leaving out of the question the “Old Stone House,” built (nobody knows in what year) by one Jacob Ege, a German immigrant, and occupied successively by six generations of his descendants, and in which President Monroe is said to have boarded when a boy at school in Richmond, the old church edifice, known as St. John’s Church, on Church Hill, can boast the highest antiquity. The origin of this building also runs back beyond record, except as to the tower, which is of modern construction, and except some of the interior arrangements of the church.

A pleasant walk of a few blocks from the “Old Church” brings us to the crest of Libby Hill, from which there is one of the most charming views to be seen in or about Richmond. It is a favorite resort during the summer months and late into the autumn for those seeking enjoyable walks, cool and refreshing breezes, and startling beauty and variety of scenery. Looking up Main street, you have almost a bird’s-eye view of the chief business thoroughfare of the city, for a distance of more than two miles, including all the leading public buildings. Our artist’s sketch of the river at this point (given on page 309) takes in a view of “Powhatan,” where once stood the royal wigwam of the noted chieftain of that name.

The “Powhatan estate” was for two hundred years the property of the Mayo family, and here, as the story goes, John Howard Payne fell madly in love, when in Richmond, with Miss Maria Mayo (afterward Mrs. General Winfield Scott), a famous Richmond belle in her day, and remarkable for her wit and intelligence, as well as for her extraordinary beauty. Poor Payne laid his heart at her feet, but she is said to have toyed and coquetted with, it, and then to have flung it aside. When all hope of winning the fair prize was abandoned, Payne went to Europe, where he remained for nearly twenty years, and where he wrote his “Home, Sweet Home,” which was first sung in his opera of “Clare,” at London. This traditional incident in the life of Payne revives another (and one still current in Richmond) connected with General Scott. It is said that when he first addressed Miss Mayo, he was only a captain in the regular army, and his suit was summarily dismissed. Afterward, when a major, he renewed the proffer of his hand, but with no better success. The third time he wore the epaulets of a general, and these promptly secured his acceptance. When asked by one of her friends why she had thus suddenly changed her mind, Miss Mayo is said to have replied: “In my estimation, there is a very decided difference between a captain, or even a major, and a general in the American army.”

Passing out of Capitol Square for a promenade up Grace street, the eye of the visitor is at once arrested by an imposing tower more than a mile distant, sentineling this splendid avenue of churches and well-shaded residences, and marking the site of Richmond College. Chartered in 1840, it graduated its first class in 1849. The fine property of the corporation came forth from the war sadly dismantled, and with its chief endowment withered, like that of many other similar institutions in the South, into eight per cent. Confederate bonds. But since its re-organization in 1866-7, its success has been most marked and gratifying. Beautifully located, and favorably so both as to the city and state, with buildings susceptible of high improvement, and a fine corps of professors and instructors, it rests upon an excellent foundation.

On leaving the college grounds, the attention of the visitor is naturally directed to Hollywood Cemetery by the lofty pyramidal pile of Richmond granite erected therein to the memory of the Confederate dead. This beautiful cemetery is situated at the western extremity of the city, overlooking the lower rapids of the James River. Here lies President Monroe, under the plainest of iron cenotaphs; and here the great Virginia cavalry officer, Jeb Stuart, with hundreds of his fellow-officers and thousands of Confederate soldiers.

Some three miles from Hollywood, and on the opposite side of the city, is the scarcely less celebrated cemetery of Oakwood, a place of very general resort by people from all parts of the South. For here lie, in one congregated group, nearly eighteen thousand ”Boys in Gray,” most of whom went down during the seven days’ fight before Richmond, in which both General Lee and Stonewall Jackson were engaged against McClellan. The ladies of the Oakwood Association have the management of the cemetery, and also of Hollywood. The graves are all carefully marked, so that a reference to the cemetery records will indicate the precise spot where the remains of each soldier are to be found. The graves marked “Unknown” are comparatively few. On the 10th of May of each year the humblest of these graves receives a floral offering from the hands of the Richmond ladies. The same ceremony is observed at Hollywood, and we look for its early extension to the National Cemetery, where sleep the dead of the Federal army. Indeed, we have reason to believe that this would have been done as early as 1870, had it not been for officious meddling to prevent it. The graves of this cemetery, a very handsome one, are now chiefly decorated by the colored people of Richmond, and the ceremony takes place on the 30th of May.

After the iron industries, the tobacco factories and the flouring-mills constitute the two great material interests of Richmond.

Its tobacco manufactures have been materially increased since the war, and now represent a much larger outlay in active capital than any other single industry of the city. From recent statistics obtained from the Internal Revenue office in Richmond, embracing the third Congressional district of the state, it appears that the number of tobacco manufacturers doing business therein, and purchasing stamps at the Richmond office, is fifty-seven,—all of which, with the exception of two small establishments, are located in Richmond. They report in operation on their premises, 19 cutting-presses, 909 screw presses, 51 hydraulic presses, 13 hand-mills, and a force of 11,049 employees—equal to about one-fifth of the entire population of the city. The number of pounds of manufactured tobacco is roundly stated at 20,000,000, netting an annual revenue to the Federal Government, at the present rate of taxation, of $4,800,000. These manufactures are chiefly plug and twist tobacco, although smoking tobacco, fine-cut, cigars and snuff are manufactured on an extensive scale. The heaviest foreign shipments are to Europe, South America and Australia.

The processes through which tobacco has to go in its cultivation, curing, marketing, warehousing, sampling and sale in the leaf (or before reaching the hands of the manufacturer), are much more numerous than those to which any other American state is subjected. The crop requires constant nursing and attention from the time it is planted out until cut and cured for the market. It is then consigned to the commission merchant in the city, who designates the warehouse to which it shall be hauled. The principal warehouses are Mayo’s, Seabrook’s, Anderson’s, the Public Warehouse, and the Shockoe Warehouses Nos. 1 and 2. When received at the warehouse it is marked, numbered and listed to the commission merchant who stores it. Each warehouse has its “breaking day,” when the staves are knocked off the hogsheads, and the tobacco sampled. Each sample has a tag attached, giving the mark, number and weight of the hogshead, which is given to the commission merchant storing it. These samples are then sent to the Tobacco Exchange, where the lots they represent are offered for sale. The manufacturer or dealer inspects the samples, makes his purchase, and takes from the Exchange his “tobacco note,” or proper order for the lot purchased, according to mark, number and weight. The operations of the Tobacco Exchange are both heavy and numerous, and the whole business of merchanting, warehousing, sampling and selling is admirably conducted. It is rarely the case that any lot sold ever falls short in either quality or weight. The business is in the hands of gentlemen of intelligence, character and worth; and no branch of trade is anywhere more honorably conducted.

The Gallego flouring-mill was said to be the largest single mill in the world before the war. It was among the first buildings to succumb to the flames in the great fire of 1865, but has since been rebuilt on the old site, and is now turning out as much flour as in its best or palmiest days. The building is two stories higher on Twelfth street than is shown in the accompanying cut, the view of which is taken from the foot of the basin. It is still one of the largest single mills of the world. Its capacity is from fifteen hundred to two thousand barrels a day, and it has the advantage of shipping its flour direct to all parts of the world from its own local dock. Indeed, this is one of the great advantages of the wholly inexhaustible water-power of Richmond. All her manufactures are produced at navigable tide-water. And she has water-power enough running daily to waste in the James River rapids to turn all the cotton spindles of the world, while her net-work of railroads, forming a perfect ganglion or radiating center at her docks, pierces every section of the cotton-growing South. The James River and Kanawha Canal, extending westward two hundred miles, is, it is hoped, destined to connect the Ohio and the Atlantic.

The changes in society at Richmond since the war are hardly as fundamental as one would expect. The visitor will find the stately and well-shaded mansions, in the more aristocratic parts of the city, occupied precisely as they were before the war; while the lanes, back-alleys and rear residences are tenanted by the same colored domestics and their families, with this difference only—the service is now one of hire, not of personal ownership. The technical relation of master and servant still exists, although the negro is manifestly more chary of using the designation of “massa” and “missis” when addressing his employer. In other respects, however, he is quite as deferential as formerly. As a general rule, he is paid wages and charged rent; while, frequently, other colored families than those in service become co-tenants of the same premises, sometimes as many as six and eight families occupying the former “negro quarters” of a single stately mansion. Pecuniarily considered, the change inures to the benefit of the master rather than the servant, except in a few individual cases, where intelligence, combined with industry and a desire for independent occupation, brings success to the colored man. From a superficial stand-point, it would seem that the master had far less exemption from toil and the servant far more than formerly—with the advantages of thrift in favor of the latter. But the negro is nothing if not imitative; and, as he formerly regarded the white man’s “monopoly of idleness” as his chief distinctive merit, so now he looks upon his own release from labor as his paramount claim to superior recognition by his fellows. Before the war, no one ever heard of any “poor colored trash” in the South. That characteristic distinction was entirely monopolized by the white man. “Select colored circles,” “upper and lower tencentdom,” and other unique class discriminations, are now quite as common among the blacks as whites, —with this difference, perhaps, that the “color line” in aristocracy is more inveterately drawn by the former than the latter. To be one of the “poor colored trash,” in outward appearances at least, is to taste the dregs in the cup of social ostracism.

The greatest and most beneficent of all the changes that have taken place in the conditions and moral and social surroundings of the negro in Richmond is to be witnessed in the public colored schools of that city, which are supported almost exclusively by the white people, who voluntarily tax themselves many thousand dollars a year for that purpose, and at the same time show an interest, amounting to genuine enthusiasm, in the work they have generously taken in hand. The colored schools are of the same general character, and fall under the same general management, as the white graded schools of the city,—there being primary, intermediate, and high-school instruction imparted to both classes of pupils alike. No city in the United States is doing so much, to-day, for the education of the rising colored generation, as the city of Richmond, and the best northern educators, who have visited the public schools there, and examined their practical working, cheerfully accord her people this credit. These schools are modeled after the best classes of graded schools in the North, with some original features we might do well to copy. As an evidence of their harmonious and satisfactory working, it may be stated that the Rev. Mr. Manly, who was sent from Massachusetts, soon after the war, to establish and take charge of a colored nor- mal school in that city, with funds to erect a fine school-building, was at once chosen a member of the local Board of Education, while his excellent school was subsequently placed, on his own recommendation, under the supervision of the board, the city taking upon itself the expense of its management, but retaining Mr. Manly at its head.

There are between thirty-five and forty of these colored grammar and primary schools in Richmond, and the expense of maintaining them is between thirty and forty thousand dollars a year, derived from assessments on the city grand list. The colored pupils show quite as good progress as the whites until reaching about the age of fourteen, when there is a marked difference in favor of the latter; and we believe this accords with the general observation and experience of teachers intrusted with the educational management of the two classes of pupils at the South. Whether this difference results from any innate and permanently fixed conditions of mind in the two races, remains to be seen. Although very many persons in Virginia look upon “colored” education as at best experimental, they are still disposed to give the system a fair trial. The negro is certainly having the best external helps in Richmond, and is apparently availing himself of them with sincere desire for improvement.

No description of Richmond would be adequate without some mention of her three native art-workers, whose reputations have been mainly acquired since the war. Mr. John P. Elder is best known by his portrait of General Robert E. Lee in the Senate Chamber at Richmond, and that of General Stuart for the University of Virginia, and by his, “Battle of the Crater.” Of Mr. William L. Sheppard it is hardly necessary to speak to the readers of SCRIBNER, to which his pencil has constantly contributed. He is especially successful in his delineations of negro life, though he has shown great talent in other fields. Mr. Edward P. Valentine, the sculptor, was for some time a pupil of the celebrated Kiss. He has made numerous busts of Confederate celebrities, and has produced several ideal pieces, among which the best known are perhaps “The Penitent Thief,” “The Nation’s Ward,” and “Knowledge is Power.”

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