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Richmond, Virginia

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1147, p. 540.

May 31, 1862


By the time this reaches the hands of our readers it is not only possible, but extremely probable, that the city of Richmond may be in the hands of the Federal forces. The latest news announces the evacuation of the fortified position of the Confederate forces at Yorktown, and there is a rumour that they have suffered defeat at the position to which they have retired.

The fall of Richmond would be a far greater blow to the cause of the South than a similar calamity at New Orleans or Charleston. Richmond is not only the capital of Virginia, but it is the capital of what is called the Old Dominion, and is intimately connected with all the old associations of the early history of the colony. Most of the remarkable events which happened during that period when the first colonists were securing their foothold upon this portion of the American continent took place upon the banks of the James River.

The colony of Virginia was born at that most remarkable period of English history, "the age of Elizabeth." It was founded by English gentlemen, who carried with them the loyalty, courage, spirit, and chivalric feeling peculiar to the class to which they belonged at home. The Virginians remained a loyal people, and stood by King and Church while Puritanism and Republicanism were rampant in New England. During the civil war between Charles I. and his Parliament the Virginians continued faithful to the Royal cause, and, even after the execution of the King, his son Charles II., although a fugitive from England, was still recognised as the Sovereign of Virginia. Although loyal to the King they showed no want of spirit in claiming such rights as should place them in the position of free men; and numerous important privileges were conceded to them, such as the right of trial by jury; and they claimed and were allowed to have a representative government. Having obtained a right they never allowed it to be wrested from them. The other colonies afterwards planted claimed as extensive privileges as had been conceded to their eider sister, and future proprietaries could hope to win emigrants only by bestowing franchises as large as those enjoyed by Virginia; they, therefore, may be justly said to be the founders of liberty in America.

The early history of the colony is a web of romance in the days when the genius of Raleigh shed its light upon it, when the gallant Smith performed his bold and courageous exploits, and the gentle Indian princess came a visitor to Europe, until the time when she struck for liberty, set an example to future ages, and received the sword of the conquered Cornwallis and his whole army prisoners on the plains at Yorktown. Not one of the States has given so many great names to the nation as this; it is full of hallowed shrines where great men were either born, lived, died, taught, or fought; and the names of Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Clay, Madison, Monroe, Lee, and a host of others, rise instantly in our memory.

The city of Richmond is situated in the eastern part of the State of Virginia, upon the James River, at the point where the navigation ends and the rapids commence. It is about 100 miles south by west of Washington, and is on the great railway mail route from New England to New Orleans.

Richmond is a well-built city, and contains a number of fine edifices. It is for the most part situated on the sides of some hills, which slope towards the river. The principal buildings are of stone, but the general character of the city, as seen from any elevated point in the neighbourhood, is that it is built of red brick. It has all the characteristics of a manufacturing city in England (except that it is neither black nor dirty): this is caused by the superior elevation and extent of the numerous tobacco warehouses, of which the city is full, it being the great dépôt for this famous produce of Virginia. The buildings in which the tobacco is stored and manufactured are much in external appearance like the factories in England, being long and many-storied. The population, previous to the war, was about 35,000, one third of which were black, either slave or free.

The public buildings are numerous: they consist of the Capitol, the City Hall, the Penitentiary, Custom House, colleges, and about thirty churches.

The Capitol is a fine building, splendidly situated on an eminence overlooking the James River: the view from the portico is extremely fine. In the centre of the building is a hall 40ft. square, covered by a dome, through which the light is admitted. In the centre of this hall is a marble statue of George Washington, on the pedestal of which is this inscription:—"The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia have caused this statue to be erected as a monument of affection and gratitude to George Washington, who, uniting to the endowments of the hero the virtues of the patriot, and exerting both in establishing the liberties of his country, has rendered his name dear to his fellow-citizens and given the world an immortal example of true glory. Done in the year of Christ one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, and in year of the Commonwealth the twelfth." The sculptor has placed his name on the statue; it reads thus: "Fait par Houdon, citoyen Français, 1788." The figure of Washington is of the size of life, and the costume is precisely copied from that which the General wore during the War of Independence. There is no hat on the head, and the hair is dressed in the fashion of the time; the legs are placed in large boots strapped to the knee-buttons of the breeches, which are surmounted by a waistcoat which has large flaps and capacious pockets. The attitude of the figure is simple and natural; his hand rests on a bundle of fasces, over which hang his military cloak and a small sword; a plough is ingeniously arranged to complete the group. Besides this statue in the Capitol there is another, an equestrian statue on a large scale, elevated upon a pedestal (much too small for it) which has bas-reliefs upon its sides illustrating remarkable events that occurred during the war; at the angles are statues of other men who were eminent either as statesmen or soldiers. There is also a fine statue of Clay, and the bronze works by the eminent American sculptor Crawford erected upon the elevated terrace which

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surrounds the Capitol. The City Hall is a fine building, situated at an angle of the Capitol square. The Penitentiary is situated in the western part of the city, and has a façade over 300ft. in length. The Custom House cost half a million dollars. Some of the churches have considerable architectural pretensions. Richmond College was founded by the Baptists in 1832. St. Vincent's College is under the direction of the Catholics. The medical department of Hampden and Sydney Colleges occupies a large building of the Egyptian style of architecture.

There are several large bridges over the wide shallow waters that run by the town, which connect it with the suburbs of Manchester and Spring-hill. The navigation extends up to the bridge for small vessels, such as coasting schooners and small steamers. Immediately above the bridge the waters tumble over rocks, which are strewed about in the most picturesque manner, and form beautiful cascades. The views from the bridges, looking up and down the river and towards the city, are delightful, the river being split into separate branches, which, uniting at intervals, form pretty little thickly-wooded islands.

In one of the principal streets of Richmond there is a group of buildings of ordinary character as places of business, but they have their ground-floor apartments large and open to the street—there may be half a dozen of them in a row, or near together. Beside the door of each is a little red baize flag, and upon it is pinned a small piece of paper. An involuntary shudder passes though the entire frame of an Englishman when he for the first time reads what is written upon that bit of paper. The announcement is exceedingly short, but in its half dozen syllables it speaks volumes. It says:—"Negroes for sale at auction this day at twelve o'clock." How much of human misery is contained in that short announcement! What a curse has "that institution" brought upon all the land, all so bountifully treated by the Creator; but this particular part, Virginia, seems favoured most especially in soil, climate, beautiful scenery, and contains every gift of nature that can add to the happiness of those who dwell in it. The slaves in Richmond are well clothed and fed, and have a happy and contented look—at least it was so before the war broke out. What their position may be now we have no means of judging.

Richmond is the centre of an important railway system. The Richmond and Petersburg Railway is its first route southward on the Great Northern and Southern transit, and the line from Fredricksburg the first to the northward. The Central Railway, after leaving the city, makes a long excursion to the north and then turns westward into the interior of the State, the region of the famous springs. It passes by Gordonsville, Charlottesville, and Staunton, and it was proposed to continue it through the State to Guyandotte, on the Ohio River. The Richmond and Danville Railway runs south-west 141 miles to the upper boundary of North Carolina, and connects with the railways of Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The city is also connected with Lynchburg by railway, and thence, by the Virginia and Tennessee line, with Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Kenawha Canal and the James River extend the communications westward by water nearly 300 miles. The ordinary route from Washington to Richmond before the war was by steam-boat to Aquia Creek, on the Potomac, thence by rail through Fredricksburg to Richmond.

The subjects of our Illustrations of Richmond are, first, a general view, looking across the river. This view was taken from the top of a small hill at the southern part of the town: it shows the principal features of the locality, but not the principal part of the city, which lies more to the right of the spectator. The second Engraving is of the quay below the town, where the craft which navigate the James River lie to discharge and take in their cargoes. The third Engraving is of the railway bridge which crosses the river at the foot of the rapids, taken from one of the islands which divide the waters into separate streams.

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