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Overview
Capitol Square  
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Introduction

ListenListen to the narration (3:51 minutes):

This Capitol Square tour begins at the public entrance on Bank Street. We’ll walk clockwise through the historic square and end up in front of the Governor’s Mansion.

The Square was the heart of political and social Richmond during the war, and in some ways the heart of the Confederacy as well. A nearly constant parade of soldiers marched through here on their way to battle, reviewed by their officers, politicians and hanky-waving ladies. Many of the South’s dead heroes lay in state in Virginia’s capitol building.

Military bands provided almost nightly entertainment and citizens enjoyed picnics and quiet, shady moments — when not interrupted by boys engaged in rock fights.

“The Square is much resorted to by all classes, and is a most agreeable spot on which to while away the prosy hours of the long summer evenings,” the Richmond Dispatch reported in June 1862.

One class of citizens, Richmond’s slave and free black population, was not allowed on Capitol Square unless serving whites or holding a specific pass. That changed in the last days of the war, though, when a group of black Confederate troops drilled in the Square in front of a crowd of thousands. Their performance, reported in the Richmond Enquirer, “would have done credit to veteran soldiers.”


The Virginia State Capitol is open for self-guided tours 8 am–5 pm Monday–Saturday and 1–5 pm Sunday. Free guided tours are offered 9 am–4 pm Monday–Saturday and 1–4 pm Sunday. For more on Capitol Square and the Capitol, see www.virginiacapitol.gov.

Capitol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Bell Tower
1825
Designer: Levi Swain

Built as a guardhouse and used as part of Richmond’s alarm system, the bell in the tower rang frequently during the war to summon local militia.

Among the alarms sounded were the “Pawnee Sunday” scare in April 1861, when it was feared (erroneously) that a Union gunboat had steamed up the James River to shell Richmond, and Dahlgren’s Raid in March 1864, when Federal cavalry threatened the city.

Not everyone was fearful of alarms. Little Walter Grant, a playmate of President Jefferson Davis’s children, admitted: “...when the fire bells would ring during the war, to announce the approach of the enemy and the teachers would let out school, what excitement there was, and how delighted we were. The scholars were always wishing for the Yankees to come.” Walter also remembered “the piles of rocks we gathered to throw at the Yankees if they should ever come to Richmond.”

The original bell was given to a fire company following the war. The new bell continues to call the Virginia legislature into session.

The ground floor is now occupied by a Virginia welcome center, open 9 am-5 pm Monday-Friday

Bell Tower
2

The Virginia State Capitol
1788
Design: suggested by Thomas Jefferson, based on a Roman Temple in Nimes, France

Major changes have been made to the Capitol since the Civil War, when the building housed both the Virginia and Confederate legislatures. The two wings and the front steps were added early in the 20th century.

During most of the war, the Confederate House of Representatives met on the second floor (at the top of the front steps) in the front of the building. The Virginia House met in its traditional quarters on the same floor in the back. Both Senates met in rooms on the third floor.

It was a crowded place at times. The two legislatures met at the same time an estimated 50 weeks during the war. Of special interest to Civil War visitors inside the building:

  • A large Virginia flag, which flew over the Capitol building when Richmond fell in 1865, is on display in the exhibit area. The flag was “captured” by a Massachusetts major who took the prize home with him after the war. His grandson returned the flag to the state in 1927.
  • Busts of notable Confederates line the walls in the Old House of Delegate chamber, now a museum room. Also in the room is a statue of Robert E. Lee standing on the spot where he accepted the command of Virginia forces in April 1861.
Capitol
3

Drill

Washington Monument
1858
Artist: Thomas Crawford

ListenListen to the narration (2:00 minutes):

Many people are surprised to learn that George Washington was a principal symbol and a “patron saint” of the Confederate States of America, so much so that the image of this statue was used on the Confederacy’s official state seal.

Most Confederates believed the United States had deviated from the true national course set by Washington, who was a Virginian and a slave-owner.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis chose this setting for his official inauguration. Davis took the oath standing on a platform facing the Governor’s Mansion on a rainy Feb. 22, 1862, Washington’s birthday. A small plaque marks the spot on the east side of the monument.

Throughout the Civil War, this was a gathering spot for individuals and groups. One such group met here April 2, 1863, to protest food shortages. The growing crowd — made up mostly of women and boys according to most accounts — eventually passed through the Ninth Street gates and headed south into downtown. They marched silently down Ninth Street armed with a variety of weapons. They wreaked havoc on the downtown streets and in Shockoe Bottom, looting shops and inflicting thousands of dollars worth of damage before they were stopped near 14th and Main streets.

Monument

 

4

Freedman’s Bureau
Marker located just outside the iron gate north of the Washington Monument

A state historical marker notes the location where the Freedman’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank first operated after the war. The Bureau aided newly freed slaves in numerous ways and left a great written resource for genealogists.

 
5

Gov. William Smith monument
1906
Artist: Frederick William Sievers, from a William Ludwell Sheppard design

William “Extra Billy” Smith was twice Virginia’s governor (1846–1849 and 1864–1865). He also was a U.S. Congressman, a state senator, member of the Confederate Congress and a Confederate army general.

Before his political career, Smith gained notice extending postal routes across the country, for which he received “extra” payments. Just days before the battle of First Manassas, at the age of 64, he was appointed colonel of the 49th Virginia Infantry. His uniform not yet ready, Smith went into that battle wearing a business suit and deploying a blue umbrella.

He fought in most of the major battles in the East and was wounded five times during the war (severely at Antietam). He was promoted to the rank of general and fought at Gettysburg after being elected governor in May 1863 (he began serving Jan. 1, 1864). He was the last Confederate Virginia governor, fleeing town April 2, 1865, just ahead of Federal troops.

Smith
6

Thomas Jonathan Jackson monument
1875
Artist: John Henry Foley

This is the first of many monuments erected in Richmond honoring famous Confederates. The statue was “presented by English gentlemen as a tribute of admiration for the soldier and patriot Thomas J. Jackson.”

Better known as “Stonewall,” the famed general lay in state in both the Governor’s Mansion and the Virginia State Capitol building following his death in 1863.

Jackson
7

Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire monument
1904
Artist: William Couper

Following John Brown’s Raid in 1859, Dr. McGuire led a group of southern medical students returning home from Philadelphia medical schools (see the Egyptian Building on the Capital City tour).

During the war he served as medical director for Stonewall Jackson’s Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia. He treated Jackson after the general was wounded at Chancellorsville (May 1863) and tended him in his final moments at Guinea Station (south of Fredericksburg).

Following the war Dr. McGuire became, among other things, the president of several national medical associations. His Memorial Association placed this monument here near his most famous patient.

McGuire
8

Governor’s Mansion
1813
Designed by Alexander Parris

ListenListen to the narration (2:17 minutes):

This Federal-style building has been the home of Virginia governors since March 1813. It is the oldest such mansion in the nation still being used for its original purpose.

Two Virginia governors occupied this house during the Civil War. The first, John Letcher, was a reluctant secessionist and a stickler for process. But, following Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops following Fort Sumter, Letcher actively supported a secession ordinance and, later, the Confederacy. He was imprisoned for several months after the war before returning to his native Lexington.

The other wartime governor, William “Extra Billy” Smith, served from Jan. 1, 1864, to the fall of Richmond April 2, 1865. Read more about this colorful character in the description of his Capitol Square statue above.

Mansion