The Confederate Capital Falls

The Confederate Capital Falls

In the last days of the Civil War, the Confederate capital of Richmond falls after nine months under siege. General Lee and President Jefferson Davis flee the city as Union forces advance to reclaim Virginia.

America’s Civil War: The Fall of Richmond

Ezra Pound, the renegade poet of the 20th century, spent his later years disavowing the actions of his youth. Confronted by a student in his Harvard poetry class wanting to know why he had censored his own poem, ‘Sestina: Altaforte,’ which praises war, Pound replied slowly and deliberately, ‘War is no longer amusing.’

The residents of Richmond, Va., in early 1865 no doubt would have fully appreciated Pound’s reply. The true believers in a quick and decisive victory for the South were all gone by then. They had been replaced by a citizenry that had seen many great victories on the battlefield but always the return of the bluecoats and the relentless and methodical destruction of the South’s once productive farms, railroads and cities. Now Richmond huddled behind a besieged army, listening to the perpetual boom of enemy artillery, awaiting an inevitable conclusion.

Richmond had been the capital of the Confederacy since May 1861, when the new Confederate Congress voted to move it there from Montgomery, Ala., thinking that Richmond would be more prestigious and closer to the bulk of the fighting. Prewar Richmond had become an important international city, trading coffee, spices, slaves and other commodities for cotton and tobacco. Five foreign nations had consulates in the city. Thirteen working foundries made it the iron-manufacturing capital of the South. The Tredegar Iron Works made more than 1,100 cannons, in addition to mines, torpedoes, propeller shafts and other such war machinery. The Richmond Laboratory manufactured more than 72 million cartridges, as well as grenades, gun carriages, field artillery and canteens. The Richmond Armory had a capacity for manufacturing 5,000 small arms a month. There were also 8 flour mills, a paper mill, 13 carriage manufacturers, 10 saddle and harness makers, 4 gunsmiths, a sailmaker, 4 soap and candle manufacturers, 2 rolling mills, 14 slave traders, 14 hotels, 13 newspapers, 15 restaurants, 11 private schools, 26 druggists, 9 dentists, 72 doctors, 72 saloons, a canal and 5 railroads.

With a population of about 38,000, Richmond was the second largest city of the Confederacy, trailing only New Orleans. But for all its commercial success, prewar Richmond had kept a small-town atmosphere, probably because the social elite had been more or less constant for many years and all the leading families had known each other since childhood. But the war had brought great changes to Richmond, and its oldest citizens had trouble recognizing the city of their youth.

Situated at the headwaters of the James River, 110 miles from Washington, D.C., Richmond had become the symbol of secession to the North and the key to much of its military planning. For four years the city remained the Northern Army’s main military objective in the Eastern theater, requiring vast expenditures of men and materiel to keep it out of Union hands. Now it was a beleaguered city, not only from without but also from within. As the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond had seen an influx of thousands of people, many of them a much different sort than the patrician city was accustomed to. Along with the hundreds of regiments from farther south and thousands of people to staff the various government offices came swarms of unsavory speculators, gamblers, drifters, prostitutes and derelicts of every description. The population grew to 128,000, straining the physical and social resources of the city. Saloons, gambling halls, billiard parlors, cockfighting dens and houses of prostitution proliferated. One newspaper editor wrote disgustedly: ‘With the Confederate Government came the rag, tag and bobtail which ever pursue political establishments. The pure society of Richmond became woefully adulterated. Its peace was destroyed, its good name defiled it became a den of thieves, extortioners, substitutes, deserters and blacklegs.’

By March 1865, life in Richmond had become grim. Robert E. Lee’s force of 44,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia faced a Federal force of 128,000 in the 37 miles of trenches surrounding Richmond and Petersburg. February had seen the fall of Fort Fisher, N.C., the last major Confederate supply port. When available, flour sold for $1,500 a barrel, beef for $12-$15 a pound, butter for $20 a pound, and boots for $500 a pair. People subsisted mainly on cornbread soaked in bacon drippings, dried beans, and hot water with salt or brown sugar sprinkled on it, a barely palatable fare known as ‘Benjamin hardtack’ in honor of former Secretary of War Judah Benjamin. Mrs. William A. Simmons, whose husband was in the trenches, summed up living in Richmond in her diary of March 23, 1865: ‘Close times in this beleaguered city. You can carry your money in your market basket and bring home your provisions in your purse.’

A foreign businessman who had frequently been in ‘the metropolis of the Confederacy,’ paid another visit and noticed a ‘deathlike stillness’ as soon as he stepped from the train. ‘Everyone wore a haggard, scared look as if in apprehension of some great impending calamity,’ he noted. ‘I dared not ask a question, nor had I need to do so, as I felt too surely that the end was near. My first visit was to my banker, one who dealt largely in Confederate securities, and knew too well the ups and downs of the Confederate cause by the fluctuations of its paper. As soon as he could give me a private moment he said in a sad, low tone: ‘If you have any paper money put it into specie at once.”

Plans for the evacuation of the capital had been discussed by Confederate officials for nearly a year but never finalized, perhaps because to do so would have seemed too much like defeatism. The loss of Richmond, though becoming more and more likely as time went on, was an eventuality that most citizens chose to deny. They chose rather to expect miracles from their proud Southern military leaders, who had so dazzled the country for four long years.

The worsening military situation did, however, give more credence to those Confederates who favored a negotiated truce. Unfortunately, it also served to undermine whatever negotiating power the South might have had. There were two official attempts to negotiate a peace that might salvage some of the Confederacy and avoid forcing a fight to the finish. In early 1865, Vice President Alexander Stephens and Judge John A. Campell, assistant secretary of war, met Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward aboard the steamer River Queen near City Point, Va. They were informed that there could be no armistice without total dissolution of the Confederacy and unconditional restoration of the Union. Northern states were, at that very moment, voting on the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

In March, Robert E. Lee sent a truce flag to Grant proposing a ‘military convention’ to put an end to ‘the calamities of war.’ Grant wired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who replied on March 4, the day of Lincoln’s second inauguration, that Grant should not talk with Lee other than to discuss the capitulation of his army, and meanwhile should ‘press to the utmost your military advantage.’ For the second time in 1865, ‘the dove of peace departed,’ as one observer noted. That same day Lee learned of Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s crushing defeat at the hands of Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan near Waynesboro, Va., thus destroying his last hope for reinforcements. Lee met with Davis in Richmond to inform him of the necessity to abandon Richmond in the near future so that his army could link up with General Joseph Johnston’s army in North Carolina.

As March wore on, the signs of impending disaster became more and more obvious. Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge had given all War Department bureau chiefs standing evacuation orders. Ordnance Chief Josiah Gorgas recorded: ‘An order has been given to remove all cotton and tobacco preparatory to burning it. All departments have been ordered to move.’ A War Department clerk wrote: ‘Fearful orders have been given in the offices to keep the papers packed, except such as we are working on. The packed boxes remain in the front room, as if uncertainty existed about moving them. As we walk in every morning, all eyes are turned to the boxes to see if any have been removed, and we breathe more freely when we find them still there.’ Red flags began to line the residential streets, signifying the sale of furniture and the renting of houses to the highest bidder. Those who were able began preparing to flee the city.

Late in the evening of March 24, Lincoln arrived at City Point aboard River Queen for meetings with his generals. At the outset of talks with Grant, the commander in chief was shown a top-secret order now ready for implementation: ‘On the 29th instant the armies operating against Richmond will be moved to our left, for the double purpose of turning the enemy out of his present position around Petersburg and to insure the success of the cavalry under General Sheridan, which will start at the same time, in its efforts to reach and destroy the South Side and Danville railroads.’

Before dawn the following day, Lt. Gen. John B. Gordon launched a surprise Confederate attack against Fort Stedman, east of Petersburg near the City Point Railroad, the main Union supply route, in an attempt to break a hole in the Union line. Three hundred Confederate soldiers followed 50 woodcutters swinging axes as they smashed through the spiked chevaux-de-frise. The fort fell quickly in the surprise of the attack, and its battery was soon turned on the Union lines. Confederate forces rushed in and captured two more batteries before they were overwhelmed by the remaining Union artillery.

At the height of the battle, three forts behind Stedman that Gordon had hoped to capture and use against the enemy were found to be no more than abandoned ruins of old Confederate forts–of no use to anyone. The Confederate troops who had moved into the breach were now pinned down, and most of those who were not killed or wounded chose to surrender rather than run the gantlet of withering fire back to their lines. The battle was over by 8 a.m. Coupled with the losses suffered by Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill’s forces near Hatcher’s Run in an immediate counterattack ordered by Grant, Gordon’s actions cost Lee nearly 5,000 irreplaceable men. Federal forces lost about 2,080.

First reports of the battle filtering into Richmond lifted the spirits of the city, but later news of the reversal caused the evening Sentinel to play down the battle. ‘There was indeed a grand exhibition of fireworks, but no battle and scarcely anyone hurt,’ the paper reported misleadingly.

The following day Lee reported to Davis, ‘I fear now it will be impossible to prevent a junction between Grant and Sherman, nor do I deem it prudent that this army should maintain its position until the latter shall approach too near.’ Breckinridge wanted to know how much notice could be expected prior to evacuation, noting, ‘I have given the necessary orders in regard to commencing the removal of stores, & c., but, if possible, would like to know whether we may probably count on a period of ten or twelve days.’ Lee replied, ‘I know of no reason to prevent your counting upon the time suggested.’ The next day, Lee learned of Grant’s intended assault on his right.

On March 29 there was a parade of two newly formed black volunteer companies and three companies of convalescent white troops in Capitol Square. Since there were no uniforms available for them, it was not a very stirring display. But President Davis was probably too preoccupied to notice, busy as he was in preparing to send his own wife and family to Charlotte, N.C.

Varina Davis did not want to leave Richmond and pleaded with her husband to stay, but to no avail. He insisted that his headquarters must be in the field, and that his family’s presence would only serve to make him grieve rather than comforting him. ‘If I live you can come to me when the struggle is ended, but I do not expect to survive the destruction of constitutional liberty,’ he told his wife. Varina wrote that he gave her a pistol and showed her how to load, aim and fire it. ‘He was very apprehensive’ she recalled, ‘of our falling into the hands of the disorganized bands of troops roving about the country, and said, ‘You can, at least, if reduced to the last extremity, force your assailants to kill you, but I charge you solemnly to leave when you hear the enemy are approaching. If you cannot remain undisturbed in our country, make for the Florida coast and take a ship there for a foreign country.”

Keeping only a 5-dollar gold piece for himself, Davis gave his wife all the gold he had, but denied her request to bring a barrel of flour along, maintaining that no foodstuffs should leave the city, as those remaining behind would require them. Much of the Davises’ household goods had been sold in previous days, but in the haste to depart, the check was never cashed.

Varina Davis left the executive residence, ‘taking only our clothing’ and her four children: Maggie, 9 Jefferson Jr., 7 Billy, 3 and Winnie, 9 months. (It had been less than a year earlier, on April 30, that their 4-year-old son Joe had fallen to his death from the second-story rear porch of the executive mansion.) Accompanying Varina were her younger sister Margaret Jim Limber, a free black orphan who had been rescued from the streets of Richmond and virtually adopted by the Davis family and the daughters of Secretary of the Treasury George A. Trenholm. They were to be escorted on their journey by Burton Harrison, the president’s trusted personal secretary.

That evening the group drove through a cold drizzle to the Danville station. The rail stations had become scenes from bedlam by then, crowded with wealthy refugees attempting to escape the coming calamity with as many of their possessions as they could carry. Varina Davis wrote of her departure: ‘With hearts bowed down by despair, we left Richmond. Mr. Davis almost gave way, when our little Jeff begged to remain with him, and Maggie clung to him convulsively, for it was evident he thought he was looking his last upon us.’ The old, overworked engine stalled outside of Richmond and spent the night being repaired. Crackers and milk were found for Mrs. Davis’ children at great trouble and expense, costing $100 in Confederate money. The drizzle turned into a downpour.

The next day, Davis emptied his house of all edibles and packed them off to Richmond hospitals while Sheridan was at Grant’s headquarters convincing him to continue his offensive. Grant had begun to consider postponement, as the rains had made the roads nearly impassable. But Sheridan would have none of it. He insisted he would ‘corduroy every mile of the road from the railroad to Dinwiddie. I tell you I’m ready to strike out tomorrow and go to smashing things.’ Sheridan was anxious to ‘end the business here,’ as Grant had assured him they would just a week earlier. The next day, the rains slacked off, but the roads were still terrible. Sheridan pushed on from Dinwiddie toward Five Forks, the westernmost extremity of Lee’s line.

As Lee saw the threat to his rear develop, he dispatched Maj. Gen. George Pickett with a force of 12,000 to intercept Sheridan. With the element of surprise on their side, the Confederates managed to split Sheridan’s forces and drive them back to Dinwiddie for a time, but before dark, Sheridan had rallied his men with reinforcements from Maj. Gen. George A. Custer’s division and drove the Rebels back again to Five Forks. Both sides spent a wet night camped within a few hundred yards of each other.

The morning of April 1 was uneventful as Sheridan waited impatiently for Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Warren and his V Corps to arrive for the planned assault. Pickett reported to Lee about the previous day’s battle and was disgruntled by the tone of Lee’s reply: ‘Hold Five Forks at all hazards. Protect road to Ford’s Depot and prevent Union forces from striking the South Side Railroad. Regret exceedingly your forced withdrawal, and your inability to hold the advantage you had gained.’ This seemed a bit of a reprimand to Pickett, who felt he had repulsed the Federals and forced them to reconsider their offensive. Feeling sure of his position and thinking nothing of note would occur that day, Pickett deployed his men along the White Oak Road while he and Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee joined Brig. Gen. Tom Rosser for a shad bake. Warren’s Union V Corps finally arrived at the front that afternoon, and the attack was launched at 4 p.m. By the time Pickett made it back to his division, half of his men were either dead or captured.

George Alfred Townsend, reporter for the New York World, wrote of the Battle of Five Forks:’slant fire, cross fire and direct fire, by fire and volley, rolled in perpetually, cutting down their bravest officers and strewing the fields with bleeding men. Groans resounded in the intervals of exploding powder, and to add to their terror and despair, their own artillery, captured from them, threw into their own ranks, from its old position, ungrateful grape and canister, enfilading their breastworks, whizzing and plunging by air line and richochet.’

Sheridan later gloated: ‘Our success was unqualified we had overthrown Pickett, taken six guns, thirteen battle flags, and nearly 6,000 prisoners. Lee had not anticipated disaster at Five Forks.’ Sheridan sent word of the victory to Grant, who immediately ordered a massive bombardment of Petersburg and a general assault along the lines.

Sylvanus Cadwallader, of the New York Herald, under orders from Grant, brought the news of the victory at Five Forks, along with the captured battle flags, to President Lincoln at City Point. ‘As soon as I could convey my orders, he seized the flags, unfurled them one by one, and burst out, ‘Here is something material, something I can see, feel, and understand. This means victory! This is victory!”

At 4 a.m. on April 2, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet arrived at Lee’s headquarters at the Turnbull house to report on the progress of his reinforcements, who were making their way slowly south from Richmond by train. While the general was conferring with Lee and A.P. Hill, a staff colonel rushed into the room exclaiming that teamsters were rushing up the Cox Road past the Turnbull gate, apparently in flight from a Federal breakthrough somewhere near Hatcher’s Run. A wounded officer told of being driven from his quarters more than a mile behind the center of Hill’s line. Alarmed, the group stepped out the front door and could make out in the early morning fog lines of blue skirmishers headed toward them from the southwest. Lee turned to Longstreet and told him to hurry to the Petersburg station and direct his men west as quickly as they could be unloaded from their trains. He then turned to confer with Hill, only to see him rushing off toward his broken lines to attempt to rally his men. It was the last Lee was ever to see of ‘Little Powell,’ who was soon cut down by enemy marksmen. With enemy fire falling all around him, setting his headquarters afire as he surveyed the scene, Lee mounted Traveller and with defiant resignation began to withdraw his headquarters.

The morning readers of the Sentinel were encouraged by editorials claiming to be ‘very hopeful of the campaign which is opening,’ and anticipating ‘a large advantage.’ But waiting on Davis’ desk was a message from Lee warning that Grant’seriously threatens our position and diminishes our ability to maintain our present lines in front of Richmond and Petersburg. I fear he can cut both the South Side and the Danville railroads, being far superior to us in cavalry. This in my opinion obliges us to prepare for the necessity of evacuating our position on the James River at once, and also to consider the best means of accomplishing it, and our future course.’

Another message from Lee arrived at 10:40 a.m. at the War Department. ‘I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here till night,’ he advised Secretary Breckinridge. ‘I am not certain I can do that. I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.’Postmaster General John Reagan rushed the latest news to Davis, intercepting him and Governor Frank Lubbock on their way to St. Paul’s Church for morning services. The president appeared to Reagan to be distracted and unmoved by the news, continuing on to church. In the middle of the service, however, another telegram from Lee was delivered to Davis at his pew: ‘I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position tonight. I have given all the necessary orders on the subject to the troops, and the operation, though difficult, I hope will be performed successfully. I have directed General Stevens to send an officer to Your Excellency to explain the routes to you by which the troops will be moved to Amelia Courthouse, and furnish you with a guide and any assistance that you may require for yourself.’

Upon receiving the message, Davis rose quietly from his seat and left church, walking a block down 9th Street to his office in the War Department, and gave the necessary orders for evacuation of the city. After Davis’ departure in the middle of the service, people began to stream out of St. Paul’s, aware now that the dreaded hour was at hand. By midafternoon the peaceful Sunday was shattered by visible preparations for evacuation. Government clerks frantically loaded boxes on wagons or piled them up and burned them in the street. Army wagons rushed furiously to and fro on the streets. A pile of new, unsigned money fed a bonfire in front of the Capitol building. Officials opened the supply depots all over the city in an attempt to prevent their capture by the invaders. Matron Phoebe Pember of Chimborazo Hospital, home to some 5,000 wounded Confederates, recalled watching people lugging hams, bags of coffee, flour and sugar from the commissary department. Invalid soldiers even got out of their sickbeds to join in the spree.

Peter Helms Mayo, a 29-year-old private in the Governor’s Mounted Guard, had been supervising the movement of troops by train between Richmond and Petersburg for the previous 48 hours without sleep and with little food. He was contacted shortly after noon by Major D.H. Wood. ‘He ordered me to report immediately to the War Department to General A.R. Lorton, Quartermaster General,’ Mayo said. ‘Him I quickly found and received instructions to have prepared at once a special train to move over the Richmond and Danville Railroad to carry the President, his cabinet, their effects and horses and further to prepare in quick succession all other available engines and cars to move from the city the gold and other many valuables of the Treasury and the archives of all the other departments.

‘The engines and cars were kept in constant use on the road in transporting army supplies and other necessaries. Moreover, the railroads from the city were built on different grades and without connecting tracks, so the problem of supplying all the trains needed in this great and sudden demand was a most serious and perplexing one.

‘Then, too, it was Sunday, and the train crews were much scattered, with no expectation or intimation of any emergency call, as was often the case on the other troop moving roads. The crews and trains were in number far below what was needed. But the shrill signal, given by the road’s old shifting engine, as the engineer had been instructed to give it in certain contingencies, summoned the men.’

The train stations were sealed off to everyone except those with military passes. Judith McGuire recalled: ‘Baggage wagons, carts, drays and ambulances were driving about the streets everyone was going off that could go, and now there were all the indications of alarm and excitement of every kind which could attend such an awful scene. The people were rushing up and down the streets, vehicles of all kinds were flying along, bearing goods of all sorts and people of all ages and classes who could go beyond the corporation lines. We tried to keep ourselves quiet.’

When the McGuires tried to hire a servant to go to Camp Jackson to fetch their sister they were brusquely told that their money was worthless. ‘We are in fact penniless,’ they concluded.

The city council met at 4 o’clock that afternoon to deliberate upon the best course of action. Fearing mob violence, they asked that the two city regiments, the 1st and 19th Second Class Militia, be retained for the protection of the city. It was further resolved that all liquor be destroyed, with government receipts given to the owners.

At about the same time, Admiral Rafael Semmes, of the James River Fleet, received orders from Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory to destroy his fleet under cover of darkness and outfit his men for infantry duty with Lee. Sixty naval cadets off the training ship Patrick Henry were sent to guard the treasury shipment out of Richmond. With bayonets fixed, they marched through the streets escorting the wagons of bullion and specie and various paper to the Richmond and Danville Railroad station, where they boarded the ‘Treasury Train.’

With the fall of night, the troop withdrawal from the trenches began. First came Charles Field’s division, then Joseph Kershaw’s, then Custis Lee’s, leaving only pickets with orders to withdraw just before daybreak. The sight of the army retreating through the streets of Richmond was disheartening to inhabitants, and what had been during the day a confused but mainly orderly populace turned into an unruly and dangerous mob as the night wore on. Stragglers and deserters were joined by prisoners abandoned by their fleeing guards. The mob became further incited, as many had feared, when Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell began to carry out his orders to set fire to all tobacco, cotton and munitions warehouses, as well as machine shops and other government buildings, to prevent their capture by the enemy. The mob set more fires indiscriminately, and with a strong breeze fanning the flames, they soon spread. Men and women were seen throwing sacks of flour out one side of the Gallego Flour Mill while flames danced out from the windows of the opposite side.

The city council’s committees began pouring out and smashing all the liquor bottles that could be found, but much of the liquor fell into the mob’s hands, either through unbroken bottles or by being scooped out of the gutter with whatever implements were available. Wrote Nellie Gray: ‘Barrels of liquor were broken open and the gutters ran with whiskey and molasses. There were plenty of straggling soldiers about who had too much whiskey rough women and many negroes were drunk. The air was filled with yells, curses, cries of distress, and horrid songs.’

‘From that moment,’ concluded another sober citizen, ‘law and order ceased to exist: chaos came and pandemonium reigned.’ The river of liquor inevitably caught fire, and its eery blue flames quickly spread through the city.

Davis’ Cabinet’s train finally pulled out of the station around 11 p.m., having sat in the station long enough for those aboard to witness the beginnings of the conflagration that was to consume their capital. The train itself was as loaded down as possible, with passengers on top of the carriage and hanging from every conceivable hold on the platforms and stairs. The entire Cabinet was on board except for Breckinridge, who was to remain behind and finalize the evacuation, then join Lee and bring a report to wherever Davis and the government might be at that time. All were in a somber mood except Judah Benjamin, ever the optimist, who espoused historical examples of causes that had survived setbacks worse than they were now experiencing. Trenholm shared a demijohn of peach brandy he had brought to ease the pain of his neuralgia. Postmaster Reagan kept ‘whittling a stick down to the little end of nothing without ever reaching a satisfactory point.’ He would still recall with a shudder years afterward ‘the terrible tenseness of that one night.’ One resident later recalled, ‘The scream and rumble of the cars never ceased all that weary night, and was perhaps the most painful sound to those left behind.’

It was about midnight when the wagon bearing A.P. Hill’s body finally creaked up to the old Court of Appeals building, where Assistant Paymaster G. Powell Hill waited. With the wagon was Henry Hill, the general’s nephew. The body was without benefit of coffin. The two Hills set out to find one and found the government stores on 12th, 13th, Main and Cary streets broken into, and in many instances sacked and fired. The two men entered Belvin’s Furniture Store and, finding no clerks to help them,’selected’ their own coffin.

Sometime after 2 in the morning, the James River Fleet was set afire by Semmes, after which he led his 500 men on a desperate search for an escape route, finally commandeering a locomotive from a siding for their escape. The flagship CSS Virginia, loaded with munitions, exploded mightily, sending rockets with lighted fuses out in all directions and lighting up the sky for many minutes. One Union lieutenant observed from his vantage point: ‘The earth shook where we were and there flashed out a glare of light as of noonday, while the fragments of the vessel, pieces of timber and other stuff, fell among my pickets, who had not yet moved from the position where they had been posted for the night watch.’

Just before dawn, General Ewell ordered his men to take control of Mayo’s bridge at the foot of 14th Street, the only remaining bridge across the James, and guard it until the Confederate cavalry could come safely across, then fire the bridge. Just as the troops reached the bridge, however, the arsenal, reputed to have contained 750,000 loaded projectiles, exploded over their heads. Francis Lawley of the London Times wrote that the blast shook ‘every building in Richmond to its foundations. As the first streak of dawn heralded the day a vast column of dense black smoke shot into the air, a huge, rumbling earthquake-like reverberation rent the ground, and the store of gunpowder garnered in the city magazine passed out of existence.’

Fannie Walker, who had not ‘dared to lie down or think of sleeping’ all night, was walking downstairs when the magazine went up, ‘and before I knew it I found myself flat. Glass was falling all around.’

Finally, the South Carolina Cavalry approached from the southeast, the rear guard of Lee’s army. As the last of the men rode across the bridge, the officer shouted to the chief engineer, ‘All over, good-bye, blow her to hell!’ The barrels of tar placed along the bridge were torched, and soon the flames were shooting high into the air above the bridge.

The 4th Massachusetts Cavalry came down Osborne Pike right behind. Phoebe Pember remembered: ‘A single bluejacket rose over the hill, standing transfixed with astonishment at what he saw. Another and another sprang up, as if out of the earth, but still all remained quiet. About 7 o’clock there fell upon the ear the steady clatter of horse’s hooves, and winding around Rocketts came a small and steady compact body of Federal cavalry in splendid condition, riding closely and steadily along.’ She was too far away to realize that the soldiers were black, but she did see 80-year-old Major Joseph Mayo riding out in his carriage under a white flag to surrender the city to them.

The heat of the flames in the city forced the cavalrymen to change their route from Main Street to 14th Street. When they reached Capitol Square, they found it jammed with people seeking refuge from the flames, huddled under the linden trees for protection from the sparks. Furniture and possessions were stacked and scattered in every direction, family treasures that some had managed to save from the flames.

Brigadier General George F. Shepley was appointed military governor of Richmond, since he had occupied a similar position in New Orleans after its capture in 1862. Union troops were immediately put to work putting out the rampaging fires. This was mainly accomplished by tearing down complete rows of buildings to create firebreaks. The mobs were dispersed at bayonet point, and guards were posted to prevent further looting. Major General Godfrey Weitzel dispatched to Grant: ‘We took Richmond at a quarter past eight this morning.’ Nellie Gray agreed that it was exactly 8 o’clock when ‘the Confederate flag that fluttered above the Capitol came down and the Stars and Stripes were run up. We knew what that meant! The song On To Richmond was ended. Richmond was in the hands of the Federals. We covered our faces and cried aloud. All through the house was the sound of sobbing. It was as the house of mourning, the house of death.’

Richmond had indeed lived through a long and terrible night, and had awakened to a new and different future. The following day President Lincoln would come and tour the city. In a week, Lee would surrender his forces to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. In little more than a month, Jeff Davis himself would be taken prisoner in Georgia. But now, for Richmond, the war was over.

This article was written by Ken Bivin and originally appeared in the May 1995 issue of America’s Civil War magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to America’s Civil War magazine today!


Northern Virginia, before Europeans explored it, was firmly governed by the Iroquois Confederacy—a consortium of Native American nations and peoples including the Tauxenents, Patawomekes, and Matchotics. Local inhabitants considered the Little Falls of the Potomac River as highly significant—it is the first "cataract", or barrier, to navigation on the river. [1]

The word "Potomac" is Native American for "gathering place". This reflected the fact that the river served as both a highway and location for trading.

Captain John Smith of England was the first European to explore the Potomac as far as Little Falls. When he arrived there he noted "as for deer, buffaloes, bears and turkeys, the woods do swarm with them and the soil is extremely fertile." [2]

The Colony of Virginia grew out of these explorations, and English settlers may have established themselves at the site of modern-day Falls Church as early as 1699. A cottage demolished between 1908 and 1914, two blocks from the city center, bore a stone engraved with the date "1699" set into one of its two large chimneys. No colonial-era land grants or land records have been unearthed reflecting upon this first home, and its origin remains uncertain. [3]

Indian trails meandered past the site of the 1699 cabin—an east-west one generally following the route of modern Broad Street, and one branching off from it to the Little Falls of the Potomac—today's Little Falls Street. By the 1730s these trails became important transportation routes.

In 1734 The Falls Church—as it came to be known—was founded at its present site adjacent to the intersection of the important Indian trails. At that time churches were outposts of government as well as worship. Not only was the Church of England—the official church of the Colony—wishing to make inroads in the vast wilderness of Northern Virginia, but the Colony's leaders wished to establish a beachhead of civilization as well. [4]

Two acres were purchased from John Trammell, a local landowner, and a carpenter named Richard Blackburn built a wooden church. This stood until 1769, when the present brick church was designed and built by architect James Wren. George Washington, the future president, kept the bricklayer at his home in Mount Vernon. Washington, along with George Mason—the future author of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution—was a church vestryman. [5]

Originally called "the crossroads near Michael Reagan's", the site of the church first appears on a map dated 1747, and is labeled the "Upper Church". It was also called "the church up at the falls", and then eventually, The Falls Church.

The church was on the route of British colonial troops en route to the forks of the Ohio River on April 7, 1755. Part of Major General Edward Braddock's British army engaged in fighting the French during the French and Indian War. Modern-day Broad Street was locally called Braddock's Road for decades afterward. [6]

Important and influential men attended The Falls Church and served as its vestrymen. In addition to George Washington and George Mason were John West and Charles Broadwater.

When colonial relations with Great Britain began souring, the Colony of Virginia helped lead the resistance. And Falls Church vestrymen George Mason, John West and Charles Broadwater were deeply involved. Mason wrote the "Fairfax Resolves", a set of 24 separate resolutions, each beginning with the word, "Resolved …", calling for specific actions. The men were members of Virginia's revolutionary council meeting in Williamsburg, the royal capital. The council instructed Virginia's delegates at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to introduce a resolution calling for independence. Virginia's delegate did so, and the Congress passed the motion on July 2. The Declaration of Independence was issued July 4. [7]

During the war which followed, George Washington remained a Falls Church vestryman until resigning his post in 1784. He had been unable to attend to his duties on the church vestry during the war while leading the continental armies. He later was elected first president of the United States. [8]

The Falls Church played a role during the Revolution—local leaders recruited men to serve in the colonial militia. And, it is said a copy of the new Declaration of Independence arrived from Philadelphia and was read to citizens from the steps of The Falls Church sometime during the summer of 1776. [9]

Methodism came to the Falls Church area in 1776—a different kind of revolution—as church meetings began to be held on "Church Hill", a home at present-day Seven Corners. In 1779, the wooden Adams's Chapel or Fairfax Chapel was built in what is now Oakwood Cemetery in Falls Church's eastern end. This was the site of "Black Harry" Hosier's first sermon in 1781. [10] The original church was replaced with another building and finally by a sturdy and substantial brick chapel in 1819. The structure was still in use until torn down by Union soldiers during the Civil War in 1862. [11]

In 1790, the District of Columbia was created. It was surveyed in 1791–1792, and boundary marker stones were placed in the wilderness at one-mile (1.6 km) intervals. Two are in the City of Falls Church today—the West Cornerstone on Meridian Street, marking what is now the intersection of the boundaries of the City of Falls Church, Arlington County, and Fairfax County, and the Southwest 9 stone on Van Buren Street.

In about 1800, Fairfax County built a new court house. It was designed by James Wren, a Falls Church innkeeper who also designed The Falls Church. Both buildings survive and are in use today. Wren's inn was well known. President Thomas Jefferson wrote Secretary of State James Madison in 1801, warning him of the perilous nature of the public roads in Northern Virginia, and advised, "You had better start as soon as you can see to drive, breakfast at Colonel Wren's, and come here for dinner." [12]

War with Britain loomed again, and what some historians call the "Second War of Independence" broke out in 1812. By 1814 the tide had turned against the Americans. In August British forces, marching overland through Maryland, threatened the capital city.

The federal government fled. Colonel George Minor of Minor's Hill—overlooking Falls Church—and his 700-man Virginia Militia 60th Regiment were summoned from Falls Church on August 23, 1814, to Washington, which they were assigned to defend. However, due to bureaucratic bungling among War Department officials, they were not sent to help defend the approaches to Washington at Bladensburg, Maryland, nor did many of them come armed.

As events at the Battle of Bladensburg worsened, government officials began evacuating the city. At that time the Washington Navy Yard was an important fleet center, and its gunpowder was hurriedly moved across the bridges into Virginia, and brought to Falls Church for safekeeping, protected by a six-man guard dispatched by Colonel Minor.

Government officials also fled the city, including President James Madison, who came to Minor's Hill looking for his wife, Dolley—a friend of the colonel's wife—before hurrying downhill into Falls Church. He, the nation's attorney general, and his entourage struggled through the chaotic and crowded roads toward Falls Church, eventually arriving at Wren's Tavern.

Mrs. Madison, separated in the chaos of that night from her husband, fled to the safety of Colonel Minor's home on Minor's Hill, and spent two nights there.

British troops torched Washington, burning it to the ground. The conflagration lit the nighttime skies at Falls Church, where a young refugee from Alexandria later recalled being awakened and taken outside to see Washington burn. "At first I thought the world was on fire. Such a flame I have never seen since." [13]

Local internal improvements were initiated in 1829 by the private Middle Turnpike Company, which built a turnpike to connect the end of King Street in Alexandria to Dranesville, from where it connected with the Leesburg Turnpike. From Alexandria through Falls Church it followed the colonial-era ridge road. Tolls began being collected in 1839. [14]

Another new road connected Falls Church with other points east in 1852, when the new Aqueduct Road connected a bridge by the same name across the Potomac River with Fairfax Court House. Its route from the river to Falls Church became modern-day Wilson Boulevard. [15]

Roads helped connect Falls Church with larger trading centers, and the village began to prosper. A larger population called for more forms of religious expression, and a local Presbyterian congregation was launched in 1848. Columbia Baptist Church was formed in 1856 and built itself a two-story wooden New England-style church house on East Broad Street, adjacent to The Falls Church. [16]

Rail travel arrived in 1860 when the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad opened. The railroad linked Alexandria with Virginia's mountain counties. It shortened the transit from Falls Church to Alexandria from a half-day on the Turnpike to only 35 minutes on the train. [17]

A post office was established at Falls Church in 1849. New residents, many from northern states, were arriving and building fine homes. Solid and unpretentious, but well-built, many of these are still in existence today, and their architectural styles recall their owners' New England and Upper Atlantic origins and craftsmanship. [18]

The American Civil War proved to be a turning point in the history of Falls Church. It was almost two different communities in pre-war and post-war years. Prior to the war it was a sleepy and rural Southern community. During Reconstruction and later, however, many of its institutions and families were splintered, and its landscape was altered for decades.

Setting the stage Edit

Prior to the war Falls Church was not entirely Southern in nature. Numerous northern-born residents had moved to the area, building fine homes and establishing profitable farms and businesses. They lived in harmony with Falls Church's native Virginians. [19]

This all changed with the fateful—and unsuccessful—raid by radical abolitionist John Brown on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. Brown, who was captured by U.S. authorities and hanged, inspired a groundswell of support throughout the North for the abolition of slavery. Southerners were shocked. For the first time, the picture had been painted in starkly differing terms. Northerners appeared willing—even eager—to overturn the established order throughout the South, with clear and grave injury to those who lived there, it seemed to Southerners. [20]

In Fairfax County the talk was of little else. The issue of slavery became a subject of much discussion. Feelings and differences hardened. Events far to the south framed the debate almost in an almost electrify manner. South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, followed in quick order by several other Deep South states. In Virginia the viewpoint was much more moderate. Many called for calm and appealed for peace. The matter was put to a referendum on May 23, 1861 and Virginians went to polling stations to decide the future of the Commonwealth.

Feelings throughout the Falls Church region were inflamed by this point, and the polling did not take place peacefully. Armed men belonging to Virginia's Rappahannock Cavalry and Fairfax Cavalry intimidated pro-Union voters, many of whom felt physically threatened. And with reason: in the days following, many northern-born residents fled Falls Church to the safety of Washington. [21]

Virginia voters removed the Commonwealth from the Union. In Fairfax County the vote was overwhelmingly for secession. In Falls Church the vote was closer—although 44–26 in favor of secession. On that day and in following days families split over the secession question. Churches closed as their congregations failed and congregants fled. Columbia Baptist Church—considered primarily a Northern church—was set aflame, presumably by Southern sympathizers. [22]

At the precipice Edit

The summer of 1861 was an exciting one for Falls Church by anyone's reckoning. Virginia was no longer in the Union, and all were nervous about what was to follow. Many local men enlisted in various Virginia military regiments, and left the area to join the growing Confederate army.

Northern commanders were certain the would-be Southern army would soon be vanquished, once and for all. Their theory was soon tested by the war's first massive engagement—at Manassas, Virginia, only 23 miles (37 km) from Falls Church. As the battle wore on, the roar of the thundering cannon was clearly heard in Falls Church. Soon weary Union soldiers began passing through Falls Church, heading toward Washington. The few became many, and finally it was clear the Union army was in chaotic retreat from what was becoming a catastrophic loss to the south.

Thousands of soldiers streamed through Falls Church, in a rush for the safety of Washington. The Confederate Army was close behind, and soon had occupied the village as well as the hills immediately to its east: Munson's and Upton's hills, with their views overlooking Washington, D.C. itself. [23]

During that summer Falls Church became regional Confederate headquarters—what is now the historic Lawton House, on Lawton Street, hosted General P.G.T. Beauregard, and others—as the Confederate government grappled with what to do next. Invade Washington from its powerful perch along the hills?

Confederate regiments made incursions across what is now Arlington County as far as Ball's Crossroads—modern Ballston—and lethal firefights occurred constantly as the lines of the two armies became entangled. From Munson's Hill the Southerners could clearly see the U.S. Capitol, and much of the city, through their looking glasses (telescopes), and the broad, flat plain of Bailey's Crossroads became a "killing field" as sharpshooters killed anyone seen walking there. [24]

On September 28, 1861 this stage of events ended. Confederate troops withdrew quietly from Falls Church and its hills, retreating to the heights at Centreville, which they fortified. The Southern leadership decided an all-out attack on Washington would likely fail, given they had to cross the river bridges to do it. And staying in Falls Church seemed risky—their supply lines could easily be broken by the Union army if it launched pincer movements from Chain Bridge southward. Centreville, by contrast, was located adjacent to the interior of Virginia, with which it had excellent road and railroad connections.

Union troops quickly reoccupied Munson's and Upton's hills, and much of Falls Church itself, although the village was never entirely brought under Union rule. [25]

A difficult journey Edit

From this point armed conflict shifted to the south, and later to the west and north. Falls Church and its hills, which had been featured prominently in the international press, faded from public view. But the area remained perennially unsettled. Union rule did not extend much past the modern-day city center areas just a few hundred yards to the south and west, along what is now West Broad Street and South Washington Street, entered "rebel territory" where Northerners went only under armed guard.

Small firefights were common in these areas, and occasionally larger clashes occurred. In November 1861 large forces of Confederate cavalry engaged an outgunned New York regiment in the vicinity of present-day Lee Highway and West Street, and also Lakeford Drive. Several hundred soldiers took part in these clashes, one of which played a role in making national history.

The clash in question, at Binn's Hill (Lee Highway at West Street), interrupted a Union troop review under way on Upton's Hill. The review ended quickly as soldiers quickly deployed toward Falls Church to relieve the outgunned New Yorkers. An observer, Julia Ward Howe—who had shared a carriage from Washington to Upton's Hill with the governor of Massachusetts and several other notables—returned with them to the city. It was after dark, and Howe was struck by the mental images—of burnished arms glittering in the flame from hundreds of campfires. On the way back their carriage shared the narrow Aqueduct Road (modern Wilson Boulevard) with soldiers, who sang as the marched.

One song they sang was John Brown's Body. "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave …", the lyrics went. One person in the carriage, knowing Howe sometimes wrote poetry, suggested she should pen new, less violent words to the tune. "How I wish I might!", Howe agreed.

Early the next morning she awakened in her hotel room to realize words were forming themselves in her mind. She realized they seemed important, and quickly got up and inked them to paper, lest they be forgotten. They were published in February 1862 in Atlantic Monthly as lyrics set to the song, "John Brown's Body". The song, "Battle Hymn of the Republic", quickly became popular throughout the North, and remains popular today. [26]

Another battle was fought at Manassas—the Second Battle of Manassas, ending in a second resounding loss for the Union. Washington again was shocked, and threatened by the possibility of Confederate invasion. The balance of power was again shifting in the Falls Church area—the presumed path to be taken by the Confederates.

Fortifications atop Upton's Hill were quickly manned, and area fortifications were expanded. Fort Ramsay—on Upton's Hill at the present-day intersection of Wilson Boulevard with McKinley Avenue—and Fort Buffalo—in present-day Seven Corners, at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Sleepy Hollow Road—were completed. Photographs and lithographs from that time show them to be large masonry forts bearing numerous cannon emplacements and hundreds of soldiers.

Minor's Hill, overlooking the village of Falls Church from the north, did not host formal earthworks or large-scale fortifications, but became home to at least seven Union regiments of soldiers from throughout the Northern states. Only then did Washington feel more secure.

The only known full-color lithograph of Falls Church or environs known to exist dates from this time and place. It depicts Camp Owen, the encampment of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry Regiment, on Minor's Hill. It shows rows of orderly tents, parading soldiers, visiting dignitaries, and prancing ponies. It was published as the cover to the history of the Civil War in Falls Church, entitled A Virginia Village Goes to War: Falls Church During the Civil War. The original lithograph is now on file in the public library in Falls Church, as are copies of the book. [27]

The Gray Ghosts Edit

As the war ground toward an unsteady conclusion, Southern guerrillas made their mark. One group of soldiers, known as Mosby's Raiders, were so effective at slipping in and out of the areas they targeted that their leader, Colonel John Mosby, was called the "Gray Ghost". The raiders made several armed incursions into the heart of Falls Church in 1864 and 1865, the last occurring no more than a couple of months before General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox. They were attempting to kidnap and kill suspected Northern sympathizers who were thought to be actively aiding the Northern army.

One nocturnal raid netted John Read, a local minister who offended Southern sensibilities by teaching black slaves to read. This was against Virginia law. He was also accused of passing intelligence on to Northern army agents. He was shot and killed twelve miles (19 km) west of Falls Church, and his teenage daughter and wife were granted safe passage the next day to come for his body. He is buried in the grave yard of the Falls Church (Episcopal). [28]

War's End Edit

The North never won the war in the Falls Church area. The area was never pacified, and federal troops had to garrison it in large numbers through the end of the conflict. With the Southern surrender things became much quieter in the village, as local residents returned to their homes and put down swords for ploughshares.

In the years to follow Falls Church recovered its prosperity. Local farmers tore down the massive earthworks and fortifications so the pastures and fields could be used again. The Falls Church (Episcopal) was repaired by the government. But some institutional divisions remained. The Methodist congregation—which fragmented into three congregations as a result of the war—still remain so to this day (Dulin United Methodist Church was the Southern congregation, Christ Crossman was the Northern congregation, and Galloway was the African-American congregation).

During the 1950s a massive wave of commercial and residential development swept outward from Washington, engulfing the Falls Church area. Almost all Civil War sites were built over. Upton's and Munson's hills now host a large shopping center and its satellite centers called Seven Corners, and homes cover almost all other sites. [29]

Following the Civil War local African-Americans established prosperous communities in an area then called South Falls Church, along Tinner's Hill and elsewhere. Frederick Forrest Foote, Jr., a local black man, served as a Falls Church town council member from 1880–1889. Foote's election to council followed the time of Reconstruction imposed on former Confederate states and illustrated the high regard in which he was held by local townspeople. [30]

A local setback for blacks occurred, however, in 1887 when white Falls Church residents successfully gerrymandered heavily black South Falls Church out of the town limits. This was never reversed, and caused the boundary of the future City of Falls Church to follow South Washington Street. [31]

In 1875 Falls Church was incorporated as a town. Its first town ordinance regulated fireworks, guns and pistols. [32]

Schooling improved dramatically in 1875 when classes began to be held in Columbia Baptist Church. In 1882 a new school opened on North Cherry Street, the Jefferson Institute Elementary School. It was built of brick and included an imposing belfry. It was used until torn down in 1956.

With schooling came the need for additional civilization, and in 1885 the Village Improvement Society was founded. It became the premier cultural organization, and continues today as the Village Preservation and Improvement Society. [33]

War with Spain in 1898, at first blush, had little to do with Falls Church. However, it came to impact it in big ways.

Local resident Parker Galpin, whose family farm was in what is now Seven Corners, was aboard the USS Maine when the ship exploded and sank in Havana harbor. Galpin survived, unlike many shipmates.

Once the war began in earnest the military began looking for ground on which to train army recruits near Washington, D.C. It located farm ground just outside Falls Church—two square miles south of Lee Highway, bounded by Graham Road, Gallows Road, and extending south of what is now U.S. Route 50. This became Camp Alger, home of the U.S. Second Corps—over twenty regiments comprising almost 30,000 soldiers. [34]

Transportation and logistics were problematic. East Falls Church's railroad station was overwhelmed local residents pressed their horses and buggies into service providing taxi service to and from the camp.

Health was also an issue, as potable water proved in short supply. Perhaps as a result, Typhoid Fever broke out in mid-July 1898. The soldiers blamed this on the lack of water, and called it "Water Typhoid." Most of the 73 deaths to occur during the camp's existence were from Typhoid. [35]

On May 22, 1898 President William McKinley provided Camp Alger with its biggest day as he brought cabinet secretaries and dignitaries for a grand review of troops. 15,000 soldiers paraded before the president. However, all did not go according to plan. When the president arrived by train at East Falls Church he was met by an honor guard of troops, who proudly escorted him to the camp. However,

. the yellow Virginia dust commenced to rise, and with the pounding of almost 200 horses' hoofs on a heavy trot, the suffocating ochreous cloud was so thick that only the troopers directly in front could be distinguished, and then only as faint silhouettes, the sides of the road being lost to view. After a bit the order came to part, allowing the presidential party, which had been choking in the dust, to the forefront.

The War of 1898 was the country's shortest war. In quick time the U.S. Navy sank the Spanish fleets at Cuba and the Philippines, and the war concluded. Camp Alger closed, although it was described as "a bleak sand waste" for years to come. [36]

Falls Church, as Fairfax County's largest town, was also its most modern and advanced. Within a few years of the turn of the century it had acquired a town library, telephone, telegraph, and electric and gas service. By 1904 the town's first historian described Falls Church as the place where

. the tired city man can afford all of the enjoyment of retirement and tranquility. With an abundance of green lawns, well shaded walks and drives, pure water, good schools and the necessary stores, what more could the seeker desire to complete his ideal of a country home. Falls Church welcomes the jaded fathers and mothers from the city to the place where children may enjoy life with nature, where the climate, conducive to refreshing sleep, soothes tired nerves and makes life to such again buoyant with youthful hopes and joys. [37]

For everyone, not just Falls Church, all seemed a permanent and perennial path to progress. But this was rudely interrupted by the outbreak, in 1914, of what became World War I. At this juncture Falls Church narrowly avoided an event which would have reshaped it forever, and changed its future completely.

Once again—as it had in the War of 1898—the U.S. War Department began scouting out land near Washington which to establish a training base for soldiers. Army officials inspected old Camp Alger, perhaps as a result of the intensive efforts of the Fairfax Herald to excite interest in the site. "SELECT OLD CAMP ALGER", the newspaper boomed. [38]

The Army felt otherwise, however, and selected instead the site which is known today as Fort Belvoir. That installation, with its present-day extensive military infrastructure and thousands of employees, would have meant a very different Falls Church.

Falls Church residents, like those everywhere, experienced the difficulties of wartime living. They were urged to observe meatless Tuesdays and wheatless Mondays and Wednesdays—with at least one meal per day being meatless and another being wheatless. In support of this effort they ate an unappetizing concoction called "Victory Bread", which was wheatless bread prepared using alternative ingredients. Wheat was later joined by sugar and flour among the list of rationed foods.

Nonetheless, residents were urged to give, give, and give some more—and they did. Several societies, such as the Village Improvement Society (today's Village Preservation and Improvement Society) led fundraising drives and Liberty Loan drives, netting surprising amounts of money. [39]

Mass movements of refugees and soldiers during the war enabled and unleashed one of the world's worst plagues—the so-called Spanish flu (so-named because even the king of Spain came down with it), which went on to attack almost 50% of the world's population. Falls Church and the portions of Fairfax County closest to Alexandria were particularly hard hit. Schools and churches closed and all meetings of any kind were suspended for over a month in October and November 1918, in an attempt to break the chain of transmission. Before the influenza subsided it killed 531 people in Fairfax County, which included Falls Church. [40]

World War I is especially memorable in Falls Church history for knitting together the last vestiges of separation left from an earlier war. At the close of the American Civil War the northern-born and southern-born residents of Falls Church each kept to themselves, with long memories of who was who. This ended during World War I, as the village formed a home defense league, the Colonial Rifles, which was active throughout the war. The ensuing sense of patriotism united these two groups in a sense of neighborliness and common cause they had not shared since 1860. [41]

As the post-war economy accelerated into the "Roaring Twenties", the lack of roads became increasingly seen as a detriment to growth and development. "The automobile was born into a roadless world," mused one Washington editorialist. This was certainly true in Falls Church. It was an era in which roads and highways developed by local usage and not through concerted government policy. They bore names, not numbers, and were usually short-haul transportation routes. [42]

Falls Church came to benefit from the efforts of a national group called the Lee Highway Association, which endeavored to build a coast-to-coast highway across the southern United States, to be named in honor of Robert E. Lee. Their intent was to match efforts to build a similar highway across the northern tier of states, to be named for Abraham Lincoln.

Falls Church businessmen, recognizing the potential value, convinced the Association to route its proposed new highway through the town. They formed a local branch of the association, which rallied efforts, paid substantial subscription fees, and arranged large-scale private financing to get the road built. They road they proffered—the present Lee Highway, U.S. Route 29—was barely a road but in name. Between Falls Church and Fairfax Court House it was a narrow dirt track.

Their efforts paid off—handsomely. Real estate agents in Falls Church reported 1,000% increases in sales and 100% increases in value of property adjacent to the new highway.

Buoyed by its success, the Lee Highway Association local chapters immediately began plugging for a new Lee Memorial Boulevard—a landscaped parkway to link Washington, D.C. with the Shenandoah Valley. Falls Church businessmen were among its most ardent financial backers, and the road—now Arlington Boulevard (U.S. Route 50) was to pass directly through Falls Church. But the economics of providing as much available road frontage caused them to shift the route just outside the town limit, so that it passed to the south and through what is now Seven Corners. [43]

There were several Falls Churches to begin with—South Falls Church, which was gerrymandered to Fairfax County in the 1880s and soon ceased to be called such West Falls Church and the village center of Falls Church, sometimes just called "the village", both of which were in Fairfax County, and East Falls Church, which was in Arlington County. The three together formed the Town of Falls Church, which straddled the county boundary. [44]

Sentiment for separation of East Falls Church was first raised in 1921, and simmered until separation occurred in 1936—a result of its disgruntled citizens, who cited "intolerable confusion of overlapping governmental agencies." East Falls Church ceased to exist, and much of it today lies under the route of Interstate Highway 66. [45]

The interwar years saw the first of what would be many contentious fights over trees in Falls Church. Increasing traffic caused the state highway department to plan to cut the beautiful silver maples lining Falls Church's Broad Street. As community opposition to the plans grew, even the Parent-Teacher Association became involved—on the side of the trees, of course. Both sides managed victory: the aging trees were cut and the street was widened, and the state highway department planted new shade trees to line it. [46]

Falls Church was to have a home designed by a famous architect during the inter-war years—if only he would agree. "Of course I will give you a house," responded architect Frank Lloyd Wright to the request by Loren Pope, a Falls Church resident. The Pope-Leighey House, as it would later be called, was built at 1005 Locust Street, just outside the town limit. Nestled in rolling woodland, the house was a Usonian home with concrete floors coated with red-colored wax, piano hinges on the doors, and radiant heating. Wright visited Falls Church numerous times during construction in 1940. [47]

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Falls Church and Fairfax County, of which the town was still a part, began immediate preparations for World War II. Rubber came to be in short supply due to the loss of the rubber plantations of Southeast Asia to the Japanese. Several foods also came to be rationed. In all, rationing was soon observed for gasoline, shoes, farm machinery, long-distance telephone service, stoves, fat, sugar, coffee, and processed foods. [48]

Falls Church established an aircraft observation post at Oakwood Cemetery, and staffed it 24 hours per day, seven days per week, with 350 volunteers. They were known as air raid wardens, and maintained responsibility for the sky watch all the way to Washington. Their hilltop headquarters in the cemetery was linked by special telephone to a command and control facility. [49]

During part of the war, until the invasions of Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed in Falls Church with his brother, Milton, whose home was Tallwood, on East Broad Street. Later the general, who worked 18-hour days, wrote, "I cannot remember ever seeing their house in daylight during all the months I served in Washington." Upon the general's arrival home each night Milton's wife, Helen, always prepared the general a pot of cocoa to help him get to sleep. [50]

A massive wave of development washed over the Falls Church area as it participated in the rapid growth of the greater Washington area. Fields and farms, which had always separated the town from its neighbors, were rapidly developed into housing. Seven Corners, one of the region's first suburban shopping malls, opened in 1956. Its success was followed by the opening of Tyson's Corner in 1966. Their cumulative effect was to shrink Falls Church's business market considerably. [51]

Nonetheless, Falls Church opted to leave Fairfax County and form an independent city in 1948. Its reasons were simple: town residents valued education, and wanted better schools with as few blacks as possible. Fairfax County, then very rural, was not keen to devote more money to improve its schools. Almost immediately after municipal independence in 1958 a modernization and rebuilding program was launched for the city's schools, and music and arts programs were started. Schools remain a fundamental and foundational principle in Falls Church today. [52]

Passenger railroad service—enjoyed by area residents since 1860—ended in 1951 as the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad closed its passenger operations. Freight service continued until 1968, when the railroad closed. Its track was removed and its railroad bed became the basis for a regional park extending from Alexandria to Purcellville in the foothills of the mountains. [53]

Another kind of rail transit soon began, however. A Metro (subway) system opened in Washington in 1976, and was extended to West Falls Church in 1986. Traveling for much of its route along the right-of-way of the new Interstate 66—which itself opened in 1984—the Metro was originally envisioned to travel under Wilson Boulevard and enter Falls Church at Seven Corners. The system has two stations, in eastern and western Falls Church, although neither are within the city limit. [54]

Interstate 66 was originally conceived to be part of a much more massive interstate highway complex, of which it was to be one of several radial highways departing Washington in all directions. In addition, the capital city was to be surrounded by three beltways, of which only the proposed middle one and portions of an inner one were built. Construction of Interstate 66 caused Falls Church to lose one of its most highly prized homes—the Pope-Leighey House, which was threatened with destruction but moved to Woodlawn Plantation in southern Alexandria. Ironically, its original homesite on Locust Street was untouched, but falls within the interstate highway's right-of-way. [47]

Falls Church celebrated its 300th presumed anniversary in 1999—using the date 1699 as its point of origin. The tricentennial anniversary was celebrated for a full year.

Since that time the city has seen rapid growth along its prime commercial corridor, West Broad Street. This occurred, perhaps not coincidentally, after the city rebuilt and replanted the street to make it more appealing. The reconstruction reestablished shade trees along the length of the street and added street furniture and landscaping, in addition to placing utility lines underground. The sharp economic recession of the late-2000s brought most development to a halt. [55]

According to a 2010 report, the City of Falls Church ranks second in the United States for the number of its citizens holding advanced academic degrees. Only Los Alamos, New Mexico has more. [56]

Embattled Banner: The True History of the Confederate Flag

If you are a regular reader of Civil War Times, the Confederate battle flag is a familiar part of your world. The symbolism of the flag is simple and straightforward: It represents the Confederate side in the war that you enjoy studying. More than likely, your knowledge of the flag has expanded and become more sophisticated over the years. At some point, you learned that the Confederate battle flag was not, in fact, “the Confederate flag” and was not known as the “Stars and Bars.” That name properly belongs to the first national flag of the Confederacy. If you studied the war in the Western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, you learned that “Confederate battle flag” is a misnomer. Many Confederate units served under battle flags that looked nothing like the red flag with the star-studded blue cross. You may have grown up with more than just an idle knowledge of the flag’s association with the Confederacy and its armies, but also with a reverence for the flag because of its association with Confederate ancestors. If you didn’t, your interest in the war likely brought you into contact with people who have a strong emotional connection with the flag. And, at some point in your life, you became aware that not everyone shared your perception of the Confederate flag. If you weren’t aware of this before, the unprecedented flurry of events and of public reaction to them that occurred in June 2015 have raised obvious questions that all students of Civil War history must confront: Why do people have such different and often conflicting perceptions of what the Confederate flag means, and how did those different meanings evolve?

(Larry Sherer/High Impact Photography)

The flag as we know it was born not as a symbol, but as a very practical banner. The commanders of the Confederate army in Virginia (then known at the Army of the Potomac) sought a distinctive emblem as an alternative to the Confederacy’s first national flag—the Stars and Bars—to serve as a battle flag. The Stars and Bars, which the Confederate Congress had adopted in March 1861 because it resembled the once-beloved Stars and Stripes, proved impractical and even dangerous on the battlefield because of that resemblance. (That problem was what compelled Confederate commanders to design and employ the vast array of other battle flags used among Confederate forces throughout the war.)Battle flags become totems for the men who serve under them, for their esprit de corps, for their sacrifices. They assume emotional significance for soldiers’ families and their descendants. Anyone today hoping to understand why so many Americans consider the flag an object of veneration must understand its status as a memorial to the Confederate soldier.

It is, however, impossible to carve out a kind of symbolic safe zone for the Confederate battle flag as the flag of the soldier because it did not remain exclusively the flag of the soldier. By the act of the Confederate government, the battle flag’s meaning is inextricably intertwined with the Confederacy itself and, thus, with the issues of slavery and states’ rights—over which readers of Civil War Times and the American public as a whole engage in spirited and endless debate. By 1862, many Southern leaders scorned the Stars and Bars for the same reason that had prompted the flag’s adoption the year before: it too closely resembled the Stars and Stripes. As the war intensified and Southerners became Confederates, they weaned themselves from symbols of the old Union and sought a new symbol that spoke to the Confederacy’s “confirmed independence.” That symbol was the Confederate battle flag. Historian Gary Gallagher has written persuasively that it was Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, not the Confederate government, that best embodied Confederate nationalism. Lee’s stunning victories in 1862–63 made his army’s battle flag the popular choice as the new national flag. On May 1, 1863, the Confederacy adopted a flag—known colloquially as the Stainless Banner—featuring the ANV battle flag emblazoned on a white field. For the remainder of the Confederacy’s life, the soldiers’ flag was also, in effect, the national flag.

If all Confederate flags had been furled once and for all in 1865, they would still be contentious symbols as long as people still argue about the Civil War, its causes and its conduct. But the Confederate flag did not pass once and for all into the realm of history in 1865. And for that reason, we must examine how it has been used and perceived since then if we wish to understand the reactions that it evokes today. The flag never ceased being the flag of the Confederate soldier and still today commands wide respect as a memorial to the Confederate soldier. The history of the flag since 1865 is marked by the accumulation of additional meanings based on additional uses. Within a decade of the end of the war (even before the end of Reconstruction in 1877), white Southerners began using the Confederate flag as a memorial symbol for fallen heroes. By the turn of the 20th century, during the so-called “Lost Cause” movement in which white Southerners formed organizations, erected and dedicated monuments, and propagated a Confederate history of the “War Between the States,” Confederate flags proliferated in the South’s public life.

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Far from being suppressed, the Confederate version of history and Confederate symbols became mainstream in the postwar South. The Confederate national flags were part of that mainstream, but the battle flag was clearly preeminent. The United Confederate Veterans (UCV) issued a report in 1904 defining the square ANV pattern flag as the Confederate battle flag, effectively writing out of the historical record the wide variety of battle flags under which Confederate soldiers had served. The efforts of the UCV and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to promote that “correct” battle flag pattern over the “incorrect” rectangular pattern (the Army of Tennessee’s or the naval jack) were frustrated by the public’s demand for rectangular versions that could serve as the Confederate equivalent of the Stars and Stripes. What is remarkable looking back from the 21st century is that, from the 1870s and into the 1940s, Confederate heritage organizations used the flag widely in their rituals memorializing and celebrating the Confederacy and its heroes, yet managed to maintain effective ownership of the flag and its meaning. The flag was a familiar part of the South’s symbolic landscape, but how and where it was used was controlled. Hints of change were evident by the early 20th century. The battle flag had emerged not only as the most popular symbol of the Confederacy, but also of the South more generally. By the 1940s, as Southern men mingled more frequently with non-Southerners in the U.S. Armed Forces and met them on the gridiron, they expressed their identity as Southerners with Confederate battle flags.

The flag’s appearance in conjunction with Southern collegiate football was auspicious. College campuses are often incubators of cultural change, and they apparently were for the battle flag. This probably is owed to the Kappa Alpha Order, a Southern fraternity founded at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1865, when R.E. Lee was its president. A Confederate memorial organization in its own right, Kappa Alpha was also a fraternity and introduced Confederate symbols into collegiate life. It was in the hands of students that the flag burst onto the political scene in 1948. Student delegates from Southern colleges and universities waved battle flags on the floor of the Southern States Rights Party convention in July 1948.

The so-called “Dixiecrat” Party formed in protest to the Democratic Party convention’s adoption of a civil rights plank. The Confederate flag became a symbol of protest against civil rights and in support of Jim Crow

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segregation. It also became the object of a high-profile, youth-driven nationwide phenomenon that the media dubbed the “flag fad.” Many pundits suspected that underlying the fad was a lingering “Dixiecrat” sentiment. African-American news-papers decried the flag’s unprecedented popularity within the Armed Forces as a source of dangerous division at a time when America needed to be united against Communism. But most observers concluded that the flag fad was another manifestation of youth-driven material culture. Confederate heritage organizations correctly perceived the Dixiecrat movement and the flag fad as a profound threat to their ownership of the Confederate flag. The UDC in November 1948 condemned use of the flag “in certain demonstrations of college groups and some political groups” and launched a formal effort to protect the flag from “misuse.” Several Southern states subsequently passed laws to punish “desecration” of the Confederate flag. All those efforts proved futile. In the decades after the flag fad, the Confederate flag became, as one Southern editor wrote, “confetti in careless hands.” Instead of being used almost exclusively for memorializing the Confederacy and its soldiers, the flag became fodder for beach towels, t-shirts, bikinis, diapers and baubles of every description. While the UDC continued to condemn the proliferation of such kitsch, it became so commonplace that, over time, others subtly changed their definition of “protecting” the flag to defending the right to wear and display the very items that they once defined as desecration. As the dam burst on Confederate flag material culture and heritage groups lost control of the flag, it acquired a new identity as a symbol of “rebellion” divorced from the historical context of the Confederacy. Truckers, motorcycle riders and “good ol’ boys” (most famously depicted in the popular television show The Dukes of Hazzard) gave the flag a new meaning that transcends the South and even the United States.

Meanwhile, as the civil rights movement gathered force, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, defenders of segregation increasingly employed the use of the battle flag as a symbol of their cause. Most damaging to the flag’s reputation was its use in the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Although founded by Confederate veterans almost immediately after the Civil War, the KKK did not use the Confederate flag widely or at all in its ritual in the 1860s and 1870s or during its rebirth and nationwide popularity from 1915 to the late 1920s. Only with a second rebirth in the late 1930s and 1940s did the battle flag take hold in the Klan.

Anyone today hoping to understand why so many African Americans and others perceive the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate must recognize the impact of the flag’s historical use by white supremacists. The Civil

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Rights Era has profoundly affected the history of the Confederate flag in several ways. The flag’s use as a symbol of white supremacy has framed the debate over the flag ever since. Just as important, the triumph of civil rights restored African Americans to full citizenship and restored their role in the ongoing process of deciding what does and does not belong on America’s public symbolic landscape. Americans 50 or older came of age when a symbolic landscape dotted with Confederate flags, monuments and street names was the status quo. That status quo was of course the result of a prolonged period in which African Americans were effectively excluded from the process of shaping the symbolic landscape. As African Americans gained political power, they challenged—and disrupted— that status quo. The history of the flag over the last half-century has involved a seemingly endless series of controversies at the local, state and national levels. Over time, the trend has been to reduce the flag’s profile on the symbolic landscape, especially on anyplace that could be construed as public property. As students of history, we tend to think of it as something that happens in the past and forget that history is happening now and that we are actors on the historical stage. Because the Confederate battle flag did not fade into history in 1865, it was kept alive to take on new uses and new meanings and to continue to be part of an ever-changing history. As much as students of Civil War history may wish that we could freeze the battle flag in its Civil War context, we know that we must study the flag’s entire history if we wish to understand the history that is happening around us today. Studying the flag’s full history also allows us to engage in a more constructive dialogue about its proper place in the present and in the future.

My own ancestry is a combination of people of African and European descent. My mother and her parents attended segregated schools in Southside Virginia. My great-great-great-grandmother and her children were free blacks before the war, but they lived in constant fear of slave patrollers—and were unable to obtain a legal education or vote.

My great-great-great-grand-father, however, was a white slaveholder and the father of my third great-grandmother’s children. Through that branch of my family I am also connected with many Confederate soldiers and two members of Virginia’s 1861 Secession Convention.

It is true that many Confederate troops did not own black people. But the Confederate leaders did not stutter when it came to their support of slavery and white supremacy.

The battle flag represents a gamble by 11 states (and another two states with representation in the Confederate Congress) to create a separate slaveholding republic. It symbolizes the struggles of men on well-known battlefields like Manassas, Shiloh, Chickamauga and Gettysburg. But there is no denying the role the battle flag played during the war’s bitter aftermath and Reconstruction and its use by 20th-century white supremacist groups. That same banner, in addition to images of Robert E. Lee and the American flag, was hoisted high during the 1948 “Dixiecrats” convention in Birmingham, Ala., held be-cause of opposition to Harry Truman’s advocacy of a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.
Then there’s the viewpoint of all those people who marched for access to the ballot. Some of those same individuals were spit on for trying to order a sandwich at a lunch counter, or were called “Niggers” because they sought access to a truly equal education. They view the flag, and variations thereof, with understandable contempt.

We cannot ignore America’s long history of prejudice. Because the Confederate battle flag is seen as a symbol of that prejudice, the call to remove it from public display is warranted in government spaces such as the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol. Original flags should be preserved and exhibited in museums.

Yet removing the flag from public display in South Carolina or Mississippi does not resolve issues such as equal access to the ballot box. It does not change the fact that this nation still jails disproportionate numbers of minorities, or mitigate the unfairness of the justice system for those people, or improve the way they are treated after they have served their time.

Confederate flag that was displayed with other Civil War memorabilia. I now feel as though I’ve hidden away my lineage in a dresser drawer. It’s a battle I can’t win. I’m sorry, all you Prillaman boys in the 57th Virginia Infantry, who laid it all on the line so many times, captured at the Angle at Gettysburg with your proud colors and returned to service because you had conviction. I believe you were wrong in your cause. But I believe you fought for that cause with your every fiber, because at heart you were Americans. Rest in peace. You will not be forgotten, and I won’t allow anyone to tarnish you or shove shame down my throat. I will lay this flag at your graves, alongside an American flag. You were both. You can claim both.

As William Faulkner famously wrote in Intruder in the Dust, “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863,the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Long-street to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet…”

There is an internalized and inherited sense of loss in us Southerners. Shelby Foote spoke of this in several inter-views. Some things, perhaps, we shouldn’t have held on to, but I think even those of us who wish to be sensitive to others’ feelings on those symbols just get tired of the sense of losing. Even in our own living rooms.

My ancestors in the 57th Virginia Infantry served under the battle flag. Prillamans were captured, killed and wounded following that banner. I hate the cause that they stood for, but I am fiercely proud that they stood.

John M. Coski is the author of The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Harvard University Press, 2005).

What Was The Capital Of The Confederate States Of America

What Was The Capital Of The Confederate States Of America ?

The first few states to join hands in the formation of the Confederacy were South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. These seven states also known as the Confederate States of America laid the foundation of the Confederacy during 4 to 9 February 1861 at a meeting held in Montgomery, Alabama.

The basic reason for selecting Montgomery, Alabama as the assembly point was its location in the heart of the seven states. This city housing a population of about 9000 was a valued transportation center with steamboats, stagecoaches and railroad connecting the city to different directions. On assembling at Montgomery, the delegates of all these seceded states barring that of Texas put their minds together to formulate the constitution of the Confederacy. The constitution representing the Confederate States of America was sketched in merely 4 days and with President Jefferson Davis at the helm of affairs, the Confederacy came into action. The oath to take over office was taken by Davis in February 1861 at the capital of the Confederacy, Montgomery.

However, come May and many realized the fallouts of choosing Montgomery as the capital. The weather was extremely hot and sultry with mosquitoes adding to the nuisance.

By this time, the Confederacy had been joined in by another 4 states namely Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Virginia offered its capital Richmond to be considered instead of Montgomery, a proposal that was more than acceptable to many. Therefore, in April to May of 1861, Richmond was announced as the new capital of the Confederacy and it remained so for the next 4 years.

In contrast to the previous capital, Richmond was a relatively more sophisticated city. Its beauty was compared in those days with that of Rome. While in the beginning, its citizens may have been happy about the respect earned by the city as a capital gradually they regretted the selection. The city was inhabited by many new residents taking its population to 100,000. Many of the new inhabitants were quite brash and uncultured in their behavior. Moreover, being the Confederate capital, Richmond was always under the vigilance of the Union and the threat of being annexed was the highest. In fact, the fears of the citizens were proved correct when finally during the Civil War, the forces of Robert E. Lee flee leaving the city in the hands of the Union.

Thereafter, Danville served as the Confederate capital for about 8 days from 3 to 10 April, 1865.

The existence of the Confederate States of America was short enough to witness only one President in office. This was Jefferson Davis, who was elected for the post on February 9, 1861. He was considered as the best choice for the designation owing to his diverse professional experience as a soldier and civilian. His name was spontaneously accepted without any controversy. More..

The Confederate Capital Falls - HISTORY

"The Union Army Entering Richmond, VA., April 3" from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1865

On the morning of April 3, 1865, the 29th (Colored) Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry awoke from their positions on the outskirts of the Confederate Capital of Richmond, Virginia, to find that the enemy had abandoned their positions. The men of the regiment, therefore, were ordered forward by their commander Colonel William B. Wooster of Derby, and arrived in the city at 7 a.m. According to unit historian the Reverend Henry G. Marshall, companies C and G of the 29th became the first Union infantry soldiers to enter the city. When President Abraham Lincoln arrived later that day to make his “triumphant entry into the city” A. H. Newton recounted how he turned to a nearby black women and said, “Madam, there is the man that made you free.” Gazing at the President, the women, in turn, replied “Glory to God. Give him praise for his goodness,” and she shouted, Newton wrote, until her voice gave out.

Cornel Garfman, MS, is a writer and historian.

This Today in History was published as part of a semester-long graduate student project at Central Connecticut State University that examined Civil War monuments and their histories in and around the State Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut.

Great Falls of the Potomac River

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The Great Falls of the Potomac River was the waterfalling excuse for Julie, Tahia, and I to explore the vicinity of our Nation’s Capital – Washington DC.

We made it a point to drive the nearly 15 miles or so from DC to the Great Falls Park on the Virginia side.

Great Falls of the Potomac River

After all, the prospect of even seeing a natural waterfall so close to iconic places like the National Mall was simply an activity that we couldn’t miss as far as we were concerned.

By the way, the National Mall harbored important landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the White House, the Washington Monument, and Capitol Hill, among others.

The Potomac River itself (on which the waterfall sat upon) was also rich in history, which we’ll get to later.

So it really felt like a visit to the Great Falls of the Potomac River was both a pleasant respite into natural surroudings away from the urban developments as well as a step back in time.

The Appearance of the Great Falls of the Potomac

The Great Falls was really a section of the Potomac River where it narrowed and dropped a cumulative height of some 76ft over a series of rocky cascades.

A kayaker navigating through the lowermost sections of the Great Falls of the Potomac

There were a couple of rocky islands that seemed to split part of the falls providing that somewhat disjointed look to it.

Apparently, daredevil kayakers would run these cascades, and we even saw one such kayaker climb the rocks on one of the rock islands before putting in just above the lowermost tiers of the waterfall.

While I’m not too familiar with the extreme sport, I’m guessing that whatever he ran appeared to be class V conditions.

Clearly, he had to know what he was doing to avoid a possible drowning, which park signs here had warned that at least seven people each year have done (thanks to the river’s strong currents).

What was really refreshing about our visit to the Great Falls was that it was in a very naturesque setting as trees and wetlands were all around us.

Direct view of some rock protrusions and rock islands around the Great Falls of the Potomac River

And even though we were literally minutes away from Washington DC, we really felt as if we found our escape from the urban jungle when we came here.

The role of the Great Falls of the Potomac in American History

In any case, there was a bit of history tied to the Great Falls of the Potomac River.

Apparently, it was a natural barrier preventing further upstream travel at a time when boats provided the most convenient way of hauling supplies for long distances.

George Washington was a major advocate of building a canal to facilitate the hauling of supplies between the Great Lakes to the Eastern Seaboard, and he founded the Patowmack Company towards this effort.

Over time, the canal that played a very prominent role in American History was the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (or C&O Canal), which currently stands as part of the National Parks System.

The visitor center for the Great Falls Park on the Virginia side

In any case, the C&O Canal allowed for the transport of primarily coal, but they also facilitated the transport of lumber and agricultural goods.

During the American Civil War, the C&O Canal became a very strategic asset as both Union and Confederate forces fought to control or undermine this important means of movement of supplies and troops.

After the Civil War, the canal remained in use to haul coal, wood, limestone, flour, etc.

However, it was ultimately undone by Mother Nature when a flood in 1924 and then in 1936 pretty much rendered the canal unable to fulfill its intended commercial purpose.

Experiencing the Great Falls of the Potomac River

We pretty much only toured the Virginia side of the waterfall at the Great Falls Park.

Julie and Tahia walking through a park setting on the way to the overlooks of the Great Falls of the Potomac River on the Virginia side

From the parking lot (see directions below), we made a short walk to the three main overlooks.

We started with the furthest overlook (known as Overlook 3), which featured a full and contextual view of the waterfall itself from a wheelchair-accessible lookout.

Right in front of that lookout was a pole containing signposts of the year where the high water marks of the Potomac were at during its recorded history.

It was amazing to see that even as late as 1996, this overlook was under water!

As we continued to backtrack on the main walking route, we then detoured into Overlook 2.

Julie and Tahia checking out the high water levels during the flood events that have happened at the Great Falls of the Potomac River

This brought us a bit closer to the Great Falls, where we could almost literally look across the river towards the lone lookout of the falls on the Maryland side.

We were still able to get contextual views of the entire waterfall from here, while also getting a sense of the sheer power of the Potomac River passing by us.

Like with Overlook 3, Overlook 2 was said to be wheelchair accessible.

Finally, we backtracked to Overlook 1, which brought us the closest to the wide and brown cascading water.

From here, we could almost feel the power of the Potomac.

The full context of the Great Falls of the Potomac River

It was a bit tricky to get up the smooth and slick rocks towards some of the higher lookout spots, but perhaps our most intimate experience of the Great Falls was had from such spots.

We really had to keep an eye out on our daughter here because she literally took these rocks as a climbing challenge.

I’d imagine there would be the highest likelihood for a mishap at this spot given the rough and uneven terrain

Thus, I could understand why the park signs said this overlook was not wheelchair accessible.

Overall, it took us about an hour to fully take in all three overlooks.

View from Overlook 1, which brought us the closest to the Great Falls of the Potomac River on the Virginia side

There was an opportunity to continue along the river trail towards Seneca Falls to the north and Stubblefield Falls to the south.

However, with our limited time (we had to catch a flight out on the day of our visit) and the stifling heat and humidity of June, we decided to pass on those additional waterfalls.

The same could be said about spending time to check out this waterfall from the Maryland side at the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park.


The Great Falls of the Potomac River resides in the Great Falls Park near McLean in Fairfax County, Virginia and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park near Hagerstown in Montgomery County, Maryland. Both sides are administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit the Great Falls Park website or the C&O Canal Park website.





Since we drove to the Great Falls Park from the Ballston suburb of Washington DC (a short distance west of both the Pentagon and the Reagan Airport), we’ll describe our route from there.

After finding our way through the surface streets towards the entrance of the Interstate 66 in Arlington, we drove west towards the Hwy 267 for about 4 miles.

We then took the 267 towards Dulles Airport for about another 4 miles before exiting at Spring Hill Road (we had to pay a $1 toll for this stretch of highway).

Turning right onto Spring Hill Road, we then followed this undulating road for about 1.3 miles before turning left onto Old Dominion Drive.

The parking lot for the Great Falls Park on the Virginia side, which was pretty busy even for a Wednesday morning

We followed Old Dominion Drive for another 3.8 miles all the way to the car park near the Visitor Center for Great Falls Park.

Overall, this 16-mile drive took us around 30 minutes.

The Great Falls Park and the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal National Historical Monument were both administered by the National Park Service.

So we had to pay a $5 vehicle entry fee.

It was said that we could have used our Great Falls Park admission to get into the C&O side of the Great Falls without paying more, but since we were short on time, we didn’t get to check out the Maryland side of the falls.

Similarly, we also could have taken the George Washington Memorial Parkway from any of the main bridges across the Potomac River in the vicinity of the National Mall.

Then, we’d follow the parkway north along the west bank of the Potomac River until exiting at Hwy 123 (Dolly Madison Blvd about 5 miles between the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge and the Dolly Madison exit).

From there, we’d have to drive about 3 miles west to Old Dominion Drive, then turn right and follow Old Dominion Drive to the Great Falls Park on the Virginia side.

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Following a kayaker who was running the lowest section of the falls before zooming out and panning over the scene to show the whole context from overlook 3

Panning around the waterfall from overlook 2

Another Confederate Soldier Falls

Graffiti covers traffic barriers surrounding the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Va., July 4, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE I was born in 1952, during the presidency of Harry Truman. Nine years later, this country began its centennial commemoration of the Civil War. I was completely swept up in it, writing letters to chambers of commerce all around the battle-affected states to solicit information on nearby battlefields, both decisive and inconsequential. A year later, my parents surprised me with a trip to Gettysburg in the family station wagon. The evening of August 29, 1963, I spent the night in the house used by Robert E. Lee as headquarters during that titanic battle. Upon returning home, I wrote a letter to …


The First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery, Alabama, was the first official residence of the president and his family. The second White House of the Confederacy is a gray stuccoed neoclassical mansion built in 1818 by John Brockenbrough, who was president of the Bank of Virginia. Designed by Robert Mills, Brockenbrough's second private residence in Richmond was built on K Street (later renamed Clay Street) in Richmond's affluent Shockoe Hill neighborhood (later known as the Court End District), and was two blocks north of the Virginia State Capitol. Among his neighbors were U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, Aaron Burr's defense attorney John Wickham, and future U.S. Senator Benjamin Watkins Leigh.

Sold by the Brockenbrough family in 1844, the house passed through a succession of wealthy families throughout the antebellum period, including U.S. Congressman and future Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon. Just prior to the American Civil War, Lewis Dabney Crenshaw purchased the house and added a third floor. He sold the home to the City of Richmond, which in turn rented it to the Confederate government as its Executive Mansion.

Davis family Edit

Jefferson Davis, his wife Varina, and their children moved into the house in August 1861, and lived there for the remainder of the war. Davis suffered from recurring bouts with malaria, facial neuralgia, cataracts (in his left eye), unhealed wounds from the Mexican War (bone spurs in his heel), and insomnia. Consequently, President Davis maintained an at-home office on the second floor of the White House. This was not an unusual practice at that time – the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, was not added until the Theodore Roosevelt administration. President Davis' personal secretary, Colonel Burton Harrison, also lived in the house.

The Davis family was quite young during their stay at the White House of the Confederacy. When they moved in, the family consisted of the president and first lady, six-year-old Margaret, four-year-old Jefferson Davis, Jr., and two-year-old Joseph. The two youngest Davis children, William and Varina Anne ("Winnie"), were born in the White House, in 1861 and 1864, respectively. Among their neighborhood playmates was George Smith Patton, whose father commanded the 22nd Virginia Infantry, and whose son commanded the U.S. Third Army in World War Two. Joseph Davis died in the spring of 1864, after a 15-foot fall from the railing on the White House's east portico. Mrs. Davis' mother and sister were occasional visitors to the Confederate executive mansion.

The house was abandoned during the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. Within twelve hours, soldiers from Major General Godfrey Weitzel's XVIII Corps seized the former Confederate White House, intact. President Abraham Lincoln, who was in nearby City Point (now Hopewell, Virginia), traveled up the James River to tour the captured city, and visited Davis' former residence for about three hours – although the President only toured the first floor, feeling it would be improper to visit the more private second floor of another man's home. Admiral David Dixon Porter accompanied Lincoln during the visit to the former Confederate executive mansion. They held a number of meetings with local officials in the White House. Among them was Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Reid Anderson, who owned the Tredegar Iron Works.

After the war Edit

During Reconstruction, the White House of the Confederacy served as the headquarters for Military District Number One (Virginia), and was occasionally used as the residence of the commanding officer of the Department of Virginia. Among those who served there were Major Generals Edward O.C. Ord, Alfred Terry, Henry Halleck, and Edward R.S. Canby. When Reconstruction ended in Virginia, (October 1870), the city of Richmond retook possession of the house, and subsequently used it as Richmond Central School, one of the first public schools in postwar Richmond.

When the city announced its plans to demolish the building to make way for a more modern school building in 1890, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society was formed with the sole purpose of saving the White House from destruction.

Confederate Museum, 1896–1976 Edit

The CMLS raised funds to start a museum and acquired the deed to the property from the city of Richmond. Opened to the public in 1896, the house became the home of the Confederate Museum (later renamed the Museum of the Confederacy) for eight decades. As an interpretation of the house museum's relevance, the name "White House of the Confederacy" began common use. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1960, was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and was added to the Virginia Landmark Register in 1969. When the Museum of the Confederacy completed construction of a purpose-built museum building in 1976, the collections and exhibits were moved to the new building.

Restoration, 1976–1988 Edit

From 1976 to 1988, the museum led a full-scale restoration of the mansion, which ultimately returned the exterior and the first and second floor interiors to their wartime appearance. Critically acclaimed for the extensive attention to detail during restoration, for its full complement of period furnishings, and for its fair quantity of relevant pieces from its original furnishings, the historic house reopened for public tours in June 1988.

Tourist Destination, 1988–present Edit

The White House of the Confederacy remains open for public tours as part of the visitor experience at the American Civil War Museum. Exhibits in the museum currently exist to undermine the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.


Numerous Native American tribes had lived in this part of the Piedmont region since prehistoric times. During the colonial period, the area was inhabited by Siouan language-speaking tribes.

In 1728, English colonist William Byrd headed an expedition sent to determine the true boundary between Virginia and North Carolina. Late that summer, the party camped upstream from what is now Danville. Byrd was so taken with the beauty of the land, that he prophesied a future settlement in the vicinity, where people would live "with much comfort and gaiety of Heart." He named the river along which they camped as the "Dan", for Byrd felt he had wandered "From Dan to Beersheba." [7]

After the American Revolutionary War, the first settlement developed in 1792 downstream from Byrd's campsite, at a spot along the river shallow enough to allow fording. It was named "Wynne's Falls", after the first settler. The village developed from the meetings of pioneering Revolutionary War veterans, who gathered annually here to fish and talk over old times.

In 1793, the state General Assembly authorized construction of a tobacco warehouse at Wynne's Falls. This marks the start of the town as "The World's Best Tobacco Market", Virginia's largest market for "bright leaf" tobacco. The village was renamed "Danville" by an act of November 23, 1793. A charter for the town was drawn up February 17, 1830, but by the time of its issue, the population had exceeded the pre-arranged boundaries. This necessitated a new charter, which was issued in 1833. In that year, James Lanier was elected the first mayor, assisted by a council of "twelve fit and able men". By the mid-19th century, William T. Sutherlin, a planter and entrepreneur, was the first to apply water power to run a tobacco press. He became a major industrialist in the region.

Several railroads reached Danville, including the Richmond and Danville Railroad (completed 1856), and the Atlantic and Danville Railway (completed 1890). These enabled the export of Danville's manufacturing and agricultural products. The major growth in industry came in the late 19th century, after the war. The Southern Railway, successor to the Richmond and Danville, built a grand passenger station in Danville in 1899, which is still in use by Amtrak and is a satellite facility of the Virginia Museum.

American Civil War Edit

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Danville had a population of some 5,000 people. During those four years of war, the town was transformed into a strategic center of Confederate activity. Local planter and industrialist William T. Sutherlin was named quartermaster of its depot, the rail center was critical for supplying Confederate forces, and a hospital station was established for Confederate wounded. A network of batteries, breastworks, redoubts and rifle pits defended the town. [5]

A prison camp was set up, with the conversion of six tobacco warehouses, including one owned by Sutherlin, for use as prisons. At one time they held more than 5,000 captured Federal soldiers. Malnutrition and dysentery, plus a smallpox epidemic in 1864, caused the death of 1,314 of these prisoners. Their remains have been interred in the Danville National Cemetery.

The Richmond and Danville Railroad was the main supply route into Petersburg, where Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was holding the defensive line to protect Richmond. The Danville supply train ran until General Stoneman's Union cavalry troops tore up the tracks. This event was immortalized in the song, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down".

In 1865 Danville hosted the Confederate government. President Jefferson Davis stayed at the mansion of William T. Sutherlin from April 3 to 10, 1865, and it became known as the last "Capitol of the Confederacy". [8] Here he wrote and issued his last Presidential Proclamation. The final Confederate Cabinet meeting was held at the Benedict House (since destroyed) in Danville. Davis and members of his cabinet left the city when they learned of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, making their way south. On the day they left, Governor William Smith arrived from Lynchburg to establish his headquarters here.

Post-Reconstruction era to early 20th century Edit

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tobacco processing was a major source of wealth for business owners in the city, in addition to the textile mills. Wealthy planters and owners built fine houses, some of which have been preserved.

Given the falls on the river, the area was prime for industrial development based on water power. On July 22, 1882, six of Danville's residents(Thomas Benton Fitzgerald, Dr. H.W. Cole, Benjamin F. Jefferson and three brothers: Robert A., John H., and James E. Schoolfield) founded the Riverside Cotton Mills, making use of cotton produced throughout the South. In its day it was known nationally as Dan River Inc., the largest single-unit textile mill in the world.

The Southern Railway constructed a railroad line to the city in the late 19th century and had facilities here, which contributed to the growing economy. In 1899 the company completed a grand passenger station, designed by its noted architect Frank Pierce Milburn. For many years, passenger traffic was strong on the railroad it also operated freight trains.

A serious train wreck occurred in Danville on September 27, 1903. "Old 97", the Southern Railway's crack express mail train, was running behind schedule. Its engineer "gave her full throttle", but the speed of the train caused it to jump the tracks while on a high trestle crossing the valley of the Dan River. The engine and five cars plunged into the ravine below, killing nine and injuring seven. The locomotive and its engineer, Joseph A. ("Steve") Broadey, were memorialized in song. A historic marker at the train crash site is located on U.S. 58 between Locust Lane and North Main Street. A mural of the Wreck of the Old 97 has been painted on a downtown Danville building to commemorate the incident.

Danville riot Edit

The industrial town grew rapidly in the late 19th century, attracting many single workers, and associated gambling, drinking, and prostitution establishments. By the early 20th century, the city passed laws against gambling, but it continued in small, private places. [8] On September 9, 1882, Danville Mayor John H. Johnston shot and killed John E. Hatcher, his chief of police. Hatcher had demanded an apology for a statement Johnston had made regarding unaccounted fine money. Johnston was charged with murder, but he was acquitted at trial. The Southern "culture of honor" was still strong and jurors apparently believed the killing was justified. [9]

In 1882 the biracial Readjuster Party had gained control of the city council, causing resentment and even alarm among some white residents, even though the council was still dominated by white members the city had a majority African-American population. The Readjuster Party had been in power at the state level since 1879. What is called the Danville Riot took place on November 3, 1883, a few days before the election, when a racially-motivated street fight turned to shooting after a large crowd gathered five men were killed, four of them black. A local Danville commission found African Americans at fault for the violence on November 3, but a US Senate investigation decided that white residents were to blame. No prosecution resulted from either inquiry. [10] [11]

The Equal Justice Institute included the deaths in the Danville Riot in its 2015 report of lynchings in the South from 1877 to 1950. There were five lynchings in Danville, the second highest total of any independent city or county in the state, led only by Tazewell with 10. [12]

Afterward Democrats forced African Americans out of office and suppressed their voting. In November 1883 Democrats regained control of the state legislature by a large majority, and pushed out the Readjuster Party.

White Democratic legislators interpreted the Danville events as more reason to push blacks out of politics. In 1902 the state legislature passed a new constitution that raised barriers to voter registration, effectively disenfranchising most blacks and many poor whites, who had been part of the Readjuster Party. They excluded them from the political system, causing them to be underrepresented and their segregated facilities to be underfinanced. [13]

A lynching prevented, and the last lynching Edit

On July 15, 1904, the Danville police successfully broke up a lynching party by firing warning shots above a crowd. About 75 white men had gathered at the jail to take Roy Seals, an African-American man arrested as a suspect in the murder of a white railroad worker. The police saved Seals and the city quickly indicted some of the lynch mob several men were convicted, fined and served 30 days in jail. The killer was found to have been another white man, who was prosecuted. [8]

On March 2, 1911, Danville Police Chief R. E. Morris, who had been elected to three two-year terms and was running for a fourth term, was arrested as an escaped convicted murderer. He admitted that he was really Edgar Stribling of Harris County, Georgia. He had been on the run for thirteen years. [14]

On October 13, 1917, Walter Clark was lynched. He was an African-American man who had fatally shot a policeman while resisting arrest for the killing of his common-law wife. Clark held off the police for two hours, but a mob gathered and set his house on fire. He was shot multiple times and killed as he left the house. His was the last lynching in Danville. [8]

Civil Rights Movement Edit

Heightened activism in the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia occurred in Danville during the summer of 1963. Since the early 20th century, most blacks had been excluded from voting by the state constitution, which had created barriers to voter registration. White Democrats had imposed legal segregation after regaining control of the state legislature following the Reconstruction Era, and Jim Crow laws maintained white supremacy. On May 31, representatives of the black community organized as the Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA), demanding an end to segregation and job discrimination in the city. They declared a boycott of white merchants who refused to hire blacks and marched to City Hall in protest of conditions.

Most of the marchers were high school students. Police and city workers, armed with clubs, beat the young protesters and sprayed them with fire hoses. Around forty protesters needed medical attention, but the marches and other protests continued for several weeks. [15] Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), came to Danville and spoke at High Street Baptist Church about the police brutality. He said it was the worst he had seen in the South. The date of one protest on June 10, 1963, later came to be referred to as "Bloody Monday". [16]

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent organizers to Danville to support the local movement. They helped lead protests, including demonstrations at the Howard Johnson Hotel and restaurant on Lee Highway. The hotel was known for discriminating locally against blacks as customers and excluding them as workers. A special grand jury indicted 13 DCPA, SCLC, and SNCC activists for violating the "John Brown" law. This law, passed in 1830 after a slave uprising, made it a serious felony to ". incite the colored population to acts of violence or war against the white population." It became known as the "John Brown" law in 1860 because it was used to convict and hang abolitionist John Brown after his raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. [15]

By the end of August, more than 600 protesters had been arrested in Danville on charges of inciting to violence, contempt, trespassing, disorderly conduct, assault, parading without a permit, and resisting arrest. Because of the large number of arrests on these charges, often the jails were overcrowded, and protesters were housed in detention facilities in other nearby jurisdictions. The demonstrations failed to achieve desegregation in Danville at that time. Town facilities remained segregated until after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. African-American residents were mostly unable to register and vote until after the federal government enforced their constitutional rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. [15]

Late 20th century to present Edit

Since the late 20th century, the textile industry has moved to offshore, cheaper labor markets. The Dan River mill has closed and many of its buildings have been torn down, with the bricks sold for other uses. "The White Mill" of the Dan Mill complex, considered historically and architecturally significant, is being renovated in the early 21st century as an apartment complex.

In the late 20th century, the restructuring of the tobacco, textile, and railroad industries all had an adverse effect, resulting in the loss of many jobs in Danville. The decline in passenger traffic caused the Danville station to fall into disuse. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, and has been renovated by a combination of public and private funding. Today its transportation center serves Amtrak passengers, with part of the station devoted to the first satellite facility of the Science Museum of Virginia. Related spaces have been developed for a park with amphitheater, a community meeting and recreation facility, and the Danville Farmer's Market. The city used ISTEA funds in association with the Virginia Department of Transportation, and partnered also with Amtrak, Pepsi-Cola, and other private sources. The station renovations were completed in 1996. This project spurred investment in other warehouse properties, "which have been redeveloped into offices, commercial spaces, apartments, lofts, and restaurants. The approximately $4 million of federal grant money initiated the redevelopment and leveraged additional funds from public and private sources." [17]

The city and region continue to work to develop new bases for the economy. The losses have made it difficult to preserve the city's many architecturally and historically significant properties dating from its more prosperous years. In 2007 Preservation Virginia President William B. Kerkam, III, and its Executive Director Elizabeth S. Kostelny announced at a press conference held in Danville at Main Street Methodist Church that the entire city of Danville had been named as one of the Most Endangered Historic Sites in Virginia. It is working to preserve and redevelop the River District as a center for the community and to stimulate heritage tourism.

Danville is located along the southern border of Virginia, 70 miles (110 km) south of Lynchburg and 45 miles (72 km) northeast of Greensboro, North Carolina, via U.S. Route 29. U.S. Route 58 leads east 78 miles (126 km) to South Hill and west 30 miles (48 km) to Martinsville.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 43.9 square miles (113.7 km 2 ), of which 43.1 square miles (111.6 km 2 ) is land and 1.0 square mile (2.6 km 2 ) (2.3%) is water. [18]

Climate Edit

Danville has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa). Even so, winter nights usually average below freezing, with air frosts being abundant during that season, making it a somewhat atypical subtropical climate. During summer, it is influenced by the strong sun and convective air masses, providing both hot temperatures and frequent thunderstorms.

Climate data for DANVILLE RGNL AP, VA, 1991-2020 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 80
Average high °F (°C) 48.9
Daily mean °F (°C) 38.5
Average low °F (°C) 28.1
Record low °F (°C) −5
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.41
Average snowfall inches (cm) 2.5
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.2 9.7 11.1 10.2 12.0 11.0 12.3 11.6 8.8 8.4 8.5 8.8 121.6
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 1.2 1.2 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 3.5
Source: NOAA [19] [20]

Historical population
Census Pop.
18807,426 114.4%
189010,305 38.8%
190016,520 60.3%
191019,020 15.1%
192021,539 13.2%
193022,247 3.3%
194032,749 47.2%
195035,066 7.1%
196046,577 32.8%
197046,391 −0.4%
198045,642 −1.6%
199053,056 16.2%
200048,411 −8.8%
201043,055 −11.1%
2019 (est.)40,044 [2] −7.0%
U.S. Decennial Census [21]
1790–1960 [22] 1900–1990 [23]
1990–2000 [24] 2010–2013 [6]

As of the census [25] of 2010, Danville had a population of 43,055. The racial makeup of the city was White Non-Hispanic 46.7%, African American 48.3%, Hispanic 2.9%, Asian 0.9%, American Indian or Alaska Native 0.2%, and two or more races 1.3%.

25.4% of the population never married, 46.6% were married, 5.4% were separated. 11.6% were widowed and 11.0% were divorced. [26]

Businesses Edit

  • Swedwood, a subsidiary of IKEA, opened its first factory in the U.S. in this city, in 2008. It employs more than 300 people but is scheduled to close by December 2019. [28][29]

River District Edit

Prior to the recession of 2008, the City of Danville and its partners began a major project focused on the revitalization of the Historic Downtown and Tobacco Warehouse districts, now coined "The River District." The project continues with a new momentum as the public sector has joined the movement. See Danville River District.

Watch the video: The American Civil War - OverSimplified Part 1