Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
In the final days of the Civil War, fleeing southern troops burnt the city to the ground.
During the Civil War, Confederate forces vowed to keep the Union Army out of Richmond, Virginia, at any cost. That included burning the city to the ground as Northern troops approached.
On Evacuation Sunday (April 2, 1865), President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled south, while soldiers set fire to Richmond's bridges and the buildings that stored their weapons and supplies. Ulysses S. Grant and his troops arrived to find Richmond on fire.
By the time the destruction began, the city was mostly abandoned. Flames spread through large parts of Richmond, finally put out the following day after the Mayor and his remaining constituents reached Union lines east of the city to surrender. On April 4, President Lincoln toured the ruins and on April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee signed his surrender documents, effectively ending the war. Lincoln was assassinated one week later.
Photographers came to Richmond in the following days of the evacuation and fire to document the city in its ruinous state, providing a stunning look into the end of a long war: