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:

"Richmond, Va. View of the burned district and the Capitol across the Canal Basin," 1865. Courtesy Library of Congress.
"Ruins of Richmond, Va., 1865" from Cosmos Pictures Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.
"Richmond, Va. Crippled locomotive, Richmond & Petersburg Railroad depot. 1865." Courtesy Library of Congress.
"Richmond, Va. General view of the burned district," taken by Alexander Gardner, April 1865. Courtesy Library of Congress.
"Richmond, Va. Street in the burned district," 1865. Courtesy Library of Congress.
"Richmond, Va. Ruins of paper mill with water-wheel; another view," taken by Alexander Gardner, April 1865. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Stereograph showing ruins of Richmond & Petersburg Railroad depot, 1865. Courtesy Library of Congress.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. animated illustration: cars, bikes, scooters and drones in motion.
    Transportation

    This City Was Sick of Tech Disruptors. So It Decided to Become One.

    To rein in traffic-snarling new mobility modes, L.A. needed digital savvy. Then came a privacy uproar, a murky cast of consultants, and a legal crusade by Uber.

  2. Life

    Why Amsterdam May Clamp Down on Weed and Sex Work

    Proposals to ban cannabis for tourists and relocate the red-light district would dramatically reshape the city’s anything-goes image.

  3. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  4. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.
    Life

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks at Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

  5. Equity

    There Are Far More Americans Without Broadband Access than Previously Thought

    The Federal Communications Commission says 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet access, but a new report says the actual figure is double that.

×