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The Horrors of Pandemonium: 1865

The Horrors of Pandemonium: 1865

Richmond, Virginia, in April 1865 showing the burned district along the James River. From photographs of the main Eastern theater of war and fallen Richmond compiled by Hirst Milhollen and Donald Mugridge. View full size.

As the sun rose on Richmond, such a spectacle was presented as can never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. All the horrors of the final conflagration, when the earth shall be wrapped in flames and "melt with fervent heat," were, it seemed to us, prefigured in our capital. The roaring, crackling and hissing of the flames, the bursting of shells at the Confederate Arsenal, the sounds of the Instruments of martial music, the neighing of the horses, the shoutings of the multitudes, gave an idea of all the horrors of Pandemonium. Above all this scene of terror hung a black shroud of smoke through which the sun shone with a lurid angry glare like an immense ball of blood that emitted sullen rays of light, as if loath to shine over a scene so appalling. Then a cry was raised: "The Yankees! The Yankees are coming!" — Richmond resident Sallie Putnam

Upon evacuation of the city, the Confederate government authorized the burning of warehouses and supplies, which resulted in the destruction of factories and houses in the business district. Before the charred ruins of Richmond had cooled, General Robert E. Lee, with the remnant of his army, surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. [From Embattled Capital, on the National Park Service's Richmond National Battlefield web page.]


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Burned Richmond

I remember as a child going down into that area and still being able to see the burn marks on a lot of rebuilt warehouses. They didn't tear down the wood that was not completely destroyed, like they do today, because lumber and supplies were shipped up north to rebuild first.

Richmond then and now

I've been a photographer in the Richmond area for 5 years or so, and I've always wanted to take historical photos like this and do a "before" and "after" kind of thing.

I took the city map linked to above and laid it over the same area of Richmond in Google Earth (which took some doing; I still can't get it exactly right). Using that, I was able to get this image which shows the 1865 map at about 50% transparency laid over slightly out of date satellite imagery from 2007 with 3D renderings of buildings as they were in 2007.

The site the original photo was shot from is up on Gamble's Hill on what is now the headquarters of Ethyl Corp. I went there earlier today to shoot an "after" photo of what that area looks like. I wasn't able to get up as high as I'd've liked; there was a fence in the way. Still, this is roughly the same view.

The Dominion Power building is on the site of the Turning Basin, to use as a landmark. The street in the foreground is S. Fifth Street; I don't think it's visible in the original photo, I want to say that building in the foreground is blocking it. The brick structure in the left foreground is a parking deck that was just finished; Byrd Street runs just in front of it. That's the same street the two wagons are on in the 1865 photo.

The tall building at the center is the Federal Reserve, and the low glass building to the right is the new MeadWestVaCo headquarters which either just opened, or is still under construction; I'm not sure. Neither this building nor the parking deck were there when the satellite imagery Google has was taken in 2007.

I also have a collection of photos of Richmond on Flickr if anyone's interested. I'm going to try to do more of these "before and after" photos in the near future.

Richmond 1865

This image is taken looking over downstream toward the east. Tredegar Iron Works would be to the right and rear of the photographer. The bend in the river is the key. The bridge to the right is what will become Mayo's Bridge (14th Street Bridge). Church Hill is in the upper left corner; Chimborazo Hill is in the upper center, with Shockoe Bottom in center mid-view where the sails can be seen. Fulton Bottom and Rockett's Landing are in the distance downriver from the bridge.

Tredegar Iron Works

I have also wondered where the Tredegar Iron Works is in this image. Comparing a well detailed keyed map with landmarks identifiable in the photgraph I've determined that the Tredegar Works are not in this image. They would reside off frame to the right along the river.

Link to map:


The only buildings in this photo that are still standing are probably the old Tredegar Iron Works, but I haven't been able to identify them in this shot. If I can figure out where this was taken, I'd love to get out to take a photo of the same spot now in 2008.

As a Richmonder...

it's appalling to consider this extensive devastation occuring in my hometown. I can't begin to imagine what citizens at the time went through seeing their city in ruins.

Burning Everything

Classic war tactic, psychologically punish the other side,
also to keep them from reusing anything of value and swing
the fighting back into the other side's hands.

Probably the buildings left standing would not even be
safe for use since it is known that buildings which have
been burned like that classically are unsafe for
occupation, so in effect leaving little or no shelter from
the elements of winter or summer for the perceived enemy.

Richmond Then and Now

Google "Richmond Then and Now" and there is a site of old and new(er) side by side. I don't recall this particular one, though.

Then & Now

Are any of the buildings shown in the photograph still standing and also, are there any recent photographs taken from the same perspective?

Libby Prison

The infamous (as were all of the prison camps, North & South) Libby Prison can be readily seen in the Full Size View. Look along the top center of the image to the left of the sailing ship. It is identified by its distinctive white paint job extending halfway up the sides. Added I believe as a means to silhouette prisoners attempting escape. I've never seen it from this perspective, which clarifies its location in Richmond.

What was the purpose

of burning everything?

[To keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy. - Dave]

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