Restricted Retrieved 3: Was Richmond A Wise Choice For the Confederate Capital?

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,766
Let's discuss the reasons and the contemporary assessment of the move:
In selecting Virginia as their battle-ground, the rebels committed a crowning blunder. At Montgomery, its very remoteness would have secured to it a sort of immunity from punishment. It is nearly a thousand miles, by the only practicable route, from Richmond. It is one of the most arduous duties to conduct a war so far removed from the base of operations. Our Government could hardly touch Montgomery for a year or two, at best; but Virginia is not two days' sail from the great centres of population at the North, New-York and Philadelphia, and is penetrated by magnificent estuaries, all of which we command. We still traverse without molestation, the whole course of the Potomac, from its outlet to Washington. We could not have wished the rebellion to take a better place for the concentration of our strength, or more untenable for defense. Had it chosen the extreme Southern States, it would have had the most powerful of all auxiliaries -- distance from the North, and an insalubrious climate, Had it taken the Southern prolongation of the Alleghanies, it would have a position almost inaccessible to attack. But it has chosen to risk all where it is really the weakest, and the North the strongest.​
<"A Short War Probable", New York Times, May 31, 1861.> Edited 4/18/19 by poster. Originally incorrectly stated as "March 31, 1861".
 

Lubliner

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Messages
1,622
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Do you feel this move to Richmond compromised security, and became a distinct target to aim at, where before the Anaconda Plan was all that was on the table?
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

diane

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Messages
20,511
Location
State of Jefferson
The OP makes good points about Montgomery, and it probably would have been better for the capital to have remained there. However, there were some problems. As Greywolf points out - accomodations and mosquitos. Montgomery was still a developing western town. The streets were muddy, lots of humidity, plenty of bugs and few facilities to accommodate a government with all its attendant personages. Richmond was well established, had the Tredegar foundry, was in a pleasant climate and had a great deal more sophistication than did Montgomery. And, it was in Virginia. Virginia's secession was extremely important to the CSA, and its symbolism was extremely important. Many of the Founders were Virginians and the CSA wanted to emulate the Revolution as much as possible.
 

Lubliner

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Messages
1,622
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I want to remain attentive to these questions for the fact of some research years ago. I know in April, about the 21st, Alexander Stevens visited Richmond expressly for the purpose of where Virginia's commitments were, and how strong was her conviction. Virginia had been probed by Agents of the confederacy from early on in determining what she would do. There was a strong push for the move, and I know of one agent that insisted all hopes were lost unless the Government relocate. I do retain some amount of material regarding these activities, believing in the concert of action taken among the States as being preplanned and executed on a schedule. Let me be patient.
Please, Lubliner.
 

Saint Jude

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 15, 2018
Messages
1,246
Location
Heaven
I'v always suspected that making Richmond the Confederate Capital was an in-your-face expression of Southern contempt for the Union.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,766
I've always understood that it was purely political, a quid pro quo given Virginia to induce them to join the rebel cause. It appears that in the heady atmosphere of 1860/61, very little consideration was given to possible military consequences. Is there any contemporary evidence that the military consequences were considered?
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Messages
11,887
Let's discuss the reasons and the contemporary assessment of the move:
In selecting Virginia as their battle-ground, the rebels committed a crowning blunder. At Montgomery, its very remoteness would have secured to it a sort of immunity from punishment. It is nearly a thousand miles, by the only practicable route, from Richmond. It is one of the most arduous duties to conduct a war so far removed from the base of operations. Our Government could hardly touch Montgomery for a year or two, at best; but Virginia is not two days' sail from the great centres of population at the North, New-York and Philadelphia, and is penetrated by magnificent estuaries, all of which we command. We still traverse without molestation, the whole course of the Potomac, from its outlet to Washington. We could not have wished the rebellion to take a better place for the concentration of our strength, or more untenable for defense. Had it chosen the extreme Southern States, it would have had the most powerful of all auxiliaries -- distance from the North, and an insalubrious climate, Had it taken the Southern prolongation of the Alleghanies, it would have a position almost inaccessible to attack. But it has chosen to risk all where it is really the weakest, and the North the strongest.​
<"A Short War Probable", New York Times, March 31, 1861.>
Hmm. If that date is correct, this was written before the attack on Ft. Sumter started the war. Possibly a typo? The decision to make Richmond the capital was made officially by the Confederate Congress on May 8, 1861.

Making Richmond the capital was more about politics and prestige than anything else. Montgomery was a small town, ill-suited to being the capital. Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans all would have had better facilities available. Montgomery's best feature might have simply been that it was roughly in the middle, geographically, of the Confederacy

From the American Battlefield Trust site:
On January 11, 1861, the State of Alabama seceded from the Union. Less than one month later, in early February, the Alabama secession convention invited delegates of the other seceded states to meet in Montgomery to form the new Confederate nation. Delegates from six of the seven seceded states (the Texans arrived late) wrote a constitution for the Confederate States of America in only four days; the next day they elected Jefferson Davis the Confederacy's president. In late February, Davis took the oath of office while standing on the portico of the state capitol in Montgomery.​
Montgomery's three hotels and numerous boarding houses were crowded with government officials, politicians, soldiers, and newspapermen. It became more of a metropolis than a quiet village, with its streets crowded with carriages and horses, and people on the prowl for gossip, argument, and discussion. Everyone admired the town's beauty.​
But by May the summer's humid heat and the mosquitoes changed many people's minds about Montgomery. So when the newly seceded Virginians offered their own state and their own capital as the seat of the Confederacy, many were eager to accept the offer. Mary Boykin Chesnut noted in her diary that her husband, a former U.S. Senator, was against the move. However, she remarked, "I think these uncomfortable hotels will move the Congress. Our statesmen love their ease."​
Jefferson Davis was at first opposed, believing the capital should reside in the Deep South, where the feelings for secession were most fervent. However, the Confederate Congress approved the move and adjourned May 21, and scheduled to meet in Richmond two months later. As Dr. James McPherson writes in Battle Cry of Freedom, "Virginia brought crucial resources to the Confederacy. Her population was the South's largest. Her industrial capacity was nearly as great as that of the seven original Confederate states combined. The Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond was the only plant in the South capable of manufacturing heavy ordnance. Virginia's heritage from the generation of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison gave her immense prestige..."

From a military perspective, the Confederacy had to fight in Virginia and hold Richmond. If they don't, the Union can drive South through Richmond-Petersburg down to Columbia, SC cutting off the coast while a second force supported by the Navy takes places like Wilmington, Charleston and Savannah. Defeat will loom quickly and predictably if the Confederacy cannot hold Richmond, because the Richmond position is the choke-point that keeps that from happening. (Sherman's March through the Carolinas is the same thing in reverse, but requires 3 and a half years of fighting to get to the southern end of that and take Savannah.)
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Robtweb1

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Retired Moderator
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Joined
Apr 20, 2011
Messages
3,011
Location
Grand Junction, TN
I've always thought the move a major mistake as the major military effort by Lincoln became to capture Richmond, forcing too many of the South's resources to that point. If Lincoln wanted to capture Montgomery, it would have been a whole different ball game.
 

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,766
Hmm. If that date is correct, this was written before the attack on Ft. Sumter started the war. Possibly a typo? The decision to make Richmond the capital was made officially by the Confederate Congress on May 8, 1861.
Thanks for your response and catching my error, which I will correct.
The article was published on May 31, 1861.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,766
I've always thought the move a major mistake as the major military effort by Lincoln became to capture Richmond, forcing too many of the South's resources to that point. If Lincoln wanted to capture Montgomery, it would have been a whole different ball game.
Agreed. Even with the mosquitoes....
 

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,698
Location
Pennsylvania
I also think the Confederates tied down a disproportionate share of their best troops and commanders in Virginia, but that would have been a significant theater of war whether or not the capital was there. Richmond and its industries were an important objective. Much of the Union's combat power originated in the mid-Atlantic and New England states and could most easily be deployed and supported in the eastern theater.
 

BillO

Captain
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Messages
6,403
Location
Quinton, VA.
If you are planning for a long grinding war of attrition then no is isn't wise but neither side was. Both sides were sure it wouldn't amount to much and both sides were wrong.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

redbob

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2013
Messages
7,084
Location
Hoover, Alabama
Except for the prestige of capturing your opponent's capital, a seat of government can be set up just about anywhere; I believe that Richmond's industries was the key to it's value of being worth fighting over. If the seat of government had remained in Montgomery, by 1863; the Union would have been able to exert pressure from bases along the Gulf coast and from Tennessee and Mississippi.
 

ErnieMac

Brigadier General
Moderator
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
May 3, 2013
Messages
9,028
Location
Pennsylvania
I personally think having the capital in the west may have focussed more government attention in that theater, which IMO was where the War was lost for the Confederacy. The economics and geography of Virginia would have kept the eastern war effort there. I don't see the Confederates back away from that even thought Richmond wasn't the capital.
 

Lubliner

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Messages
1,622
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
The concentration of the Government into Richmond did create a weakness in the western theater. Considering the focus to be primarily in the east and nearer to the push to claim Maryland and Washington City as confederate territory, it also allowed easier access for men in Congress with military credentials to gain the battlefield. That perspective for the desire to keep their loved ones close in a more social and environmental ambience is questionable in hindsight, due to the coldness of winters further north. I almost see it as finally a 'come what may' decision, without any concise intelligence offered them (all opinion) to support their determinations. Were there any other cities in the south investigated ahead of time, besides Richmond?
Thanks, Lubliner.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

leftyhunter

Colonel
Joined
May 27, 2011
Messages
16,970
Location
los angeles ca
I've always thought the move a major mistake as the major military effort by Lincoln became to capture Richmond, forcing too many of the South's resources to that point. If Lincoln wanted to capture Montgomery, it would have been a whole different ball game.
Maybe not. Major General Orambsy Michael captured parts if Northern Alabama by 1862. If Montgomery was the Confederate Capital and Michael was better supported he could if marched south to Montgomery. Efforts could of been made to seize Mobile by an amphibious assault.
As others have pointed out if the Confederacy CV can't hold Richmond then the Confederacy is not a viable nation. Without an industrial base and Richmond captured the Union can take out every Confederate port in overland invasion .
Leftyhunter
 

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
4,537
Sirs, if the premise is that by moving the capitol to Richmond, it required too many assets to protect given it's proximity to the Union, then the inverse should be true. Virginia wouldn't be such a defensive burden to Confederate resources had the capitol remained in Alabama. I would disagree with that statement. Does Virginia have any assets that were worth protecting at the same level of commitment regardless of national seat-of-power?

1. Tredegar and other industries
2. Coal
3. Iron ore and furnaces
4. Salt
5. Lead
6. Niter
7. Non-export agricultural products
8. Railroads to support all the above and transport troops
9. Most populous state in Confederacy

I would submit that these above items were extremely valuable and worthy of protection at the same level as traditionally. That is why Virginia was so important to the Secessionist cause.
236

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top