From the New York Herald, 7/28/1862
THE CITY OF RICHMOND.
All eyes are turned on Richmond. While McClellan and Wilkes and Pope are concentrating their means and forces, let us see what and where Richmond is.
Richmond, the capital of Virginia, and the so-called capital of the rebel States, is situated on the left, or northeast, bank of the James river, at the head of tidewater, and below the lower falls. It is the seat of justice for Henrico county, and is distant from Washington, in an air line, about one hundred miles, south by west. The distance by railroad is one hundred and thirty miles from Washington, one hundred and sixty-eight from Baltimore, an twenty-two miles from Petersburg, which is south of the Virginia capital. Richmond lies in latitude 37.32 north, longitude 77.27 west of Greenwich, or 0.25 west of Washington. It is the largest town in the Virginia, and has been considered one of the most beautiful in the United States. The situation of the city and the scenery of the environs were much admired, combining in a high degree the elements of grandeur, beauty and variety. The river, winding among verdant hills, which rise with graceful swells and undulations, is interrupted by numerous islands and granite rocks, among which it tumbles and foams for a distance of several miles. The city is built on several hills, the most considerable of which are Shockoe and Richmond hills, separated from each by the Shockoe creek, and is laid out with general regularity in rectangular blocks. About twelve parallel streets, nearly three miles in length, extend northwest and southeast, and were originally distinguished by the letters of the alphabet, “A” street being next the river; but other names, however, are now generally used. The principal thoroughfare of business and fashion is Main, formerly “E” street. The cross streets, or those which intersect the streets, just mentioned, are designated by numbers, such as First, Second and so on. The Capitol and other public buildings are situation on Shockoe Hill, the top of which is an elevated plain in the western part of the city. This is the fashionable quarter, and is considered the most desirable for private residences. The Capitol, for its size and elevated position, is the most conspicuous object in Richmond. It stands in the centre of a public square of about eight acres, in which is a splendid equestrian statue of Washington. The building is adorned with a portico of Ionic columns, and contains a marble statue of Washington, by Houdon, taken from life, and considered a perfect likeness. The City Hall is an elegant and costly building, in the Doric style, at an angle of Capitol square. The penitentiary, which stands near the river, in the western suburbs of the city, has a front three hundred feet in length, and is one hundred and ten feet deep. The number of prisoners in September, 1853, was two hundred and seventy thus showing it to be commodious. The city at one time contained a court house, jail, an armory three hundred and twenty feet long by two hundred and eight feet wide, two market houses theatre (not long since destroyed by fire), an Orphan Asylum and a Masonic Hall. A new custom house was here erected by the United States government at a cost of about four hundred thousand dollars. There were also three banks, with an aggregate capital of over two millions, and several insurance offices. The public press was, before the rebellion, represented by several daily and weekly journals, in all about a dozen, and there are twenty-three churches in the city. A beautiful cemetery, named Hollywood adorns the outskirts, and in this the remains of President Monroe were interred after being removed from this city in 1859.
The falls of James river are a short distance above the city proper, and afford considerable water power, by which machinery of the factories are worked. The Tredegar Iron Works are situated near the river, and have latterly turned out an immense amount of artillery and war material. Vessels drawing about ten feet of water could, previous to the rebellion, have easily ascended to a place called Rocketts, which only about a mile from the city, and can now, unless the rebels have entirely destroyed the channel, a not unlikely proceeding, and larger vessels could also have come within four miles of the city proper. At City Point there are fifty feet of water in the river, and there are also about twelve feet of water over the bar, a short distance above City Point. A canal has been built around the falls, and above them there is navigation for two hundred miles, to Covington.
The city was founded in 1742, and became the capital of the State in 1799. In June, 1861, the rebels made it the capital of their rotten confederacy. There are five direct liens of railroad which enter the city, and from which many others branch within a few miles of the same. The following table of railway distances may be interesting: -
From Richmond to Petersburg... 22
From Richmond to Weldon, via Petersburg.. 86
From Richmond to Suffolk, via Petersburg... 80
From Richmond to Norfolk, via Petersburg... 102
From Richmond to Lynchburg, via Petersburg... 145
From Richmond to White House... 24
From Richmond to Fredericksburg... 60
From Richmond to Aquia Creek... 75
From Richmond to Danville... 140
From Richmond to Gordonsville... 76
From Richmond to Staunton, via Gordonsville...136
From Richmond to Mount Jackson, via
Gordonsville and Manassas Gap... 222
The following is an extract from a statement of a gentleman who visited the city last summer: -
The principal feature that strikes every one who sees Richmond for the first time is its curious topography. From the James river, which, tumbling over its rocky bed, makes a wide bend here, with its convex face to the city, rise without any regard to uniformity of direction, some half dozen hills, of gravel formation and of pretty considerable elevation. There has never been any attempt to grade them into level streets, but the city is scattered promiscuously up and on and over them, just as fashion, taste or business may have happened to dictate. The principal part of the city, however, occupies actually one of the those elevations, and the garden spot of that one is the Capitol square, where stands the building of which Jefferson procured the design in France; but which, however magnificent it may have been deemed in the simple, unostentatious days in which it was built, is certainly no to be lauded now either for its beauty of for its adaptation to the wants of a State Legislature, much less to those of a Congress of Confederate States. In the centre of the square is the beautiful equestrian statue of Washington, looking as calm and serene and commanding as if the city which he overlooks was not the centre and hot-bed of the foulest treason that ever showed itself in the light of day. The pedestal is designed for eight other statues of distinguished Virginians, but three of which have yet been put in their places. These are Jefferson, Henry and Mason - not the arrogant, self-conceited blockhead who recently represented the State in the Senate at Washington, and has now gone seeking recognition at London as the diplomatic representative of secessiondom - but a far purer, wiser and more patriotic namesake of his. Here also is a small statue of Henry Clay.
Richmond has really but one business thoroughfare. That is Main street. Most of the hotels, banks, newspaper officers and stores are located on it. It extends northward into the open country, and south eastward to a suburb called Rocketts. In this later section of it are situated some of the tobacco warehouses where our Union prisoners are now confined. These are large, old brick edifices, of mouldy, dilapidated appearance. They stand three together on one side of the street, which here is of a most dingy characters, and two nearly opposite. Those on the north side are overlooked by the bluffs in which Church Hill here terminates, and which supply gravel for the city, while those on the south side of the street have the James river and Kanawha canal, and the river itself immediately in their rear.
Near the summit of the elevation known as Church Hill is an large old- fashioned brick building known as the Almshouse. It has been converted from its original purpose, and now serves as a hospital for our sick and wounded. Sisters of Charity come and go, untiring angels of consolation and the hearse is kept in constant requisition, so great is the mortality that prevails here. Many of the private houses in the vicinity are also converted into temporary hospitals. As a general thing the former residents of this part of the city have gone elsewhere since the location of the hospitals here; and now on every tenth house or more, you see waving a little dirty, whitish yellow flag, denoting a lazaretto. The Odd Fellows Hall, on Broad street, is also used as a general hospital. On the most commanding part of Church Hill still stands, in good preservation, too, the church in which Patrick Henry made the famous speech at the commencement of the revolutionary struggle, where he used that memorable and oft-quoted phrases, me liberty, or give me death!” Around the church are the graves of the last generation of the people of Richmond, and I was no little disgusted to observe that few of the headstones had escaped the vandalism of some scoundrels, who, as a proof of their wit, cut the figure “__“ before the figures recording the ages of the deceased, making it appear that those who rested here from their labors had enjoyed incredibly patriarchal length of years.
Between this hill and the rickety suburb known as Rocketts there is a large encampment, and I believe there are also batteries here, for the defence of the river. I know that there certainly are batteries on the bluffs above and beyond Rocketts. Near here the few steamers and sailing craft that used to trade to Richmond had their mooring places, and here also the James river and Kanawha canal has its southern outlet into the river. This is a great work of internal improvement,. So far as the design is concerned; but, unfortunately for Virginia, her execution does not keep pace with her plans, and the canal, though open for many years, does not come within a long distance of the Kanawha river, which it was intended to tap. If it ever will do so, it must be after secession is crushed and the Union restored.