The Burning of Richmond

American Studies I September 10, 2003

In April 1865 the Confederate capital was destroyed. A picture portraying this moment can be found on page 472 of The American Pageant. In this picture, there are people crossing over a bridge as they leave behind a burning city. All of the people seem to be on horseback. While I was flipping through the pages, the flames caught my eye. I saw how the fire engulfed half of the picture and I began to wonder what event in history it was from. As I read further, I found out that the image had an important story behind it. It was the story that would explain one of the most crucial moments of the Civil War, where two separate worlds were beginning to become one.

During the elections of 1864 Lincoln was reelected as president. Lincoln’s goal was to get the Southern Confederation to join the Union. He was also looking for the slaves to become emancipated. Democrats in Northern America celebrated this event because it meant Lincoln would be able to continue in his attempt to "save the union," while the Southerners felt just the opposite. With Lincoln in office, there was little to no hope of being victorious in staying independent. With General Grant leading the vicious Northern army, the battles were tough. By February 1865 there was talk of resolving the conflicts between the North and South. The problem was that neither side was willing to give in. Lincoln pressed for a union and the Southerners refused to back down without freedom. The end came in April 1865 when the capital was burned, leaving nothing but a loss for the South.

If you were to look in the Encyclopedia Britannica, you would find that this event was represented differently. The Encyclopedia puts more emphasis on the struggle for the North to overcome the South. In The American Pageant, the text leads you to believe that the North had taken over, evacuated, and burned Richmond, Virginia. In truth, the Southerner’s General Lee had been the one to get the citizens of Richmond, as well as Petersburg, out in order to burn what Lincoln and his army might be able to use. The American Pageant also leads you to the conclusion that the burning of Richmond was the end of the war; the Encyclopedia tells us that this was only the beginning of a short pursuit. The Confederates surrendered on April 9, 1865.

I think the text and my Encyclopedia give a similar message about this selected part of the civil war. While the text got the point across, my source did a much better job of explaining exactly what was going on. I needed to understand the whole situation because I was not familiar with this part of the Civil War before I came across the picture of The Burning of Richmond. I noticed that in both sources, Grant was represented as a brutal fighter, but when he finally had the southerners cornered, he showed mercy. In The American Pageant, Grant was quoted saying "The war is over; the rebels are our countrymen again" (472). I find this the most fascinating part of all.

"Civil War, U.S." Encyclopedia Britannica. 1974 ed.

Cohen, Lizabeth, and Kennedy, David. The American Pageant. Twelfth Edition. New York and Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.