Curiosities of the Confederate Capital

Untold Richmond Stories Of the Spectacular, Tragic And Bizarre

Everyone knows that the Civil War started on the front lawn of Wilbur McClean’s house in Manassas, Virginia and ended four years later in the parlor of his new home at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Everybody probably also knows that Stonewall Jackson’s arm was buried in a small casket, separate from his corpse, and that his eyes, when he entered battle, glowed with some inner fire, which is why he was called “Old Blue Lights”.
As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Bellevue author Brian Burns has given us a detailed look into some of the stranger stories that came out of that war in the former capitol of the Confederacy. You’ll recognize a lot of the landmarks and what’s more there are tales here that you’ve never seen in another history book.
Burns is an expert detective, sleuthing out real stories, or more precisely, a prospector who has an uncanny ability to discover a nugget of pure gold in mountains of stone-hard and desert-dry data.
There’s Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Union field surgeon, who was imprisoned at Richmond’s Castle Thunder down in Shockoe Bottom. Not only was she one of the first women to ever receive her medical degree in America, but Dr. Walker was one of the earliest activists in what would become the women’s movement. She shucked her corsets and hoop skirts in favor of tight-fitting pants and a jacket. While she was paraded through the streets of Richmond to Castle Thunder people came out in droves to see this walking novelty of a woman. Of course the daily Richmond newspaper railed against her and dubbed her Miss Doctress, Miscegenation, Philosophical Walker (in that regard not much has changed). Despite all these potshots, the commandant of the prison, Brigadier General William Montgomery Gardener, who would later secure Doctor Walker’s early release in a prisoner exchange, thought she was personable and intellectually gifted. After the war she became the first woman in U.S. history to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor and then went on to fight the uphill battle for women’s rights.
Then this one: After the fall of Richmond, the 28th U.S. Colored Troops marched out Broad Street to Camp Lee, the last remnant of which was recently plowed under to make way for the Redskins camp. At Camp Lee, the regiment’s chaplain, Rev. Garland White, who was born into slavery in Hanover County and as boy permanently separated from his mother and sold to a congressman in Georgia, was approached by an older black woman who asked him his name and place of birth, and, if he remembered, the name of his mother. When he responded, the woman said: “This is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”
There are scores of other stories like these, true tales, all of which occurred in and around Richmond, and each one neatly packaged to give the reader enough cocktail graffiti for a hundred parties.

Curiosities Of The Confederate Capital
Untold Richmond Stories Of The Spectacular, Tragic And Bizarre
Brian Burns
History Press
158 pages
$19.99

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