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Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital

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In the spring of 1861, Richmond, Virginia, suddenly became the capital city, military headquarters, and industrial engine of a new nation fighting for its existence. A remarkable drama unfolded in the months that followed. The city's population exploded, its economy was deranged, and its government and citizenry clashed desperately over resources to meet daily needs while In the spring of 1861, Richmond, Virginia, suddenly became the capital city, military headquarters, and industrial engine of a new nation fighting for its existence. A remarkable drama unfolded in the months that followed. The city's population exploded, its economy was deranged, and its government and citizenry clashed desperately over resources to meet daily needs while a mighty enemy army laid siege. Journalists, officials, and everyday residents recorded these events in great detail, and the Confederacy's foes and friends watched closely from across the continent and around the world. In Rebel Richmond, Stephen V. Ash vividly evokes life in Richmond as war consumed the Confederate capital. He guides readers from the city's alleys, homes, and shops to its churches, factories, and halls of power, uncovering the intimate daily drama of a city transformed and ultimately destroyed by war. Drawing on the stories and experiences of civilians and soldiers, slaves and masters, refugees and prisoners, merchants and laborers, preachers and prostitutes, the sick and the wounded, Ash delivers a captivating new narrative of the Civil War's impact on a city and its people.


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In the spring of 1861, Richmond, Virginia, suddenly became the capital city, military headquarters, and industrial engine of a new nation fighting for its existence. A remarkable drama unfolded in the months that followed. The city's population exploded, its economy was deranged, and its government and citizenry clashed desperately over resources to meet daily needs while In the spring of 1861, Richmond, Virginia, suddenly became the capital city, military headquarters, and industrial engine of a new nation fighting for its existence. A remarkable drama unfolded in the months that followed. The city's population exploded, its economy was deranged, and its government and citizenry clashed desperately over resources to meet daily needs while a mighty enemy army laid siege. Journalists, officials, and everyday residents recorded these events in great detail, and the Confederacy's foes and friends watched closely from across the continent and around the world. In Rebel Richmond, Stephen V. Ash vividly evokes life in Richmond as war consumed the Confederate capital. He guides readers from the city's alleys, homes, and shops to its churches, factories, and halls of power, uncovering the intimate daily drama of a city transformed and ultimately destroyed by war. Drawing on the stories and experiences of civilians and soldiers, slaves and masters, refugees and prisoners, merchants and laborers, preachers and prostitutes, the sick and the wounded, Ash delivers a captivating new narrative of the Civil War's impact on a city and its people.

43 review for Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    "And this is Richmond." Sorry there, for a moment this book took me back to Ken Burns' haunting description of the wartime ravaged Confederate capital. I really liked this book from start to finish. It presented the view of Richmond through the eyes of the common people. We have all heard the story of the Confederacy told from the viewpoint of Jefferson Davis, or Robert E. Lee or -sigh- Mary Chesnut. This book took a different approach and didn't suffer any for it. A good introduction to the "And this is Richmond." Sorry there, for a moment this book took me back to Ken Burns' haunting description of the wartime ravaged Confederate capital. I really liked this book from start to finish. It presented the view of Richmond through the eyes of the common people. We have all heard the story of the Confederacy told from the viewpoint of Jefferson Davis, or Robert E. Lee or -sigh- Mary Chesnut. This book took a different approach and didn't suffer any for it. A good introduction to the Confederate capital and the people who lived there. It definitely deserves a spot on the Civil War buff's bookshelf.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bonnye Reed

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Netgalley pub date Oct 14, 2019 University of NC Press Adobe Digital on my phone CHANGE TO EBOOK EDITION

  3. 5 out of 5

    James Crabtree

    Richmond’s role as the capital of the short-lived Confederate States of America has been the subject of many books, not least of which were first-hand accounts of rebels who spent the war in Richmond either as civilians or in the Confederate government. More recently, there has been Sword Over Richmond (which is more about the Peninsula Campaign than the besieged city), Curiosities of the Confederate Capital (which simply highlights a few of the more unusual events that took place in Richmond Richmond’s role as the capital of the short-lived Confederate States of America has been the subject of many books, not least of which were first-hand accounts of rebels who spent the war in Richmond either as civilians or in the Confederate government. More recently, there has been Sword Over Richmond (which is more about the Peninsula Campaign than the besieged city), Curiosities of the Confederate Capital (which simply highlights a few of the more unusual events that took place in Richmond during the war) and Ashes of Glory. Of these three, Ashes most resembles Rebel Richmond, the new book by Stephen V. Ash, because of its detail and use of vignettes to illustrate certain aspects of life in Richmond during the war. However, it is Ash’s approach to the topic that I think is the better one. Rebel Richmond concentrates on the human aspects of life in the city. It is one thing to discuss runaway inflation; it is another thing entirely tell the reader what this meant to government clerks and workmen when simply getting food to feed your family seemed impossible. It is one thing to talk about the housing shortage; it is another thing to discuss the horrible options that many newcomers were left with when vainly trying to find a decent place to live. It is one thing to expound on the horrors of war; it is another to describe a loved one’s slow, painful death due to combat injuries. Ash’s writing really makes life in wartime Richmond real to the reader. It was the unfortunate geography of the Civil War which saw the capitals of the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. a little over a hundred miles of each other. Washington D.C., of course, had straddled the middle line of the country since it was made the capital but the Confederacy made the conscious decision to locate their capital in Virginia (once that state seceded). This doesn’t make much sense at first glance but as explained in Rebel Richmond the city was recognized as a key asset to the successful prosecution of the war: it was a key rail junction (five railways served Richmond, but did not connect to each other), it contained a large percentage of the South’s industrial base (including the only facility able to make cannon or armor plate) and the state itself added “gravitas” to the cause, having been the home of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. In hindsight, military necessity would seem to dictate locating the capital away from the enemy frontier… possibly New Orleans or Atlanta. The selection of Richmond as the capital meant that a huge burden was placed on the city, first as a military base, then later as a frontline fortress. In effect, the Confederacy recognized that the loss of Richmond would have strategic implications in any case. By doubling down and making the city the capital of the new country the Confederates guaranteed that the member states would provide all the resources they could to protect the primary front of the war. And who is to say they were wrong? As it happened, both New Orleans and Atlanta fell before Richmond did. It is telling too that when Richmond did fall, it’s loss fulfilled the prophecy of doom and ended hopes for a Confederate States of America.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Haines

    Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital confronts an interesting and, perhaps, underexposed aspect of the Civil War which is the civilian life in the Confederacy. A newly declared nation born into Civil War, how does it survive? Obviously we know the answer: it doesn't. But for the roughly four years Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, the city ebbed and flowed in its grandeur. Ash weaves a pretty interesting and quite dark tale about what life actually was like in Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital confronts an interesting and, perhaps, underexposed aspect of the Civil War which is the civilian life in the Confederacy. A newly declared nation born into Civil War, how does it survive? Obviously we know the answer: it doesn't. But for the roughly four years Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, the city ebbed and flowed in its grandeur. Ash weaves a pretty interesting and quite dark tale about what life actually was like in Richmond during the war years. Each chapter covers a different issue: housing; food shortages; inflation; employment; and more. Part of my appreciated the segregation of these major issues, as well as the vignettes Ash portrays through real life stories and struggles of Richmond residents and transplants. However, at times they seem detached and unsuccessful. Certain Richmond residents we'll grow to know, but their story is told through a sentence here and a sentence there. As I said, in some ways the formatting is very successful, though in others it can be quite frustrating. In the end I'd highly recommend this book to those interested in American history, particularly the Civil War era, and those who enjoy city politics, dynamics, and urban planning. My background is in architectural and I found the perspective and focus on the short-lived capital city to be very interesting and eye-opening. It's not a subject I anticipate I will see covered elsewhere.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    This was a fascinating history book and I hope to read more like it. It is the story of the city of Richmond during the Civil War: the growth of population, urban development, industry, and more. What was life like for the average person living in Richmond? For the poor, the slaves, the free blacks, government officials, or rich some of the experiences were the same and others were much different (if you had money!). I had never before read anything about how, as more and more men were drafted This was a fascinating history book and I hope to read more like it. It is the story of the city of Richmond during the Civil War: the growth of population, urban development, industry, and more. What was life like for the average person living in Richmond? For the poor, the slaves, the free blacks, government officials, or rich some of the experiences were the same and others were much different (if you had money!). I had never before read anything about how, as more and more men were drafted into the army, women were allowed to work men's jobs- causing social confusion and upheaval but saving lives. Women rioted to protest prices of staple foods, people planted tiny gardens to provide their families with something to eat. There are stories of people renting rooms or living in boarding houses with five times the number of people you would think the house could hold, as well as stories of what women working in the hospitals experienced. Drawn from memoirs and diaries, this is a story not of battle or politics, but of people and day to day survival in a town that was suddenly both the center of government and military camps. Well-written, carefully researched, and beautifully detailed, this is a great book for readers who want the details of daily life, the lives of average Richmonders, during the most unusual experience an American city has had. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    The Historian Stephen V. Ash wrote the 2019’s monograph, Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital is an urban history of daily life in Richmond, Virginia while it was the capital of the Confederate States. Richmond was picked as the capital of the Confederate Capital in part, because it was in northern Virginia, which was seen by both the governments of the United States and the Confederate States as the primary theater of the American Civil War. The Confederate government would The Historian Stephen V. Ash wrote the 2019’s monograph, Rebel Richmond: Life and Death in the Confederate Capital is an urban history of daily life in Richmond, Virginia while it was the capital of the Confederate States. Richmond was picked as the capital of the Confederate Capital in part, because it was in northern Virginia, which was seen by both the governments of the United States and the Confederate States as the primary theater of the American Civil War. The Confederate government would be in an easy position to communicate with the Confederate military at the front. Richmond in 1860 was a major “rail hub and industrial center” of the South, so the Confederate government thought they would have to defend the city anyway (Ash 10). During the course of the Civil War, the population of Richmond grew from around 40,000 people in early 1861 to around 130,000 around to the Confederate War Department in 1864 (Ash 20). Ash wants to illustrate what life was like for ordinary people in Richmond during the Civil War, regardless of whether they are black or white, poor or rich, female or male, civilian or soldier, and so forth. Ash is successful at showing how ordinary people live in Richmond during the Civil War.

  7. 4 out of 5

    S. Smith

    In his detailed study of the Confederate capitol, Professor Ash creates a compelling and readable portrait of a 19th century city at war. His extensive research draws on contemporary documents, letters, and memoirs, bringing to life residents of Richmond from all classes and ranks of society who lived -- and died -- during the Civil War. This is a good choice for both academics and general readers with an interest in Civil War-era social history. Note: The publisher suppled an advance reading In his detailed study of the Confederate capitol, Professor Ash creates a compelling and readable portrait of a 19th century city at war. His extensive research draws on contemporary documents, letters, and memoirs, bringing to life residents of Richmond from all classes and ranks of society who lived -- and died -- during the Civil War. This is a good choice for both academics and general readers with an interest in Civil War-era social history. Note: The publisher suppled an advance reading copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Beattie

    "This book has summoned those obscure and mostly forgotten Richmonders from the wings and placed them at center stage. With this new cast, the drama of Civil War Richmond takes on a fresh aspect and richer meaning." - Stephen V. Ash Ash writes this novel to showcase the citizens of Richmond, whose struggles of living in a capital city plagued them throughout the war. Each chapter focuses on hardships bestowed onto the city, such as how it was to supply factories for an army and its town, when it "This book has summoned those obscure and mostly forgotten Richmonders from the wings and placed them at center stage. With this new cast, the drama of Civil War Richmond takes on a fresh aspect and richer meaning." - Stephen V. Ash Ash writes this novel to showcase the citizens of Richmond, whose struggles of living in a capital city plagued them throughout the war. Each chapter focuses on hardships bestowed onto the city, such as how it was to supply factories for an army and its town, when it only ranked 13th in industrial output of US cities (1st in the Confederacy). Ash delivers striking facts that help immerse the reader into grueling life of living in a war consumed capital, so close to the action. I enjoyed learning about the changes Richmond underwent and was shocked by some of the facts, such as how high food prices soared during the war. Rebel Richmond is a great insight on the lives of Richmonders during the Civil War. Thank you to Netgalley, Stephen V. Ash, and the University of North Carolina Press for an advanced copy to review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Craig Pearson

    Thank you to Net galley for the opportunity to read this book and to give an honest review. Reading about great past events it is too easy to overlook the details that necessarily that are part and parcel of the greater action. Most Civil War histories make vague references To Richmond as the Capitol of the Confederacy but now we can getting the gritty details of life in a city that was not ready to be under virtual seige.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    NICE BOOK.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jane Goodall

    Well written. You can tell the author did a lot of research. Especially meaningful after having visited Richmond the past fall.

  12. 4 out of 5

    JaeYeon You

  13. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  14. 4 out of 5

    Appomattox

  15. 4 out of 5

    J.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Alexander

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Burris

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deedee

  20. 4 out of 5

    James

  21. 5 out of 5

    montogma25

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vince

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  25. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steve Spencer

  28. 4 out of 5

    Annette

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  31. 5 out of 5

    Robert Verhaar

  32. 5 out of 5

    Amy Lafleur Meyers

  33. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  34. 4 out of 5

    Larry

  35. 5 out of 5

    Kyli

  36. 4 out of 5

    Noelle

  37. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Mae

  38. 5 out of 5

    David Williams

  39. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

  40. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Shower

  41. 4 out of 5

    Genelia D'Souza

  42. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  43. 5 out of 5

    Annette Abbott

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