The Historical Spectator.

The Wicked City of Richmond in 1864

Edward A. Pollard, a die-hard supporter of the “lost cause” (indeed perhaps the inventor of the term), knew Jefferson Davis, and had an insider’s view of the dysfunctional Confederate government throughout the war. In 1869 he published a book with the provocative title Life of Jefferson Davis, with a SECRET HISTORY of the Southern Confederacy, Gathered “Behind the Scenes in Richmond.” The words “SECRET HISTORY” were printed in very large type on the title page, and the book was sold by canvassing agents, who doubtless relied upon the sensational impact of those words to make a sale. The book itself, however, is sober, well-reasoned, and well-informed. Mr. Pollard’s thesis is that the Confederacy, whose cause was (of course) just and noble, had all the resources at its command to conclude the war successfully, and the defeat was due to the vanity and incompetence of President Davis and the men who surrounded him. Here, as Grant moves in on Richmond, the wicked city continues its orgy of vice.

The government of Mr. Davis was not yet alarmed. It had no reason to be alarmed except for the chances of its own mistakes. Nobody in Richmond was alarmed—not even so much as when McClellan, in 1862, had displayed his standards on the banks of the Chickahominy. There was the same recklessness of vice in this city that it had displayed so early in the war, and that had pointed it out as the centre of all the crime and iniquity in the South. There were the same “faro banks,” on Main and other streets, with numbers painted in large gilt figures over the door, and illuminated at night; the same flashily dressed young men with villainous faces, who hung about the street corners during the day, and were gamblers, garroters and plugs at night: the same able-bodied, red-faced and brawny individuals who mixed bad liquors in the bar-rooms, and who held exemptions from military duty as consumptive invalids, or for some reason had been recommended by the Surgeon-General to keep in cheerful company and take gentle exercise; the same men who frequented the innumerable bar-rooms, paying five dollars for a drink of the bad liquors, and who, mistaken for men of fortune, happened to be out-door patients of hospitals, with a daily allowance for stimulants, or government clerks on salaries, the monthly amounts of which, would not pay for a single night’s carousal. The society of Richmond was given over to unabashed vice and revelry, to continue thus until the partial doom of Sodom should overtake it. The filthy and accursed city was indeed a commentary on the administration of Mr. Davis; for that he should have made of his capital such a place indicates his own unworthiness, and, no matter what local or particular excuses are made, men will think how weak and bad must have been the government, immediately around which the moral atmosphere was so impure. It has often been boasted of Richmond, that it never lost its confidence during the war; but we must confess that much of this confidence was a vile recklessness that lived in the twenty-four hours, not all the serious and manly faith which calculates the morrow, and reposes on its superiority to fortune. To the last vice kept open doors in Richmond. For the present it had taken out a new lease of its abodes, as it supposed itself secured by the immediate presence of Lee’s army, and confidently expected for Grant, the sequel of McClellan.

From Life of Jefferson Davis, with a Secret History of the Southern Confederacy, Gathered “Behind the Scenes in Richmond,” by Edward A. Pollard.