Why did the CSA pick a capitol city so close to the front lines?

Wife and I are listening to a reading of Grant, by Ron Chernow. Excellent, btw. So it’s now 1864 and the Confederate capitol, Richmond, is being surrounded. Grant’s supply lines are nice and short, because Richmond is so close. So why didn’t the South pick a city farther away?

originally they did it was in Alabama Huntsville or somewhere near by but they decided to move it because they thought it would scare dc and since the south thought the was wasn’t going to be that long they wanted it close by for the negotiations and such

Well, it wasn’t like the Union’s capital was well-removed from the border, either. :wink:

erm thought the war

Montgomery, actually. It was (and still is) the state capital of Alabama, and it was where the CSA was originally formed (and note that Virginia was not among the original states in the Confederacy). It sounds like Montgomery was only intended to be an interim capital, and they chose Richmond a few months later.

That was the ‘Seat’ of the war. The army of Northern Virginia and Lee were the best things Davis had going. Maybe Davis thought after Victory he could just move right into D.C. and that big white house. D.C. is below the Mason/Dixon line, and all.

Virginia was the most important state in the rebellion - the most populous and the wealthiest. Putting the capital there just made sense (also Virginia was ambivalent about secession, so putting the capital there was good politics).

In any case it’s not as if being in the deep heartland helped Atlanta much, did it.

But yeah, it may have been a case of feeling that the “real front” would be the one with the Army of Northern VA and people in Richmond would be better prepared to deal with the people in Washington due to proximity.

(Another thing I wonder is why US 1 in Northern VA is called the “Jefferson Davis Highway”, honoring a Mississippian who only brought ruin to the place; not even a proper *Virginian *Confederate.)

They were fighting to separate from the Union, not take it over.

Yeah, yeah that’s what they said. Do you really think if the south had prevailed and defeated the union that Davis wouldn’t have taken over Washington? It was below the MD line. Arlington, home of Lee, was close. Hell yeah he would have jumped right in that big white house. Brought his slaves in and taken up housekeeping. IMO.

Good reasons. I’ll add two things.

Virginia was bigger back then – all of what is now West Virginia was part of the state, making it geographically huge.

Virginia had a reputation for dominating presidential politics. Lincoln was the 16th president. Of the 15 before him, seven had been born in Virginia and were considered Virginians:


In 1860, when the election of Lincoln forced slaveholders to reveal their true allegiances, there were 33 US states. One of those 33 states had provided 46.7% of the previous presidents.

Virginia’s entry into the Confederacy brought not only geographic and military strength, it brought political influence, status, and presidential cachet to the newly-declared wannabe nation.

True, but it was already there long before the war began. The Rebs moved their capital from the Deep South to the front after the war started.

The big concern for the rebel government was being taken seriously. In their minds, the prestige of Richmond far outweighed whatever threat Yankee shopkeepers and factory workers who couldn’t shoot straight might pose.

Eh, not so much. There was some effort by Lee in 1862 to win over the hearts and minds of Marylanders but it didn’t get very far. And having Washington City with Maryland being part of a hostile power is just untenable. The next time the USA and CSA went to war - and there would be a round two if the CSA won - Washington would have fallen in 2 hours.

My experience living in VA during the Centennial showed that Virginians still thought mighty highly of themselves and found putting the capital in one of the cannon-fodder states laughable.

This was mostly to do with rail line and with the iron works.

The provisional capital at Montgomery lacked rail lines and the other state’s delegates complained like anything at the travel time to get there.

New Orleans with 167,000 was the biggest city in the south, while Charleston with 40,000 and Richmond with 37,000 were next.

Only Mobile 29,000, Memphis 22,500 and Savanah 22,000 had more than 20,000 people (figures are rounded from 1860 census).

(Baltimore 212,000, St Louis 160,000 and Louisville 68,000 were large cities in the slave states that didn’t secede.)

Charleston and New Orleans were great ports but easily attacked by sea. Indeed New Orleans slave culture, huge Catholic population and reputation for sin, as well as life in general was different from other southern cities. Again with Savannah and Mobile you run into the port problem, too easily attacked by sea.

Memphis was too far west.

Richmond was nearly four times the size of Montgomery (10,000) but in reality the Virginia legislature made the overture of inviting the Confederates to move their capital to anyplace in Virginia, not only Richmond.

The Tredegar Iron Works complex, in Richmond, was one of the most extensive of such industries in the nation, plus corn and flour mills and rail access were all available in Richmond.

When the vote to move was taken, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi voted no, the other 6 states voted to move to Richmond.

Atlanta and Nashville also made serious bids to be the capital, but Tennessee was divided (East - pro union, middle - mixed, west - pro confederate) and Atlanta while possessing great rail connections was less than 10,000 (it wasn’t the capital of Georgia yet).

Gettysburg proved the South was willing to go further north. I’m no expert but Lee fancied himself annointed by his forefathers( Lighthorse Harry) and Mary C. Lee was Washingtons grand-daughter (adopted). I think maybe he had visions of grandeur. I can’t know, really. I’ve read D.Southalls Freemans complete biography of Lee ( it’s 4 large volumes) and it seems Lee thought highly of himself and as one of Virginia sons he felt privileged. I don’t think for a minute he would have refused to set Davis up in the Whitehouse. And then ran for President himself, down the line. As Grant did. To the victors go the spoils. Afterall.

I recently mentioned that I was raised to be a bit of a snob. Some of that was inadvertantly from my kinda snobby parents but a lot of it was from leaving Virginia at just the moment I was developing my identity. I cried myself to sleep the night before we left, saying, “I am a Virginian.” But I am also a hardcore Yankee solidly against everything the Confederacy stood for. I never made a lot of sense, but it was nice to have an identity. :o

You are a conundrum. :wink:

Note that the war wasn’t expected to last long. The first Battle of Bull Run was going to be the “knock-out” blow that would end the war.

The arrogance of the South was unbelievable. They knew they were intrinsically better people than the Northerners and would win simply due to their “virtue”. (Guess what other looking-down-on-other-people thing goes with this attitude.)

The idea of Yankees ever being able to take Richmond was a ridiculous thought for virtually the whole war.