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Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital Paperback – July 29, 2003
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When conquering Union soldiers entered Richmond, Virginia, in the first days of April, 1865, they found a city afire, reduced to desperation, but still defiant. Virginia historian Nelson Lankford reconstructs the final hours of the Confederacy's heart in this vivid narrative, which draws on contemporary letters, diaries, and official reports that share both immediacy and a sense of awe at the terrible destruction. Just why the capital burned has long been a subject of speculation; by Lankford's account, much of the damage was due to the defenders' last-minute efforts to destroy war materiel, setting fires that soon spread. Lankford attends to other legends as well, including a reported call on Confederate general George Pickett's home by none other than Abraham Lincoln, while offering verifiable vignettes of such moments as Robert E. Lee's return to the capital and the celebrations of newly liberated slaves and Union prisoners. Lankford's narrative offers a view much different from what he calls "the warm sepia glow cast over our great national trauma by popular books and documentary films." It is a fine effort, and one that students of the Civil War should welcome. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Lankford continues his investigation of the Civil War's human dimensions with this narrative of Richmond's fall in 1865. As the war progressed it was increasingly clear that the fall of its capital meant the end of the Confederacy and by spring 1865 it was equally clear that fall was inevitable. Lankford uses a judicious combination of published and archival primary sources to demonstrate the increasing confusion that gripped the city as the government fled and the Union troops approached. He is equally successful presenting the tentative triumphalism with which the Northerners, many of them serving in segregated black regiments, entered the city. The fire that began with Confederate efforts to destroy military stores laid a large part of the city in ashes by the time of Abraham Lincoln's visit on April 4, an event that brought home to Richmond's citizens their new reality as an occupied city. The particular strength of Lankford's book is its demonstration of the rage with which most of the white population accepted that situation. Lankford is at pains to challenge myths of reconciliation between North and South, such as Lincoln's alleged visit to Confederate General George Pickett. Instead he offers comprehensive evidence that Richmond's citizens clung unrepentantly to their bitterness and sense of victimization, and denied the role of slavery in precipitating the war. The result for decades was their own enslavement to a past whose realities, as shown here, were a long way from the popular mythology of "gunpowder and magnolias."
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The citizens tired to flee and a slave trader even tried to take 50 slaves with him (he was turned back from the retreat route and had to bring his group back tot eh holding cell until they were freed 6 hour later).
Secretary of War, John Breckenridge (the VP of the US under James Buchanan) had ordered that three tobacco warehouses be burned so that the North could not get the tobacco. People pleaded to not let this happen, but officers fulfilled the order and as a result over 1000 buildings were burned.
A crazy week that started with the fall of Richmond and ended with the death of Lincoln.
I greatly appreciated this book. Well written, well researched. Many views were covered-Northern sympathizers, Southerners, Blacks, foreigners. Many new ideas of the war that I had not thought of before or had learned.
There are some drawbacks that I would like to piont out--Mr. Lankford breezes through the events of Five Forks, providing bare-bones detail, despite the fact that what happened there sealed the fate of Richmond. Now, I know Five Forks isn't IN Richmond, so he must limit his time to peripheral places but the drama that unfolded there needed to be expanded greatly since this book obviously strives for literarcy as well as historical merit. Including a detailed treatment of Five Forks would only add to the reader's appreciation of the direct cause of Richmond's fall. Conversely, he wastes far too much time on the failed Campbell iniative that amounted to nothing. Also, one must question his interpretation of certain sources. He quotes from a Southern officer who wrote over the loss of many of his men at Sayler's Creek, the officer states that his emotions mingled "pride with with grief" and cites such sentiments as the basis of future long-standing enmity towards Notherners. No such sentiments are expressed in the quote though, just something akin to fatherly pride mingled with great sadness over the loss of lives he held dear.
Beyond that, I don't feel that he treats Robert E. Lee fairly, especially when he calls him "delusional" for a message he dispatched that harbored some optimism over being able to continue the fight after Richmond. Mr. Lankford is practicing hindsight bias here. By this criteria, the last months of the war were all "delusional" for Lee as we can clearly see, with our wonderful 21st century eyes, that the South had no hope of winning and could thus question why he simply didn't surrender following Lincoln's 1864 reelection. First and foremost, General Lee was always a soldier doing his duty and that duty included trying to struggle on as best he could, providing some optimism when possible, against mountains of adversity.
Despite all this, this book is well-wroth reading and is a good companion to the various books on Appomattox.