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A House Divided
Posted at 09:41 AM ET, 06/13/2011

The Confederate capital shift from Montgomery to Richmond

It was in Montgomery, in February, 1861, that the seceded southern states established the governmental structure they came to call the Confederate States of America. The new government did not stay long in Alabama, however. The important state of Virginia remained out of the Confederacy, so Jefferson Davis sent his vice president Alexander H. Stephens there to try to coax secession. Virginia seceded on the 17th of April, offered Richmond as national capital ten days later, and on May 20th the Confederate Congress took up the offer.

Thus, Montgomery was not the Confederate capital for long. It was too small, its population consisting of only 9,000 people with but half of these being white. The city’s infrastructure was too small to support the added population the government would attract, and its location in the Deep South was not easy to reach.

Conversely, Richmond’s 1860 population was 38,000, over sixty percent of which was white. Serviced by five railroads, it was easy to reach. Steamboats connected it to Washington and Baltimore. It had spacious halls, good hotels, appetizing restaurants, and the heritage of the Founding Fathers.

It was also a center for industry and business, including the second largest slave market on the continent. The Tredegar Iron Works complex was one of the most extensive of such industries in the nation, and the Confederacy needed all the products it was able to manufacture. Twelve flour and corn meal mills produced necessary food for the civilian and the soon-to-be large military population.

It might be argued that, based on strictly military considerations, the Confederacy would have been wiser to have stayed in Montgomery or some other interior location. However, the Confederacy had little real choice but to unite its political and industrial capitals. Richmond was that place. Montgomery was not.

By John Marszalek  |  09:41 AM ET, 06/13/2011

 
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