The current issue of the Museum of the Confederacy magazine has a story about staffer Eric App’s personal and long-term project to create a virtual Richmond of the 1860s. His goal is to help visitors to the White House of the Confederacy and the museum to better understand life in wartime Richmond.
Visitors had often asked what Confederate President Jefferson Davis could see from the building during the war, with particular interest in his view of the James River or the Capitol building. The mansion is now within a forest of high-rise buildings with views mostly of blank walls.
But in the 1860s, it stood atop a ridge overlooking parts of Richmond. However, it was within a neighborhood of other three-story buildings and several even taller churches. According to App, the surrounding buildings blocked Davis’s view of the river and the Capitol.
That preliminary work led App to research and then model residential and commercial buildings that stood on the blocks surrounding the White House. His partially completed map includes about 30 blocks, not all of them filled in. App’s primary sources, according to the magazine article, include the 1867 postwar map of the city drawn by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers and Frederick W. Beers’ 1876 “Illustrated Atlas of Richmond,” as well as period insurance records.
“This is really a study of the town, a record of urban planning and growth,” App told the magazine writer. With his computer programs, he “can give an overview of the city’s history. You can walk people through wartime Richmond, you can rouse the public’s curiosity by showing them something solid—like Libby Prison.”
The museum does not plan to add this story to its Web site, and App wouldn’t be showing off his work until he is done, according to museum spokesman Sam Craghead. However, the magazine is free with a museum membership, Craghead said, and encouraged those interested in seeing the article to join.