In April, Virginia officials had invited the Confederate government to move its capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond. A bill was introduced in the Provisional Confederate Congress on the 2nd to accept the invitation, and the bill was approved on the 20th.
President Jefferson Davis had initially opposed the move because it would put the seat of government less than 100 miles away from Washington, making it much harder to defend against a Federal invasion. However, Virginians had made a tremendous sacrifice in joining the Confederacy while knowing that their state would be the prime target. And with Confederate troops pouring into Virginia for defense, Davis felt obligated to endorse the bill.
The next day, a resolution was approved “that this Congress will adjourn on Tuesday next, to meet again on the 20th day of July, at Richmond, Virginia.” Davis was authorized to move his executive department from Montgomery to Richmond at any time before July 20, and if any change in the war should “render it impolitic to meet in Richmond,” Davis could call Congress into session at any other place he chose.
Moving the government to Richmond could have given the Confederacy a military and psychological advantage in the coming conflict with the U.S. But it would also force the Confederate government into making the military situation in Virginia its top priority at the expense of other important military theaters. With that, Congress adjourned until reassembling at Richmond in July.
As expected, Virginia voters approved the state’s secession from the Union, which erased any doubt that the Confederate government might not move to Richmond. The vote was an overwhelming 128,884 in favor and 32,134 against. Many voted for secession because by that time it seemed a foregone conclusion that Virginia would leave the Union. The most opposition to secession came from the mountainous northwestern counties, where the vote was 3-to-1 against. There was also Unionist sentiment in the eastern part of the state, thus making Virginia vulnerable from both directions.
Nevertheless, Virginia soon became the Confederacy’s most important state in terms of population. Moreover, Virginia’s industrial resources nearly exceeded all of the original seven Confederate states combined, with Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works being the only southern factory capable of producing heavy ordnance for defense.
On the 27th, Davis, Secretary of State Robert Toombs, and other Confederate officials boarded the rear coach of a train to move the executive department from Montgomery to Richmond. Fellow passengers did not know the Confederate president was on the train until they saw people cheering for him at the first stop. Davis was in very poor health, but he forced himself out of bed to acknowledge the “one continuous ovation” he received throughout the two-day trip.
Davis arrived at Richmond to a booming cannon salute. According to the Richmond Enquirer, the president’s triumphant journey “has infused a martial feeling in our people that knows no bounds.” Governor John Letcher, the mayor of Richmond, and other prominent Virginians greeted Davis at the train station with a carriage drawn by four white horses.
The president rode through the cheering throngs to his temporary residence at the Spotswood Hotel, where he delivered a speech from the balcony: “I look upon you as the last best hope of liberty… Upon your strong right arm depends the success of your country… remember that life and blood are nothing as compared with the immense interests you have at stake… To the last breath of my life, I am wholly your own.”
Davis then retired to get some rest before coming out later that afternoon to inspect the troops camped at the fairgrounds. The Enquirer reported: “The mantel of (George) Washington falls gracefully upon his shoulders. Never were a people more enraptured with their Chief Magistrate than ours are with President Davis.” Shortly after his arrival in Richmond, Davis was briefed on the state’s military situation. Currently three armies guarded the three most important (and vulnerable) regions:
- General Joseph E. Johnston guarded the Shenandoah Valley from Harpers Ferry
- General P.G.T. Beauregard guarded northern Virginia from Manassas
- Generals Benjamin Huger and John B. Magruder guarded the seaward approach to Richmond from Norfolk and the Virginia peninsula between the York and James rivers
The Blue Ridge Mountains separated Johnston and Beauregard, the two commanders closest to Washington. However, their troops were close enough to each other to join forces if needed. That time would come soon.
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- Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Kindle Edition 2008, 1889.
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