With all of the significant history in Virginia, it is more important than ever to stop and take a minute to read about the way this state and obviously the country was formed. I think the State of Virginia has done an excellent job relaying this history to those who want to read about it in these historical markers.
Throughout the trip around Richmond I had a chance to read a little bit more than the average person!
The Stars and bars flag of the Confederacy was similar to the Stars and Stripes flag of the Union. Thus, the commanders had problems to distinguish their troops from those of the enemy. That's why the different flag was adopted. Thus, it became the most well-known of the Confederate flags: the two crossed bars with the 13 stars (the Southern Cross) like in the included photo taken in the Haversack Store of the Museum of the Confederacy. The flag was called The Confederate Battle Flag. This flag has become the generally recognized symbol of the South.
I got to know later during my trip that unfortunately Neo-Nazis, racists, skin-heads and the like have adopted this flag and desecrated it by their acts. They have no right to co-opt this flag! Maybe, that's why some Americans feel offended looking at this flag. The confederate flag also symbolizes slavery to Black community of the USA even now. In reality, it is a flag of honor, designed by the Confederacy as a banner representing state's rights and Southern culture. It is still displayed in the South. I saw this flag put in front of right many houses throughout the South during my trip.
Later on during my trip, I met a young guy in a T-shirt with this flag on its front and writing on the back:: "If this flag offends you that means you need a history lesson". Enough said...
Richmond is the capital city of Virginia. So, I expected to see busy and crowded downtown with traffic jams, a shortage of parking slots, expensive parking, numerous skyscrapers in large business district etc.
Haha, I was wrong. Luckily downtown Richmond looked quite different. I saw streets which were nearly empty, green space, lots of free parking slots at the end of the working day. Look at my picture taken at West Franklin Street close to Jefferson Hotel at the edge of the downtown area to see what I mean. Then I got to know that Richmond is not that large city with population of only about 200,000. Did you know Richmond is surpassed in population by the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and now even Chesapeake?
Well, during my Southern Odyssey I discovered again and again that the state capital cities were often not the largest cities in each state. What a difference with most European countries where the capital cities are almost always the largest cities.
How could that be in the USA? Here are a few random thoughts:
1. Maybe the state capitals didn't grow since they were founded so fast (as in Europe and as other cities in a state) because they were simply too expensive for many companies and individuals.
2. Maybe many companies in Europe preferred and still prefer to be closer to government leadership in the capital city. Why is that? One major reason is that European economic systems are still obviously more centralized.
3. European capitals are older and had more time to grow and grow. Thus, they didn't divide into as many individual cities.
The Museum of the Confederacy (modern building and old White House of the Confederacy) is located at the heart of Richmond's downtown, in the shadow of tall and modern building of Virginia Commenwealth University (VCU) Medical Center (on my picture).
The Museum announced recently that it might move out the downtown area because the hospital could expand. That got local attention. I can't believe it. I am sure that local community will never allow anyone to move jewels and must see activities out of downtown. Well, later on during my trip I saw some houses (mainly old, wooden cabin logs) moved from their original locations to... touristy downtowns of cities, but never in the opposite direction. My opinion is: Do not move it, please!
Click onto the link below, please.
My first meeting with history of the Civil War took place just in Richmond, when I visited the Museum and the White House of the Confederacy.
I noticed very fast that this difficult period in American history is still described and judged in many ways by Americans, often in different way than official historical sources. I found it very interesting. Later on I noticed that especially folks who lived for years in the South have different opinion than I could find in books.
Let me share some differences and ask some questions with no simple replies.
Was it really civil war?
Many folks, I was talking to in the South, undermined the official name of this war. They called it either the War Between the States or sometimes the War of Northern Aggression. Well, civil war is by definition a war fought by different groups of people living in THE SAME country (like the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939). Indeed, the war 1861-1865 was a war between two independent states: old Union (the United States of America = the North) and new Confederacy (The Confederate States of America = the South) which had own government, had a foreign policy, sent ambassadors (Great Britain was one country which recognised the Confederate States of America).
I cannot agree on the thought that the civil war was not really a civil war but a war between countries. According to the constitution of the United States the Southern States had no right for secession.
I checked text of the US Constitution from 1860 and it didn't expressly lay out any guidelines for secession. Thus, I think, there is nothing in it to prohibit secession. A union is, by definition, always voluntary - the act of choice and a free association. Am I wrong?
As I already stated I was told different opinions and views on the Civil War.
One of my basic questions was: why did southern states secede from the Union? Was slavery the reason?
Official history books usually cite slavery as the cause for the secession and war. President Abraham Lincoln was chosen in November 1860 and he wanted to ban slavery wheras the southern states wanted to keep it.
I was told in the South that slavery was a factor in the War Between the States, but it was a secondary factor. Slavery was getting to be cost prohibitive. The advent of the cotton gin made picking cotton more efficient without having to pay for the upkeep of the slaves. Even if the slaves didn't earn money, plantation owners had to pay to keep them in working order. Even if the South won the war, slavery would have probably disappeared before 1900.
The real reason of the secession was really the cotton trade. Because of soil and climate, cotton would only grow in the South. Because many of the congressmen were from the North, they made U.S. trade policy with other countries (as it relates to cotton exports) that put the cotton farmers at a distinct disadvantage. The South took that for a number of years and decided in 1861 they were not going to take it anymore so, one by one, the Southern states began to secede from the Union. Slavery was used as the rallying cry up North because most Americans, both up North and down South, were illiterate in the 1860s. Whereas most couldn't get their arms around the finer points of the cotton trade, they could understand slavery. It's just an opinion, but one that makes sense when you set aside the emotion of the debate.
Read the speeches to Georgia legislature of:
- Alexander H. Stephens, future Confederate Vice-President here
- Robert Toombs, future Confederate Secretary of State here.
This flag on my picture was put just by the entrance to the Museum of the Confederacy and is commonly known as the "STARS AND BARS".
The flag contained 13 five pointed stars. Each star symbolized one state admitted to the Confederacy:
- North Carolina,
- South Carolina,
These states are called the South now. Map here
Do not criticise the sense of history displayed by Richmond and the folks who live here. It is not that we are backward-looking, we are proud that so much American history took place within spitting distance of here.
Not only that, in Richmond, old institutions die harder than almost anywhere else. This may confuse the come-heres (folks who move here from elsewhere), old timers (not just those well along in age, but younger folks like me who grew up on the older names) still refer to what is now Fairfield Commons to its former name Eastgate Mall. The same is true for sport stadiums. We still refer to The Diamond as Parker Field. That even extends to airports Richmond International Airport is still commonly referred to as Byrd Field. More than five years out from its demolition, folks still mourn for Azalea Mall, and every now and then there is still nostalgia for the colour-coded CNB weather signage.
History is important to any understanding of Richmond, but Richmonders are also determined to look beyond its history. That said, the number one thing not to discuss with a Richmonder is not the Civil War or slavery. It's tobacco. You see, Richmond is the world headquarters of Philip Morris, the world's largest maker of tobacco products. It's kind of a sticky subject.
Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. One must remember this when they visit Richmond for the first time. Southern pride feelings still run deep in this city. It also provides good learning experiences. The White house of the confederacy is located next to the MCV campus and was the home of Jefferson Davis. Along with the white house is the museum of the confederacy. Just down the road is Hollywood Cemetery. Here, four presidents are burried. It is known for it's unusually artistic grave stones and number of confederate soldiers and officers burried here. It is sometimes refered to as "the arlington of the south"