The mission of The American Civil War Museum is to be the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.
In 1860, Richmond had a population of almost 38,000 of which just over 14,000 were African American (2, 576 free). Although the population does not sound like much to us today, it made Richmond, the third largest city in the South. Richmond was a thriving commercial center— tobacco (52 manufacturers), slaves (69 slave traders and auctioneers), flour (12 mills), and iron were the major trades. Tredegar Iron Works was the largest in the South. Richmond was ideally situated on the James River with five railroads radiating from it. The city for many reasons would need to be defended. Virginia was destined to be a battleground and Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government wanted to be near the center of the action. Interestingly enough, it was Alexander Stephens, the Vice President, who negotiated a deal, which offered the capital to Virginia as an inducement to join the Confederacy. Stephens lived catty-cornered across the street for a time but did not stay in Richmond long. A strong supporter of states’ rights, Stephens felt that Davis was exercising too much central authority. Unable to get along with Davis, Stephens returned to Georgia where he spent most of the war.
The area that we are in is known as Court End. It was named for its proximity to the court building and for the many lawyers and judges who lived nearby. Just a few examples of early Court End residents are U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall and John Wickham, the lawyer who defended Aaron Burr in this treason trial. The Wickham House and the John Marshall House are both in operation today as historic homes. During the war, in addition to Davis and Stephens living in the neighborhood, so did the famous diarist Mary Chesnut. She and her husband James, who served as an aide to President Davis, rented the first floor of a house on 12th and Clay from November 1862 – 1864. Both were close friends of the Davises, and they were in and out of each other’s homes constantly in this period. Mrs. Lee even lived in this area. During her first year in Richmond, in 1862, she was a guest in the home of the James Caskie family who lived on the southeast corner of 11th and Clay.