Broad Street’s Civil War Transformation

Zac Brown

On the cusp of the Civil War Richmond increased its reputation as the trading post of central Virginia and made its name on the national level with an increase in tobacco factories, flour mills, and ironworks as well as markets and trading outposts[i]. But on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter everything changed, kicking off the Civil War and altering the lifestyle of all Richmonders from Capitol Square to the corner of 6th and Broad[ii].  This seemingly insignificant intersection in the heart of town represents a microcosm for the greater transformations that occurred all over Broad Street and mercantile districts throughout the Civil War.  The corner of 6th and Broad lost its identity as a commercial hub in the pages of the Richmond Daily Dispatch during the civil war, making headlines in military notices, theft and deaths as the war progressed. This transformation emphasizes greater Richmond’s increased dedication to the military effort and disregard for the peacetime sales and infrastructure during the Civil War.

Just doors down from Second Market and Shad’s hall, a block away from the railroad depot and Marshall Theatre, and a couple more blocks away from Capitol Square, the corner of Sixth and Broad Street’s thrived in heart of the mercantile and financial district of antebellum Richmond[iii]. On the North East Corner sat the residence and store of L. Wagner, a druggist who sold anything that a common Richmonder needed[iv]. In the last two months of 1860, Wagner advertised in the Richmond Daily Dispatch twenty times, selling anything from, “Superior writing ink” on November 10th, to “Ayers’ Cherry Pectoral and Sarsaparilla” on December 4th, to yeast powders for only 16 cents on November 20th[v].  Just across the street on 193 Broad Street J. Millhiser & Brothers had a huge sale of dry goods from all over the world[vi]. Wagner’s drug store and J. Millhiser and Brothers’ reduced prices of valuable goods all encapsulate the prosperity that overtook pre-Civil War Richmond.

As a thriving and growing city in the heart of Virginia, antebellum Richmond flourished as a hotbed for industry, commerce, and interconnectivity. In the decade leading up to the Civil War population increased greatly. The northern-born white male population increased 97% and the foreign born population increased at a staggering rate of 166%[vii]. The influx of workers inhabited “a densely packed financial and mercantile district to the west and south of capitol square” working in the “dry-goods establishments and retail shops that lined Broad, Grace, Franklin and Main Streets”[viii].

Richmond quickly established itself as the focal point of all things industrial in Virginia because of its connectivity to the rest of the nation and greater Virginia through its network of railroads and canals.  The creation of the railroads and canals not only linked the region economically, but also unified it politically. When the Civil War began trading partners throughout the region realized what was at stake, and political unification grew in importance.  The Virginia Tennessee Railroad had extreme significance to Southwest Virginians because since they were “linked to Richmond’s markets, [they] were also linked in 1861 to Richmond’s cause”[ix]. With the train running right in front of L. Wagner’s Drug Store on Broad Street, the corner of 6th and Broad was the ideal place for Richmond to open its doors to the world’s markets as the heart of cosmopolitan antebellum Richmond. Yet as 1860 came to a close along with the antebellum period of Richmond’s history, 1861 brought the American Civil War and a new identity for the mercantile district of 6th and Broad Streets.

As the Civil War began and Richmonders committed themselves to the Confederate cause, the intersection of Broad and 6th Streets transformed from a commercial center to military intersection. After the firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861, L. Wagner’s Drug Store and J. Millhiser & Brother’s Dry Goods practically disappeared from the pages of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. After thirteen advertisements in the first three and a half months of 1861, Wagner only advertised three more times for the rest of 1861. After also advertising thirteen times in the first three months of 1861, Millhiser completely disappeared from the pages of the Daily Dispatch[x]. The next time J. Millhiser and Brother’s advertised in the newspaper they announced their closing on May 12, 1862[xi].

The corner had not only lost its identity as a commercial center of Richmond, but transformed its focuses to a place for military convergence.  In October of 1861, the military presence became real when Brigadier General Winder moved into the intersection[xii]. The Secretary of war, on October 23rd, then ordered that, “All Officers of the Confederate States or Provisional Army,… will report at the office of Brigadier General Winder corner of Broad and 6th streets” [xiii].  With the Brigadier General as the newest tenant on the corner, military notices increased. Major General J B Floyd convened his company, “at the old rendezvous, corner of 6th and Broad streets, on the 24th instant, at from 10 until 3 o’clock”[xiv].   On June 1, 1863, a want add appeared for a substitute to, “call to day to the Jewelry store of C C Walter” at 193 Broad, the former site of J Millhiser & Brothers[xv].

While military want ads continued filling the newspaper throughout 1864, the changing culture also resonated through advertisements that had not been in the pages of the Richmond Daily Dispatch since before 1860. On November 9th, 1863, the government appeared in the Dispatch not for military, but asking for “Dead Animals of every sort” to be brought to Wagner’s to, “greatly benefit the Government” and receive, “the highest price for the animals” [xvi]. Twice in December of 1862 people robbed stores on the corner of 6th and Broad, the first time robberies were noted in the Dispatch since before 1860[xvii].  Rooms also became available for rent on the corner in 1864.  On March 7th, 1864, “Two handsomely furnished rooms, at the southwest corner of 6th and Broad streets” became available and later in that year on July 11, an “absent furnished room” was for rent[xviii][xix]. Similar to the robberies, no advertisements about available rooms on 6th and Broad had appeared in the newspaper since at least before 1860. These changes note that while the military overtaking had changed the intersection, the whole culture had transformed with people turning to robberies for money and rooms becoming available for rent.

Throughout the Civil War Richmond lost its identity as a multicultural center of commerce and industry, becoming a military hotbed with its eyes set on one thing, Confederate victory. The Confederate military presence that cast a shadow on Richmond, forced many to realize that the city “ had been transformed from an American city to a Southern place practically overnight” [xx]. Brigadier General Winder’s physical presence on the corner of 6th and Broad was an attempt by the Confederate States of America to make its military presence known throughout the city, forcing citizens to remain loyal out of fear. While truly dedicated unionists may have still acted against the confederacy, “the vicissitudes of war and the actions of the government officials prompted others to express the limits of their loyalty in less overt ways”[xxi]. General Winder’s personality depicts one that caused many to fear the man. A, “much maligned man” as many people described him, Winder tried to keep the prisons and people of Richmond under control throughout the Civil War[xxii]. Along with secession came a change of the mood throughout Richmond, which robbed the once vibrant multicultural city of its flare and led to the more grim times of the American Civil War.  Transforming the corner of 6th and Broad Streets from a cosmopolitan mercantile district filled with prosperity and hope to a corner dominated by fear and military power.

At the beginning of the 1860’s Richmond was a thriving antebellum southern city, connected to the world by railroads and canals, but with the onset of the American Civil War the city redefined itself alongside its southern counterparts and focused on the confederate cause. Broad Street, the heart of the mercantile district of pre civil war Richmond, filled the pages of the Richmond Daily Dispatch with sales and advertisements for goods ranging from Peruvian soap to kerosene. As the Civil War grew in significance and the confederates feared defeat more and more the merchants and druggists of Broad Streets cared less and less about the promotion of their products and more about the survival of their society. The American Civil War brought on a mid life crisis for Richmond, Virginia and the Mercantile District of Broad Street, redefining its identity and changing its role in the newly reunified nation of the United States of America.


[i] Gregg D. Kimball, American City, Southern Place: A Cultural history of Antebellum Richmond (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2000), 15

[ii] “A National Divide, The U.S. Civil War 1861-865,” The History Place, accessed February 19, 2011, http://www.historyplace.com/civilwar

[iii] Kimball, American City, Southern Place, 40.

[iv] “The Stranger’s Guide and Official Directory for the City of Richmond,” Geo. P. Evans & Co., Printers, Whig Building, October 1, 1863, http://www.mdgorman.com/Written_Accounts/1863%20Richmond%20Directory.htm

[v] Richmond Daily Dispatch, November 1-December 10, 1860, accessed February 19, 2011, http://imls.richmond.edu/d/ddr/index.html

[vi] Richmond Daily Dispatch, November 28-December 10, 1860, accessed February 19, 2011 http://imls.richmond.edu/d/ddr/index.html

[vii] Kimball, American City, Southern Place, 32.

[viii] Kimball, American City, Southern Place, 32.

[ix] Kenneth W. Noe, Southwest Virginia’s Railroad: Modernization and the Sectional Crisis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 8-9

[x] Richmond Daily Dispatch, January 4-April 8, 1861, accessed February 19, 2011 http://imls.richmond.edu/d/ddr/index.html

[xii] “The Stranger’s Guide and Official Directory for the City of Richmond,” Geo. P. Evans & Co.

[xiv] Richmond Daily Dispatch January 22-24, 1863, accessed February 19, 2011 http://imls.richmond.edu/d/ddr/index.html

[xvii] Richmond Daily Dispatch, December 15, 1862, December 30, 1862, accessed February 19, 2011 http://imls.richmond.edu/d/ddr/index.html

[xx] Kimball, American City, Southern Place, 232.

[xxi] Kimball, American City, Southern Place, 242.

[xxii] “Brigadier-General John H. Winder,” The Photographic History of the Civil War: Volume 7- Prisons and Hospitals, Accessed February 19, 2011, http://www.pddoc.com/photohistory/v7/102.htm

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