7th Street in the Civil War

7thStreet in the Civil War


            During the Civil War, Seventh Street certainly came to play an integral role in the city of Richmond. This street, occupied mostly by residential places and factory space, the majority of the factory space seems to be relatively small in terms of physical space, and there are continuous advertisements for rental of such space, as well as for rental of living space. The residential space on 7th Street was evidently of an expensive nature, suggesting that the upper class lived on this road, as one housed advertised as being for sale was described as ‘a most valuable location for a first class dwelling’[1]. The Marshall Theatre, which has doors on 7th Street as well as the main entrance on Broad Street, is rebuilt in just 12 months after it burned to the ground around Christmas time in 1861. I would motion that 7th Street was one of the most important, if not, the most important street in Richmond during the Civil War of the 1860s.

One of the most intriguing factors about this street is the fact it housed the substantial Laboratory of the Confederate States (C.S. Lab). Many controversial and captivating occurrences took place at this laboratory, which seems, from looking at five different newspapers (The Richmond Daily Dispatch, The Richmond Enquirer, The Richmond Whig, The Richmond Sentinel and the Richmond Examiner), to have been the central plot on 7th Street. Do not be mislead though, this was no ordinary laboratory, it was an arsenal where shells and ammunition were produced and developed. This was the center of all military happenings for areas in the vicinity of Richmond, which only goes to emphasize the importance of 7th street for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

This Laboratory of the Confederate States was actually located on Brown’s Island (pictured), at the foot of 7th Street, where the street terminates. Today there is a bridge crossing the River James, which passes directly over Brown’s Island (it is the second closest bridge if you are looking back to the city from Hollywood Cemetery). The Laboratory of the Confederate States enjoyed a really basic set up, consisting of

What seems like five or six gigantic warehouses in which different operations took place, such as loading ammunition into guns or the manufacturing of chemicals. To get a real feel for how big the site was, one could be helped with the idea that over one hundred Yankees were imprisoned at the Laboratory of the Confederate States after being captured by a General. One interesting feature is the fact that it was actually in such a central position in the city, at the foot of the valley. Being an arsenal comes the obvious risks of fires and explosions; so placing it at such a location with the centre of the city in close vicinity poses a huge risk. This placement of the laboratory eventually became a talking point in a few newspapers.

The first mention of the Laboratory of the Confederate States, coming from the Richmond Dispatch in early July 1961, is that of an explosion due to the mismanagement of detonating powder intended for use of the Confederate Army.  [2] As well as killing two people, one a respected and almost-famous chemist, the explosions had destroyed the interior of the building, implying the need for major reconstruction. This is followed the next day by the first (recorded) instance that actually criticizes the logistics of the laboratory; an associate for the Dispatch is quoted to have said “Don’t be astonished to hear of that part of the town blowed to the devil”[3]. He looks to point out that he had spotted the obvious danger when he had made a trip to the Arsenal a fortnight beforehand.

Fires at the armory on 7th Street were extremely recurrent, and too most, not entirely unexpected. There are frequent reports of gunpowder explosive material lying carelessly around. This type of incident led to the fire on the 27th September of 1961. Although nothing major was damaged[4], simply a fence, yet another of these instances led to more talk about the practicality and the true safety issues of having the factory situated at the foot of Richmond. Additionally, the idea of the fact that both women and children are working in such a hazardous place is highlighted. Nonetheless, nothing is done about the hazardous environment.

Talk of the C  .S. Lab resurfaces again in February of 1863, we learn that on 7th Street, all the broken or over-used or enemy weaponry is brought to the sidewalk directly outside the Laboratory and simply left there for collection and then inspection. Surprisingly, there are no reports of any crimes involving stealing of weaponry from the streets.

The biggest documented explosion occurred in March 1963 at the Laboratory, which ended up killing sixty-four people in total, both men and women[5]. The warehouse where the condemned cartridges were broken up and disposed of was shattered, leaving only the wooden frames of the building standing and everything that was inside it lying in the near vicinity, destroyed.[6] Luckily, somehow the few other surrounding buildings were untouched and could carry on with their functions with no interruption. The destroyed building was replaced in quick time, being up by the 4th of April of the same year.

As well as being at the centre of everything guns, 7th Street and its Laboratory of the Confederate States seemed also to be where the commandments of all things military came from as General Glazebrook also directed operations of his F Company. It is also possible to tell from the fact that 7th Street was key to operations in Richmond as it was a border for one of the divided areas in which different Generals resided over, took care of, and were responsible for. The ‘international’ members of the military were also involved heavily at 7th Street, where both the French and Italian soldiers were ordered to convene there daily from March 1963. Here they would pick up their weapons for the day’s work and then be directed on what they were to be doing.[7]

The laboratory is not just physically cut off from the city, it seems as though it is quite isolated in that there is much bad feeling about it from the Richmond community. In a number of newspapers, the attitude and simple tone of the articles seem to be very distant and disrespecting. Commentators are very quick to condemn the laboratory, especially when there are explosions when they point to the hazardous nature of the laboratory.

It certainly seems the case that the Laboratory of the Confederate States was integral to the South’s part in the Civil War, thus making 7th Street central to anything war-related for the South. Even superficially, anything to do with the military had to go through 7th Street so we can safely say that it was used frequently.

Additionally, on the corner of 7th Street and Cary Street was the Confederate States Armory, where weapons that actually belonged to the Confederacy were returned after tours or fighting. For example 25,000 muskets and other weapons were dropped off at the C.S. Armory after being collected at the Seven Days’ battlefields[8].

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