Marshall Street: Richmond’s Home

Zack Francis

Home is more than just a physical location; it gives identity to the people who inhabit the space.  People live in a community is because it provides a sense of belonging which can only be attained through a strong sentiment of this idea of home.  A home is expected to remain constant; no matter how much one changes over a certain period of time, he or she is expected to be able to come home and feel restored to his or her roots.  During the Civil War in Richmond, however, people did not have the ability to feel the unfailing sentiment of home.  From individual houses being sold or converted into other establishments, neighborhoods changing their appearance and the people living in them changing their principles; the Civil War changed Richmond in a way that nothing else could.  Marshall Street is just one street in the city that underwent change, but it is an example of an area whose changes coincided with those of other locations both city- and nationwide.

Marshall Street was a largely residential street in nineteenth-century Richmond.  Its convenient location, just one block from Broad Street, made the street a very pleasant place to live.  As the war went on, Marshall Street saw some change; a military recruitment office was built, and a masonic lodge was used regularly.  There was a school that struggled to stay open during the war years.  However, its foremost responsibility remained to house prominent Richmonders.  During the five years of the war, many wealthy citizens used their power to purchase substitute soldiers, a maneuver which would allow the rich to avoid the hardships of war.  Marshall Street served as a meeting place for many different militia units whose members likely lived in the area.  The street was also the location of many funerals, as soldiers and civilians alike would be sent away from their original places of residence.[1]

There was a large spike in the discussion of military recruitment in Richmond between February and April of 1862.  This trend is also evident in data compiled about Marshall Street; this three-month period includes more mentions about the military than any other quarter-year during the war.  Many of the advertisements referencing Marshall Street were for new recruits.[2]  This makes sense when compared with a timeline of the Civil War.  On January 27th, 1862, President Lincoln issued a war order to launch a powerful attack against Richmond, in order to capture the capital of Richmond[3].  The largest number of mentions of military involvement on Marshall Street occurred in the month of April, 1862: fourteen.  This is compared to four in the previous two months combined and just one reference at any point in the following eight months[4].  The Peninsula Campaign likely caused the increase in discussion of military involvement.  President Lincoln designed the battle plan specifically to capture Richmond, a realization that mobilized the citizens of the city.  Beginning on the seventh day of the month, the Dispatch ran articles twelve of the next thirteen days calling “Patriots” to assemble at Marshall Street in order to enlist, knowing that Richmond men were too proud not to defend their hometown.[5]

Another example that shows the meaning of “home” is found in the data of runaway slaves.  In April of 1861, there were fourteen mentions of runaways on Marshall Street in the Richmond Daily Dispatch.  The next highest total in any single month is five mentions in February 1865, so clearly the topic was unusually popular at that time[6].  This excitement coincided with the events of the Civil War that were happening simultaneously.  In April 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union[7].  When slaves heard the news, they began to dream of a new home, concurrently losing their connection to their owners and the city of Richmond as a whole.  References to slave runaways on Marshall Street essentially ceased to exist during the months of the war, appearing in the newspaper in just four of the forty-five months between April 1861 and February 1865[8].  This can be explained through a strong sense of home; the slaves who were miserable had fled Marshall Street after Virginia seceded, and those who were content or had missed the opportunity did not have a good chance to run away during the war, when Richmond lay firmly under rebel hands.  This sentiment carried into 1865, when Union soldiers approached Richmond.  This allowed slaves another chance to consider their futures.  The Emancipation Proclamation had officially made them free, but the data tells us that very few slaves on Marshall Street took advantage of that fact and fled their masters[9].

In the early months of 1865, the war was clearly going the Union’s way, and their army rested just miles from Richmond at Petersburg[10].  As Union victory became more certain, the slaves realized that they must begin to plan for their future freedom.  They allowed themselves the chance to start this exciting journey a couple of months early.  Another reason the slaves fled at this time was an order from General Grant.  In an effort to ensure that the Confederate army did not have enough resources to continue the war effort, the Union general ordered his troops to seize “all the Negro men before the enemy can put them in their ranks”[11].  Slaves on Marshall St. presumably heard of this order and knew that if they could escape the short distance to Petersburg, they would be free; this was a golden opportunity to leave their old home and begin their journey as freedmen.

This was not the first time that Richmonders began to feel detached from their home.  Spirits for the war were high at its outset, but as the fighting dragged on resources were increasingly used for the war effort at the expense of the civilian population.  Coupled with inflation and a Union blockade on Southern ports, Confederate citizens faced tough times[12].  Faced with such hardships, sentiments of home began to disappear on Marshall Street, as people were forced to look out for their own interests over the welfare of the nation.  Starting in December of 1863, mentions of crime on Marshall Street in the Richmond Daily Dispatch increased tremendously[13].  An article describing four different crimes in the December 19th, 1863 volume of the Daily Dispatch writes that “Burglars seem to be operating with great success at this particular time”[14].  High arrest totals on Marshall Street continued well into 1864, and the people of Marshall Street added fear of crime to a long list of concerns at the time; they could not feel at home when their safety was constantly in jeopardy[15].

People looking for a home did not come to Marshall Street in Richmond during the Civil War.  Real estate sales on Marshall Street, in particular, fluctuated greatly over the five years of the war.  In November of 1860, there were 30 articles about the subject; in every month of the war combined, there were just 39 mentions of real estate possibilities on Marshall Street, and very few at the end of the war[16].  At the beginning of the war, Richmond was a small city with a lot happening; it was a great place to start a family.  Just five years later, the city lay in ruins, the economy was destroyed, and the morale of the people was devastated.  Richmond, and Marshall Street in particular, changed from being home to being a place from which people escaped.

Marshall Street was home to many Richmonders during the Civil War.  At many points from 1861 to 1865, the street could not satisfy its residents’ desire for a stable atmosphere; an increase in slave runaways, increase in crime, and a dramatic decrease in real estate sales display the fear that Marshall Street was not a safe environment into which to move.  The very common mention of military recruitment/action shows that people may have been proud of their home, but overall the street followed the trends that the city, as well as the nation followed; when the war started, people everywhere were eager to defend their homes, but as the years dragged on it became tough to remain loyal to home over watching out for one’s own individual interests.


[1] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[2] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[3] Freeman, Joanne. “Time Line of The Civil War, 1862.” Library of Congress. Accessed February

10, 2011. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/tl1862.html

[4] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[5] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[6] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[7] Freeman, Joanne. “Time Line of The Civil War, 1862.” Library of Congress. Accessed February

10, 2011. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/tl1862.html

[8] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[9] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[10] Freeman, Joanne. “Time Line of The Civil War, 1862.” Library of Congress. Accessed February

10, 2011. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/tl1862.html

[11] Kelley, Michael. “On Black Confederates.” 37th Texas Cavalry (Terrell’s), CSA. 1996-2007. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://www.37thtexas.org/html/BlkHist.html.

[12] “Bread Riot in Richmond, 1863.” EyeWitness to History – History through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/breadriot.htm.

[13] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[14] “House-breaking.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr;cc=ddr;type=simple;rgn=div3;q1=marshall st*;view=text;subview=detail;sort=occur;idno=ddr0971.0025.143;node=ddr0971.0025.143%3A5.1.3.

[15] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

[16] “Search Results- Marshall St*.” Richmond Daily Dispatch. Accessed February 13, 2011. http://imls.richmond.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ddr&cc=ddr&type=simple&rgn=full+text&q1=marshall%20st*.

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