Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Then & Now: 'Washington's headquarters' in ruined Richmond

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After the fall of Richmond in early April 1865, photographers fanned across the city abandoned by the Confederate government, shooting images of ruins in the "Burnt District"  as well as such notable landmarks as Libby Prison, Jefferson Davis' executive mansion on East Clay Street and Robert E. Lee's house on East Franklin Street. Mathew Brady, of course, scored the biggest coup when he arranged to shoot photographs of Lee on his back porch -- images that are among the more iconic of the war.

Among the lesser-known photographs shot after the Confederate capital's fall is an image by an unknown photographer of a circa-1740 stone house on East Main Street, a short distance from the James River. The site undoubtedly proved enticing because, according to local lore, the modest, little house once served as George Washington's headquarters during the Revolutionary War. (Per the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, which has been housed in the building since 1922, the Washington story is false.)

Perhaps of secondary importance for the photographer were the eight young children -- seven boys and a girl -- who gathered in front of the two-story building with the wooden shed attached. Enlargements of the original image reveal compelling details: three barefoot youngsters, two seated boys wearing what appear to be Rebel kepis and another boy in a tree. Who were the children? Were they homeless? Orphans? Sadly, their names apparently are lost to history. (Update: A blog reader speculates the children may have been part of a Richmond street gang.)

Digital versions of the "Then" image, taken in April 1865, are available on the excellent Library of Congress web site; the present-day photo is a cropped Google Street View shot taken in July 2015. For large-format Then & Now images on my sister blog, click here.

An enlargement of the original 1865 image shows six young children in front of the house...
... while another enlargement reveals a young girl and a boy in a tree.


  1. My ancestors were part of a large Richmond family before, during and after the war. One problem that plagued Civil War Richmond was the "boy gangs" that filled the streets with names like the Schockoe Hill Cats.

  2. The boys might actually be young members of one the local child street gangs: https://web.archive.org/web/20040203021425/http://www.kudzumonthly.com/kudzu/dec02/BoyGangs.html

    Here's another view showing some of the same kids: https://www.flickr.com/photos/15319761@N06/3218637692/in/album-72157604359082947/

  3. Thank you Brendan Hamilton. My ancestors lived near Confederate Capital overlooking Shockoe Bottom. There was one gang in family memory called the Shockoe Hill Hellcats.

  4. That's Scutt Farcus and Grover Dill