The Fall of Confederate Richmond Envisioned Through Mapping

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Damage by the Evacuation Fire of 1865

We have been diligently working on a new project for the Commemoration of the American Civil War 150th Anniversary and the Fall of the Confederacy in Richmond. More specifically, the “Richmond’s Journey in Nine Questions”- A “Pop-Up” Museum on Capitol Square. We wanted to help address questions like what was happening in Richmond on April 2nd-4th 1865? When was the evacuation fires, and how much of Richmond was burned? What better way to do this than with maps! The goal of the project was to map the events leading up to the fall of Richmond.

On the morning of Sunday April 2, 1865 Confederate lines near Petersburg broke after a nine month seige. The retreat of the army left the Confederate capital of Richmond, 25 miles to the north, defenseless. The video we created provides a visual overview of some of the most significant events of the dramatic days that followed.

Over the next three days, the Confederate government evacuated, mobs looted countless stores, fire consumed as many as a thousand buildings, the Union army occupied the city, thousands were emancipated from bondage, and President Abraham Lincoln toured the former Confederate Capital. The animated map illustrates how these momentous events unfolded in time and space.

Spatial data was created using first hand accounts of events. For instance, Lincoln’s visit relied on the detailed account provided by Michael D. Gorman’s “A Conqueror or a Peacemaker?: Abraham Lincoln in Richmond” that appeared in volume 123.1 of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Points were placed on locations mentioned in the article and a time attribute was associated if applicable. Lines were drawn between points to simulate a path and additional points were added along the line. These points fire one at a time which gives the appearance of a person moving along the streets.

For the Evacuation Fires we used historic maps detailing the extent of the fire and relied heavily on research of others. Based on historical burn extent maps we recreated the burn extent using F.W Beers footprints that were used for the 3D Richmond project. We scoured the research and found approximate times of when the fire started and when it reached certain locations. From this, I created buffers to approximate the fires’ spread. This was used to randomly distribute points within the footprints and blocks (Image above). The time attribute from the buffer analysis was joined to the points and a random start and end time was given within the time range to help the fire seem more organic and less structured.

Fire_Analysis

Each event was added to CartoDB which utilized its visualization tools. Each visualization was then packaged using Leaflet’s mapping library. To read more about the project and see the video click the image below!

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