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Introduction Edit

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Photograph of the front view of the Virginia State Capitol building, 1865[1]

The Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 occurred at a critical moment in a highly critical place: Richmond, Virginia. With a thriving economy centered on the continent’s second largest slave market, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865.[2]   

The Virginia State Capitol building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, was the heart of the Confederacy at the time of the Civil War.[3] From General Robert E. Lee's acceptance of his position as commander of the Confederate forces in 1861 to the inauguration of President Jefferson Davis in 1862, the Virginia State Capitol building housed major significance to the Southern elite in the fight against the Union.[4]  

With the Confederate surrender at the Appomattox Court House in April of 1865, the Union troops soon occupied the city of Richmond and its prized Capitol building.[5] However, the spirit of the Confederacy was still very much alive in the post-Civil War South, and many Southerners continued to fight a war they had already lost.[6] The era of Reconstruction, aimed at reuniting the nation under a central federal government, only served to drive the North and the South further apart.[7]  

Culminating out of this ongoing political conflict and period of social tension was The Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870. Occurring at a pivotal point in Richmond's history, the Capitol disaster, in its causes and effects, exemplified the extreme power struggle present in the post-Civil War era, as the North and the South continued to vie for control of the war-torn South. Indeed, The Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 signaled the collapse of the Reconstruction era in Richmond, Virginia and allowed Richmond's government elite the opportunity to implement drastic political change and recreate Richmond's own system of government under the new Constitution of Virginia; Because of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870, the Virginia State Capitol building, once representative of the Confederacy, became a symbol of Southern pride and resiliency, ushering in a new era in Richmond's history as the "capital of the Commonwealth."  

Background Edit

Reconstruction Era Edit

The Virginia Capitol Disaster occurred at a significant turning point in the history of Virginia.[8] From 1861 to 1865, Virginia fought a losing battle on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War, better known as "The War of Northern Aggression" to the people of the South.[9] Following the Civil War, the North worked to readmit the South into the Union during a period known as the era of Reconstruction, which many Southerners viewed as a continuation of the Civil War due to the North's military occupation of the South.[10] In order to gain admittance into the Union, states had to adopt the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, making slavery illegal and granting African Americans the right to citizenship as well as the right to vote.[11] No doubt, the loss of the Civil War weighed heavily on the psyche of the Southern elite and allowed for major social and political changes in the post-Civil War South.

In Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War by David Blight, Blight examines the Civil War through evaluating both its history and its "collective memory."[12] Blight argues that that the memory of the Civil War is distinct from its actual history as he describes memory as being a precipitate of the “politics of culture”.  During the era of Reconstruction in the South, the "politics of culture" was evident in the war-torn South with the rise of neo-Confederate attitudes.[13] Similarly, In The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery by Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Schivelbusch''delves into the psychology of the post-Civil War South, highlighting the significance of the southerners striving to revitalize the South following a major loss to the North.[14]

Richmond Mayoralty Case Edit

RichmondMayoraltyCase

Transcription of correspondence between Chahoon and Ellyson concerning the election, from The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia by George Christian[15]

On April 27th, 1870, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals was to read its decision in the case of Ellyson vs. Chahoon, commonly referred to as the Richmond Mayoralty case.[16] Following the military occupation of the South, a man by the name of George Chahoon served as mayor of Richmond from 1868 to 1871 under the commander of Military District One, General Edward S. Canby.[17] Once Virginia gained admittance back into the Union in January of 1870, "the people of Richmond, weary of military rule, looked forward eagerly to the return of self-government under Virginia’s new constitution."[18] In a last act of still appointing mayors under the transition of Reconstruction, Henry K. Ellyson was placed in the position on March 16, 1870, pending elections,[19] However, George Chahoon refused to step down. Dubbed "The Bloody Interregnum", the people of Richmond experienced political strife and division during this time period.[20] As a result of this power struggle, the city of Richmond consisted of two city halls, two police forces, two mayors, and two separate court systems.[21] To the people of Richmond, Chahoon (Republican) represented the Northern occupation of the South, oftentimes referred to as a "carpetbagger" from New York, whereas Ellyson (Democrat) represented a return to self-government and the end of the Reconstruction era in Richmond.[22] General Canby supported Chahoon, and recently elected governor of Virginia, Gilbert C. Walker, backed Ellyson.[23] Both sides sought the support of a variety of courts, and the case eventually ended up in the hands of Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase in Washington.[24] With the consent of Chief Justice Chase, it was later decided by both parties that the case should be heard by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.[25] The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decided to hear the case, and proceedings began on April 12, 1870.[26] Affecting the lives of every Richmonder, the Mayoralty case captured wide public attention.[27] Hundreds of people crowded into the courtroom to hear the court's decision as to who would be crowned mayor of Richmond on April 27th, 1870, only to fall victim to the worst disaster in the recent history of Richmond.[28] Ultimately, it was the decision of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that Henry Ellyson would be the Mayor of Richmond.[29]

Capitol Disaster Edit

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"The Richmond Calamity - Interior of Hall of Delegates - Getting Out the Dead and Wounded." by W.L. Sheppard[30]

Overview Edit

The date was Wednesday, April 27th, 1870 as people gathered in the Virginia State Capitol building to hear the court’s decision on a highly popular case.[31]  Hundreds of people proceeded into the Capitol’s second-floor courtroom, located directly above the Hall of Delegates.[32]  At around 11 that morning, soon after session convened, the balcony in the courtroom collapsed. This caused the floor of the courtroom to give way, sending approximately three hundred and fifty-five men plummeting into the chamber below.[33] Immediately following the collapse, survivors helped to rescue other men from the rubble.[34] Firefighters entered the Hall of Delegates through the second-floor windows with the use of ladders and alongside other able-bodied men, continued the rescue and recovery effort.[35] There were sixty-two reported deaths attributed to this incident, and approximately one hundred and twenty men were injured.[36]  Among the dead include Mr. J. W. D. Bland, a Virginia State Senator, a grandson of Patrick Henry, and Mr. P.H. Aylett, Assistant Attorney-General for the Confederate States prior to the conclusion of the Civil War.  Former Virginia governor, Henry H. Wells was among the many men who were seriously wounded.[37]

Causes Edit

Several years prior to the collapse, the Virginia State Capitol building underwent major renovations to allow for additional office space and increased functionality.[38] A floor was added atop of the Hall of Delegates that would house the courtroom of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.[39] The architect overseeing this construction proved himself incompetent as he decided against reinforcing the new floor with beams. Instead, the floor was supported mostly by a narrow, frail ledge with the help of multiple pillars.[40] Under pressure to improve the aesthetic appearance of the Virginia State Capitol building, the pillars were soon removed, causing the floor of the courtroom to noticeably sag into the Hall of Delegates below.[41] In reference to the courtroom, an individual stated that the floor "had been concave to an extent that was alarming, but familiarity, as usual, removed the doubts of safety."[42] It is evident that the floor of the courtroom could not withstand the pressure of societal expectations during this time period, nonetheless the divisiveness of the post-Civil War era. Ultimately, the push for increased functionality and improved aesthetics of the Virginia Capitol building without proper regard for safety and security measures served as a major cause of the courtroom collapse.

On April 27th, 1870, the decision of the Richmond Mayoralty Case was to be read in the courtroom of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.[43] Due to the high popularity and divisiveness surrounding the Mayoralty case, hundreds of people gathered into the courtroom to hear the court's decision.[44] With such an unusually large amount of people in the courtroom that morning, the gallery collapsed and plummeted into the courtroom floor below.[45] The courtroom floor, which had been sagging for years, buckled under this immense force, sending hundreds of people into the Hall of Delegates chamber below.[46]

The Virginia Capitol Disaster: A Normal Accident? Edit

In Charles Perrow's Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies, Perrow defines "normal accidents" as inevitable occurrences, which are the result of a system's "interactive complexity" and "tight coupling".[47] A system with "interactive complexity" contains "two or more discrete failures that can interact in unexpected ways", making it difficult to place blame on a single entity in the cause of a particular event, like a disaster.[48] The "tight coupling" of a system suggests that the true source of the problem cannot be fixed, as it cannot be properly observed or fully understood.[49]

As defined by Charles Perrow, the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 was undoubtedly a "normal accident". The courtroom collapse was an inevitable occurrence that resulted from the interplay of multiple confounding variables. First, the floor of the courtroom was structurally unstable due to the decisions of multiple architects in the years leading up to the collapse.[50] Second, hundreds of individuals witnessed the sagging floor of the courtroom on a regular basis, but continually ignored and overlooked this apparent safety threat.[51] Third, the Civil War halted a major renovation process of the Virginia Capitol building, which would've allowed for the unstable courtroom floor to be repaired.[52] Fourth, the unusual amount of people in the gallery on April 27th, 1870 exceeded the amount of people who normally occupied the gallery, and this couldn't have been predicted.[53] The culture of the time period through the Civil War and Reconstruction contributed to the collapse of the courtroom; the people of Richmond invested the majority of their time and resources into either winning the war or returning to a state of self-governance, not correcting seemingly minor structural problems inside a room of the State Capitol building.[54]

In analyzing the causes and effects of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870, it is important to understand the catastrophe as a "normal accident". The people of 1870 Richmond understood the Capitol disaster as a mere architectural failing resulting in a significant loss of life.[55] No doubt, the compromised structural integrity of the courtroom floor contributed greatly to the occurrence of the courtroom collapse. However, in understanding the Capitol disaster as a "normal accident", it becomes evident that the cultural forces and the societal pressures of the time period, too, played a major role in the catastrophe.

Media and Framing Edit

The immediate reactions following the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 can be seen in multiple newspaper articles covering the catastrophe. The Alexandria Gazette Newspaper article dated May 3rd, 1870 gives insight into everyday life and business following the disaster.  It focuses on the problems the legislature faced following the calamity, such as relocation, as well as their desire to create a “new Capitol” from the ruins.[56] Similarly, the Richmond Times Dispatch article "The Richmond Disaster: Scenes and Incidents", also dated May 3rd, 1870, provided statements of multiple individuals affected by the calamity.[57] In both newspapers, the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 was portrayed as an accident due to the compromised structural integrity of the courtroom floor, providing critical insight into how the disaster was framed and understood by society.[58]

After the Collapse: "Rebuild, or Not Rebuild...That is the question" Edit

Following the Capitol disaster, the major question among Richmond's government elite dealt was whether or not they should repair the extensive damages of the Capitol building or demolish the entirety of the building and rebuild from scratch.[59] It was ultimately decided to repair the Capitol building, but instead of renewing to its former glory, the Virginia Capitol building evolved into a greater symbol of Southern pride and strength.[60]

TB101ss

The Virginia State Capitol Building, Present-Day[61]

First, the Virginia Capitol Building underwent renovations following the Capitol disaster to correct structural issues and restore the Hall of Delegates.[62] Second, on October 26th, 1875, a statue in Capitol Square was dedicated to General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.[63] From 1904 to 1906, the Capitol building was renovated with the addition of the two legislative wings and the installation of stairs at the South Portico. Even as recently as 2007, the Capitol building was expanded and received a new Visitor's Entrance.[64]

In the question of "Rebuild, or Not Rebuild", the government elite of 1870 chose to continue moving forward in Richmond's progression from "capital of the Confederacy" to "capital on the Commonwealth." Since 1870, the Capitol has grown to represent not only the strength and resiliency of the South, but the ardent spirit of the Commonwealth of Virginia as well.

Memorial Edit

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Memorial of the Capitol Disaster, located in Old House Chamber of the Virginia State Capitol building[65]

At the request of the Virginia General Assembly, the Capitol Disaster was memorialized in 1918 with the creation of a tablet.[66] The tablet details the events leading up to the catastrophe as well as the number of individuals who fell victim to the collapse.[67] Today, the tablet can be viewed in what is now referred to as the Old House Chamber. [68] From 1904 to 1906, the Capitol building underwent a major renovation with the addition of two wings and the formation of new House and Senate chambers.[69]

The memorial of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 doesn't even hint at the impact that this calamity had on the lives of 1870 Richmonders or the historical context in which it occurred. Similarly, when taking a tour of the Virginia State Capitol Building, the courtroom collapse is explained simply as a failure in architectural design. The Capitol Disaster occurred at a critical moment in Virginia's history, as it had just been readmitted into the Union and was undergoing rampant social and political change. In order to better commemorate the disastrous events of April 27th, 1870, the plaque should provide additional historical context of the event, specifically highlighting the significance of the Richmond Mayoralty Case as well as the political schism of the time period.[70] Additionally, the Capitol Disaster of 1870 should be explained not as a typical accident; the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 was a "normal accident", as it was the culmination of various factors that inevitably led to the courtroom crashing down.

Primary Source Analyses Edit

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1. "A Letter of Judge Joseph Christian to His Wife"[71] Edit

With the courtroom balcony at overcapacity, one man stood helplessly as he watched the Capitol itself come crashing down: Judge Joseph Christian.  In a letter to his wife dated the night of the disaster, Judge Joseph Christian describes in great detail the horror he and his fellows experienced as “the most shocking and appalling calamity that ever happened in this country”. Judge Christian’s framing of the disaster within his letter, including his multiple allusions to the Civil War and his emphasis on the loss of the “best men in the City and State”, shows that the courtroom collapse was more than a horrific tragedy among the government elite attributed to physical defect in the balcony's structure, as it is commonly described; along with the courtroom balcony, the political infrastructure of 1870 Richmond came tumbling down.   

In describing the courtroom collapse to his wife, Judge Joseph Christian alludes to the Civil War, illuminating the antebellum tensions still present among Richmond’s government elite.  As Judge Christian gives his personal account of the disaster, he writes, “men worked with the energy of despair and deeds of heroism were performed such as no battlefield ever witnessed.”  Judge Christian’s interpretation of the courtroom collapse highlights the magnitude of the death, destruction, and heroism encountered that fateful morning.  Judge Joseph Christian’s letter also draws a parallel of the courtroom collapse to the scene of a battlefield as he describes “the wail of sorrow that went up, as wives recognized husbands, brothers and sisters, brothers, and mothers their mangled and bleedings sons.”  Prior to its collapse, the courtroom served as a metaphorical battleground of the Civil War, as Mayor George Chahoon, with his loyalty to military officials, refused to recognize Henry K. Ellyson as his successor.  Joseph Christian’s letter serves as evidence that the problems of the Civil War didn’t end in 1865, for a violent struggle for power continued into April 27th, 1870, when the Capitol of the Confederacy came crashing down. With the conclusion of the Civil War, the political atmosphere of 1870 Richmond underwent a dramatic transition. The vocabulary used in Judge Christian's letter shows the effect of the era of Reconstruction on the psyche of the Southern elite. From military occupation to admittance into the Union, the problems the South faced following the Civil War sparked new political tensions along the same political divide. Thus, Judge Joseph Christian establishes the mass destruction of the courtroom collapse as a continuation of the Civil War, proving its political significance in the course of Richmond’s transition from “capital of the Confederacy” to “capital of the Commonwealth.” 

Christian makes it apparent that the Capitol disaster had a lasting impact on the lives of Richmond’s government officials as the Capitol’s infrastructure lay in ruins.  In doing so, Judge Christian substantiates that the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 wasn’t merely an unfortunate occurrence; rather, the courtroom collapse had a profound impact on the government elite in a “clean sweep” fashion. With its loss of “the best men in the City and State”, Judge Joseph Christian suggests that the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 had major political significance to the city of Richmond. In his emotional account of the disaster, Judge Christian indicates that the courtroom collapse was a significant and disastrous event due to the men whom it directly impacted: the government elite of 1870 Richmond.  Judge Christian writes that the courtroom collapse was made “more terrible, for every now and then [he] would find that some poor mangled and naked wretch was one of [his] dear friends.” As exemplified by Judge Joseph Christian, many of the men affected by the tragedy were his personal friends, causing him and his fellow officials to experience a heightened emotional response in mourning their government cohorts.  Judge Joseph Christian recalls that “men accustomed to restrain their feelings, moaned and wept like children.”  His letter provides critical insight into how the government elite responded to the tragedy: with deep sorrow and remorse.  Joseph Christian also writes, “The Clerks office with all our records are destroyed and more than half the lawyers practicing in our Court are killed and wounded.” Following nearly ten years of political strife, the Capitol disaster opened the doors for political reform and social progress with Richmond’s government looking to rebuild.  Immediately following the collapse, temporary government offices were established, Henry Ellyson was elected the Mayor of Richmond, and meetings were held to decide on the fate of the Capitol building: tear it down and start all over, or repair extensive structural damages. With the deaths of many government officials and the election of Henry Ellyson as the Major of Richmond, the people of Richmond entered a new era, transitioning from the tumultuous, divisive period of Reconstruction towards a period of Southern pride and innovation with the coming of the "New South". Judge Joseph Christian's interpretation of the disastrous events on April 27th, 1870 held true as the Virginia Capitol Disaster served as a critical turning point in Richmond's history, catalyzing political reform that assisted Virginia in its return to self-government.

There remains several elements of Joseph Christian’s letter that provide critical understanding of the political ramifications of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870.  First, Joseph Christian’s intended audience of this letter was his wife, to whom the letter was addressed. Joseph Christian offers his sincere response to the courtroom collapse, “Oh my dear wife and children – from what an awful fate we been spared.”  Joseph Christian utilizes informal diction as he describes the collapse in a highly personal fashion, with intense emotional overtones and religious references.  Because the letter is meant for a private audience, the reader is able to grasp a raw, personal perspective of the disaster, as opposed to more formal sources, such as a newspaper article. Additionally, Judge Joseph Christian’s letter is a firsthand account of the courtroom collapse, giving it a higher validity than many other primary sources, oftentimes presenting secondhand or third-hand information.  Judge Christian’s letter was also written on the night of the disaster, increasing the validity of the source by reducing the chance of his memory becoming reconstructed and increasing the level of detail of the collapse as he experienced.  However, this primary source is also limited. Judge Joseph Christian was a highly influential and powerful man at the time of the Virginia Capitol Disaster, and his perspective of the event allows the reader to understand the courtroom collapse through the eyes of an authority figure but not the middle and lower class individuals who also experienced horror that day.  Thus, the reader is left to question how the common folk of Richmond were impacted by this disaster.  In analyzing Joseph Christian’s letter as a primary source, Christian provides a personal, firsthand perspective of the Capitol disaster from the viewpoint of Richmond’s government elite, proving that the courtroom collapse had a significant impact on the political infrastructure of 1870 Richmond.

No doubt, the letter of Judge Joseph Christian has enhanced the understanding of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 as well as its lasting significance to the lives of the people of Richmond.

2. "The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia" by George Christian[72] Edit

In 1914, George Christian published "The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia." Christian, a former Confederate soldier and survivor of the courtroom collapse, provides a full and detailed account of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 from the perspective of the Southern elite. He highlights the ongoing tensions and frustration experienced by the South due to Reconstruction and military occupation and expresses how the disaster was understood by the people of 1870 Richmond in the post-Civil War south.

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George Christian provides extensive historical context surrounding the Capitol Disaster and allows the reader to gain insight into the mindset of 1870 Richmonders, who had just been defeated in a costly war. Christian writes, at the time of the collapse “they had just passed through not only four years of war, but five more of so-called ‘reconstruction;’ during which, almost daily, events were occurring, calculated to shock the sensibilities of the people to make them ask, what next?”

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Christian details the happenings of the disaster, exemplifying the effect of the courtroom collapse on the Richmond's government elite. Christian states, “The floors of the court room and clerk’s office of the Supreme Court of Appeals of the State (then located in the Capitol building) fell, precipitating a crowd of about three hundred and fifty men about twenty-five feet into a ‘pit of destruction,’ killing sixty-two and wounding two hundred and fifty-one more, some of them among the most prominent and useful citizens in the land.”

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George Christian argues that the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 occurred at a critical moment in Richmond's history as he blames the North and their Reconstruction policies for this catastrophe. Christian provides insight into how the courtroom collapse fits into Richmond's transition from capital of the Confederacy to capital of the Commonwealth by showing the manner in which 1870 Richmonders understood the calamity. Christian writes, “As one of the few survivors of the second disaster, we have been asked to place on record, the details of that event, as far as they can now be obtained, and the incidents which preceded and caused that event. We have consented to undertake this task, mainly for the reason, that this calamity was the climax and culmination of ‘Reconstruction,’ and a direct result of those illegal and infamous measures.” 

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Christian also provides vivid detail of the disaster as he writes, “Here was a scene that fairly made one’s heart bleed.  As the dust cleared away a little, a mass of timbers and rubbish of every description was descried, and the reflection of the numbers of human beings crushed beneath its weight, dead and dying, was sickening.” No doubt, the scene of the collapse and its aftermath proved to be a devastating site to the people of Richmond, especially the government elite.

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George Christian provides a viewpoint of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 from a Confederate standpoint. He states, “We almost shudder now, when we think of the trials which we passed in the days of “Reconstruction,” and of the condition the people of the South would have left in, if her true sons, those who had fought and bled for her in war, had forsaken her then.” To George, as well as many other people in 1870 Richmond, the war between the North and the South was far from over. In his detailed analysis and portrayal of the disaster, George Christian shows that the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 was not just a mere failing of architecture; the Capitol Disaster had political significance to the people of 1870 Richmond, serving as a critical turning point in Richmond's transition from the era of Reconstruction to its return to self-government.

3. "The Richmond Calamity-Citizens and Firemen Removing the Wounded, the Dying and the Dead, from the Ruins." by William Ludwell Sheppard Edit

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The scene of the courtroom collapse[73]

This illustration, published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper shortly after the disaster in 1870, provides insight into how the disaster was presented to the public and how it was remembered in popular memory.  As illustrated in the engraving, many men were able to survive the calamity due to the rescue efforts of many good Samaritans and firemen.  With the help of others, individuals were carried out of the rubble and lifted out of the chamber through windows. The image presents the collapse as a disaster, causing a significant amount of destruction.  There also appears to be a major emphasis on the rescuers attending to the victims.  This image, offering a progressive perspective rather than a perspective of declension, could have had a profound impact on the popular memory of this disaster due to its emphasis on rescue efforts.  In understanding the metaphorical significance of the courtroom balcony collapse, it is important to investigate how the disaster was presented to and perceived by society as demonstrated by this illustration. 

First-Hand Narrative of the Collapse Edit

-This is a fictitious first-hand account of the Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870 from the perspective of Mayor George Chahoon's attorney. However, it is based off of historical fact.

10:59 a.m. The court is about to convene. I lean over to whisper to my client, Mayor George Chahoon, who appears anxious and visibly tense. I reassure him that I do believe we have won the case and that he will almost certainly continue as mayor of Richmond.[74]

I recognize a multitude of people in the courtroom: Powhatan Roberts, a fellow attorney; Captain D.G. Tourgee, a police officer who's a close friend of mine; Delegate Henry Bell of Matthews County and Delegate R.U. Burgess of Southampton; and W.D. Chesterman, a famous reporter and correspondent in the Richmond area.[75]

The door of the Judges' conference room swings open. The entire courtroom, populated more so than usual, instantly becomes quiet. As the judges file in the courtroom, the congregation rises to their feet.[76]

A loud crash. I hear screams. Brutal screams. As I go to turn around in my chair to face the chaos, the floor opens up from beneath me. Into a "pit of darkness" I go.[77]

Black dust. I cannot see anything.  Voices begin to emerge.  I try to call out to people, but I cannot bring myself to speak. Wooden boards surround my body, and I feel subtle movement beneath me. The smell. I can smell wood, I can smell paint, I can smell blood. I hear moans, lots of dreadful moans. My body, becoming less and less numb, feels the immense pile of debris crushing my bones.

Piece by piece, the pressure of debris atop of me decreases.  I take a gasp of air, gasp of dust. As I get a glimpse of the madness surrounding me, I feel nothing. Surrounded by chaos, death, and destruction, I cannot think straight. I am in a familiar place, the Hall of Delegates, but I do not see any legislators.  All I see is blood. Blood and debris.

Men are pouring in from the windows.  Men are digging through debris.  I start digging, too.  I see a man’s hand underneath wooden panels.  I remove the wood.  I barely recognize my client, George Chahoon, as he is bleeding heavily and is severely bruised. So much red and so much blue. I can't tell if he's breathing. I yell to a fireman to assist me with George. George cannot die. George must be the Mayor of Richmond, and Henry Ellyson must lose.

I help the fireman carry George through the second-floor window, down the ladder, and onto the grass.[78] I hear more screams, screams of women searching for their husbands, screams of men who have lost an arm, lost a leg. I hear final gasps of air.[79] I focus on my client, George Chahoon.

George Chahoon, breathe. Please breathe. Chahoon, lying on the grass, doctors and firemen running about. Chahoon takes a gasp of air. "You've won the election, George, you're going to be mayor of Richmond." I didn't know the decision of the court. No one did.

See Also Edit

References Edit

  1. "Civil War Photos." - Richmond. Accessed December 8, 2014. http://www.civilwarphotos.net/files/richmond.htm.
  2. "The Virginia State Capitol During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia: Virginia State Capitol During the Civil War, The. Accessed December 6, 2014. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_State_Capitol_During_the_Civil_War_The#start_entry.
  3. "The Virginia State Capitol During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia: Virginia State Capitol During the Civil War, The. Accessed December 6, 2014. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_State_Capitol_During_the_Civil_War_The#start_entry.
  4. "The Virginia State Capitol During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia: Virginia State Capitol During the Civil War, The. Accessed December 6, 2014. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_State_Capitol_During_the_Civil_War_The#start_entry.
  5. “The 1870 “Capitol Disaster””. The Virginia State Capitol History Project.    http://www.vacapitol.org/disaster.htm. Accessed September 13, 2014.
  6. “The 1870 “Capitol Disaster””. The Virginia State Capitol History Project.    http://www.vacapitol.org/disaster.htm. Accessed September 13, 2014.
  7. “The 1870 “Capitol Disaster””. The Virginia State Capitol History Project.    http://www.vacapitol.org/disaster.htm. Accessed September 13, 2014.
  8. David W. Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, & the American Civil War. (Amherst:     University of Massachusetts Press, 20020. 
  9. David W. Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, & the American Civil War. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 20020. 
  10. David W. Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, & the American Civil War. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 20020. 
  11. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery. (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003).
  12. David W. Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, & the American Civil War. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 20020. 
  13. David W. Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, & the American Civil War. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 20020. 
  14. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery. (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003).
  15. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
  16. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
  17. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
  18. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
  19. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
  20. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
  21. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
  22. George Christian. The Capitol Disaster: A Chapter of Reconstruction in Virginia. Richmond, Virginia:     Richmond Press, Inc, 1915.  Accessed September 14, 2014. <http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t8nc67j9c;view=1up;seq=5>.
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