Confederate Citadel: Richmond and Its People at War by Mary A. DeCredico. University Press of Kentucky, 2020. Cloth, ISBN: 978-0-8131-7925-4. $50.00.
Dr. Mary A. DeCredico is a Professor of Southern History and the U.S. Civil War at the United States Naval Academy. Her new book Confederate Citadel tells the story of the Confederate capital and its inhabitants during the war. “Richmond and its people became the keystone of the Confederacy,” the author writes, “the Southern nation’s impenetrable citadel.” When that “keystone cracked under the pressure of war in April 1865, the Confederate citadel collapsed” and General Lee surrendered his army to the Union only a week later (4). By the time Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled in early April 1865, Richmond “was a shadow of its former self” (1).
DeCredico organizes her book chronologically, exploring the city’s rise in the antebellum South. Richmond was something of “an anomaly”; the city was dominated by a conservative Whig leadership and encompassed a diverse population of Irish and German immigrants, Blacks, and Jews (4).
The city was the Southern leader in industry. Tredegar Iron Works became the “largest enterprise of its kind” below the Mason-Dixon Line, with clients from other state governments, railroad companies, and the U.S. War Department (11). “The growth of tobacco and flour milling, the expansion of the Tredegar Iron Works, the development of railroads and their linkage industries, and the robust internal slave trade,” the author explains, “all accomplished what urban boosters hoped: Richmond flourished during the 1850s” (14). The antebellum history of Richmond made the selection of that city as the Confederate capital not only logical, but necessary (25).
As Confederate Citadel takes readers through four years of war, the story of Richmond unfolds as one of continuous difficulty and challenge. The city faced challenges related to space as its population swelled. Most persons entering the city were women displaced by military operations. They needed work because their husbands were away at war (59). The influx of these women and their entry into the workforce exacerbated existing class strife in the city. Upper class women entered the government bureaucracy, while those of the lower class entered the industrial factories (82). The city government implemented relief efforts for many of the poor and unemployed, but the increasingly centralized government of the Confederacy never followed suit. Concurring with the arguments of Paul Escott and others, DeCredico claims that Richmonders expressed loyalty for their city and state rather than their new national government (90).
DeCredico’s brief treatment of the Confederate capital will be a welcome read to those wanting a pleasurable and informative overview of the city’s wartime trials. Above all else, Confederate Citadel reminds us of the importance of place and space to national sovereignty—especially during times of war.
Caleb W. Southern is a graduate student in the Department of History at Sam Houston State University.