It didn’t take much time for the shockwave from the Battle of Bull Run to reach the Confederate capital. The jubilation over the victory was quickly tempered by the influx of hundreds of wounded soldiers and prisoners steadily streaming into the city via railroad car. Within days, it became clear that Richmond wasn’t fully prepared for either.
It didn’t take much time for the shockwave from the Battle of Bull Run to reach the Confederate capital. The jubilation over the victory was quickly tempered by the influx of hundreds of wounded soldiers and prisoners steadily streaming into the city via railroad car. Within days, it became clear that the city wasn’t fully prepared for either.
Citizens anxiously awaited news of the battle and information about family and friends. The Richmond Dispatch described the scene at the train station:
The very painful anxiety which exists in the public mind in regard to the persons slain in Sunday’s battle was abundantly shown by the assemblage of several thousands of our citizens of both sexes at the Central Depot yesterday evening, who listened with eager interest to the meagre reports given in by arriving participants in the great fray. In a few days, we trust the anxiety of all as to the extent and bearing on each of the contest as it effects friends or relatives, will be gratified by the arrival of full particulars. Richmond Dispatch, 7/24/1861
Citizens at the depot received much more than just news, as they were soon confronted with the arrival of scores of wounded and prisoners. Confederate wounded were loaded onto litters and taken to local hospitals or private homes for care. Union prisoners received varied reactions: either greeted with quiet respect or hostility but mostly just curiosity from the people of Richmond who wanted to get a first look at Yankee soldiers. The Richmond Whig reported that several citizens at the train depot “entered into conversation with the Lincoln soldiers, who seemed to bear their sufferings with a fortitude almost equal to that evinced by our own heroic men.” (Richmond Whig, 7/25/11) However, a report the following day from the Richmond Dispatch had a slightly different tone:
THE “PRISON DEPOT,” at the corner of Main and 25th streets, is quite a focal point of attraction at this time. It is filled with Yankees and Hessians, captured at the Battle of Manassas. Like bears in a cage, many of them look through the grated windows of their prison, and thus become visible to the curious people, who stroll to that portion of the city to obtain a view of the Northern lunatics. Richmond Dispatch, 7/26/1861
In addition to the scores of POWs and wounded, two other notable arrivals in Richmond were the bodies of Col. Francis Bartow and Gen. Bernard Bee, commanding officers who were instrumental in the Confederate victory at Bull Run. Bee and Bartow shared the distinction of being the first brigade commanders of the Confederate army to die in combat.
Three hearses were in readiness, and the remains of the brave dead were conveyed, (escorted by the Armory Guard, Lieut. Kerr, preceded by their band playing a funeral dirge,) to the Capitol, where the bodies were attended during the night by a guard of honor specially detailed for that purpose. Richmond Dispatch, 7/24/1861
After their arrival at the Capitol, they were escorted to their home states for burial.
After the southward departure of Bartow and Bee, several more trains loaded with prisoners and wounded soon arrived in the city. As of the 25th of July, Richmond’s prison depot was already full and the government was scrambling to find room for the influx of prisoners. For a city that was already experiencing growing pains from its designation as the capital of the Confederacy the rapidly increasing population of both prisoners and wounded were pains that required some delicate handling.
Bull Run was just the beginning. Richmond would struggle to properly serve its population of prisoners and wounded for the rest of the war, often to the detriment of both groups.