Fall of Richmond Commemoration & Emancipation Day Event Guide

Richmond fell 150 years ago to the Union Army, and it seems a little like we woke up the next day and immediately started planning for this huge event. It’s a whopper, with tons of stuff to do and things to learn for the whole family.

This time, 150 years ago, Richmond went belly-up as Union forces took over. It was then that the city’s dreams of being called “The Current Capital of the Confederacy” in New York Times restaurant reviews were steeply downgraded to just “The Former Capital of the Confederacy.”

It’s a tricky thing, because…we don’t like thinking about our city burning to the ground. But all of us sure are relieved that Richmond’s hopes were dashed and the Confederacy itself was a spectacular failure. Hopefully as time marches on and we start planning for the bicentennial (I’ll be in my 80s then, and plan to watch the spectacle from a hovering, WiFi-enabled velvet chaise), we’ll feel a lessening of that tension.

But for now, the Fall of Richmond Commemoration and the Beginning of Emancipation at the Virginia Capitol! If it seems upbeat in tone, that’s because “Current Capital of the Confederacy” would have truly sucked for 2015’s Richmond, and we need to celebrate what happened on those few days in order to appreciate where we are now.

Demanding a spot on your calendars, this enormous, five-day event begins Wednesday, April 1st and comes to an end on Saturday, April 4th. It’s real-time1 in that these are actually the days in which it all went down.


There’s a shocking amount of stuff to do and learn. Download the Visitor’s Guide (PDF) or sort through the schedule online.

The following are the events that stood out to us as a reason to cancel all the Netflixing we were planning on doing. (All information and descriptions directly from the official schedule).

Christian Perspectives on Faith, Then and Now

  • Wednesday, April 1st • 7:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Second Presbyterian Church, 5 N. 5th Street

Music, reflection, and a discussion exploring the meaning of the end of slavery and the Civil War in Richmond through the lens of the faith community, then and now.

Opening and closing music by One Voice Choir Ensemble with a welcome by Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian, and reflection with Charlie Summers, Pastor, First Presbyterian.

Panelists include:

  • Rosalind Banbury: Associate Pastor, First Presbyterian, Moderator
  • Christy Coleman: Co-CEO of American Civil War Museum and former President of Museum of African American History in Detroit
  • Rev. Tyrone Nelson: Pastor of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church and Supervisor, Henrico County Board of Supervisors
  • Dr. Michael Utzinger: Professor of Religion, Hampden Sydney College, and author, “The Tragedy of Prince Edward”
  • Rev. Ben Campbell: Pastoral Director, Richmond Hill and author, “Richmond’s Unhealed History”

Benediction: Brian Blount, President of Union Presbyterian Seminary

“A Scene of Indescribable Confusion” (Living History Public Theatre / Flash Interpretation)

  • Thursday, April 2nd • Ongoing at various sites from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • Various sites – mostly downtown

Small teams of living history interpreters will appear at historically significant sites in the city depicting what was happening in that place at that time 150 years earlier. On Thursday, passersby may hear stories from evacuating Confederates, civilians caught in the maelstrom, or enslaved African Americans quietly anticipating the possibility of emancipation.

Richmond Burning

  • Thursday, April 2nd • 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 815 E. Grace Street

The fall of Confederate Richmond, the Great Evacuation Fire, slavery’s end, Union occupation, and Lincoln’s improbable visit – all compressed into April 2-4, 1865 – made those days the most tumultuous in our city’s history. In this discussion with Dr. Nelson Lankford, retired Vice President for Programs at the Virginia Historical Society and author of Richmond Burning, discover how those days overshadowed everything that had come before and influenced everything that followed. The program will take place in the location and at the time, exactly 150 years later, that Jefferson Davis received the evacuation notice from Robert E. Lee. It will be immediately followed by a reception.

“Such a spectacle was presented as can never be forgotten” – The Burning of Richmond (illumination and lantern tours)

  • Thursday, April 2nd • 6:30 – 8:30 PM (tours step off every 30 minutes)
  • Capitol Square; tours begin at the corner of Bank and Governor streets

A unique illumination of Richmond’s downtown cityscape will represent the evacuation fires with projected images on modern buildings. Special lantern tours will lead visitors through the heart of historic burned district and living historians stationed along the tour route will share the stories of individuals who experienced the fires first-hand. Tours will last approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Note: the lantern tours follow city streets and sidewalks and are wheelchair accessible. Visitors who cannot follow the tour may call (804) 226-1981 to inquire about an alternative option. (Multiple organizations)

“A Sight That None Will Ever Forget” — The Union Army’s Advance into Richmond (bus tour, $)

  • Friday, April 3rd • 6:00 – 8:00 AM and 9:00 – 11:00 AM

Tour departs from Richmond National Battlefield Park’s Fort Harrison Visitor Center, 8621 Battlefield Park Rd, Henrico 23231
Beginning at the Fort Harrison unit of Richmond National Battlefield Park, this tour will follow the route of the Union army’s march into Richmond in the morning hours of April 3, 1865, exactly 150 years later. Stopping at key landmarks, the tour will review the movement of the army, including United States Colored Troops, as it moved through mine fields and abandoned fortifications, and its first sight of the burning city. Registration is $20, and seating is limited. Call 804-771-2035 to make a reservation. (NPS)

“Confusion Worse Confounded Reigned” – The Civilians’ Experience During the Evacuation, Burning, and Federal Occupation of Richmond

  • Friday, April 3rd • 11:00 AM – 12:45 PM
  • Tour starts at the Washington Statue in Capitol Square, 1000 Bank Street

This tour will review the diversity and complexity of experiences, emotions, and reactions among Richmond’s civilian population – white and black, male and female, slave and free – during the climactic first two weeks of April 1865. Starting with the chaotic evacuation and the dramatic burning of the city, the tour will explore numerous historic sites in the downtown area pertaining to the fall of the Confederate capital, and will conclude with a discussion of how Richmonders responded to occupation, emancipation, sectional reunion, and the dawn of Reconstruction. Note: This tour involves several blocks of walking. Please dress accordingly and bring a bottle of water. (NPS)

Davis and Lincoln: A Themed Tour of the White House of the Confederacy (tour, $)

  • Friday, April 3rd • 11:15 AM – 12:15 PM, 2:15 – 3:15 PM
  • 1201 E Clay Street (Free parking at the VCU Medical Center, 550 North 12th St.)

What did Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis have in common? For one thing, they both spent time in the White House of the Confederacy – but there is much more to the story. This themed tour will examine Lincoln and Davis as politicians, leaders, husbands, and fathers. Come walk where they walked and explore the lives of these rival presidents at the center of one of the most pivotal events in our nation’s history. Limit 25 people per tour, advanced registration required. More info and RSVP at www.moc.org/RVA150. (ACWM)

After the Fall: A Photographic Tour of Capitol Square, 1865 (photo tour)

  • Friday, April 3rd • 1:00 to 2:30 PM
  • Tour starts at the Washington Equestrian Statue in Capitol Square, 1000 Bank Street

More than 40 photographs were made in and around Richmond’s Capitol Square in 1865. This walking tour will provide a then-and-now view of the Square, examining what the photographers saw, and what they wanted to show the northern public. This tour will cover approximately half a mile. (NPS)

Self Determination

A series of programs (listed below).

  • Friday, April 3rd, 4:00 – 11:30 PM
  • Shockoe Bottom & African Burial Ground, both sides of the 1500 block of E. Broad Street

Hear the voices! Proud Black voices. Listen. African voices, yet to be identified American. Hear the thoughts illumined by culture and spirit. Listen. Music that rises up from the ground itself. Walk on the ground. Sacred ground. Call out their names. Listen for the voices of our ancestors.

Dance, music, film, rituals and declarations of liberation.

Standing on the shoulders of our African Ancestors, we are speaking our truth. This is an honest acknowledgement of the history that affects us all. Africans enslaved in America had names. They had spirit, they had intellect, they had dignity. We are because they were. We come from cultured and technical societies. They envisioned a future, and we are here. They resisted enslavement and fought for freedom from the beginning. They are empowering this moment. Today opens the way to tomorrow. Together we are elevating in Self Determination. (Afrikan Arkestra, Afrikana Film Festival, The Beloved Unseen for #untoldrva, The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, Drums No Guns, and Elegba Folklore Society)

Waking Up Tomorrow: Resistance and Liberation in Shockoe Bottom

  • 4:00 – 5:15 PM

Beginning the Devil’s Half Acre, Lumpkin’s Jail, this procession symbolically creates a Sacred Ground Memorial Park while marking sites related to the trade in enslaved Africans in Shockoe Bottom, illustrating the scale and “normalcy” of slavery in antebellum Richmond.

Declarations of Suffering, Resistance and Liberation in Shockoe Bottom

  • 5:15 – 5:45 PM

Affirmations of history, courage, and commitment. Presentations on the history of Shockoe Bottom, Richmond’s slave trade, the end of slavery, the future of Shockoe Bottom.

Opening the Door

  • 5:45 – 6:15 PM

With passage from one location to the next or one dimension to the next, we first stand at the door. Millions of Africans passed through the Doors of No Return on the coasts of West Africa. The ocean’s portal created the Middle Passage. The uncountable doors to holding pens and auction blocks and locations of servitude ultimately led to a portal of death. The Yoruba believe that Earth is a place we visit, and the other world is home. We open the door in realization of our connection with the past in the present. In passage, we represent culture stolen, and practically lost, that expresses the dignity of African people and that presents a lesson of African cultural awareness for displaced modern people of color and all others of this era to bear witness.

Undertones: An Aural Suite

  • 6:15 – 7:15 PM

An aural memorial for Richmond’s African Burial Grounds. By melding together Jazz orchestration, improvisation, african rhythms, chants, narratives and dance the work encodes the past injustices of slavery, acknowledges the present state of struggle for equality in America, while celebrating the triumph of reclaiming this sacred ground. The work encodes a message to future generations by constructing a collective memory for all through the heightened dynamics of community performances. Composed and Orchestrated by Ashby Anderson. Commissioning Partner: Jazz Arts Consortium.

Anointing the Veil: An Elevation Ceremony to Release from Bondage the Memory of Enslaved African Ancestors in Virginia

  • 7:15 – 7:45 PM

Candlelight Processional and Calling Out of Names based on the Virginia Historical Society’s Unknown No Longer database of the names of all the Africans enslaved in Virginia that appear in VHS’s unpublished documents.

African American Reflections on the Civil War

  • 7:45 – 9:45 PM

Witness the lives and roles of Africans and Africa’s descendants unfold in this drama from the Elegba Folklore Society that informs and empowers. An original work, this is a chronological depiction of the presence of African descended people as themselves, in captivity and in emancipation. A talk-back to follow.

Bound: Africans vs. African Americans

  • 9:45 PM

A documentary by Kenyan director Peres Owino with production, in part, by actor Isaiah Washington, that connects enslavement and colonialism with contemporary self-view, world view and relations between continental Africans and African Americans. A talk-back to follow, possibly with the filmmaker.

Every single thing on Saturday, April 4th

There were too many good things on this, the big big day of the commemoration. Show up for the entire day, and stay for the evening and nighttime celebration of all the wonderful things that the fall of Richmond made possible. There will be a lot of really unique experiences for every member of the family, and it’s inspiring as all get-out just to read the schedule, which I suggest you do!

  1. As is our Civil War series (not just a shameless plug, there’s some info in there you need to read so you can understand the events leading up to this very weekend). 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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