Richmond in War Time
Edward Alfred Pollard

After Manassas, the capital of the Confederacy was given up to a licentious joy and dissipation. These, although the President might not have shared, he yet promoted by his own dispostion to triumph in the present, and to be indifferent of the future. It was in this time that Richmond made that reputaion of moral infamy, which marred whatever military glories it afterwards won - a reputation which has not only lasted, but has accumulated since the war, which in fact has suggested the title of "the wickedest city" in America for a place where the houses on the best streets are shops of female infamy, and where in nearly every court there is kept behind the drapery of justice an auction-block for bribes. In the early months of the war Richmond won the bad eminence that has since made it a name of scorn in the world. The decoration of being the capital of the Confederacy - which its citizens had at first so highly valued - cost it dearly enough. It was the convenient cloak by which entered into a formerly quiet and moral city all the vices which follow in the train of war. The vultures were soon gathered at the carcass.

With the imposing and grand displays of war came vices and dissipations heretofore unknown in Richmond; various flocks of villains, adventurers, gamblers, harlots, thieves in uniform, thugs, "tigers," and nondescripts. The city was soon overrun with rowdyism. The coarse vices of the street, however, were even less deplorable than those which affected a certain refinement, and invaded the higher ranks of society with that style of immoral and fantastic luxury bred out of the vast expenditures, the reckless passions, and the heedless self-gratifications in a state of war. The sobriety of Old Virginia society gave way completely to a new order of reckless, social amusements in which money was spent with a lavishness that taxed fancy, and a recklessness that scorned the morrow. As the war advanced, poverty and suffering, of course, came into many doors, and the world has heard much historically of the distress in Richmond; but it is remarkable of this city that, even to the last extremity of the war, when there were hundreds of people on its streets wanting bread, there yet constantly resided in it a wild fantastic luxury, pouring out money in every extravangant fancy of wickedness and vice.

The gamblers reaped a harvest that will probably never be told. A few months after the commencement of the war, a Richmond newspaper stated that twenty gambling-houses might be counted in three or four blocks of Main street. There was abundant gossip of almost fabulous sums lost in these places, by quartermasters, commissaries, and pay-agents. And in these "hells" were, doubtless, concealed the traces of that immense amount of defalcation in the Confederate administration, which has never yet been told of but in broken and imperfect whispers. In every war, the frauds and peculations of disbursing officers make a large amount; and it is curious, that no reference to this loss - busily investigated as it was by the North, on her side, in the late contest - was ever made, in any public manner, in the case of the Southern Confederacy. There was a vague impression of the people of the South, that there was an enormous amount to be credited to this account; and towards the end of the war there was an uneasy report that the proportions of such fraud would stagger belief, and that the discovery would terminate the last breath of popular confidence in the Davis government.

While the war lagged, Richmond enjoyed high carnival. There were extravagant social diversions - balls, parties, tableaus, and nondescript revels of wanton and excessive luxury. Curiously enough, considering the historical want of clothing in the Confederacy, fancy-dress balls were the social rage in Richmond. At one of these, a beautiful blonde, from Baltimore, impersonated "My Maryland," her slender wrists bound behind her back with miniature chains; and at the height of the festive excitement, the President of the Confederacy essayed a historical tableau, approaching the lady and relieving her of her bonds, amid the acclamations of the revellers. The old staid society of Richmond was overrun; and mad, wild, social diversions in the Confederate capital recked nothing, and reflected nothing of the sufferings, and toils, and mutilations of war.


Life of Jefferson Davis With a Secret History of the Confederacy by Edward A. Pollard, pages 151-154
National Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1869