When Richmond, Virginia, became the Confederate capital in May 1861, it was in many respects equal, if not superior, to Washington, D.C. Founded in the 1730s, when most of what is now the District of Columbia was an uninhabited swamp, Richmond was the third largest city in the South. Its population of nearly 40,000 swelled to three times that number during the Civil War and rivaled that of Washington, which had more than 60,000 residents when the war began.
The imposing Virginia state capitol in Richmond, designed by Thomas Jefferson, became the seat of the Confederate government, overlooking Capitol Square and an equestrian statue of George Washington. Secessionists called that reverend Virginia the Father of the Confederacy, and felt he belonged in their capital, not to Washington, D.C. Stately public buildings and gracious residents – including the Confederate White House near Capitol Square – gave Richmond an elegance few other American cities possessed.