“Ruins of Richmond & Petersburg railroad bridge from island in James River.” Richmond, Virginia, April 1865; Alexander Gardner, photographer. Shows group of five African American females (perhaps four women and a girl) and a boy on an island in the James River. Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. “Ruins of Richmond & Petersburg railroad bridge from island in James River,” Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-cwpb-00388, Call Number: LC-B815- 846
This very curious Civil War era photograph was taken in Richmond, Virginia. The city had been the Capitol of the Confederate States of America, but in April 1865, it was captured and occupied by Union troops. In the wake of the attack on the city, damage was done to its infrastructure. Some of the damage was done by evacuating Confederate military, to limit the use that the Union army could make of the place.
Alexander Gardner, one of the War’s famed photographers, took this photograph of several African American females and a European American boy near the ruins of the Richmond & Petersburg railroad bridge. The picture was taken at an island in the James River, which flows through the city. The face of the girl in the rear is clouded, probably from shaking her face while the photo was taken. The boy is wearing what appears tp be a soldier’s cap; might his presence represent the Union army’s presence?
The women might have been enslaved when Richmond fell to federal forces; here they were, in their first days of freedom, posing for a photograph in view of their city’s ruins. Don’t forget about us, they say silently to the camera, and to history. Soon after, they, the rest of the city, and the rest of the South, would go through the process of putting the pieces back together and reconstructing a new South.