Virginia at War, 1865
Virginia at War, 1865
The war had to end eventually, and by the time 1865 dawned, there were few in the Old Dominion who could continue to ignore the stark realities before them that the end was not going to be a happy one for Virginians. After more than three and one-half years of conflict, the state was reeling. Most of northern Virginia was lost to the Yankees, most of the Shenandoah Valley was gone, the far western part of the state was now West Virginia and completely lost, and the Tidewater was largely in enemy hands. For all practical purposes, Confederate Virginia was little more than Richmond and Petersburg, and a scattering of supply depots and bases on the Southside at Danville and Lynchburg. More to the point, by January 1865 Confederate Virginia—like the Confederacy itself—resided chiefly in Robert E. Lee’s army.
The state was exhausted. Almost all of its railroad mileage lay in enemy hands or had been torn up. Even though commissary wagons still managed to collect considerable amounts of grain and meat, the government no longer had the ability to deliver it to the places that needed it most. Fields in the Valley were close to exhaustion, while barns and pastures were depopulated as the army swallowed most of the livestock. Communications were all but restricted to courier as most telegraph lines went silent. Most newspapers had ceased publication, and most schools had closed. Business stagnated and currency was inflated to the point of worthlessness. With the rest of the Confederacy in even worse shape, little help was available to alleviate the state’s shortages.
Most of all, the exhaustion of the war told on the faces of the people, both soldiers and civilians at home. Children had lost their childhood. Too many parents had lost sons, and too many wives husbands. Three years of relentless bad news from west of the Appalachians sapped the optimism from people who had seen most of the Confederacy’s successes on their doorsteps. For the first time desertion became an epidemic problem for Lee’s army as thousands of men finally decided that their first loyalty was to . . .