Now a sprawling metropolitan area flanking the James River in the center of the state, Richmond has been Virginia's capital since 1780 and has been the stage for much history. It was in Richmond's St. John's Church that Patrick Henry concluded his address to the second Virginia Convention with the stirring words "Give me liberty, or give me death!" During the Revolution, turncoat Gen. Benedict Arnold led British troops down what is now Main Street in 1781 and set fire to many buildings, including tobacco warehouses -- in those days, the equivalent of banks. Cornwallis briefly occupied the town, and Lafayette came to the rescue.
Richmond is an essential stop for every Civil War enthusiast, for it was as capital of the Confederate States of America that the city left an indelible mark on American history. Jefferson Davis lived in the Confederate White House here while presiding over the rebel government, and it was in the mansion that Robert E. Lee accepted command of the Army of Northern Virginia. For 4 years, the Union army tried unsuccessfully to capture the city. Troops often battled on its outskirts; its tobacco warehouses overflowed with prisoners of war, its hospitals with the wounded, and its cemeteries with the dead. Richmond didn't fall into Union hands until Lee abandoned Petersburg -- an easy excursion to the south -- a week before surrendering at Appomattox.
Since it fell to Grant's army in 1865, Richmond has changed in many ways, not the least in its demographics. Many descendants of the white Confederate soldiers have fled to the sprawling suburbs, leaving the African-American descendants of the slaves those soldiers fought to keep in bondage to make up a majority of the municipality's population -- and the city council.
Racial tensions ran high for many years. For example, the city council created a stir by voting to place a statue of the late Arthur Ashe -- the great African-American tennis star and Richmond native -- among those of Civil War heroes lining Monument Avenue.
But local residents have come together lately to launch a rebirth of Richmond's downtown area, including construction of a sparkling performing arts center and the conversion of an abandoned department store into a fine new hotel.
In addition to its Civil War battlefields and museums, Richmond has splendid historic homes, an excellent fine arts museum, a hands-on science museum with state-of-the-art planetarium, and a charming botanical garden.
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