National Geographic : 1961 Apr
DAVID C. RICE ( NATIONALGEOG Vizetelly romps in wartime Richmond CAPITAL OF THE CONFEDERACY, Richmond, Virginia, saw Vizetelly at his frothy, delightful best. Capering through drawing-room entertainments, poking about munitions factories and prison camps, tearing off at intervals to campaign with his friends Jeb Stuart and Robert E. Lee, he behaved precisely as a glamorous war correspondent should. Many of his dispatches from Richmond failed to slip by the blockade, but happily, memoirs of his friends fill in the picture. The city, dominated by its imposing Cap itol (above, and in Vizetelly's drawing right), was a swollen shadow of the pleasant, pro vincial capital of Virginia. In it were crammed 482 the Confederate government, the State government of Vir ginia, the South's most impor tant industries, the junction of several strategic railroads, huge hospitals, prison camps, supplies for whole armies, and, periodically, the armies them selves. ICHMOND played its role as seat of the Con federacy seriously and sometimes self-consciously. Hostesses improvised franti cally to hide gaps and shortages no self-respecting ante bellum establishment would have tol erated. High officials, distin guished foreigners, profiteers, and officers (many of whom would have been quite unac ceptable by prewar Richmond social standards) thronged to receptions, balls, and dinners. Vizetelly, when available, was yeast in this heavy loaf. His infectious spirits leavened many an evening that might otherwise have fallen flat. Mrs. Burton Harrison, a war RAPHIC SOCIETY time belle, recalled him as "a big, florid, red-bearded Bohemian, of a type totally unfamiliar to us Virginians, who could and would do anything to entertain a cir cle. In our theatricals ... he was a treasure trove.... He painted our scenery and faces, made wigs and armor... sang songs, told stories, danced pas seuls, and was generally most kind and amusing." One evening, Jeb Stuart bungled his duties as stagehand in a Vizetelly production. Mrs. Harrison, who felt the lapse keenly, tells the story: "I, as a rustic maiden, was to divide my smiles between Colonel John Saunders, an humble swain of my own estate, and Viz etelly, a plumed cavalier with a purse of gold to offer...." She perched on a rustic stage prop stile, one end of it held up by Stuart, daydreaming behind the scenes, and as "Viz etelly was prepared to make his swaggering entrance ... my perch gave way and I slid to the ground."