in 1865 the Capitol building in Richmond still resembled the original structure erected according to Thomas Jefferson's design, and a main entrance was on the west side rather than through the front (with the columns)
Source: Library of Congress, Capitol building
Richmond has not always been the capital of Virginia.
When the English colonists arrived in 1607, the paramount chief of the local tribes (Powhatan) ruled his territory (Tsenacommacah) from Werowocomoco, located on what we now call the York River. Powhatan's brother, Parahunt, ruled a subordinate town located at the base of the waterfalls on Powhatan's River (what we now call the James River).
In 1607, the English colonists established their official seat of government at Jamestown. The first English capital of Virginia was about 15 miles south of Parahunt's capital at Werowocomoco.
the two capitals of Tsenacommacah and Virginia in 1607
(the "Powhatan" the top of the map is the location of Parahunt's town)
NOTE: on John Smith's map, north is to the right
(Source: Library of Congress, John Smith's 1624 map of Virginia)
Powhatan shifted his capital twice before the Second Anglo-Powhatan war started in 1622. The English colonists shifted their capital in 1699 to Williamsburg. That was long after the remnants of the Algonquian-speaking natives had lost control over Tsenacommacah.
In 1776, the rebellious Virginians declared Williamsburg to be the capital of an independent state and adopted a constitution that labelled Virginia a "Commonwealth" instead of a colony. Independence changed the status, but not the location, of the colonial/state capital in Williamsburg.
in 1780, Newcastle on the Pamunkey River in Hanover County was considered as a potential replacement site for Williamsburg; 25 years earlier, Richmond was not important enough to show on a map
Source: Library of Congress, Carte des possessions angloises & françoises du continent de l'Amérique septentrionale. Kaart van de Engelsche en Fransche bezittingen in het vaste land van Noord America (1755)
In 1780 the Virginians moved their state capital inland from Williamsburg to Richmond, in hopes that the new center of a revolutionary state government would be less vulnerable to British attack. Thomas Jefferson, governor at the time, later wrote:1
The tactic failed. The British successfully marched into Richmond twice in 1781 - but there were few state government buildings to destroy.
Virginia committed to a national government based on the Articles of Confederation, which the General Assembly ratified in 1778. The Articles finally went into effect after Maryland ratified them in 1781, creating the first version of the United States of America - but establishing the confederation had little impact on the status of Richmond. As the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Richmond remained the capital of an independent state that was loosely allied with 12 other independent states.
On June 26, 1788, Virginia ratified the new US Constitution. With the creation of the new Federal government based on that document, Richmond became the capital of just one state, a subordinate government in the new national union.
When Virginia joined the Confederacy in 1861, the capital of that government moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond.
the Confederate Congress met in the Virginia State Capitol building between 1861-1865
Source: The Photographic History of the Civil War, The Goal - The Confederate Capitol (p.282)
From a Confederate perspective, Richmond's status as the state capital never changed during the 1861-65 Civil War. The government of the state of Virginia remained in Richmond, and the city was simultaneously home to the Confederate government.
From a Union perspective, Virginia's state capital moved in 1861, 1863, and 1865.
According to the Union perspective, the Restored Government of Virginia was the official state government of Virgnia between 1861-65. The Restored Government of Virginia categorized Wheeling, Virginia to be the state capital in 1861, after Virginia voted to secede from the Union.
In 1863, West Virginia joined the Union as an independent state, so the capital of Virginia had to move. It relocated to Alexandria. The last move was back to Richmond in 1865, after the defeat of the Confederate armies and the dissolution of the Confederate government.
The retreating Confederate officials met briefly in Danville between April 6-10, 1865. The move to Danville was a shift of the Confederate government's capital, not a shift of the Virginia state capital.
The Sutherlin Mansion (now the home of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History) was the last "capitol" in the last "capital" of the Confederacy. The mansion is a tourist attraction, but also the center of controversy because the City of Danville removed the Confederate flag that once flew in the front yard of the mansion.
the Confederate Congress last met in the Sutherlin Mansion, making Danville the last capital of the Confederacy - but Danville has never been the state capital
Source: Wikipedia, Danville, Virginia
NOTE: The state capitol is the building that houses the Virginia General Assembly. The capital (spelled with an "a" instead of an "o") is the city in which the General Assembly meets.
At the Federal Level, Washington DC is the capital city and the US Congress meets in the Capitol building. Charlottesville (May/June, 1781), Staunton (June, 1781), and Lynchburg (April, 1865) could claim to have served briefly as the capital city of Virginia, since the General Assembly met there officially at least to do business. The state legislature has also convened in Williamsburg since 1865, but those were ceremonial sesions.
last five locations of the capitals of Virginia
Map source: USGS National Atlas