Deeper into Jeopardy! XXIX: A Confederacy of Dunces – $400

Jeopardy! giveth and Jeopardy! taketh away. I was very excited to write about ARCHAEOLOGY, a category in last Friday’s game and major in university… but the contestants were too slow and neglected to pick the $1200 clue before end-of-round. Too bad. Instead, we’ll do a topic I don’t know much about (but am in the process of learning), all about the dumb-dumbs that tried to run that little breakaway state southwest of South Carolina: A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. Plus, the category’s title is taken from one of my all-time favourite books which actually has nothing to do with the Civil War aside from taking place in Louisiana.

Oh, and by the way, for this installment we’ll be going back to a two-week, M-W-F posting schedule, with an appropriate Final Jeopardy! clue on Halloween. I’m starting a new day job tomorrow, and I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to write these with that going on as well.

Jeopardy! category: A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (13-10-2014)

$400 clue: Historians have criticized Jefferson Davis for defending this capital with troops needed elsewhere

Correct response

The gist: It was briefly a national capital, yes, but never technically a state capital, since Virginia is one of the U.S.’s four commonwealths. Richmond was an important place well before the U.S.A. was born. Before European settlement on on the Eastern seaboard began in 1606 at Jamestown, the site of Richmond was an important settlement in the Powhatan Confederacy (of which Pocahontas was a member). It was officially founded in 1737 by plantation farmer and slave-owner William Byrd II, naming it after the English town of the same name because its view of the James River reminded him of the view of the Thames across the pond. It became a major city in the mid-18th century and played a big role in the Revolutionary War. When Virginia voted to join the Confederacy in 1861 after the April 12 Battle of Fort Sumter, the short-lived Confederate capital at Montgomery, Alabama was moved to Richmond for strategic reasons, not least of which was the city’s well-developed iron industry that supplied much of the metal used by the Confederate Army during the war. The Confederate Congress met in the Virginia State Capitol, and the “White House of the Confederacy” was constructed nearby.

Hoping to cripple the Confederacy’s war strategy, the Union launched the Peninsula Campaign under Major General George B. McClellan in spring of 1862. The Seven Days Battles of the following summer saw Robert E. Lee’s forces repel the attackers, his side suffered more casualties than the Union – and McLellan’s failure contributed to the prolonging of the war for another three years. The war raged elsewhere until Ulysses S. Grant finally captured nearby Petersburg and the imminent capture of Richmond itself became clear. Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered the city evacuated, and Grant’s forces marched in on April 2, 1865, and ransacked the city, burning about a quarter of it. The war came to an end on May 9, about five weeks later. Richmond recovered relatively quickly from the devastation of a preceding four years, in part due to its location which made it a favoured railroad stop.

Ruins of Richmond’s commercial district after the “Evacuation Fire”

The clue: An interesting way to frame “what was the capital of the Confederacy?” Of course, since the Confederacy had two capitals, that wouldn’t do at all as a trivia question, but nine times out of ten if a question is asking about a Confederate capital, it’s going to be Richmond and not Montgomery. Still, a very basic clue for a category about the Confederacy, so it’s certainly in the appropriate slot.

In Jeopardy!: Richmond is, course, in many clues (97 to be exact), but we’ll focus on Richmond in its capacity as the capital of the Confederacy, to narrow it down to 19. Naturally, all of them mention “capital” or “congress” or the southern White House or some such political idea, and want Richmond as the correct response (although note that five of the results actually wanted Montgomery, and Richmond was given incorrectly). Jefferson Davis is the correct response to two clues. The only other clue that doesn’t have Richmond as the response is a clue about the USS Merrimack, an ironclad that was blown up in 1862 to prevent its capture by the Union. Richmond is probably the correct response if the clue is about a Confederate capital, but beware of words like “first” or the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” or indications that the clue is talking about the early days of the Civil War, which all indicate that it’s about Montgomery instead.

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