Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dixie as in "I wish I was in Dixie"

I ran across a book on Amazon.com called A Little Death in Dixie and that reminded me to look at the origin of the word "Dixie". According to ""Ripley's Believe it or Not" the word Dixie in the beginning had nothing to do with the south. "Dixieland" was originally a farm in Long Island NY owned by a man named John Dixie. Sounds sacriligious to most of us, doesn't it?

It wasn't until the songwriters came along that "Dixie" was transplanted to the south. At least that's what is says on Wikipedia. If you think or know differently please let me know!!! I do know this: one time our son was in California at a meeting and the chairperson asked if he would lead the National Anthem. Jim rose and said "Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton"...well, you can take a boy out of the South but you can't take the South out of the boy!

By the way, if you want to order any of the books we mention in our blog from Amazon.com all you have to do is click on the link. So easy!!! And it benefits the First White House. Did you know that?

Monday, August 30, 2010

President Davis' Bedreoom in the First White House

It is so interesting to me that all the articles in the President's bedroom in the First White House actually belonged to President Davis. They were given to the White House Association by Mrs. Davis after his death. She asked us to place the items according to a diagram she had drawn.

The "button" bed was made especially for him as he was very tall for a man of that day and time. It measures 6'3" x 5'8". On the right of the bed is his night table with Bible and water bottle. And in the center of the room is a case which includes his bedroom slippers, collar box, suspenders, spittoon, valise, a case containing an umbrella and walking stick used when he was recovering from wounds he suffered in the Mexican War, and a leather hat box.

Over the mantle is the last photograph taken of Jefferson Davis before his death in 1889. His funeral was the largest the South had ever held.  He was buried temporarily in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans but in 1893 his body was moved to Richmond for final burial in Hollywood Cemetery. I have been there and it is a very peaceful place. There is a book, Jefferson Davis: Tragic Hero (The last twenty-five years, 1864-1889) by Hudson Strode which  deals with the last years of President Davis' life. If anyone has read it please feel free to comment on it here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why Montgomery?

 As we reflect on the upcoming Sesquicentennial we ask ourselves, why was Montgomery chosen as the site of the new Government? It was just a small inland river town of 8,000 souls - half of them slaves - and barely forty years from the wilderness. Montgomery had only been the capital since 1847. But probably because of its central location the several delegates from the Southern states who came together to discuss the formation of  "a Southern Confederacy" chose Montgomery.

Here is the timeline: Alabama adopted the Ordinance of Secession January 11, 1861 and withdrew from the Federal Union. She invited the people of all the Southern States and Maryland and Delaware to meet in a convention on the fourth of February. Several states sent delegates.

The Confederate States of America (CSA) was organized on a bright sunshiny, clear, invigorating day, February 4th. The Provisional Congress assembled in the Senate Chamber in the Alabama State Capitol Building. (The First White House has one of the Senate desks and one of the chairs from that Chamber in President Davis' Study.)

On the fifth of February Congress elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as President of the Confederate States and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as Vice-President. Mr. Davis was inaugurated on the 18th of that month. On March 4th Mrs. Davis and family arrived and they moved into the home rented for them. As we all know it later came to be known as the First White House of the Confederacy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"This Old House"

The First White House of the Confederacy is approximately 175 years old now, having been built between 1832 and 1835 by William Sayre, an ancestor of Zelda Sayre who married F. Scott Fitzgerald. Having been taken apart and moved and reassembled and having gone through major restorations, the House is sound as a dollar (well maybe more sound, given today's dollar).

It does take constant vigil. Something is always falling off the ceiling, like paint or plaster. The outside has been recently painted and the lawn beautifully landscaped. The front walk and steps are being worked on as we speak.I thought about our recent trip to Turkey and a visit to the Hagai Sophia in Istanbul. That magnificent building (see picture) is in desperate need of repair.

 I am glad the State of Alabama takes such good care of our wonderful First White House! Come and visit us and see what a great job the Service Division does keeping the FWH a place the people of the State of Alabama can be so proud of. We have a stream of visitors every day, and they come from all over the United States, Canada and around the world.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Man Of God - Robert Edward Lee

On Jan 19th we celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday at the FWH. We invite the public to come for a brief ceremony with speaker and then we serve birthday cake. Lee is among the most celebrated generals in American history, equally admired because of his Christian character as well as his military prowess.

Lee wrote these words to his wife from Fredericksburg on Christmas Day 1862. "I will commence this holy day, dearest Mary, by writing to you. My heart is filled with gratitude to Almighty God for His unspeakable mercies with which He has blessed us in this day...what would have become of us without His crowning help and protection? ...I pray that, on  this day when only peace and goodwill are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace...My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men."

Let me recommend the most celebrated biography of Lee by Douglas Southall Freeman. Dr. Freeman was the great uncle of our fifth Regent, Cameron Freeman Napier. It should be in every one's library. Likewise
Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command also by Douglas Southall Freeman in three volumes.
Volume One: Manassas to Malvern Hill .
Volume Two: Cedar Mountain to Chancellorsville;
Volume Three: Gettysburg to Appomattox
Happy reading!!!  And please join us on Jan 19 to celebrate R.E. Lee's birthday and to kick-off the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Come With Me To The First White House

When visitors enter the First White House it is as if they were going back in time. They usually grasp the idea that they are involved in a moment of history and they stand a moment in the cool, darkish entrance hall and catch their breath before moving forward to sign the guest book and be greeted by one of the Receptionist.

 The entrance hall has a number of important items in it, including a portrait of President Jefferson Davis painted from a photograph of him taken in 1853 while he was U.S. Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.

In the center of the room under the portrait is a mahogany couch that belong to President Davis when the Confederate Government was here. When the Capitol moved to Richmond, he gave it to his Private Secretary Alexander Clitherall. In 1986 Clitherall's great granddaughter Eleanor Elsberry Flack gave it to the FWH.

We eagerly await YOUR VISIT !!!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Alabama: Here We Are!

This is my home state!

Amazing Stories

One of the most amazing stories of the First White House has been the extensive restorations we have been through. The first was in 1921 when the House was dismantled in thirds, boards numbered and then moved and restored in its present location at 644 Washington Avenue.

Fifty years later the FWH was in desperate need of repair. The State Building Commission had restricted the second floor to eight (8) visitors at a time due to the structural problems. As a Bicentennial project in 1976 the second restoration  was begun. Mistakes made in 1921 were corrected, experts were brought in and a wonderful "save" was made. Steel reinforcing beams were placed to support the 100,000 visitors we have each year. Needless to say the reopening took place amid much fanfare.

The third major restoration took place in 1991 when all the lead paint was removed and the House completely stripped and repainted. Time doesn't permit me to tell you all about this now, so I will save this for another time.

Lastly, the House was closed for another 18 months starting in 2007 to completely replace the air conditioning and heating units. We reopened for business in mid-2008. What a joy to once again have visitors coming in and after several years of no heat and no air condition to enjoy these amenities, thanks to the efforts of  the Finance Department of the State of Alabama in especially to Mr. Jim Main, Director of Finance at the time who gave the go ahead to once again "save the First White House"!

Summer Vacation

Don't we all enjoy telling about our summer vacations? Usually when we start talking, the other person interrupts with the tale of their own trip! But  today, knowing I won't be "interrupted" I want to tell you about our visit to the Second White House and The Museum of The Confederacy in Richmond VA.

The House and the Museum are next door to each other and  actually the House is a part of the Museum. The two buildings are nestled beneath the tall buildings of modern downtown Richmond. The Museum has an impressive number of items from the Civil War, including uniforms, sabers, rifles, saddles, etc.
The Second White House was built in 1818 by John Brockenbrough and passed into many other hands but is still called the Brockenbrough House. Davis maintained an office in his home. As you probably know, the Davis family left Montgomery and the First White House in the late spring of 1861 when the government moved to Richmond, after Virginia succeeded from the Union.

 The youngest two Davis children were born in the Second White House, William in 1861 and Winnie (named Varina Anne) in 1864. Sadly Joseph, another son died in a fall from the 15' high front portico in 1864. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Remembering "The Daughter Of The Confederacy"

In the First White House we have an upstairs bedroom which we call "Mrs. Davis' New York Bedroom". Why, you may ask? A simple answer - the furniture came from the Majestic Hotel where Verina and Winnie lived after Jefferson Davis died.

Winnie, the youngest of the Davis' six children was born June 27, 1864 in the Second White House in Richmond. She was hailed by devout southerners as the "Daughter of the Confederacy". So proprietary were they that when she was being romanced by a young New York Attorney, a great hue and cry went up from all around Dixie Land.

Their 1890 engagement didn't last long. Public furor may have ended it or it could have been financial. At any rate she never married. Judy Oliver, a Montgomery authoress of note has written a novel about Winnie, titled "Devotion". It is a fascinating account of her life and I highly recommend it. We have it for sale in our gift shop.
Whenever I go in Mrs. Davis' "New York Bedroom" I feel so nostalgic. Its as if Winne and Varina are going to walk in any moment and have afternoon tea. Won't you come and visit us? Our receptionists will greet you warmly and you can take a self-guided tour through this wonderful and historic home and learn lots more about this fascinating family.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Speaking Of Prisons, What About Fort Monroe?

Fort Monroe ( a.k.a. Fortress Monroe) is a Hampton VA military installation located at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Although most of Virginia became part of the Confederate States of America, Fort Monroe remained in Union hands.

As Petersburg fell, Richmond was evacuated in 1865 and President Davis escaped, only to be captured in Irwinville GA. He was sent to Fort Monroe and confined to an unheated open casement until the Union Surgeon John J. Craven recommended more humane care for Mr. Davis. He was held there for two years and some historians have speculated that his treatment in captivity was intended to be lethal.

In poor health, Davis was released in May 1867 on bail, which was posted by prominent citizens including Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt who had become convinced he was being treated unfairly. The federal government proceeded no further in its prosecution due to the constitutional concerns of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase.

One of several books about Fort Monroe is "Defender of the Chesapeake". Yesterday I mentioned Andersonville Prison. One of the books about that dreadful place is titled  "Tragedy of Libby and Andersonville Prison Camps" in case you want to read more on the subject of Civil War prisons.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Confederate Prison Camp at Millen, GA

Its all the news today, have you seen it? For 150 years the exact whereabouts of the stockade at Camp Lawton, a Confederate Prison Camp that was abandoned in 1864 has been discovered and dozens of artifacts have been found.

We have all heard about the infamous Andersonville Prison. Things got so bad at Andersonville that it was investigated by the Confederate War Department and they recommended that the majority of the prisoners be transferred to Florence SC or to Camp Lawton in Millen, GA.

 Camp Lawton was neither as crowded nor as well-known as Andersonville,  but at 42 acres it was physically the largest Civil War Prisoner of War Camp. It was hastily abandoned and the prisoners evacuated when threatened by General William T. Sherman's march on Savannah.

Watch your news today and you will hear more about the uncovering of this site. I love history in the making, don't you? I have always felt like a frustrated archaeologist, especially when I look in my attic!

Lots of books have been written about Andersonville...more later!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Varina - Was She The Perfect Wife for Jefferson Davis?

 Some say that if Jefferson Davis had known at the time of his marriage to Varina Ann Howell in 1845 of the future that awaited him as President of the Confederacy, he could not have chosen a better wife than Varina.

She was born at "The Briars" near Natchez, MS, May 7, 1826. Jefferson Davis was born near  Fairview KY, June 3, 1808. Are you subtracting? She was 18 years younger than he and was only 18 when they married. Her mother objected at first, but the union turned out to be a long and happy one.

Varian was an intelligent, deeply religious woman and was well educated for her day. She was an accomplished hostess and lively conversationalist with a serious interest in politics. I'd say he was a good "picker", would you?

A number of books have been written about her, one of which is "First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War" by Joan E. Cashin. Another one is "Crowns of Thorns and Glory: Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Howell Davis...Two First Ladies of the Civil War by Gerry Van der Heuvel.  A friend did a paper on this one at my literary club and it was extremely interesting.

Varina was an author as well. One of her books is called "Jefferson Davis, Ex-President of the Confederate States of America v2: A Memoir by His Wife".I hope one day to read some of these. I would love to know more about her, i.e. really get to know her as a person rather than an historical figure who lived for a brief time in the First White House in Montgomery!, Alabama!!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Visiting The First White House

You may be interested to know that we have people from all over the United States and many foreign countries visit the First White House of the Confederacy each year. I have enjoyed meeting folks from England, Germany, Canada and Korea, just a sampling of the tourists that come weekly and monthly.

When they come from the "nawth" they are usually very interested in what transpired in the spring of 1861 and following. We try to give them a dose of southern hospitality and we enjoy learning about them as well.

Our wonderful Receptionists, Ms. Evelyn England and Ms. Lynn Burks welcome them warmly and answer their questions and give them as much information as they wish to have. Mr. Robert McCrary and Ms. Eva Newman are also on hand to help as needed.

You can visit our website to learn more about our staff at the First White House. Come visit us soon, either in person or on the web at http://www.firstwhitehouse.org/

Several days ago we talked about "short books". I have been reminded of others: Hemmingway's The Old Man and the Sea" and Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth: ; also C.S. Lewis' "" The Screwtape Letters" None of these approach the size of a Victorian Novel for sure!!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Love Story: Jefferson Davis and Sarah Knox Taylor

Don't  you love a love story? Well here is one for you although it did not end well. Jefferson Davis, fresh out of West Point and a US Army Officer was sent to the Wisconsin and Arkansas Territories in the Black Hawk War. While there he met Sarah Knox Taylor the beautiful young daughter of General Zachary Taylor and the two fell madly in love.

Davis proposed and she accepted but General Taylor opposed the marriage, saying he did not want his daughter to marry a military man. Davis resigned his commission to become a planter, and the General relented and  allowed the two to marry.

Sadly, three months after the wedding they both contracted malarial fever and he recovered but Sarah died in his arms, singing a little tune, popular in that day, Fairy Bells. Davis was heartbroken and became a recluse for almost ten years. William C. Davis' biography, Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour tells much more.

Another true love story I understand, is the one of John Bell Hood and his wife Anna Marie by Robert Hicks called A Separate Country. It is set in New Orleans after The War. Hicks is also the author of the New York Times bestselling book The Widow of The South. If any of you have read either of these please comment as I have not.

Feedback from readers

a blog reader Lynda Taylor of Troy Alabama writes:
"...with the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War coming up in January, it is a great thing that you are bringing our history into the 21st century with a blog. Neat!
Read "Bride of Fortune" by Harnett Kane based on the life of Varina Howell Davis, 1948 copyright. It was a good read and different viewpoint to events we are very familiar with. Found the book in the gift shop at the Davis monument in Kentucky -  erected by Confederate soldiers."

 (Note: I believe "Bride of Fortune"  is out of print.)

 And in response to Thursday's blog about the book he has written, "When Universities are Destroyed"
the author, Dr. Jack Kushner of Annapolis Maryland writes "It is a very short book, but some of the best sellers have been short: for example "The Last Lecture". It is the story that counts, not the number of pages."

 Good observation Jack and thanks for the comments. I believe others can comment directly on the blog now. Please do so. Stay safe and strong this weekend dear readers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

For Your Late Summer Reading...

 Good morning,
A friend I went to High School with, who now lives in MD, Dr. Jack Kushner, visited the First White House recently. Soon after that he returned to Montgomery again for the 100th anniversary of Lanier High School where we saw each other.

 Jack has written a book, and it sounds intriguing: When Universities are Destroyed.:How Tulane University and the University of Alabama Rebuilt after Disaster. 

When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and Tulane University, Jack says, the movers and shakers at Tulane looked around for a road map to assist them in the process of rebuilding. The University of Alabama came to mind, as this great institution was also destroyed, not by a hurricane, but by a military attack and fire during the Civil War.

 I for one am looking forward very much to ordering this book  since it has to do with one of my favorite subjects "The War". Also, all of us have lived through the horrors of Katrina, if not personally, then at least through the media; having much empathy for those who have suffered, this  should be a most rewarding read..

Another reason I want to read this book is that my Great-grandfather was at the U of AL when The War came and he left the University to fight for the Confederacy. Much later he was awarded his degree   nunc pro tunc. I have a copy of it.

Jack has written a second book not yet published, "Courageous Judicial Decisions in Alabama". Let us know please Jack, when this one is in print!!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Work at the First White House

Hello all,
As you can well imagine a house built in the 1830's takes lots of upkeep! Did you know that the First White House was moved in 1921? It was originally downtown near the river, at the corner of Lee & Bibb  Streets when the Davis family lived in it.

By the late 1890's the First White House had become in need of restoration and the area had become commercial. Help!!! It was time to act! So in 1900 The White House Association of Alabama was formed to save the House. It took 20 years to raise the money and have the House moved and restored. 

On June 3, 1921 on Jefferson Davis' birthday the House was reopened  in it's new location with a grand celebration and given to the people of the State of Alabama. Thus the State  owns and maintains the House & the grounds. The White House Association owns the Collection and Artifacts in the House and oversees the ongoing work of this wonderful House Museum.

The First White House is now located at the corner of Union Street and Washington Avenue, across the street from the Alabama State Capitol, next door to the Archives and History Building and a block from the Martin Luther King Memorial Church. We invite you to come and visit any time, and until then, please  visit our website at www.firstwhitehouse.org.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Relections On Scarlett O'Hara

As you know, Gone With The Wind was one of my all time favorite movies. While some many think the story line is dated what I like most about the film is it's celebration of Southerners and their relationship to the land. 

While certainly I would love a pretty frock made out of wonderful green drapes and I still swoon over Clark Gable the real romance of the book is its celebration of the resilient spirit of the people of the south.

Some people enjoy Bette Davis's performance in Jezebel, but for me Gone With The Wind is still Good Company!!!
More recent books like Gods and Generals gives a compelling story of the tumultuous times experienced by those living during The War. 

 The First White House has a story to tell also - the story of what happened in Montgomery Alabama during the spring of 1861 when the Confederate Government was formed. Stay tuned for more history in our next blog.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Please Mark Your Calendars to Welcome William C. Davis May 5, 2011

Something exciting is always happening at The First White House of the Confederacy, but we hope you will be especially eager to help us welcome noted author and historian William C. Davis.

If you are the kind of devotee of Southern history who enjoys reading ahead of an event, we encourage you to check out the following titles:

"A Government of Our Own": The Making of the Confederacy
Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour
Civil War Cookbook
A Way Through the Wilderness: The Natchez Trace and the Civilization of the Old Southern Frontier
Look Away! History of the Confederate States of America
An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government

Welcome from the Regent of the First White House of the Confederacy


I am Anne Tidmore, a proud Southerner and the present Regent of the White House of the Confederacy, one of the premier landmarks of Montgomery, Alabama.

The First White House of the Confederacy was the executive residence of President Jefferson Davis and family while the capital of the Confederate States of America was in Montgomery, Alabama.  Completely furnished with original period pieces from the1850s and 1860s, the 1835 Italianate style house is open to the public.  It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
The house served as the first White House of the Confederacy from February 1861 until late May  1861, when the Confederate capital moved to Richmond, Virgina.

Free to the public, I want to personally invite you to come and visit the First White House of the Confederacy whenever you are in Montgomery.   We are open 8 AM to 4:30 PM Monday-Friday except on state holidays.

For more information, please check our website at www.firstwhitehouse.org . Or, please call us at 334-242-1861.

We look forward to seeing you.