Friday, September 30, 2011

Richard Taylor, Brother of Jefferson Davis's First Wife

 When I read about the end of The Wah recently, the name Richard Taylor caught my eye. I knew he was Sarah Knox Taylor Davis's brother and the son of Zachery Taylor. I wanted to know more.

He was evidently a very talented soldier like his father and brother-in law. When war erupted, Taylor was asked by Braxton Bragg to help him organize and train the Confederate forces that were sent to Pensacola. He rose through the ranks quickly, was made a colonel, and served at First Manassas.

By October, 1861 he had been made brigadier general and commanded a Louisiana brigade under Richard Ewell. Some thought it was favoritism, because of Taylor's relationship with Davis. Instead, Davis countered that he was recommended for the promotion by General Jackson himself.

Taylor was promoted to the rank of major general on July 28, 1862, the youngest major general in the Confederacy at the time.He served brilliantly throughout the duration of the war.

In the last days of the war, he was given command of Alabama and Mississippi, and after John Bell Hood's disastrous campaign, Taylor was given command of the Army of Tennessee. He surrendered his department at Citronelle  Alabama, the last major Confederate force remaining east of the Mississippi on May 8, 1865.

Nathan Bedford Forrest said about him: "If we'd had more like him, we would have licked the Yankees long ago"!!! Would that we had.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Montgomery During THE WAH

We are very excited that we are close to printing a booklet by General John H. Napier, III about Montgomery during the Civil War. This article originally appeared in the April 1988 issue of the Alabama Review and will be used by permission.

It takes the reader from the beginning when Jefferson Davis wrote his wife, Varina, that "Montgomery was a 'gay and handsome town' that would not be an unpleasant residence" all the way to the end of the War when Wilson's Raiders swept down from Selma to Montgomery.

On April 11, 1865, General Adams issued orders to burn 88,000 bales of cotton stored in Montgomery to keep it from Yankee hands, although the war was apparently lost. Miraculously the city was not destroyed, thanks to the heroism of the local fire company.

According to General Napier one die-hard secessionist ninety-one year old had sworn that she would rather die than see the Yankees enter Montgomery, and she got her wish, dying on April 11 as the sky glowed red with flames from burning cotton.

I am sure there are many such stories and we are so glad General Napier has written this down for the First White House of the Confederacy to share with others.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Little Known Facts About Jefferson Davis's First Wife

Many people do not know that Varina Howell Davis was Jefferson's second wife but if you are a consistent reader of this blog you know that he was married first to Sarah Knox Taylor, the daughter of Zachery Taylor.

Unfortunately, Knox died after contracting malaria three months after she and Jefferson were married, while they were visiting Jefferson's sister on her Locust Grove Plantation. Knox is buried in the Locust Grove Historical Cemetery in West Feliciana Parish, La. (see yesterday's blog). The cemetery is tiny with 27 graves.

Dr. Benjamin Davis, brother of Jefferson Davis is buried here. It is a peaceful looking place. You can see pictures of it if you google Sarah Knox Taylor or Locust Grove Plantation. Her original grave was made of brick. Sometime after 1920 her grave was covered with stone and the engraving added.

This came about after an attempt by the United Confederate Veterans to remove her remains to a spot beside her husband in Richmond. I don't think Varina would have liked that too much!

It is said that Jefferson had a miniature portrait of Sarah Knox with him when he was arrested. We have the miniature in our relic room at the First White House. I don't know if the story is true or not, but the person who gave us the miniature, says that it is!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Homes Of Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis is so famous that the places he lived are documented, unlike probably you and me!

His first home was in Fairview Ky but while still a small child he moved with his family to Woodville, Miss. Their plantation home was called Rosemont and can still be visited today (google it).

His first wife Sarah Knox Taylor died while they were visiting his sister at their plantation, Locust Grove in West Feliciana Parish, La. Later, when he and Varina Howell of Natchez (The Briars) married, they  settled on their plantation Brierfield, on Davis Bend near Vicksburg.(no longer there unfortunately).

While serving in Congress they lived in Washington but of course kept their plantation. When the War came, they moved to Montgomery and lived at the First White House during the spring of 1861, and after that, the Second White House in Richmond. Visit both First and Second WH, both wonderful!!!

After the War and his imprisonment, he visited Canada and traveled in Europe as well as Britain. He lived in Memphis for a time, and in 1877 moved to Beauvoir where he wrote his memoirs. He died in New Orleans after a trip to Brierfield. Beauvoir restored after Hurricane Katrina, happily again open to the public. I plan to visit soon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who Really Designed The First Confederate Flag?

Short answer to the question - we really don't know! We thought all these years that Nichola Marschall, a renown artist who was originally from Prussia, but who migrated to Marion, Alabama, designed the Confederate Uniform and the Flag.

The claim is made that Mrs. Napoleon Lockett, who lived in Marion came to him and asked if he would design a flag and uniform; the information we have says that he did, and both flag and uniform were accepted.
But Bob Bradley, Curator with the State Dept of Archives,  says "not so"!!! Guess its like Betsy Ross and the First Stars and Stripes, did she or didn't she? If not her, then who?

Our interest in all of this is intensified because we have two marvelous portraits in the Second Parlor of the First White House of the Confederacy, a self-portrait of him and one he did of his wife, Mattie Eliza Marshall Marschall..We also have a portrait of Mrs. Napoleon Lockett, hanging in the dining room at present. Come and see them!!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Jefferson Davis Family Bible, Stolen And Returned

When the Davis family left their plantation home, Brierfield, to move first to Montgomery, and then to Richmond during the war, they left behind most of their possessions, including the treasured family Bible. We don't know if Mrs. Davis moved the Bible from the main house before she left, or if one of the servants moved it later for safekeeping, but the Bible waited out the war in a shanty near the big house.

That is where it lay when the Yankees marched into Vicksburg, cocky and sure of victory. According to journalist H.C. Reed of Delaware, Ohio, and Cameron F. Napier, Honorary Regent for Life of the White House Association of Alabama, this is what happened next.

A young Union sergeant named Charles Smith found the brown Bible in its shanty hiding place. He reportedly presented the confiscated Bible to Dr. Plynn a. Willis, his commander in the 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Commander Willis was a surgeon from a prominent Ohio family. Dr. Willis took the Bible home to his family after the war. Sadly, he died of pneumonia in 1876 at the age of 39.

A half century later, his younger brother, Rollin K. Willis, then 83 years of age and the president of the Delaware Board of Education, sent Jefferson and Varina's brown Bible back to their former home in Montgomery. Here it remains, on the center table in the 2nd parlor of the First White House of the Confederacy, under the watchful eye of the ladies of the White House Association and the WH Receptionists. People are astonished when they hear the story of the "lost and then found again" stately family Bible. We are most grateful to the gentleman who returned it to us. What a treasure!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

History Is A Teaching Tool And Tourism A Contribution To Economic Growth

 I read an article last week quoting Richmond resident Leighton Powell, executive director of a magazine called Scenic Virginia. Here is what he says about Richmond, and I think this is applicable to Montgomery and other southern cities as well.

 "The whole race issue has held us back for so long because nobody wanted to talk about it." Then he added: "Now everybody's getting on board, realizing you can't hide history, you can't pretend it didn't happen. But if you do it the right way, it can become a teaching tool, and if you do tourism right, it can pay for everything you need in this city."

At the First White House we strive to attract more and more visitors to the River Region and to encourage them to include our attraction on their itineraries. This helps all venues in the immediate area because if tourists come to downtown Montgomery they are going to visit various museums. We must never forget that Montgomery is home to both the Civil Rights movement and the Civil War movement. 

Our city is unique and has much history to share with people. We have the best of the old and the best of the new in Montgomery and we at the First White House of the Confederacy are eager to share the story of Jefferson Daivs, a renowned American patriot, and his family, as well as the story of the preservation of the House.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Words Memorializing Varina Howell Davis

Yesterday I quoted the words written on the front and back of the stature of Jefferson Davis memorializing  him. Words are also written on either side of the  stature which I think you will find most interesting as they are about Varina.

On one side we read:  Sacred to the Memory of Varina Howell Davis Beloved and Faithful Wife of Jefferson Davis And Devoted Mother of His children. "Her Children Arise Up and Call Her Blessed; Her Husband Also And He Praiseth Her."

  And then the words: "She Stretcheth Out Her Hand To The Poor; Yea She Reacheth Forth Her Hands To The Needy." Give Her Of The Fruit Of Her Hands, And Let Her Own Works Praise Her In The Gates

These verses of course are from Proverbs 31 about a virtuous woman.  More about this remarkable wife and mother is written on  the other side.

There we read: Erected By Margaret Howell Davis Hayes The Devoted Daughter of Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis In the Yer of Our Lord 1907. "Whom God Hath Joined Together Let No Man Put Asunder."  "Lord Keep Their Memories Green."

Margaret, dutiful and loving daughter that you were, thanks to you for the memories that have been "kept green."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Who Is Buried With Jefferson Davis?

In searching the Internet for information on  Margaret on Monday I found photographs of Hollywood Cemetery where Jefferson Davis is buried. It brought back memories of the afternoon we visited his grave, which is a very peaceful place overlooking the river.

Varina and Jefferson lie side by side. Also in the plot are the remains of Joseph, their son who died in a fall off the balcony at 2nd White House in Richmond at age five; Varina Anne (Winnie), their youngest daughter, and Margaret Howell Davis Hayes, their oldest daughter and her husband.

There is a magnificent stature of President Davis and on it two plaques. The one in the front reads: Jefferson Davis At Rest. An American Soldier. And Defender Of The Constitution. Born In Christian Co. Kentucky June 3. 1808. Died At New Orleans Louisiana Dec.6.1889. West Point Class 1828.
Member House of Representatives From Mississippi.1845-1846.
Col. 1st Missi. Rifles Mexican War 1846-1847. Brigadier Gen. U.S. Army May 17.1847.
U.S. Senate 1847-1851. Secretary of War 1853-1857. U.S. Senate 1857-1861.

And the plaque on the back reads: President Of The Confederate States Of America. 1861-1865.
Faithful To All Trusts. A Martyr To Principle. He Lived And Died The Most Consistent Of American Soldiers And Statesmen. Blessed Are They Which Are Persecuted For Righteousness  Sake For Theirs Is The Kingdom Of Heaven. Erected By His Wife Varina Howell Davis. And His Daughter Margaret Howell Davis Hayes. Nov. 9. 1899.

Tomorrow I will tell you about the marker for Varina.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Old Cahawba and The Land Of Cotton

I read recently how much cotton was worth during the Confederacy. Goodness gracious, no wonder there was a war. Do you think that most cataclysmic events have as their root greed? Think about it.

Yesterday I attended a meeting and luncheon designed to raise funds for Old Cahawba, the site of the first Capitol of Alabama. It was cotton that  put Cahawba on the map, but devastation left by the invading Yankee troops pretty much wiped out the South's cotton crop, and with it, Cahawba, with all it's hopes and dreams.

But the proponents of Cahawba say that it has a story to tell, one involving "rise, decline and renewal, a story worth telling and preserving." Hats off to this great effort. It will be a noble venture. Like the First White House, Cahawba was the First Capitol. No one can ever take that away.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Margaret Howell Davis Hayes, Daughter of Jefferson & Varina Davis

Are you as interested as I am in the Davis family? I always find it so sad that of the six children of Varina and Jefferson, only one, Margaret lived to marry, bear children and outlive her parents.

Born in Washington in 1855 Margaret was the eldest of the surviving children (Samuel, the firstborn, died in 1854). She was known as both Polly (or Pollie) and Maggie. She was a great favorite of her father's. Maggie began her studies with a tutor at the Second White House in Richmond, and was enrolled in schools in Montreal, London, Paris and Baltimore as the family moved about after the war.

Like her parents, she was made of  "sterner stuff". After she married J. Addison Hayes in Memphis in 1876, her brother Jeff Jr. came to live with them in 1878 when he contracted yellow fever. Margaret risked her own life to care for her dying brother.

Four of the five Hayes children lived to adulthood. The family moved to Colorado Springs in 1885 and as her husband rose in city banking circles Margaret became involved with charitable causes and was a leading member of local society, according to Internet information which was taken from Rice University: The Papers of Jefferson Davis..

Maggie died in 1909 at the age of 54 and her ashes were taken by her husband and children to Richmond to be interred with the Davis family at Hollywood Cemetery. I have been there and seen her marker.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Musings About The War

Just a few comments about things Southern:

Most Confederates did NOT own slaves, thus they went to war, not because of slavery but to defend their home land.

Lincoln lost his best soldier when Robert E. Lee decided to fight for his beloved Virginia

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis were all devout Christians

The Battle Flag, much maligned today was only a battle flag (one of thousands), and never a National flag. The First National flag was the Stars & Bars.

The Rebel Yell was a fearsome thing and frightened even the bravest of the enemy.

The horrors of war ranged from boredom, to disease to death.

Bathing was a rare luxury so the stench within the tents was suffocating during inclement weather when the flaps had to be closed.

The typical day began at 5:00 am during spring and summer and 6:00 during fall and winter.

Breakfast usually consisted of biscuits, cured meat, and coffee when available.

During the day, soldiers drilled, drilled and drilled. They learned to shoot if they didn't already know, with accuracy.

Battles were usually chaotic. The noise was deafening as cannons roared and hundreds (sometimes thousands) of soldiers fired on one another.

The smoke and noise made it difficult to rally and guide troops.

A few reckless generals liked to lead by example and were out in front. Sadly, both sides lost a great number of talented leaders as a result.

As Sherman said "War Is Hell"

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Blue and the Grayof the Civil War

The War for Southern Independence is known as the War of the Blue and the Gray, describing the colors of the uniforms worn by the two sides, but in reality there was not total conformity on either side, especially during the early months of the war.

Dr. Thomas Turner in his "101 Things You Didn't Know about the Civil War" tells us that although the regular army had an established uniform, that the majority of participants on both sides were volunteers from state militias who often demonstrated their independence and esprit de corps by dressing in flamboyant uniforms of their own designs.

Often the Confederate troops wore yellow-brown instead of gray. Rank was indicated by stripes on their sleeves (remember Ashley Wilkes from Gone With The Wind?). Rank was also indicated by buttons and insignias. Generals wore three gold stars, one larger than the other two while Colonels had three stars of equal size.

Soldiers on both sides were expected to carry all their provisions, including clothing, equipment, personal effects and weapons. A fully equipped infantryman might carry 50 pounds. No wonder they were "lean and mean fighting machines" by the time the war was ended!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mysterious Mist of Gettysburg

A man came to visit the First White House of the Confederacy yesterday from western Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg. He "apologized" for being from the north but told us how interested he was in Civil War History, having grown up so close to the battlefield and spending much time there as a youth.

It reminded me of an article I read in the Journal of Confederate History, Summer 1988 by Dr. Larry McGehee titled "The Mysterious Mist of Gettysburg". As he points out, words can barley describe the awesomeness of the battlefield.

I  recently stood on top of Little Round Top where in his words "one looks down  a ravine of boulders behind and around which butternut clad boys once swarmed".

Between the two armies, 33 generals were lost, "but it is the other 43,700 men whose ghosts walk the fields of Gettysburg and who filter through the sight seer's inner eye".

Have you been to the Peach Orchard, where some of the worst fighting took place? Dr. McGehee says: " It was left in splinters as if a tornado had touched down in Eden. Gettysburg is Paradise Lost, as not even John Milton could have described it". 

Dr. McGehee ends his brief article by saying "In the midst of Gettysburg, amidst the ghosts, one dreams of a world that some day will find a way to avoid treating its boys as it does its wheat, lining them up to be scythed and ground for the rest of us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Who Slept In The First White House of the Confederacy?

The answer to the question about who slept in the First White House after the Davis family moved out is easy: lots of people! The House, as you know, was rented for Jefferson Davis . After he and his family moved to Richmond, the ownership of the "Jeff Davis House", as it was called,  passed from Willis Calloway to William Crawford Bibb to Archibald Tyson of Lowndesboro,  Alabama who maintained it as a "townhouse".

When Mr. Tyson died in 1873, his daughter, Sallie Tyson Render of La Grange, Georgia inherited it and she rented it out. By the turn of the century it had become a boarding house for train men.

 I mentioned in recent blogs how it was saved, moved, and re-opened in 1921. At that time Confederate veteran John Cheney moved into the house, to sleep there, to safeguard the relics, and to keep up the place. As far as I know he was the last person to actually live in the House.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What Was Labor Like In 1861?

Since today is Labor Day I thought  we might consider what  labor was like in 1861. Of course in the South, mostly agrarian, we know that work on the Plantations was done mainly by blacks. Many also went to war with their masters, and later received Confederate pensions, and in many cases recovered and brought home the last earthly remains of their masters. And when the men went off to war, the women had to work the farm or oversee the plantation.

The North was much more industrial and many men worked in factories. After the war began,  opportunities for women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line were abundant in a variety of vocations never offered to women before. These included nursing, spying, factory work, government office work and even soldiering.

The record of accomplishment and fortitude left by the women of the War Between the States foreshadowed the status of social structure to come and changed forever the way their gender would be viewed by men.

And in the words of Stephen Vincent Benet, in the South, it was the women on the home front who "made courage from terror and bread from Bran, and propped the South on a 'Swansdown fan.' "

Virginia City Bans Public Confederate Flag Displays

Yes, folks, according to in Lexington, Virginia, the city in which Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried, city officials have voted to prohibit the flying of the Confederate flag on city-owned poles.

Of course individuals still have a right to fly the Battle flag or any flag, in Lexington and elsewhere. After all, we do live in a country in which our first amendment rights are protected. Here in Montgomery, the Battle flag was removed  from the top of the Alabama State Capitol a number of years ago, by court mandate I believe, or else by public opinion (anyone remember?)

The four Confederate flags (1st, 2nd and 3rd National, and the Battle flag) are still flown at the site of the Confederate Memorial on the grounds of the Alabama Capitol. At the First White House we fly the First Confederate flag. as we feel that is the correct one, since it is the one that Letitia Tyler raised in front of the Alabama Capitol on March 4, 1861, the day Mrs. Davis arrived in Montgomery.

The Long Frustrating Struggle

When the owner of the First White House died in LaGrange GA in 1918 her heirs took possession of the House but refused to sell the land. They did however promise the WH committee that whenever they decided to remove the house that they would give the WHA the "refusal of the building" for $ 800.00.

Later, the heirs were ready to sell the house but not the grounds. Where to move? Hope came at last in the form of a sympathetic governor, Thomas E. Kilby who signed a bill passed by the Alabama legislature in 1919 to provide $ 25,000.00

The plan was to buy the property next to the Archives. It was opposed by the director, Marie Bankhead Owens, but she was overruled by the Govenor. Moving the house was a complicated process. It was photographed from all sides and detailed plans were made of the interior. The house moved in three sections, dismantled, marked and reassembled. The structure was found to be in excellent condition.

The dedication of the First White House of the Confederacy on Jefferson Davis's birthday, June 3, 1921 was one mof the most relished and enjoyed events in Alabama history. The long and frustrating struggle to save the First White House had ended. Thre it stood, sparkling even more elegantly than it did in the spring of 1861, speaking eloquently of the heroic sentiment of its most splendid time and looking forward to the future!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Continuing Story To Save The First White House

Sadly, October 16, 1906 Varina Howell Davis died of pneumonia. Her daughter, Margaret Davis Hayes had the sad duty of disposing of Mrs. Davis's personal possessions. She offered many family pieces to the White House Association. Later the Association would receive the bed in which Mrs. Davis died, and other furniture from her room at the Majestic Hotel in New York.

By 1910 the WHA consisted of 167 Alabamians whose purpose was to raise money to move the First White House to another location. Meanwhile, the First White House remained entailed property, continuing as a boarding house and falling into disrepair.

There is even a story that a hack driver at Union Station, when asked by people waiting between trains to take them to see the FWH of the Confederacy, was so ashamed of its appearance (three blocks away) that he took tourists out Madison Avenue on the edge of Montgomery and showed them instead the magnificent "Houghton" house!

More to the story: Please "stay tuned".

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why The White House Association Was Formed

Mrs. John Napier in her booklet "The Struggle to Preserve the First White House of the Confederacy" writes that at the first State Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which was held in Montgomery on April 18, 1897, a proposal was made that the work of the UDC Alabama Division be "the purchase and preservation of the White House of the Confederacy." It was  Mrs. Jesse Drew Beale's idea, so naturally she was appointed chairman.

Even before the second convention in Birmingham on Feb 17, 1898 there was opposition to preserving the Jefferson Davis House, described by one critic as a "very large old dilapidated building which the owner asks enormously for."

 In 1899 Mrs. Davis offered Mrs. Beale, a longtime friend of Mrs. Davis and her family many of Jefferson Davis's personal things. Mrs. Beale appealed to the Governor, and he replied that the furniture, etc. could be placed in the Capitol until a permanent place was made for it in the FWH.

By 1900 the project to save the House by the UDC had become "entangled in personal differences" and was dropped. Shortly thereafter twenty-seven ladies gathered at Mrs. Clifford Lanier's home to form the White House Association and to elect officers, including Mrs. Jefferson Davis as Queen Regent, and Mrs. J. D. Beale as Regent.

The rest of this very interesting story will be told tomorrow.