Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Confederate Battle Flag As A Symbol Today

I heard they wouldn't let the guy that played on Dukes of Hazard drive in the Nascar "thingy" because he had a Confederate Flag on top of his truck! That brought into mind an article from the NYT book review of April 3, 2005, by Diane McWhorter, of  "The Confederate Battle Flag" by John Coski.

Ms. McWhorter says "Throughout its history of controversy, one thing the Confederate Battle Flag has consistently stood for is the tendency of human beings to muddle their best instincts and their worst. As the banner of southern nationalism, the Star-Spangled Cross is an emblem of heroic self-determination, of the Confederacy's rebellion against federal 'opression'. But the ideal that urged the secessionists on to their blood-drenched sacrifice was the freedom to subject a race of people into enslavement".
She points out the the Battle flag is still seen as a standard in the eternal struggle between tradition and change, that today looks like a culture war. (Dukes of Hazard?). 
 In his book, Coski, historian at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, does bring out many interesting things about the Battle Flag, including the fact that  Marines raised it on Okinawa in WWII, (as well as the U.S. flag).
Coski goes on: "Fighting over the spoils of a tattered cloth is another example of ordinary people taking passionate political stands that distract them from the likelier source of their distress, the widening division, not between whites and blacks but between have-mores and have-lesses".

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jefferson Davis' Early Years

Jefferson Davis took a 1000 mile horseback trip with a man named Col. Thomas Hinds to enter St. Thomas College, a seminary in Kentucky. He was seven at the time. On the trip he met Andrew Jackson and stayed at the Hermitage. What a thrill that must have been for a little boy. No wonder he was destined for greatness!

At nine he entered Jefferson Academy at Washington, Miss. and at 13 he was back in Ky, attending Transylvania University. At 16 he entered West Point, where he met Robert E. Lee. He graduated as a second lieutenant, and was sent to Wisconsin and Arkansas Territories to fight in the Black Hawk War.

That is where he met Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of General Zachary Taylor. The rest is history!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jefferson Davis And "Wicked"

I saw the play Wicked for the third time last weekend. I was so moved by the lyrics. I couldn't help but think perhaps President Davis might have spoken some of these words to Varina when he was put in prison:

"It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part, so much of me is made up of what I learned from you. You'll be with me, like a handprint on my heart and now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine by being my friend...because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

"...And just to clear the air, I ask forgiveness, for the things I've done you blame me for, But then, I guess we know, there's blame to share, and none of it seems to matter anymore. Like a comet pulled from obit, as it passes a sun/ like a stream that meets a boulder/ half-way through the wood. Like a ship blown off its mooring/ by a wind off the sea/ like a seed dropped by a bird in the wood. Who can say if I've been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better. And because I knew you...I have been changed for good!"

Yes, I think Jefferson might have said these words to Varina, do you?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jefferson Davis Giving Varina The Old "Hearing Test"

Jefferson thought Varina was getting deaf so the Dr. told him to come in the door and call her, and see how long it took for her to answer.
So he did. At the front door he said "I'm home, whats for supper?"
He heard nothing, so he went into the parlor - said same thing, but still no response.
Then he went into the back hall and same thing: "I'm home, whats for supper?"  He heard nothing once again.
Finally he went into the kitchen and repeated it for the 4th time. And Varina said "FOR THE FOURTH TIME, SPAGHETTI !!!
Ha Ha, gotcha didn't I?

"Southern Right Of Secession"

The Rosemont Plantation website states this about Jefferson Davis:  "mainly due to his leadership, the South fought a war for four years and nearly won. He began with no army, no navy, no industry, no  money and no organized government against an enemy five-times in manpower".

Mrs. Napier, the White House Association Honorary Regent for Life says all we had was "cotton and courage." She has a wonderful way with words. About the war she says, "it was a necessary  evolvement".

After Richmond fell and the Confederate army surrendered, Davis was captured and languished in prison for over two years. He pleaded for a trial but was not granted one, because the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court stated: "Do no let Davis take the stand...he will vindicate the Southern right of secession".

Monday, February 20, 2012

Are There Really Ghosts At Gettysburg?

 When I was at Gettysburg I bought some of these little booklets called "Ghosts of Gettysburg", fascinating reading. What peaked my interest in the subject was that the morning we were going to the Battlefield, I met a woman at breakfast in the hotel where we were staying. She and her husband were "Yankee"  reenactors and enjoyed visiting various civil war sites. In fact, they had just come from the raising of the Hunlee. She told me this story of what had happened to her at Gettysburg:

She and a friend were driving through the park one afternoon, and when they came to a certain  monument, they heard voices. They could not see anyone, nor could they make out what was being said, but it sounded like a  very strident argument between two men. After some time, it seemed a decision was made, and they heard the sound of wagons, horses, cannon and men moving forward as if going into battle.

The voices and sounds disappeared and the two ladies looked at their watches. It was 1:45 in the afternoon. They found the Park Director and told him about what they had heard.

 He knew immediately what had happened at that particular spot, during one of the battles. There had been a bitter disagreement between two of the Confederate generals about which way to position the troops. After much heated discussion, they reached a decision, and moved forward into the battle formation. He told them it had happened at exactly 1:45 pm!

Wow, what a story. I have no reason to doubt for a minute that it had really happened to this woman. It  still gives me "goosebumps" to think about it. Do you have a story to share with us?  If so, please comment.

Jefferson Davis' Memory Still Cherished Today

Jefferson Davis' memory is still cherished at the First White House in Montgomery, where the Confederacy was born, at the Second White House in Richmond, and at Beauvoir, his last home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In Montgomery we have a "Jeff Davis" Street, although the First White House stands at the corner of Washington Avenue and (gasp) Union Street. Beauvoir stands on "Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway" (U.S. 90).

He died at the Payne-Fenner House, in the Garden District of New Orleans, and he is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond. There is an obelisk marking his birthplace at Fairview, Kentucky. One can also visit his boyhood home at Rosemont Plantation, in Woodville, Miss. Unfortunately his home at Brierfield Plantation, at Davis Bend, south of Vicksburg, where he spent his most productive years, burned to the ground in 1931.  

 As long as men and women cherish their individual freedom, revere the Constitution, and are willing to fight for their convictions, Jefferson Davis will be remembered and his memory cherished.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jeffferson Davis, An American Patriot

Robert McHugh wrote a fine article on Jefferson Davis in the Daily Herald, the Biloxi-Gulfport Miss newspaper, "Jefferson Davis, An American Patriot". . It is good to see someone give this statesman the credit he deserves. The article was presented by Senator James O. Eastland in the U.S. Senate on June 9, 1971.

He mentions among his many accomplishments that Davis was chiefly instrumental in establishing the Smithsonian Institution; he instituted the federal civil service system; he began the movement to construct a canal across Panama; he designed a cantilever bridge to span the Potomac River; he envisioned the need for transcontinental transportation, ordering surveys on three routes to the Pacific, corresponding afterwards with the three railway lines built with governmental assistance (yes, they gave governmental assistance back then too).

As Secretary of War, Davis introduced a humanities program at the U.S. Military Academy, establishing an elite corps of officers and gentlemen; he sent a study commission to the Crimean War which put into effect new military tactics; he introduced the light infantry, the rifle musket and the Minnie ball. (Unfortunately all that was used against him when the War came).

McHugh goes on to say the following: " he won such wide respect as legislator and administrator that men from throughout the nation marked him as presidential timber. He never became President of the United States however. Destiny marked Jefferson Davis for another task - that of President of the Confederate States of America!"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Things You Didn't Know About The First White House of the Confederacy

Did you know that Jefferson Davis and family only lived in the First White House less than three months in the spring of 1861 before Capitol was moved to Richmond?

Did you know it was rented for him at the cost of $ 5000.00 per year (fully staffed & furnished)? Alot of money back then. I bet there was "talk" about it!

 Did you know that the White House Association of Alabama was formed in 1900 to save the House?

Did you know that the Association was patterned after the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, formed in 1853 to save George Washington's home?

Did you know it took twenty years to obtain the money to purchase it and move it to current locale?

Did you know that the Association gave the House to the State of Alabama on Jefferson Davis's birthday, June 3, 1921 after it was moved and restored?

Did you know we do not charge admission but depend on contributions and gift shop sales?

Did you know we have a website: ?

Did you know you are reading this because you are ...(you finish)!

Friday, February 17, 2012

John Brown's Body

 I mentioned this work by Stephen Vincent Benet in my last blog. Thought some of you might want to order it, if you haven't already got it in your library. I haven't read it in a long time. Have you? I need to go back and re-read, but there are so many books, so little time.

I just got it down of the shelf and guess what? I studied it in school.I was right when I said it had been a long time. I remember the fatalistic ending, don't you? It goes like this: "If you at last must have a word to say, say neither, in their way, 'It is a deadly magic and accursed,' nor 'It is blest', but only 'It is here'."

For Every Southern Boy...And Girl, Not Limited To Age 14 Either

I like to remember the quote by William Faulkner about Gettysburg. It goes like this:
"For every Southern Boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the otehr looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happend yet, it hasn't even begun yet...and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time..."
I think that quote applies to "us girls" as well, and maybe not fourteen but whatever age we are. As Stesphen Vincent Benet said in his wonderful poem John Brown's Body - "It is not lucky to dream such stuff, for dreaming men are haunted men..." but we do dream, don't we?

Monday, February 13, 2012

First White House of The Confederacy Face Book Page

Hello everyone, Just want to encourage you to sign up as a "friend" of the First White House of the Confederacy on our face book page, and ask you to encourage your friends to sign up as well.

The more friends we have the better we can get the word out that the First White House is a place that everyone should visit and support. We want to get tour numbers up too. If you know a school or an adult group that would like to visit, please encourage them to call for a reservation 334-242-1861.

Remember our website too:  - Individuals do not need a reservation, just come by...and no admission charge. We are closed State and Federal holidays and Sundays, but are open other days, Mon-Fri from 8:00 - 4:30 and Saturdays from 9:00 - 4:00.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Items That Belonged To Jefferson Davis In the First White House

I have noticed that people that read our blog (may your tribe increase!) seem to enjoy reading, most of all, about Confederate President Jefferson Davis, so today I thought I would mention a few of the items that belonged to him, which we have at the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery.

The items in the President's bedroom, with minor exceptions, all belonged to him and were donated to the White House Association by Mrs. Davis and arranged according to a diagram she made. A museum case has been placed int he center of the room to hold certain of his personal possessions, including  slippers, collar box, with his collar & suspenders, spittoon, leather valise, top hat box, and fabric case holding walking sticks. (He used these after he had been wounded in the Mexican War).

The focal point of the room as you might imagine is an unusual four-poster/tester bed with spool/button turned parts. The bed is exceptionally wide and tall, reportedly custom made for the president.  It is 6/3" long and 5'8" wide. Remember, he was at least 6', very tall for "the day".

 In the corner, by the bed is a  bentwood rocking chair, which had been in his bedroom at Beauvoir. Other items of interest are a lead glass water carafe, a copy of the New Testament, and a carved slipper case, said to have been made by an American Indian Chief, when the President was serving on the Wisconsin frontier in his youth.

Another handsome piece is a mahogany chest of drawers in the American Empire style, also used by the President at Beauvoir. Above the mantle is a framed photograph of President Davis, the last taken before his death. It appears to be in the original frame.  This portrait was widely circulated after his death. Another copy is in the collection of the Alabama Judicial Department.

Wouldn't you like to spend the night in this room, sleeping in his bed?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Civil War Cycloramas

The first time I heard the word "Cyclorama" I was a ten year old girl scout, going to Atlanta on a special trip to see the Battle of Atlanta displayed in cyclorama form - a painting wrapped around the interior of a rotunda, with the foreground filled with props, to create an impression of depth
This was in the era of "Gone With The Wind" and it was all so vivid and real to me because of the movie. In my young life, up to that point, I  don't remember seeing anything more impressive than the  Cyclorama in Atlanta. Many years later we took the grandchildren. I still felt the same way.

 Recently, we had the opportunity to see the Cyclorama at Gettysburg, equally impressive and disturbing, especially since the battle raged on for three days. In both the cycloroma in Atlanta and the one in Gettysburg, you could not tell where the props ended and the painting began. Both are  truly masterpieces.

Friday, February 10, 2012

150 Years Ago This Week

The Associated Press listed some major events for the week of February, 1862. The first one was the Battle of Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River near Dover, Tenn. It marked the first Yankee victory of the Civil War when Grant captured the Fort. Boo-hiss. Fortunately 2000 Confederate fighters were able to escape before Grant captured those remaining.

On February 22, 1862 Confederate President Jefferson Davis was re-inaugurated in Richmond. He had previously been elected Provisional President , Feb 18, 1861 in Montgomery. He said "...we are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our fathers made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty." This shows that the Confederates thought they were doing what their Revolutionary Ancestors had done by forging a new nation, and that they had the right, by virtue of the Constitution to secede.

On February 26, Nashville was occupied, becoming the first Confederate state capitol to fall to Union forces as Confederate fighters retreated to Alabama and elsewhere. Nashville's occupation angered Southerners and secession-minded women in Memphis  began practicing with guns. Others, including here in Alabama, began raising money for a Confederate gunboat.

Lincoln's 11 year old son, Willie, died at the White House on Feb. 20 of typhoid fever. How sad and shocking that was for President and Mrs. Lincoln. The Davis's also lost a son at the White House in Richmond during the war, when 5 year old Joe fell from the balcony of the house to his death.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Out -Of-State Visitors Outnumber Alabamians In Visits To First White House

January 2012 saw 1038 visitors to the First White House, almost double January of 2011. Why the difference? Several reasons perhaps:
1. Weather this year very nice - last year weather so bad the House even closed a couple of times 
2. We are doing more advertising (Montgomery Visitor's Guide for example)
3. Economy improving?  I hope this is a sign of that,  and not  just wishful thinking.

You may be interested, as was I, to know that in January we had 460 visitors from Alabama and 520 from other states, and remarkably according to our figures, only 3 states out of 50 were not represented.

Can you guess which ones were "no shows"? Only Colorado (everyone out there is busy skiing); Hawaii (guess the weather is good there this time of year and they want to stay home); and West Virginia (well, that's not a very big state anyway).

 Wisconsin and Georgia  tied for sending us the most (46 each) and Florida next with 34. Right behind were California with 32 and Texas with 30. We even had 26 from Minnesota. We also had 58 from foreign countries, of which we are also very proud! Lots of hard work for our wonderful receptionists! Thank you ladies for working so hard, and Mr. Robert for keeping everything looking so nice. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Historic First White House Center Table

This Historic First White House Center Table is the third piece of furniture in the President's Study that was known to have been among the original furnishings of the First  White House during the Davis residency. These three pieces were actually owned by the lessor, Col. Edmund Harrison, and subsequently sold to the Abraham family and then to the Dwen-Dowe family. These pieces were donated to the First White House in 1998.

The table was made in the Northeastern United States, probably in Boston. It is supported by a pedestal of paired supports of a broad lyre form, breaking in the center into two out-scrolled branches, all resting on a rectangular platform, supported by four scrolled feet on casters. The top is of Italian Variegated Grey marble, square with rounded corners above an ogee-molded skirt with fine mahogany veneers. The woods are richly figured and of deep color.

I wish it could talk and tell us stories about what went on while Jefferson Davis was in Montgomery at the First White House, and then afterwards, when the war was over, and people were trying to pick up their lives.What amazing people they were! I would like to think we are like them, just a little bit.

Furniture In The First White House During Jefferson Davis Residency

In the President's Study in the First White House of the Confederacy are a sofa and rocking chair that were among the furnishings of the House when it was rented for the use of President and Mrs. Jefferson Davis in 1861. The House had been furnished to be "suitable as a gentleman's residence" by its owner, Col. Edmund Harrison, who charged the Confederate government astronomical rent ($ 5000 per year!)

. At an unknown date after the Civil War, a sale was held of the historic furnishings which had been in the house during the Davis residency. This sofa and chair cannot be determined to have been owned by the First Family, but was assuredly used by them when they were in the First White House.

At the sale, three pieces were purchased by an Alabama family who "lived at the northwest corner of Washington and Hull Streets". In the early twentieth century the three pieces were sold by a family named Abraham to Mrs. Mary Dwen, who had known President Davis in her youth. She became the grandmother of John Dowe, the donor of these pieces in 1998. The third piece is an historic Center Table which I will describe in my next blog. Really neat stuff, don't you think?