Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mary Chesnut's Book About Jefferson Davis and The South

In the website yesterday I read the following about the White House in Richmond: "Mrs. Davis's drawing room last night was brilliant, and she was in great force. Outside a mob called for the President. He did speak - an old war horse, who scents the battlefields from afar. His enthusiasm was contagious, wrote Mary Chesnut. Her book Diary from Dixie is one of the best first hand accounts of life in the American South leading up to and during the Civil War".

Of course she was referring to Jefferson Davis. Her husband was on his staff and she was a close friend of Varina. They even lived across the street from the White House in Richmond for a time.

Mary Chesnut records that when Jefferson and Varina held New Year's Day open house, the President's arm was sore for days afterwards, from shaking so many hands. Other things of interest that she wrote about was that the President had insomnia, and spent many sleepless nights. The Master Bedroom sometimes served as an office since Davis, who was frequently ill, spent many days working  propped up in bed.

The nursery, she says was "bedlam broke loose". It housed five young and rambunctious children. One tragic result of the children's apparent lack of discipline was when Joe, five years old, fell from the railing of the portico fifteen feet to his death. She describes the immense crowd at his funeral, including "thousands of children" who placed white flowers on the small grave.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Imagine The First White House When The Davises Lived There

There is just something magical about the First White House of the Confederacy, because it is such a part of history - the history of the antebellum South and of course the War Between the States. I especially enjoy the Rear Hall and the President's Study.

Originally a back porch when the house was built between 1832 and 1835, this area was enclosed when the rear serving pantries were added in 1857. While the Davises lived there, it was used as a reception hall and waiting area when the President received callers in his Study.

Many decisions of State were made in the Study. While a new government was being formed and war was eminent, there must have been pressing business day and night. But at the same time,  reports were given that the White House sparkled as Mrs. Davis, eighteen years her husband's junior, gave lively dinners, levees and teas, and held salons.

Contemporary writers used descriptions such as "stately dining", brilliant receptions," "held after the Washington custom," and described those attending as: "the most brilliant, the most gallant, and the most honored of the South."

I am sure the place was made even more lively by the rambunctious Davis children!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Confedrate Memorial Day

John Napier III has written a fine article on Confederate Memorial Day, in which he tells that at the end of four bitter years of conflict  about 350,000 Confederate soldiers lay dead, scattered throughout Dixie, an area the size of Western Europe. He goes on to say that their "still-militant" Southern women determined to honor their fallen men, some of which had not been buried properly after ruinous battles.

Spontaneous efforts sprang up throughout the late Confederacy to honor the South's fallen warriors. Columbus, Georgia, Columbia, Vicksburg, and Charleston South Carolina, as well as Petersburg, Virginia all claim the honor of the First Memorial Day observances.

 What we know for sure is that one year to the day after the surrender of the last sizeable Confederate army, on April 26, 1865, Confederate Memorial Day was observed in these and other cities. It was proclaimed "the South's All Soul's Day" and coincided with the blooming season in the South so flowers were available to decorate graves.

Decoration Day began in the North on May 30, 1868. The North chose that date because May 30, 1866 was when the last Union Army volunteers were mustered out, and the flowers bloomed later up there.May 30th later became the "National Memorial Day", and this is the reason for the two different dates. Many states in the South still celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, including Alabama.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Last Great Campaign of the War Between the States

 I am reading Shrouds of Glory by Winston Groom, the author of Forest Gump, and a Civil War history buff. He got interested in the Atlanta to Nashville campaign, a riveting account of Confederate General John Bell Hood's audacious attempt to vanquish the Union on the western front during the final months of the war, and decided to write a book about it.

Groom's great-grandfather, like many of ours, fought in the war, and this sparked Groom's interest. As a child, he said he played with his ancestor's rusty cavalry sword. Like so many others, Fremont Sterling Thrower left college at age 17 to join the Confederate army. 

It was not until Groom found a box of papers that he realized his great-grandfather had fought Sherman's army for nearly three years. As Groom says, Sherman slowly "ground down the Confederate forces in the western theatre". The book is hard to put down, I recommend!  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Confederate President's Inauguration Reception

Estelle Hall in downtown Montgomery, was the venue for Confederate President Jefferson Davis' Inauguration reception 151 years ago last month. The building still stands, and photos of it in its present condition can be seen on the "Times Gone By" facebook page. You can get there by googling "Estelle Hall, Montgomery, Alabama".

Next to Estelle Hall was Concert Hall (61 and 67 Dexter Avenue), and it was probably also used for the inauguration reception. Two years later, during the war, Concert Hall became Concert Hall Hospital. Preservationists are hoping both buildings can be saved. They are under city ownership now and are waiting to be brought back to life.

As I looked at the pictures of Estelle Hall, I couldn't help but think that  Jefferson Davis was actually feted there in that building, with the hopes of the South on his shoulders. Little did they know what lay ahead. I am sure they never dreamed that 630,000 lives would be lost in the bloody conflict that was to follow.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Robert E. Lee's Ceremonial Sword On Display In New Museum

The Montgomery Advertiser reports today as follows: "The sword that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had at his side when he surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is returning to Appomattox as the centerpiece of a new museum examining the post-Civil War struggle to heal the nation".

Yes, the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond is opening a satellite branch at Appomattox on April 1 to display to the public the thousands of articles that have been in the Richmond museum archives, many of which have not been seen by the public before.

Lee's sword has been freshly conserved and now sparkles, from the lion head on its pommel to the gilded relief on its steel blade. It has an ivory grip, and oh, the stories "it could have told"!

In all, 454 uniforms, muskets, swords, documents, flags and other artifacts will be displayed at the Museum of the Confederacy-Appomattox. Waite Rawls said "Appomattox is one of those words you can say anywhere in the world and people know what you're talking about, like Waterloo". How appropriate to now have a museum on the site. I think its a "must see", don't you?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Confederate Flag Returns To Georgia Fort

After writing about "rallying around the flags" yesterday, I was surprised to read in this morning's Montgomery Advertiser an article about a Confederate flag being returned to a Georgia fort after it had been in Maine for 150 years.

The Yankee artillery officer that seized it when Fort McAllister, Ga. fell to Sherman, kept it in a box along with a handwritten note that said "to be returned to Savannah or Atlanta sometime". Recently, his great-grandson, Robert Clayton, honored his wishes by donating the flag to the Fort McAllister State Historic Park in coastal Georgia.

"I suspect his ancestor wanted to pay back his former enemies after a Bible taken from him by Confederate troops during the war was returned to him by mail 63 years later", said Clayton. "I think he had a little sympathy for the plight of the Confederates", he added.

Fort McAllister was where the hated Sherman won the final battle of his devastating march to the sea that followed the burning of Atlanta. Taking the fort cleared the way for him to capture Savannah.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rallying Around the Confederate Flags

Five hundred forty five captured Confederate flags were sent to the US War Dept after the War Between the States ended, and the government began cataloging them with plans to return them to their states of origin, according to an article in the UDC magazine, November 2011.

These were finally returned in 1905 while Taft was Secretary of War. Thirteen of the flags were returned to Alabama. Many others flags still remained in the hands of Northern captors and some had been carried home by Confederate soldiers and flag bearers for safekeeping.

Over the past one hundred and fifty years, flags have been found in trunks, drawers, attics and basements, of houses, courthouses, state buildings, and in almost any place one could imagine. Many have found their way to the Alabama Department of Archives and History where some have been conserved. Their flag collection consists of ninety period flags.About seventy are still in need of conservation, according to the article.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Article on First White House in Alabama Magazine

In the March/April issue of Alabama magazine there is a very nice article on the First White House of the Confederacy with beautiful photography, some by Robert Fouts of Montgomery and  one or more from the Historic American Building Survey..Counting the pictures, the article is an impressive five pages.

The lead photo is a double page black and white picture of the House in its original location that is breathtaking. The detail is unbelievable. One can almost step back in time and see Jefferson Davis striding out of the front door, or the children playing in the yard inside the fence.

There is also a fine picture of Jefferson Davis (a very handsome, forceful looking man); one of his bed with the original bed hangings that is amazing;  a beautiful one of the Cabinet Bedroom upstairs, and one of the dining room. (Robert took both of those).

The story is easy to read and interesting. Kudos to this beautiful magazine. Be sure and buy one at Capitol Book and News in Montgomery or in a bookstore that carries magazines near you! What great publicity for the First White House!

First White House of Confederacy Is A Gateway

There is a great interview with our "Go To" Guy, who keeps the First White House open on Saturdays and other times when we need him. His name is Henry and he is a re-enactor. The kids love him because he wears his authentic uniform, is a "surgeon", and also has a wonderful beard and a twinkle in his eye.

Here is the link: It is done by CBS-4 "on the road" segment. Wonderful shots of the First White House, and a job very well done by Henry.

When one of our savvy members emailed the link to a well-known professional in Montgomery, he commented as follows: "The First White House, like many of our older/historic buildings, is a touchstone to part of our history and development; a gateway, if you will."

I really liked that, don't you? A Gateway. Yes,  I  think we are.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Historic Marker Placed at Original Site of First White House

Many of you know that the First White House of the Confederacy was moved to its present location in 1921. When Jefferson Davis and his family lived in the House it was in the downtown area, near the river, at the corner of Lee and Bibb streets. A skateboard park is on that corner today. It is one block west of the Renaissance hotel and Wentzell's restaurant. (The Confederate Government building stood where those buildings are).

The White House Association is pleased to announce that a marker has been placed at that site. It reads as follows:

 On this site stood  The First White House of the Confederacy.
      William Sayre built his townhouse here between 1832 and 1835. On February 21, 1861 the Provisional Confederate Congress leased it for the Executive Residence. President Jefferson Davis and his family lived here before the CSA capitol moved to Richmond.
      The White House Association of Alabama saved the house, moved it next to the Capitol, restored it, dedicated it as a museum, and gave it to the people of the State of Alabama on June 3, 1921.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Love and War, The Civil War of Course

   When speaking about War in this blog, we mean "The Wah" of course and we call it not "the civil war" because it was uncivil, but the War Between the States, or the War of Northern aggression. I digress however. I want to talk about the book "Love and War: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Book of Augustus V. Ball", compiled by Anne B. Ryals and edited by Dr. Donald S. Frazier

Dr. Ball was Anne Ryals' great-grandfather and this book is not a typical Civil War letter collection. Bell's circumstances and experiences allowed him to glimpse the war through two sets of eyes, that of a loving husband and also of an increasingly disillusioned physician.

 Some of his  recipes are the first of their kind to appear in print, and readers will be interested in learning about medicinal lore of that period. Included is an antidote to arsenic, treatment for bronchitis, whopping cough, and other unknown conditions!

 Ball served with the Twenty-third Texas cavalry and later with McMahan's Light Artillery Battery. For those interested in a personal view of the war in the Trans-Mississippi, this book is for you!

Last Meeting Between Lee and Jackson

Lee and Jackson, having seized the initiative, on the night of May 1, 1863, met to make plans for the next day's battle. They had 45,000 men to fight Joe Hooker's 90,000. Learning that Hooker's right flank was vulnerabel, Lee decided to send Jackson with 30,000 men to attack theweak spot.

The meeting lasted most of the night, with the two generals sitting on cracker-barrels (according to tradition). Afterwards they slept briefly. The next morning Jackson was said to havae had a fever.

Early on the morning of May 3, Lee and Jackson met for the last time. You may be familiar with the famous picutre of the two generals. I have a copy of it hanging in my breakfast room.

I still mourn the loss of the great and good General Jackson!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why Lee Failed At Gettysburg

  I am enjoying this well written book a friend told me about, by Tom Carhart "Lost Triumph - Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg-and Why It Failed". Carhart comes up with a bold new thesis about July 3, 1863 when Pickett made his disastrous charge uphill across an open field against the array of Union forces.

Carhart suggests that Pickett's frontal assault was to be combined with a rear attach by the great Jeb Stuart and his cavalry (a' la Napoleon). The problem came because Stuart, according to Carhart, was held at bay by a force half the size of his own, led by a young and yet unproven general, George Armstrong Custer! (Yes, the one and the same as in "Custer's last stand")!

Carhart does a fine job of providing us with plenty of background to substantiate his hypothesis. I am sure his theory will be debated by scholars and history buffs, but it would certainly make sense to think Lee had another plan in mind altogether, when he sent Pickett and his brave men to the slaughter, across that field and up that hill to the "High Water Mark".

Hope you historians will give us some comments on this! Also, click on the link above and order the book if you don't have it. Its a fascinating read. Thanks to my buddy for telling me about it. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln

Did you know that Lincoln and Davis were born only a few miles apart in Kentucky, only a year apart?

Likewise, Varina Howell Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln had some similarities in their lives, yet great differences. Both married older men, and both married  famous men who became presidents. Both lost children. Varina lost all four sons and only one child (her oldest daughter) outlived her. Mary Lincoln lost three sons, and only one son outlived her.

Both suffered greatly because of their husbands being such public figures. Mary lost Abraham Lincoln to an assassin's bullet. Varina suffered the pain of seeing her husband disgraced and imprisoned.

In her later years though, Mary Lincoln, sadly, had to be institutionalized with a mental condition. Varina, on the other hand, after Jefferson died, sold her home, moved to New York and took a job working for Pulitzer. There she made a new life for herself,and Winnie. She was a survivor in every sense of the word.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

GunBoat Quilts For The WAR

 Here is a quote from The Mobile Register & Advertiser, 1862: "The cause is a noble one, the effort is sublime, and the moral effect will reach far beyond the deadly projectiles which the contemplated gunboat can send. If the women take it up with a will, there is no word as fail".

And yes, the women did take up the challenge, and a number of quilts, known as Gunboat Quilts were made and auctioned off to raise money to buy Gunboats for the Confederacy. The First White House is fortunate to own one of these priceless quilts.

Ours is currently on loan to the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts for an Exhibition: "Home front and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War", Feb  2012 - Jan , 2013, a sesquicentennial project.While it is there it will be undergo conservation which is badly needed

The First White House Gunboat Quilt was sold twice in Tuscaloosa for $ 15.00 and $ 500.00 respectively, once in Summerfield for $ 250.00 and once in Selma, price unknown. It was finally purchased and kept by the Rev. Joseph Johnson Hutchinson, a Methodist minister of Summerfield, Alabama. It was donated to the FWH by his granddaughter, Mrs. Mary Hutchinson Jones, in 1928.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis

 This book is in our library at the First White House of the Confederacy and it is a fascinating read. Donald Collins, author makes the case for Davis's "First Resurrection" being his Southern tour, made in 1886-1887, which began in Montgomery with he and Winnie traveling together to lay the cornerstone for the Confederate Monument.

Although it began as a single city tour, it grew to include Atlanta and Savannah. Each place he visited his public image was near adulation, as his fellow Southerners recognized him at last, as one of their most important sons.

His 'Second Resurrection" was his death and funeral. He died at the home of a friend, Judges Fenner, in New Orleans, on his way back from visiting the plantation at Brierfield. Varina, hearing he was sick, joined him in New Orleans. You will remember that he was temporarily buried in New Orleans,with the greatest funeral the South had ever seen. Three years later his body was moved for permanent internment in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. His wife, children and a grandson are all buried there.

The book ends with this assessment of Jefferson Davis: "However, Davis's place in the sun as a Confederate hero was destined to decline yet again with the end of the Lost Cause movement, the death of the Confederate generation, the revision of Civil War and antebellum history by historians, and, in particular, from the civil rights movement as it moved from fighting legal discrimination in the courts and through state and federal legislation into an assault on the Confederacy itself and the place of African Americans in southern history."