Monday, April 30, 2012

The Dining Room in the First White House of the Confederacy

The dining room in the First White House is a warm and  vibrant room. One would expect the Davis family to enter any time for dinner. At the windows are gold damask curtains with  tambour lace under curtains of 100% cotton white, embroidery on Bobinette Swiss. They are hung by gilt-brass cornices, believed to have been among the furnishings of Brierfield, the Jefferson Davis home in Mississippi. Mrs. Napier, immediate past Regent, believes they could have been brought by Mrs. Davis to Montgomery in 1861.

The Reed and Barton 1790 silver service was used at Beauvoir by the Davises. The Moss Rose china in the corner cabinet was also used by the Davis family. Of particular historical interest is a large, silver water cooler. It was presented by the citizens of Montgomery in 1858 to steamboat captain Jesse Cox.

Thought to have been buried by the slaves of Captain Cox to prevent its being stolen by Wilson's Federal raiders in April, 1865, it was given to the First White House by the granddaughter of Jesse Cox.

This great water cooler is a highly unusual survivor, and it must have had considerable impact in the Deep South, where drinking water, even in cities, was usually found in buckets with dippers near back doors.  It is ornamental in the popular rococo Vintage pattern with repousse grapes and roses. There are two spigots at the front, and in the center are two cartouches engraved: (1)  Captain Jesse J. Cox  from his friends of Montgomery, Alabama   (2) January 1, 1858

Friday, April 27, 2012

Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Statesman

Richard told me about this excellent book about Judah P. Benjamin, often called "the brains of the Confederacy". Others blamed him for the South's defeat. He was born in the West Indies in 1811, the son of devout Jewish parents.

He attended Yale at age 14 and after graduation, practiced law in New Orleans. He was elected to the  U.S. Senate from Louisiana in 1852. When the South seceded in 1861, Jefferson Davis appointed him Attorney-General, making him the first Jew to hold a Cabinet-level post in an American government. He then served as Secretary of War and then Secretary of State for the Confederacy.

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln, Davis and Benjamin were suspected of having plotted the event. According to Richard, there is an incredible chapter on his relationship with Jefferson Davis and the theory about their plotting the assassination.

Benjamin married a Roman Catholic and that  seemed odd to me, that a good Jewish boy would marry a Catholic girl. After the war he moved to England and became a British Barrister. A posthumous caricature of him appears in the epic poem John Brown's Body.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Battle for New Orleans April 1862

New Orleans was the strongest card in the hand of the Confederacy at the outbreak of the War. But early in the morning of April 24th Farragut ran past two forts and made a run for New Orleans.

After a duel with Confederate ships at English Turn, Farragut's fleet weighed anchor at New Orleans and demanded the surrender of this largest and most important port in the South. On April 28, 1862the City surrendered. If the Confederates could have kept the city, that might have been the key to winning the war. (Ah, what might have been).

Only Rhett Butler, in Gone With the Wind  seemed to be able to run through the blockades! Too bad the Confederate army couldn't!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Visiting Confederate Soldier's Grave

Today I am going with cousins to Union Springs to visit our great-grandfather's grave. Colonel John Luther Branch was a professor at the Citadel in SC when he joined the Confederate Army.

I have written about him before. He gave the order to fire on the Star of the West in December, 1860, thus essentially making that the first shot of the War, even though Beauregard didn't actually start the war until April of 1861.

I am going to put a small Confederate Battle flag and a First Confederate flag on his grave. Fortunately he survived the war, married my great-grandmother, Martha Ann Gachet Deloney, and their son, Edward Gachet Branch, was my grandfather (my mother's father).

I am proud, as I am sure you are, of all my ancestors. But it was grandfather Ed who said "don't brag on your ancestors unless they can brag on you"!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Confederate Memorial Day Observed in Alabama Today

The following is copied from Wikepedia: "Confederate Memorial Day, also known as Confederate Decoration Day (Tennessee) and Confederate Heroes Day (Texas), is an official holiday and/or observance day in parts of the U.S. South as a day to honor those who died fighting for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. Nine states officially observe Confederate Memorial Day: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas."

Today the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), under the leadership of Rosemary Davis, commemorated in fine style with its annual Confederate Memorial Day event. It appropriately takes place at the Confederate Monument on the north side of the Alabama State Capitol. People from all over the State attended.

 A Color Guard in their authentic Confederate Uniforms posted the Colors. Tribute was made to the brave soldiers who fought for what they believed was right. The speaker of the day reminded the crowd that The War was not about slavery but about economics (isn't it always about the money?). 

One of the  high points of the ceremony was when each person attending had the opportunity to name one of their ancestors who had fought. A bell tolled as each name was mentioned.

 Commander Bill Rambo, Director of the Confederate Memorial Park, and his men, brought the program to a rousing finale, as they fired off first a cannon and then rifles. Very impressive. Great job, Rosemary and UDC ladies!  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bloody April, 1862, The Battle of Shiloh

Don't you wish you could have been there that April day when the massed ranks of Confederates appeared out of nowhere about 7 a.m., shouting the eerie "Rebel Yell"? They  easily  overran the outer Union camps, which were taken by complete surprise.

By 11 a.m. the Confederate assault had driven back two thirds of the Union strength on the ground, but   opportunities for total victory were lost. The Federals defended at a place called the Hornet's Nest (later the "Sunken Road"), where the Confederates assaulted for several hours, suffering heavy casualties.

Late in the afternoon came the death of Alfred Sidney Johnston Without him, the ardor of the Confederate attacks soon withered. Beauregard, his second in command, decided against assaulting the final Union position that night.

Reinforcements from Buell and Grant arrived in the evening, and turned the tide the next morning, when the Union commanders launched a counterattack along the entire line. The Confederates were forced to retreat from the bloodiest battle in  United States history up to that time, ending their hopes that they could block the Union advance into northern Mississippi.

Ironically, the word Shiloh in Hebrew means "place of peace".

Monday, April 16, 2012

Excitement At The First White House of the Confederay

It all started last weekend when a gentleman from the local Air Base stopped by the First White House of the Confederacy, and spotted an artillery shell in Mrs. Davis's New York bedroom upstairs. He felt the "bomb squad" should examine it, to be sure it was not "live".

We asked Mr. Bob Bradley from the Archives, a Civil War weapons expert, and our good friend, to give us his opinion. He informed us it was not of the civil war period, but more importantly, that it had been fired, and was harmless. Since the AF people still wanted to test it, and since it really did not belong in our museum, Bob thought we should give it to them, (i.e. get rid of it, best case scenario).

Simple enough, right? No, wrong! When I got downtown today all avenues around the First White House and the Capitol were blocked off by police cars. The FWH was temporarily evacuated,while the "bomb squad people" retrieved the shell.  They then deposited it into a - guess what? -  "bomb proof" container, and away they went, with our assurance to them that we did not want it back! It was an amazing moment and created quite a stir among those visiting us for a little while this morning.

Friday, April 13, 2012

151st Anniversary of Beginning of the War Between the States

April 12-13, 1861 marks the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter, near Charleston that started the War Between the States, a war that claimed 620,000 men and devastated the South..

Following the secession of seven Southern states from the Union, South Carolina demanded that the U.S. Army abandon its facilities in Charleston Harbor. An attempt by the U.S. to reinforce the Federals using the Star of the West merchant ship failed when it was fired upon by shore batteries on Jan 9, 1861 (I have mentioned before my ancestor, Col. John L. Branch gave the order to fire upon that ship).

By March the situation around Fort Sumter began to resemble a siege and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard of the Confederate States of America was placed in command of the Confederate forces. Conditions in the Fort grew dire as the Federals, under Major Anderson, became short of men, food and supplies.

Lincoln notified the Governor of South Carolina that he was sending supply ships, which resulted in an ultimatum from the Confederate government: "evacuate Fort Sumter immediately". Major Anderson refused to surrender and beginning at 4:30 a.m on April 13, the Confederates began to bombard the fort from artillery batteries surrounding the harbor. After 34 hours Major Anderson agreed to evacuate, and the long, bloody War had begun.

The Civil War Armory at Tallassee, Alabama

Did you know that the only armory in the South not destroyed was at Tallassee, Alabama? Here is what happened. Toward the end of the war, the Richmond carbine factory moved from Richmond to an old Tallassee cotton mill which began manufacturing carbines.

These were designed for use on horseback so they were shorter than the old type guns. Unfortunately, the war ended before their goal of manufacturing 6000 carbines was reached. One carload was shipped, but intercepted by the Yankees and most of the guns were destroyed.

About a dozen guns survived (most of them went home with the northerners as souvenirs) and they are an extremely valuable collector's items today - Antique Roadshow, here we come!!!.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nathan Bedford Forrest Missing In Action

General Nathan Bedford Forrest has made the news again! He seems to be a lightning rod, 151 years after the end of the "Civil War". Known as a self-educated and innovative cavalry leader during the war, he has become extremely controversial in recent years, because of his connection with the Ku Klux Klan.

The clan was a secret vigilante organization, started after the war, and Forrest served as the first "Grand Wizard". Another controversy also surrounded Forrest during the war, when many African-American Union troops were killed in battle during the attack of Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee. Did Forrest conduct or condone a massacre of the Black soldiers who surrendered there?

Forrest's men insisted they shot in self defense. The Union survivors said otherwise. At any rate his bust has been stolen from the Confederate Circle at Live Oak Cemetery in Selma and a $ 20,000.00 reward has been offered. Was it melted down for the copper or taken from meanness?

Black residents are shedding no tears over the loss. but  Benjamin Austin, spokesman for the group offering the reward  called on "all persons to stand against any attacks on our common history, its monuments or memorials".

He went on to say "all history must be preserved and protected for future generations". I remember how sick Montgomerians were a few years ago when black paint was poured on the Confederate Monument that stands on the north side of the Alabama State Capitol.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Northern Connections for Varina Davis, Southern for Mary Todd Lincoln

On March 9th,  I blogged about Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln. Today I want to mention another ironic twist in their lives. Varina  had northern connections; Mary Todd had southern ones! The "Civil War" divided not only the nation, but also families and the "First Family", North and South were no exception.

Varina's grandfather, Richard Howell  was the third Governor of New Jersey 1794 - 1801. He married Keziah Burr. She was from Trenton New Jersey, so Varina had lots of Northern family members and many Southerners "sniffed" at this and viewed Varina with some skepticism.

Virtually all the Todds, who were from Kentucky supported the Confederacy, even though Kentucky, a border state, did not secede from the Union. Some of Mary's brothers even fought for the Confederacy. Washington looked on Mary with her Southern connections with a great deal of suspicion when she became "First Lady" and she was very much criticized for what she did.

 After Jefferson Davis died, Varina moved to NYC. That didn't set too well with the Southern  gentry either; and as I have mentioned before, she became good friends with Julia Dent Grant, the widow of Ulysses S. Grant, one of the men most hated by the Confederacy. 

Nevertheless the Confederate veterans  paid great homage to her when she died. (guess they forgave and forgot),

Master & Slave and The War

I appreciate comments by Patrick and Richard regarding masters and slaves during the War and before. Often the bond between the two were very, very strong.

 On 3/27 I  wrote about Winston Groom book, "Shrouds of Glory". In it Groom mentions Brigadier General States Rights Gist, a South Carolinian who had graduated from Harvard Law School and fought in the Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta campaigns and finally in bloody Franklin.. His slave and body servant, "Uncle Wiley" Howard was with him throughout.

Hearing Gist has been shot in the battle of Franklin, Howard goes to find him. He says: "It tuck me er long time ter make my way. De ground wuz piled wid wounded men an wid dead men...after a while I got ter de hospital. where Dr. Wright  asks 'What does yer want Wiley/' I sez, 'I come to see about de General'. Dr. Wright says, 'I done all I could Wiley, but he died at half past eight.' "

Wiley took his Gist's body to the nearby William White home where he found Mrs. White. He told her, "General Gist has been killed, en axed her if we could bury him in her graveyard...we buried him in her yard under er big cedar tree".

 I am sure similar situations occurred during the course of the War in other master-slave  relationships.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sam Davis, Confederate Hero, Executed by Yankees

I heard for the first time today about Sam Davis (1842-1863), who is called the Boy Hero of the Confederacy. He was born in Rutherford County, Tennessee, and was recruited by Confederate scout forces early in the War Between the States.

He survived bloody Shiloh, wounded slightly there, and Perryville, where he was wounded more severely. After recovering, he became a courier for Coleman's Scouts.He was captured on Nov 20, 1863, in possession of Union battle plans. He was arrested as a spy rather than a prisoner of war.

He was sentenced to die by hanging unless he was willing to divulge the name of his contact. He was said to have replied: "I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend". It reminds me of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was betrayed by his friend, but died so we could live.

Sam Davis was hung on his 21st birthday. A statue of him was erected on the grounds of the Tennessee state capitol at Nashville, and his boyhood home is preserved in Smyrna. The spot of his hanging in Pulaski is likewise marked with a monument and small museum.