Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happenings at the First White House of Confederacy

The First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery, the home of Jefferson Davis and his family in the spring of 1861, was built in 1832, making it 182 years old. Like any "old lady" she is very high maintenance.

Fortunately for all, the State of Alabama was given the building by the White House Association of Alabama, formed in 1900 to "save" the House, which had become greatly endangered as commercial property had encroached upon it in its location near the river in downtown Montgomery.

In 1921 the Association had raised the necessary funds along with a grant by a "benevolent" Governor and the House was purchased, moved, restored and reopened on Jefferson Davis's birthday, June 3, 1921 and given to the people of Alabama. Acts of the Alabama State Legislature ensured that the building would be properly maintained, and that the Association would continue to take care of the Relics in the House.

So an update: In 2009 the House was painted on the outside. At that time the yard was landscaped and a sprinkler system for the new grass installed. In 2013 the House was pressure washed, in order to enhance the Paint job. This Spring, the flat roof on the back of the House was re-roofed, and at present, the inside ceiling in the President's Study is being repaired. Doing this has meant moving all furniture, mirror, chandelier and everything out of the room, into other rooms and the back Hall.

When this work is completed it is hoped that the ceilings upstairs in several of the rooms will be re-plastered as this is badly needed. Again, our thanks  to Mr. Wayne Hoyt, Director of Capitol Services, and to Mr. Sean Cassidy, Director of the Division of Services for the State for their untiring and generous assistance. We are deeply indebted to them.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Confederate Gold - What Became of it?

I am sure there are mysteries surrounding every War, but the disappearance of the Confederate Treasury is a most interesting conundrum. Maybe some of you blog readers have your own theories about what happened to it, and I would love your comments. Lets go for the gold!

It seems the bulk of the Confederate funds traveled with Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the last days of the War when he left Richmond for Georgia. One account I read said almost all the assets were dispersed to pay soldiers returning home. Whether that is true or not, we know Davis was captured in Irvinville, Georgia, so where was the rest of the money?

The Brantley County Historical and Preservation Society in Nahunta, Georgia has published an interesting article "Whatever Happened to Confederate Gold?". In this article the case is made that Sylvester Mumford of Waynesville, Georgia was the recipient of much of the gold after Davis's capture. The article mentions a book by Martha Mizell Puckett entitled "White Sands" in which she tells the following tale about Davis's last cabinet meeting in the home of Robert Tooms in Washington, Georgia. "All the Gold of the Confederacy was divided among the members of the meeting, and each one would fend for himself and would use the money as he felt it should be used". Mumford was at that meeting.

After the War Mumford built an industrial home for orphans and also gave a great deal of help to the Presbyterian home for orphans at Clinton, SC.. We know for sure a lot of money passed through his hands. His daughter too, later invested and reaped well, and it is reported in the article that her personal lawyer was asked by her about what she should do with the "remainder of the Confederate Gold".

Again, tell me what you think? My good friend and historian Richard has already told me he thought the money went with Judah Benjamin. There is a good case for that for sure!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

American Civil War Spawns National Cemeteries and Parks

In my last blog I mentioned Stephen Goldfarb's interesting article "The Scourge of War" in the Spring issue of American Heritages Magazine. Goldfarb discusses two book, one of which I mentioned previously. Today I want to mention the second, "War Upon the Land" by Lisa M. Brady.

According to Goldfarb, Brady seems to think one reason for the defeat of the South was as follows:  "It required not just the defeat of the armies and the subjugation of the civilian population, but also the conquest of the Southern countryside." A case in point:  Northern armies modified the landscape in the Mississippi Valley by cutting a canal to bypass a fortified stronghold.

This was so successful, they tried it again around Vicksburg, but the waters of the Mississippi made it impossible to construct a workable canal there, and the Federals had to resort to the traditional way of taking the city by siege.

. During the campaign against Vicksburg however, Grant revived the "chevauchee", the process of living on the resources of the land rather than supplies provided by the troops. This was applied successfully there and later in the Shenandoah Valley under Federal General Sheridan and most successfully in Georgia and South Carolina under Northern General William T. Sherman.

Brady, according to Goldfarb, makes the case for the War causing two important results: the establishment of National Cemeteries  for the fallen Union soldiers, and in the 1880s the establishment of National Parks. Goldfarb says, "The idea that the government was responsible for not only the burial of the dead, but also for preserving at least some of the fields of battle, was a new idea at the time, and one that has endured up to the present".

Friday, July 11, 2014

Destruction During the War Between the States

In the Spring 2014 issue of American Heritage magazine is an article by Stephen Goldfarb, "The Scourge of War" in which he cites two new books, one called "Ruin Nation - Destruction and the American Civil War" by Megan Kate Nelson.

The second is "War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscape during the American Civil War" by Lisa M. Brady. Both books were published in 2012 by the University Press of Georgia.

Goldfarb, in his review, says that Nelson in her book discuses four kinds of "ruination": the impact of war on cities, houses, forests and soldiers. She discusses three cities that were razed during the Civil War. We know there were others including Atlanta and Selma, but she writes about Hampton, Virginia, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Columbia, South Carolina, citing an interesting fact about each.

Hampton was burned by Confederates to prevent the occupation of Federal Troops. Nelson says 500 buildings were destroyed including the oldest church in the United States at the time. Chambersburg was the only northern city burned by Confederate troops. This she said, was in retaliation for the "depredations committed by Sheridan's troops in the Shenandoah Valley".

Columbia presents a conundrum - both sides blame the other for its burning, even long after Columbia had been rebuilt. Nelson also writes about the denuding of trees, partially due to firepower, but also because of the use of wood by the "hundreds of thousands of soldiers who spent years living in the southern countryside."

And as Nelson pointed out, the trees grew back within a generation, but the human wounds (and loss of life) did not heal so easily. Nearly 45,000 soldiers were left with amputated arms and legs. Such a sad commentary on a war that, had cooler heads prevailed,  should never have been fought.

I will write about Lisa Brady's book tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Upcoming Tour of Jefferson Davis Sites

Bertram Hayes-Davis, a good friend of the First White House of the Confederacy, who is the great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis, and his lovely wife Carol, are leading an exclusive tour of Jefferson Davis sites along the Mississippi River aboard the American Queen Steamboat, December 12-20, 2014.

The trip begins in New Orleans with a tour of Davis sites in the Crescent City before boarding. The Boat will stop first at St. Francisville, La. with a visit to Rosemont Plantation, Jefferson Davis's boyhood home, and Locust Grove cemetery, the grave of his first wife.

Next will be Natchez, which will offer a visit to the Briars, where Jefferson and Varina married
After Natchez, will be Vicksburg, and this includes an opportunity to participate in both Davis and Ulysses S. Grant events. There will be a seminar in the Old Courthouse Museum and a reception at Anchuca, one of the most significant antebellum homes in the South.

Baton Rouge will feature a talk by Jefferson Davis biographer, William Cooper and a presentation from the Papers of Jefferson Davis, LSU Press with a reception at the Capitol State Museum

Other venues will be Plantation Road and Oak Alley, Louisiana's magnificent plantation homes. Won't that be a fun way to experience Christmas?

There is a limited availability of only 50 cabins, making this an intimate and historic experience, so if you want to go, sign up now. The trip will support the efforts of the Beauvoir Foundation. For more information contact beauvoirfoundation.org or email president@beauvoirfoundation.org

Monday, July 7, 2014

Jefferson Davis in Montreal

We recently had guests visiting the First White House of the Confederacy from Montreal, Canada who were surprised to find out that Jefferson Davis had spent time in Canada after the War. When they returned home they sent an interesting email as follows:

"...You (our Docent, Henry Howard),  told about Davis's stay in Montreal and about his commemorative plaque at Philips Square. Since we live in the Montreal area, we promised you a picture of it" (which they sent)

They went on to say, "The text on the plaque is in French and translates as follows: 'In memory of Jefferson Davis President of the Confederate States who stayed in 1867 in the home of John Levell then situated at the present location. Plaque erected in 1957 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy Society.' "
Phillips Square is a well-known landmark in downtown Montreal. Don't you wish you knew more about Davis's stay in Canada? One thing we do know is that he sold or swapped his fine pocket watch for a pair of boots while there.

Our friends, the Berrys,  own the watch and were generous to lend it to the First White House for several years. Does anyone else out there know about the Canada years? We would like to hear more.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"Mr. Davis's Richmond" A Recent Gift to the First White House,

 Conway B. Moncure, good friend and Docent at the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia has recently sent a book to the First White House of the Confederacy called  Mr. Davis's Richmond, by Stanley Kimmel , published by Branhall House, 1958.

 The foreword tells us, " This is the story of the Confederate Capital during the War Between the States, as reported by its local press from day to day."

It explains further "The book does not attempt to detail history but completes the coverage of events in the capitals of the North and South from 1861 to 1865."

In addition to being a fascinating account of the War, there are many photos, of buildings in Richmond, of battles, as well as portraits of people, some famous, some not. There are some cartoons too, many of which appeared in Harper's Weekly.

Of course as always when reading an account of the War, things went much better for Jefferson Davis and the Confederates in the first two years of the war, and from bad to worse for the remainder. Some of the saddest pictures were those of Richmond after fire had torn through the city, during the fall of the Capital to the Federals.

 The story ends as follows: "In Richmond, as the flames cast their last weird shadows into the sky, the people began to speculate about their future. They gazed in silent bewilderment at the skeleton outlines of buildings, and the ashes of their city-the once-proud City of the Seven Hills. The sight, to them, symbolized a past that never would return. The South had fought for a way of life unknown in the North. The great majority of her people wanted to keep that way of life. Now they knew that the ghost of what had been would follow them throughout their lives, perhaps remain for other generations to face and try to fathom. Now they knew there was nothing more for them but an empty tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and..."

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Winter Building in downtown Montgomery

A  June 22, 2014 article in the Montgomery Advertiser caught my attention. It was titled "Future should be bright for Winter Building," by Karen Pell and Carole King. I think all serious Civil War buffs know that the telegram that started the War was sent from the telegraph office located in the Winter Building in downtown Montgomery. It is located directly across from where the Exchange Hotel stood,  by the artesian well, now know as Court Square, in the center of downtown Montgomery.

The article was part III in a series about the Winter building. In it Karen and Carole described some the events and changes that 170 year old building had witnessed. Not only did Jefferson Davis and the Montgomery True Blues (the Home Militia) pass by it on their way to the Capitol for the Inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America, but other soldiers in other wars also made their way by the Winter Building.

The old building also witnessed the first city-wide electric trolley system in America. And the old building witnessed drastic social change, as Rosa Parks waited  for her bus across the street at Court Square. The famous Montgomery bus boycott followed in December, 1955, when, as Karen described it, "empty buses rattled by the Winter Building."

Later, March 25, 1965 the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Voting Rights March up Dexter Avenue to the Capitol. Karen said, "The Winter Building stood as witness; it still stands to remind us all about change".

It looks like as downtown Montgomery is changed, the Winter building will also get a new life as it is slated to become "Hotel Dexter." That should bode good things for the future of the old building. On a personal note, I passed by there many times with the Lanier High School marching band, as I was a majorette and we always marched up Dexter Avenue before our homecoming games and other times as well. GO POETS!!! (Yes, we were the Sidney Lanier High School Poets.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Questions and Answers About Jefferson Davis

In the Rice University Papers of Jefferson Davis are some Frequently Asked Questions about Jefferson Davis. One of the first questions asked  was a simple one: When was he born? It is actually unclear as to whether it was 1807 or 1808. Davis said he was not competent to witness as to which. He first supposed it was 1807 but was corrected and told it was 1808, so he decided to "go with that".

The next question was about his middle name. Sometimes an F was included and other times not. Hudson Strode claimed he was given the middle name "Finis" because it seemed unlikely his mother would be having any more children.

The third question was about the case of the United States v. Jefferson Davis, which seemed to be a very complex matter with enough changes of the political wind to fill a book. Major players were Chief Justice Samuel Chase, President Andrew Johnson, Horace Greeley and the Justice Department . Suffice it to say, the charges dragged on for years but the bottom line is the case never went to trial and the indictments were dismissed.

Davis's citizenship was not restored until President Jimmy Carter did so.