Saturday, July 30, 2011

Andersonvile Prison Camp Synonymous With Horror

What would you have done? Just suppose you were the Commander of the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp. Your name is Henry Wirz and you have just  succeeded John Henry Winder, who has died of exhaustion. It is February, 1865.

 Your camp was designed to hold 10,000 prisoners , but when "you" took over, it contained 30,000, with about 400 being added each day. Food, clothing and medical supplies were almost non-existent. Health care was an unknown quantity, as waste was dumped into the small stream that flowed through the prison yard, the only water supply. Downstream it was used as a latrine for all prisoners.

By the end of the war approximately 13,000 prisoners have died and YOU become the only Confederate officer to be tried and convicted and executed for war crimes. In your defense, you (Wirz) stated that you simply didn't have food or supplies to give the prisoners and that your own staff suffered equally as the Confederacy began to crumble.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How the First White House of the Confederacy Got Itself "Moved"

Did you know that the First White House of Montgomery which stands at the corner of Union (can you believe Union street?) and Washington Ave. across from the Alabama State Capitol was moved in 1921 to its present location?

That's correct - when the President and his family (President Jefferson Davis that is), lived in the House it was downtown near the river on the corner of Lee and Bibb streets. Under the auspices of the White House Association of Alabama, founded July 1, 1900 to preserve the House, and with the help of Governor Thomas Kilby and a $25,000 Alabama legislative appropriation, the House was moved to its present location, June 3, 1921 (Jefferson Davis's birthday).

Aren't we glad it was? Otherwise, like so many grand and glorious houses, it too may have been torn down.Since that day the House has been open to the public, free of charge. Come and join the many hundreds of visitors that come each and every day, or if not, then visit our website

Moving it was no small feat. The house is 6,000 square feet and two stories, but it made the move just fine. Stopped traffic for a while though as it was rolled up the 12 blocks or so on logs, taken apart in several pieces. Bet that was a sight to behold!

Facts You May Not Know About Jefferson Davis

Here are a few of the facts about Jefferson Davis that were presented by Senator James O. Eastland in the U.S. Senate on June 9, 1971, and were published by Robert McHugh in the Daily Herald, Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss.
  • He was chiefly instrumental in establishing the Smithsonian Institution
  • He initiated the federal civil service system
  • He began the movement to construct a canal across Panama, singling out the exact spot where construction was finally begun years later
  • He designed a cantilever bridge to span the Potomac
  • He envisioned the need for transcontinental transportation, ordering surveys on three routes to the Pacific.
  • He introduced a humanities program at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.
  • He sent a study commission to the Crimean War which put into effect new military tactics
  •  He introduced the light infantry, the rifle musket & the Minnie Ball
All this and more marked him as Presidential timber, but Destiny marked him for a different task -  that of  President of the Confederate States of America.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Visitors to the "Jeff Davis" House

Whenever I am down at the First White House ( in the day they called it the "Jeff Davis" House), I am struck by the number of visitors that come through daily. It is truly amazing, and they come from all over the United States as well as many foreign countries.

Speaking with a couple from San Diego today, they told me that when they travel they pick a few things they want to see in each place they visit. I am so glad that this is one of the places they picked!

It reminded me of Cameron Napier's article titled "History of the First White House" in which she quotes what Mrs. Clifford Lanier wrote in June of 1899 to Mrs. Jefferson Davis when she gave us the relics that we keep in President Davis' bedroom - "This treasured gift: You have conferred a boon, dear madame, upon our children and our children's children."

Cammie goes on to say: "There is a bronze plaque to the right of the door as one walks into the FWH listing the 27 charter members of the WHA under which is a poem by Clifford Lanier which charges our members 'With thee let treasured memories be laid for keeping, as to shrines our dead are brought. Let truth of history gem thy casket gold, and thou stay ever new yet ever old."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jefferson Davis' Route To Montgomery

Jefferson Davis had a long and wearying trip from his home at Brierfield to Montgomery where he was inaugurated Provisional President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861.

He left his home and went by river to Vicksburg where he boarded a train for Jackson, Miss. There was no direct rail line from Miss to Alabama so he had to go first to Grand Junction Tenn on the border of Miss and Tenn, and from there to Huntsville, Alabama, making speeches all along the way.

From Huntsville back to Chattanooga, Tenn and from there to Atlanta, GA. From Atlanta he traveled to West Point, GA and then through Opelika and Auburn, to Montgomery, arriving late in the evening on the 16th. The City Fathers had gone by rail to Auburn to meet him. He was one whipped puppy by that time.

When he arrived Montgomery, more dignitaries awaited him. He addressed the crowd at the Exchange Hotel briefly before going to his room. That was when Yancey took over and mesmerized the crowd with his "man and the hour have met" speech.

It is quite understandable that Davis slept late the next morning! Also that Varina did not choose to accompany him on this long and ardourous journey. I read that she arrived March 4th by river!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What Happened After Battle of First Manassas?

I hope you will all read my friend Richard's comment on the July 21 blog "Thursday, July 21, 1861 was a bloody victory for the South". It is excellent and I appreciate it.

Have you wondered what happened next? Richard touches on what "might have been" had the South gone on to take Washington. We can only speculate about that of course, but what we do know is that Lincoln replaced McDowell by General George McClellan. 

Also in July 1861 the Federal navy began a blockade of the coast of the Confederacy. The South responded by building small, fast ships that could outmaneuvered Union vessels. Other than that, things seemed to be relatively quiet the remainder of 1861, until November 7 when Captain Samuel DuPont's warships silenced Confederate guns in Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard and took Port Royal, South Carolina.

Despite a tremendous volume of firepower, the loss of life on both sides was low. Total casualties came to less than 100. Union Commanders were DuPont and Thomas W. Sherman, and Confederate leaders were Thomas F. Drayton and Josiah Tattnall. I don't think any of these men went on to greater fame and fortune (at least I have not heard of them), but maybe you have!!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 21, 1861 Was A Bloody Victory For The South

We call it First Manassas and the Yankees call it the First Battle of Bull Run. It was the first real battle of the War Between the States (It was not a Civil War - there was nothing civil about it).

As with most battles, this one was more for political reasons than military. Both sides wanted to end the war as soon as possible and McDowell wanted to invade Virginia, crush the Confederates and push on to Richmond, now the Confederate Capital.

The Yankees gained an early advantage because it had numbers on its side, but on a small hill called Henry House Hill, Thomas J. Jackson stood his ground and earned the nickname "Stonewall". Just in time Johnston's army arrived to reinforce Beauregard, and the day was saved for the Confederates.

Retreat was called and the Union soldiers began to race to the rear as the Confederates shot at them.The retreat turned into a rout as the terrified soldiers fled in panic, with the situation being made much worse by the presence of hundreds of sightseers with picnic baskets in hand...and it was 150 years ago today!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Relic Room at the First White House of the Confederacy

The bright yellow paint of the woodwork and the black of the baseboards and mantels have been restored in the relic room as they appeared when the house was build. In this room are many belongings of President Davis and his family, including an historic uniform, one of his last pair of shoes, and a sun hat.

There are articles of clothing that belonged to Mrs. Davis and to Margaret. There is a fine silver chalice that is supposed to have been used to give communion to both Generals Lee & Jackson while they were at Fort Hamilton in NYC while they were posted there in the 1840's.

One case includes a mourning calling card of Mrs. Davis and her daughter Winnie, used after the death of the President. The cards are edged in black. There are also copies of letters that the Davises wrote to each other (we have the originals in acid free container in our archives).

Another item of interest is an historic large gold pen used over many years to sign several historic Alabama documents of particular relevance to the First White House, being: The Ordinance of secession, 1861.
The 1919 Act creating the First White House Commission to oversee the preservation of the House.
The 1923 and 1951 First White House Acts.

Do come and visit us when you can. There are so many more items of interest for you to see.

The Hunley and Other Civil War Art On Web Today

At the Museum of the Confederacy's website there is a fine exhibit showing Conrad Chapman's scenes from Charleston Harbor during the War Between the States. Chapman sketched Fort Sumter where the war began in 1861, as well as batteries around the city held by the South until just before the war ended in 1865.

The most famous painting in the group is probably the one of the submarine H.L. Hunley, done about two months before the hand-cranked sub sand the Union blockade ship Housatonic to become the first sub in history top sink an enemy warship.

As we know the Hunley never returned from its mission. It was raised with the remains of the crew of eight off Charleston in 2000 and is being preserved at a conservation lab in North Charleston.

Chapman took his sketches to Rome, Italy where his parents lived. There he turned them into a series of paintings he called his "Journal of the Siege of Charleston".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Battle of First Manassas 150 Years Ago This Week

The Battle of First Manassas (or as the Yankees like to say The First Battle of Bull Run) was fought on July 21, 1861. We will commemorate its 150 anniversary on Thursday this week.

The Union officials thought it would be an easy victory for the North, but history proved otherwise. The South won the day but the inexperience on both sides showed that this war was going to be essentially a war fought by amateurs. Also it would be a long and bloody one, much to the dismay of those in authority, both North and South.

For the most part the commanding officers on both sides were trained military men, a great many of them West Point graduates, and veterans of the Mexican War and other conflicts. But under them were farmers and businessmen who put down their tools, picked up their guns, and marched off to do battle for a cause they believed in.

For them it was a trial by fire, and many found warfare more frightening than they had ever imagined. No wonder when the Confederates routed the Yankees that day at Manassas, the retreat became a rout, and blind panic ensued.

But those who survived the firs few battles, became better soldiers and helped teach and inspire the constant flood of new recruits.

The Funding of the War Between the States

I am reading a little book called "101 Things You Didn't Know about the Civil War" by Thomas R. Turner, PhD. In it Dr. Turner talks about how both sides poured millions of dollars into their war machines. He says "the citizens of the Union and the Confederacy ultimately taking the brunt through ever-increasing taxes." And we thought all that was NEW!

 In fact, a Federal income tax was enacted by Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon B. Chase, as a way of funding the war effort. At the same time Congress passed the Legal Tender Act. The war effort, Turner says, was costing $2.5 million dollars a day by 1862 - Hello!

The Confederacy had an even tougher time. Memminger from South Carolina was the first Secretary of the Treasury for the South. At first he sold war bonds which could be redeemed when the war was over. They sold briskly at first, following the capture of Fort Sumter, but sales dried up when it was evident the effort was doomed.

Ultimately, according to Turner, the Confederate government had to impose a series of taxes that made "those imposed by the federal government look positively friendly". In addition to a federal income tax, the Confederacy required a 10% "tax in kind" which required farmers to turn over to the government a portion of all the crops they grew. I bet that went over like a "lead balloon"!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jefferson and Varina Davis, The Last Years

After the War and his incarceration and subsequent release, Jefferson Davis temporarily lost his home in Mississippi, most of his wealth and his U.S. citizenship. The Davis family traveled in Europe and Canada as he sought employment.

For a few years the couple seemed to go through some pretty rough times in their relationship, and to live apart more than together. By 1877 he was bereft of any prospects of employment, nearly bankrupt, and suffering from a variety of illnesses. He had been advised by doctors to take a home near the sea for his health but he lacked funds to do so. Thus he accepted an invitation to visit Sarah Dorsey, a widowed heiress, who owned a home (Beauvoir) in Biloxi on the Miss. Gulf Coast. Varina's letters to Jefferson at this time indicate that she thought this very inappropriate!!! I would too!!!

She did join him there eventually however, after the death of their last surviving son, and gradually made friends with Mrs. Dorsey in the grieving process. In 1878 Mrs. Dorsey agreed to sell Beauvoir to the Davis, and when she died the next year she left them free title to the home, and much of the remainder of her estate. This left them enough financial security to enjoy some comfort in their final years of marriage.
Jefferson died in 1889, and Varina and their daughter Winnie moved to New York City in 1891, when she become a full time columnist with Pulitzer. Sadly, Winnie died in 1898.

Varina died at the age of 80 of double pneumonia in her room at the Majestic Hotel. She was survived by only one of her six children, Margaret Davis Howell, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.She was interred with full honors performed by Confederate veterans at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond adjacent to the tomb of her famous husband and daughter Winnie.

Marriage to a Difficult Man - Jefferson and Varina Davis

 First of all, on their honeymoon, Varina & Jefferson visited Jefferson's aged mother, and went to the grave of his first wife. Hmmmm. That sounds a bit underwhelming for a  bride!

And then, get this  - soon after the marriage, Jefferson's widowed and penniless sister Amanda Davis Bradford, came to live on the property with her seven youngest children. And it was decided by Amanda's brother,s she should share the large single storied galleried house that was being constructed at Brierfield, a decision that was evidently made without Varina's consent or liking. (trouble at River City)!

 Life for the newlyweds was further strained by long periods of separation while Davis campaigned. They enjoyed a brief period of happiness in Washington, after he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but soon he left to serve in the Mexican War. Correspondence from the period shows us they were going through a "difficult period". Ultimately they reconciled, due to Varina's apologies for her "inconsiderations" - guess he got the last word that time at least!

Things became much better, it seems, after they returned to Washington. Varina loved the social life there, and after seven childless years, she gave birth to a son, Samuel Emory Davis in 1852. They were devastated when he died, but soon after she gave birth to a healthy daughter and two more sons.
She expressed dismay when Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America and did not accompany him when he was inaugurated in Montgomery. She did come a few weeks later and they occupied the First White House in the spring of 1861, until they moved to Richmond in early summer.

In December of that year she gave birth to their fifth child, William Howell Davis, named after her father. In the spring of 1864 their son Joseph was killed in an accident at the Executive Mansion in Richmond. A few weeks later Varina gave birth to their last child, Varina Anne, called Winnie.

I will wind these observations up tomorrow with a few more comments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Varina Howell Davis, Wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Search for Varina Howell Davis I was admiring the many portraits of Varina Howell Davis at the First White House of the Confederacy today, and I began to want to know more about her. I had read a biography  about her life and it was very interesting.

Today on Wikipedia I read more about her. Did you know her father, William Burr Howell was the son of a Governor of New Jersey, and her mother was a cousin of Jonathan Edwards and Aaron Burr?

The Howells were close friends of Joseph Davis, Jefferson's much older brother, who was one of the wealthiest men in Mississippi. In 1843, at age 17, Varina accepted an invitation to spend the Christmas season at Hurricane, Joseph Davis's 5000 acre plantation, a few miles south of Vicksburg.During her stay she met her host's brother, Jefferson, a West Point graduate, former Army officer and cotton planter.

Jefferson was a 35 year old widower when they met and fell in love. Varina's mother had concerns, but the Howells ultimately consented to the courtship and marriage. As many marriages, they had their
moments but it survived the ups and downs. They had six children together, but as I have mentioned before only one, the oldest daughter Margaret, lived to marry and have issue.

More about this fascinating woman tomorrow.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why Jefferson Davis?

Have you ever wondered why it was Jefferson Davis who was unanimously elected President of the Confederate States of America? According to Hudson Strode, Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Alabama, "Perhaps no one in his own time had greater influence on U.S. legislation than did Jefferson Davis".

Strode goes on to write" Though a most reluctant secessionist himself...Jefferson Davis was the unanimous choice...No one in the land held so gloriously that combined record of outstanding statesmanship and distinguished service on the battlefield. No historian yet has come up with any candidate who might have succeeded better in the difficult role than Jefferson Davis. Robert E. Lee, who was on most intimate and harmonious terms with the President, declared that he knew of 'no one who could have done so well'."

Professor Strode wrote three volumes on his life:  Jefferson Davis: American Patriot (I), Confederate President (II) and Tragic Hero (III) plus a volume on his letters.

Taken from our First White House booklet, I quote: "After Hudson Strode's understanding biography of Jefferson Davis appeared, Bruce Catton wrote: 'Davis finally becomes a possession of the whole country and not just a section.' The place of Jefferson Davis in American history as the first and only President of the Confederate States of America is unique"

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Portraits Tell Many Stories

In Mrs. Davis's New York bedroom is a Portrait of Caroline Phelan Beale, dated December 1941. She was our first Regent and her efforts established the furnishings collections of the First White House here in Montgomery.

She was the daughter of John Dennis Phelan, a Supreme Court Justice of Alabama. She married Jesse Beale of Montgomery and spent her last years in New York City, where her son, Phelan Beale was a prominent attorney.

Phelan was married to Edith Bouvier of New Yourk and was a partner in the firm of Bouvier and Beale, located at 149 Broadway. He was the uncle by marriage of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. His divorced wife Edith Bouvier Beale and their daughter Edith Beale, were the subject of a noted film called Grey Gardens, set in their home at Southampton, Long Island.

In more recent years it has been made into a Broadway musical, and in 2009 an all-star new version was released as a dramatic feature film for which Ken Howard won a Golden Globe for his performance as Phelan Beale and Jessica Lange a GG for her performance as "Big Edie" Beale.

The members of this family have become American 20th Century cultural icons! I will look at the portrait of Mrs. Beale with much more interest in the future!

Sidney Lanier, Famous Poet, Served In Confederate Army

Sidney Lanier, another famous Southern musician and poet, fought in the War for Southern Independence, mostly in the tidewater region of Virginia, where he was first in the Signal Corps.

Later, he and his brother Clifford served as pilots aboard English blockade runners. On one of these runs, his ship was boarded and he was captured. He was incarcerated in a military prison in Maryland, where he contracted tuberculosis (called "consumption" at the time). He died from it at age 39.

He is of special interest to me because I graduated from Sidney Lanier High School here in Montgomery, and also because his niece was my aunt by marriage, Mary Seibels Lanier Branch. Her father was Sidney's brother, Clifford.

His most famous body of poetry was probably "The Marshes of Glynn". The Poems of Sidney Lanier can be ordered on Amazon. He also wrote "The Boy's King Arthur" A friend told me yesterday that she is writing an historical novel of his life. I can hardly wait to order it!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom Never Free

A Happy July 4th to everyone! I hope you are "grilling" or doing other fun things today as we celebrate the birth of our nation, still one nation under God, even though folks like the ACLU would like to remove Him from our great Country. After all, He is the reason our Country is great.

Our brave Southern forefathers also fought for what they believed was right, the right to leave the nation as they wished to do. In creating their new nation, the Confederates essentially duplicated the institutions of the old Union. The Great Seal of the Confederacy has George Washington in the center. They believed fervently that it was they who were perpetuating the ideals of their revolutionary forebear, as Cameron Napier states in our First White House of the Confederacy booklet.

It took four years of bloody conflict and the loss of over 600,000 lives for the North to subdue the South. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned but never brought to trial, as feared it would be proved by the Constitution that the Southern States had a right to secede.Nevertheless, we give thanks for the United States of America. Obviously God wanted us to remain one nation and that is what we celebrate today on this, the birthday of our Country..

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Confederate Mystery

On June 27, 2011 in the Montgomery Advertiser, I read an article that the sunken Civil War submarine,  H.L. Hunley had at last been turned upright. The rotation of the 7-ton, 40-foot submarine to expose a side of its hull not seen since the War had not been tried sooner because preservationists first had to sift for artifacts in sediment within the sub, and deal with the eight sets of human remains.

For those reasons it was kept at the 45-degree angle in which it had lain on the ocean floor when it was raised in 2000.  Looking at the sub from the inside could not answer why it sank, according to Kellen Correia, executive director of Friends of the Hunley.

Maria Jacobsen, head archaeologist for the project says" is too soon to tell how the Hunley was forced to the bottom of the ocean along with her crew, but we are confident that we will eventually identify a cause".

The Hunley, you might remember, sank the USS Housatonic in the north entrance of Charleston Harbor. After the conflict, the Hunley failed to return to its port, which placed its disappearance as one of the great Civil War mysteries.

 Eventually, after the preservation treatment is complete, the sub will be placed in a Charleston Civil War Naval Museum. I want to see it, don't you?

Why Did A Louisiana Lady Marry A Federal?

This is a brief funny incident from Kate Cumming's Journal of a Confederate Nurse. She tells about a Miss Womack, who is from Louisiana, and thinks the other states are all very well in their way, but not like LA.

Three gentleman informed her that a friend of her's in LA had married a Federal general. They were a good deal annoyed that this "lady" had lowered herself in such a manner.  Kate then told Miss Womack that no Alabama girl would be guilty of such a disgraceful act as marrying a Yankee, General or no General.

Miss Womack replied that the girl was so ugly that no Confederate would marry her!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Confederate Spy

 Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited her with winning the battle of First Manassas. Her name? Rose O'Neal Greenhow (1817-1864). According to wikepedia she was a fearless spy for the Confederacy as well as a glittering Washington hostess.

Rosie paid the price for her accomplishments, as she was imprisoned for her efforts. Even then she continued getting messages to the Confederates by means of cryptic notes, which traveled in unlikely places such as in a woman's bun of hair.

After her second prison term she was exiled to the South, where she was warmly received by Davis, who sent her to Britain and France on behalf of the Confederate cause.

In 1864 she boarded a ship for home. The vessel ran aground near Wilmington NC and she fled in a rowboat but never made it to shore. The little boat capsized and she was dragged down by the weight of the gold she was bringing back to aid the Confederate cause.

She was buried with full military honors and her coffin was wrapped int the Confederate flag and carried by Confederate troops. The marker for her grave, a marble cross, bears the epitaph, "Mrs. Rose O'N Greenhow, a bearer of dispatches to the Confederate Government".

There is a book about her if you want to read more: "Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Civil War Spy". 

Chancellorsville and Friendly Fire

 I read that there is a splendid account of Chancellorsville by Ernest B. Furguson, titled "Chancellorsville 1863: The Souls of the  Brave," the first to come out in more than 35 years, according to Carey Winfrey in Smithsonian's July/August issue.

 The victory of the Confederates at Chancellorsville was due in large part to, as the author puts it "inspired risk-taking of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who was mortally wounded by friendly fire".

Kate Cumming, in her dairy "The Journal of a Confederate Nurse" says this about the loss of Jackson: "The  honor of taking this great man's life was reserved for his own men, as if it were a sacrifice they offered to the Lord, as Jephthah gave up his daughter."

This reference is from Judges 11:29-40 in the Old Testament, and it is the story of Jephthah, one of the warriors  of ancient Israel, who tells the Lord if He will give Israel victory in battle, that Jephthah will sacrifice to Him the first thing that comes out of his door upon his return. Yes, the Lord grants the victory, but alas, who comes out of the door first, but his beloved only daughter!

A tragic tale, but an analogy to ponder, when we consider the follies of war.