Friday, September 27, 2013

The Lee Girls of Arlington

Mary Anna Randolph Custis and famed Confederate General Robert E. Lee married in 1831 at her family home, Arlington House, in Virginia.  Mary Anna was the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington's step-grandson, and adopted son, and founder of Arlington House. Her mother was Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis.
Robert E. Lee was the son of Henry "Light Horse Harry"  Lee and his mother was Anne Hill Carter Lee. Mary Anna and Robert had seven children together, 3 sons and 4 daughters. Shortly after the birth of their first son, the Custises invited the Lee's to come and live in Arlington House, so the children grew up in the Custis home.

When the war came, Robert and their sons were called to service in Virginia. Mary Anna and her daughters had to evacuate Arlington House in May of 1861, never to live there again.

Mary, the second child and oldest daughter outlived all her siblings. None of the Lee girls ever married. Anne, the second daughter,  died young. Her father was very attached to her and her death at age 23 was a great grief to him.

Agnes was the third of the daughters. As a child she kept a journal which was later published, titled "Growing Up in the 1850's: The Journal of Agnes Lee", edited by Mary Custis Lee deButts.  Considered her mother's favorite, Agnes died at the age of 32 from typhoid fever, almost exactly 3 years after her father's death, and her death was followed by that of her mother, 21 days later.

The youngest daughter and youngest child was Mildred. She too was very close to her father, and also to her brother Rob, her childhood companion. She traveled widely but seemed very lonely after her father's death. She died at age 60 in New Orleans.

All four girls along with their parents are interred in the Lee Chapel and Museum in Lexington, on the campus of Washington and Lee University. They lived through the deprivations of the war but knew the love of their parents and siblings, as well as that of  the people of the South who idolized their father, Robert E. Lee.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Confederate Victory At Harpers Ferry

Since this is September, I thought I would mention an important Confederate victory that took place September 12-15, 1862, the Battle of Harpers Ferry, which took place in and around the town of Harpers Ferry, Maryland. This battle was part of the Maryland Campaign of the War Between the States.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was in Maryland, being pursued by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Northern Army of the Potomac, outnumbering Lee two to one. Lee chose the risky strategy of dividing his army, sending one portion to attack Harpers Ferry under the command of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

Union commander, Col. Dixon S. Miles insisted on keeping most of his troops near the town of Harpers Ferry, rather than on the surrounding heights, so he played right into Jackson's hand, enabling the Confederate General to attack from three directions and overwhelm the Yankees. When Union Col. Miles realized the situation was hopeless he raised the white flag of surrender, but before Miles could surrender personally, he was mortally wounded.
The National Park Services says the Union army surrendered 12,700 men that day, the largest surrender of Federal forces in the war.
Wikipedia quotes Stephen Sears in his book, "Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. Sears writes as follows:  "Jackson sent off a courier to Lee with the news. 'Through God's blessing, Harpers Ferry and its garrison are to be surrendered.' As he rode into town...Union soldiers lined the roadside, eager for a look at the famous Stonewall. One of them observed Jackson's dirty, seedy uniform and remarked, 'Boys, he isn't much for looks, but if we'd had him we wouldn't have been caught in this trap.' By early afternoon, Jackson received an urgent message from General Lee:
'Get your troops to Sharpsburg as quickly as possible.' Jackson left A.P. Hill at Harpers Ferry to manage the parole of Federal prisoners and began marching to join the Battle of Antietam."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rsecent Activities for the First White House of the Confederacy

We are always trying to make improvements to the First White House, both outside and inside. The State of Alabama, which owns the building, in recent months has had the house pressure washed on the outside, as well as the driveway. The front porch and steps have been repainted and new pine straw has been added to the grounds. It all looks quite lovely.
Regarding the artifacts inside the house, which the White House of Alabama by legislative action is responsible, the following has been done:
1. Gunboat Quilt and Baby Quilt have been conserved.
2. Kirk & Son Castellated Repoussee Coin Silver bowl, given to  Mrs. Jefferson Davis by the citizens of Macon, Georgia, and auctioned recently by Heritage Auction House of Dallas, TX, has been acquired.
3. 1850's Gasolier, matching the one in our Second Parlor, has been acquired.
By way of explanation, the Gunboat Quilt is away at an exhibit called Home Front and Battlefield. It will be returned in July, 2015.
The Baby Quilt has been returned and is hanging in the upstairs hall, just outside the nursery.
The unveiling of the silver bowl was held Sept 10, with the generous help of two of the three couples who made very generous donations toward the purchase of it, Mr. & Mrs. Philip Davis and Mr. & Mrs. Price McLemore, all of Montgomery. We were very sorry the other couple, Mr. & Mrs. Richard Bowers of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida were unable to attend. We hope they will visit soon so we can show them the bowl.
 The 1850's Gasolier was given to us by Mrs. Robert Thorington, in memory of her late husband, Mr. Robert Thorington. Both this one and its mate need conservation. We are currently in the process of raising funds toward this project. If anyone would like to donate, it can be done easily through our pay pal account on our website,

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thes Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana

Mary Jackson, Historian General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, has written an article about the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana in the August 2013 issue of the United Daughters of the Confederacy magazine, titled Pleasant Hill, The Victory Was Theirs. The small town of Pleasant Hill is located inside the southeast corner of DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, and on April 9, 1864 the Union forces were on the march. The battle of Mansfield, LA had just ended the day before in a victory for the Confederates.
Terror soon arrived in the small town of Pleasant Hill as the women were told to gather their children and valuables and flee because the Yankees were coming. The battle took place between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. and Ms. Jackson describes the aftermath as follows: "The injured and dead on both sides were numerous. That evening when the battle ended, Union troops hurriedly left, leaving their dead and wounded on the battlefield...It was not until the next day on April 10 that a small contingent of Union soldiers returned to bury their dead and doctors were also sent to care for their  injured."
Ms. Jackson said  that the battle was a result of Union forces trying to gain control of the Red River area of Northwest, Louisiana, and the Confederates seeking to keep them from it. After the Battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hills, the Federals retreated, ending its march through that part of LA.  She writes, "Truly the Confederates held their ground, and in the end 'Victory was theirs'!"
When I read this I was ashamed that I had never heard of either of these battles, where many lives were lost on both sides, as well as much suffering and deprivation for the women and children of the area. Sadly, I imagine there are many such battles that we have never heard of.
Confederate troops fighting at Pleasant Hill were mainly from Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas. The Union side mostly  had men from Illinois, Indiana, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Iowa. The first weekend in April people from all over gather for the Annual Reenactment of the Battle of Pleasant Hill.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Generals in the Confederacy

Robert E. Lee was the best known of the general officers in the Confederate Army.  Like many others, he was a former officer from the U.S. Army prior to the Civil War. Interestingly, Lee chose to wear the insignia of a Confederate colonel throughout the war. All the Confederacy's military forces answered to their President, Jefferson Davis, commander-in-chief of the Army, Navy and Marines of the Confederate States.
 According to Wikipedia, on May 16, 1861, legislation was passed which stated: "That the five general officers provided by existing laws for the Confederate States shall have the rank and denomination of 'general' instead of 'brigadier-general', which shall be the highest military grade known to the Confederate States..."
In September, 1862 , when lieutenant generals were authorized, the Confederate Army had four grades of general officers: brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general and (full) general. These positions were nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
By the war's end the Confederacy had at least 383 men who held the rank of Brigadier general, and 88 Major generals. There were 18 Lieutenant generals.
 Originally, the five officers in the South appointed to the rank of General (Full general) were Samuel Cooper,  Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, and P. G. T. Beauregard, with their seniority in that order. Braxton Bragg was appointed a general when Albert Sidney Johnston died in combat, and Kirby Smith was appointed general to command the Trans-Mississippi Department.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Photograph Brings The Past Into Focus

When you go to the second floor in the First White House of the Confederacy, the first room on the right is one we call "Mrs. Davis' New York bedroom." It is so named because much of the furniture in it came from the Majestic hotel in which Varina was living when she passed away and, fortunately, Mrs. Davis' daughter Margaret instructed the hotel that it be sent  to us.
There are a number of important items in this room, and one of these is a lovely portrait photograph, circa 1895, showing Mrs. Margaret Davis Hayes and Miss Winnie Davis seated at a tea table. Margaret was the oldest child of President and Mrs. Davis, and Winnie, the youngest. In between Margaret and Winnie four sons were born to the Davises, but sadly, none survived to adulthood. 
What makes the photo of Margaret and Winnie so special to us is because in our "New York bedroom" we have a set of a wicker table with two companion chairs that were used by Mrs. Davis and Winnie for taking tea in the afternoons in their hotel room.
These are not the same table and chairs that are in the photograph, but in our minds eye we can almost see the scene  of Mother Varina and Daughter Winnie taking tea on Varina's moss rose china, whenever we look at the attractive portrait photograph of Margaret and Winnie together doing just that.
It reminds me of all the wonderful treasurers that the First White House holds, and how a visit to the First White House, or to any House museum, brings these wonderful historical people into the present time in a way that transcends time and place. If you haven't visited us lately, please do plan a trip to see us soon.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Story of the Confederate Camel

Did you know there was a "Confederate Camel", a mascot of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment during the War Between the States? I had never heard of him, although I did know about Jefferson Davis' Texas Camel Experiment when he was Secretary of War in 1855, and perhaps this camel was left over from that and somehow got to Mississippi prior to 1861.

At any rate, the delightful story of Old Douglas, the Confederate Camel, is told by Celeste T. Young  in the August 2013 issue of the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine. Douglas, the camel, became not only a mascot but a beast of burden, toting and fetching equipment for the 43rd Regiment.

Young tells of how on a forced march to Iuka, Mississippi, on the day before the battle,  the camel's wide gait startled the horses and caused a stampede. Even though casualties were heavy on both sides, this was a tale never forgotten by the survivors, and was retold over and over.

The article goes on to tell how, sadly, Douglas was struck with Yankee lead as he stood safely behind Confederate lines during the Siege of Vicksburg. According to legend, Ms. Young says, after Douglas was killed, his remains were carved up and eaten, possibly by starving Confederates.

There is a marker to Douglas in Vicksburg, Mississippi's Cedar Hill Cemetery. Apparently he is a legend in the annals of Mississippi confederate history.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cavalry Or Infantry, Which Prevailed During Civil War Battles?

 I have written before about a book titled  Attach And Die, by Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson, with a subtitle hard to resist: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage.
Today I was surprised  to learn from the chapter about The Cavalry  that most of the time when cavalry charged infantry the results were disastrous for the horsemen. To support this theory the author says "Rifled firepower enabled infantry to break up cavalry charges long before the riders could reach the infantry's lines." That makes a lot of sense when one thinks about it.
 One of numerous cases in point the author makes, was at Gaines' Mill in Hanover County, Virginia  June 27, 1862, (the third of the Seven Day Battles). This was when the Confederate brigade of John Bell Hood broke through the Federal front, and the Union cavalry in response made a charge, resulting in the loss of 60% of the riders, or 150 out of 250 on horseback.
Another well-known charge of cavalry against infantry was made by the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry at Chancellorsville against Stonewall Jackson's Confederate soldiers. McWhiney says: "The regiment made a saber charge, riding in column formation, but was broken apart by Confederate rifle fire".
The author then quotes a Union cavalryman, John I. Collins who rode in the charge, and later said:  "We struck it (the Confederate infantry) as a wave strikes a stately ship; the ship is staggered, maybe thrown on her beam ends, but the wave is dashed into spray, and the ship sails on as before." 
Cavalry v/s Cavalry was one thing, but  Cavalry v/s Infantry, based on what I read from this book, gives the advantage to the guy on foot, when before I always thought it was safer to be on a horse!