The Museum and White House of the Confederacy was the home of CSA President Jefferson Davis and is the world’s largest collection of personal belongings of legendary generals and common soldiers of the South
So asserts Ms. Elizabeth Wyatt, Public Relations Manager of the imposing white three-story structure at 1201 East Clay Street in downtown Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the breakaway Confederate States of America during 1861-65, which this writer had occasion to visit in 1995. It was and is well worth the trip, too.
From the plumed hat of dashing Rebel cavalryman J.E.B. (Jeb) Stuart (as well as his saddle, gloves and saber) to letters from ordinary soldiers to their wives and sweethearts, from Conrad Wise Charman’s famous oil painting of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley to the actual artifacts used by Gen. Robert Edward Lee in his traveling field tent headquarters, this museum literally has it all.
Its most famous painting us undoubtedly that by noted artist E.B.D Julio, The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson, while the facility recently acquired John Elder’s canvas The Heroes of the Valley after a 137-year-long hiatus at the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans. It depicts Gens. Thomas Jonathon Jackson, Richard S. Ewell and Turner Ashby preparing for their Shenandoah campaign against the Union’s Army of the Potomac.
Perhaps one of the Museum’s most valued treasures for both Civil War scholars and readers alike is its unique photographic collection depicting the celebrated War Between the States, consisting of more than 5,000 images, most dating from the mid-19th century.
Notes Ms. Wyatt, “These images range from depictions of individuals and groups, battlefields and cities to objects and artwork from the Museum’s collections---daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, albumen prints, and cartes-des-visite.”
In addition, the collection’s research prints include military portraits, both Union and Confederate, from the Brady-Handy Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Adds Ms. Teresa Hudgins, Registrar and former Manager of the Photographic Collection, it “Is notable for the many photographs relating to the postwar Confederate memorial movement. These include individual and group portraits of Confederate veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Photographs of monuments to the Confederacy in Virginia and the throughout the South represent one of the Museum’s most extensive and important collection groups.”
The Museum of the Confederacy houses, attests Ms. Wyatt, the largest single collection of Confederate national, state, presentation, regimental and company flags, consisting of more than 500 cotton, wool and silk banners. About half of these were from private donations, while the rest were entrusted to the Museum by the United States government and the Commonwealth of Virginia 1905-06; the collection continues to grow through individual donations to this day.
A Flag Conservation Program was established in 1993, and five years later the Museum published an illustrated index of the wartime flags it has. The collection is housed in a 1,200-square-foot storage and examination facility. Fifteen of the venerable banners have been conserved for exhibition and these include the following:
“Lancaster Greys” 40th Infantry, Co. H; “Lancaster Cavalry” 9th Virginia Cavalry, Co., D; “Guilford Greys” 27th North Carolina Infantry, Co., B; Marion Light Artillery, Florida Battery; 15th Virginia Infantry; “Florida Independent Blues” 3rd Florida Infantry, Co. B; “Wakulla Guards” 3rd Florida Infantry; “Citizens’ Guard” 5th/9th Kentucky Infantry, 29th Missouri Infantry, USA; unidentified unit flag captured at Petersburg, VA, March 1865; 37th North Carolina Infantry; headquarters flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee; 11th Mississippi Infantry; headquarters flag of Gen. Joseph Johnston and “Powhattan Troop” 4th Virginia Cavalry, Co. E.
Then there are the swords, according to Director of Special Projects Tucker H. Hill, who states, “For Senior Curator Robert Hancock…his favorite object is actually two---the officers’ cavalry swords owned by Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton of South Carolina.”
States Hancock, “When you pull Wade Hampton’s sword, it’s not typical. It’s substantially longer, double-edged instead of single, and it’s heavier. It’s not domestically made---at least the blade, which is Prussian, and dates from the Napoleonic Wars. It’s a heavy dragoon cavalry blade---Wade Hampton was a big man, a big burly South Carolinian, and what sets these swords apart is that they suit him. He was a natural leader and the type of man who would carry a big, heavy sword.”
A National Historic Landmark, the White House and Museum of the Confederacy has been featured on Arts & Entertainment’s America’s Castles series. It’s three levels of galleries are self-guided, although guided tours are also offered on a regular basis. The last tour of the day begins at 4:30 PM. Museum hours are Monday-Saturday from 10
AM-5 PM, while Sunday hours are Noon-5 PM. The telephone number is (804) 649-1861; its Website is www.moc.org. Its Haversack gift shop offers many books and other items, on the Museum in particular and on The Lost Cause in general.
The House was built in 1818 by Dr. John Brockenbrough, the President of the Bank of Virginia, in one of the most affluent areas of the city. Acquired in 1857 by Lewis D. Crenshaw, a wealthy Richmond flour manufacturer, his third floor addition and decorative renovations gave the interior its current Rococo-Revival style that was known to the Davis family while the Confederate President had his office and lived there during the war.
It was purchased for him and his wife Varina in May 1861 by the Richmond city government when the Confederate capital was shifted there from Montgomery, Alabama. The Davis family arrived the following August: father, mother and three children: Margaret, Jeff Jr. and Joseph. Mrs. Davis later gave birth to two more children, William and Varina Anne (“Winnie”). Tragedy struck the family in 1864 when five-year-old Joseph fell to his death while playing on the east porch of the structure.
The Confederate White House served as the political and social epicenter of wartime Richmond. Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and James Longstreet were just among a few of the leaders who visited.
On the heels of the Appomattox surrender, US President Abraham Lincoln also came on Apr. 4, 1865, just two days following Davis’s departure. After touring Richmond, President Lincoln came to the CSA White House to rest, enjoying a reception hosted by Union soldiers.
Yankee troops occupied the premises during the years 1865-70, as souvenir hunters looted china, silver, toys, upholstery, books and drapery trimmings. When the house was returned to municipal authorities in 1870, the remaining furnishings were sold at public auction. For the next 20 years, the mansion was a school used by more than 600 teachers and students annually until---in 1889--- the Richmond School Board moved that the house be demolished.
It was then that a group of aroused and prominent Richmond ladies organized themselves as the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, campaigning to preserve the mansion as a public museum. It successfully acquired title to the house in 1894 and it opened to the public two years later as the Confederate Museum.
During the American Bicentennial Year of 1976, the modern Museum building opened and changed its name to the Museum of the Confederacy while the former CSA White House itself underwent restoration.
Testifies Ms. Wyatt, “Drawing from archaeological investigations, photographs and original documents, curators were able to recreate its wartime appearance. The mansion reopened to the public in 1988.
“The White House currently holds 50% of the artifacts that were with the Davis family. All of the remaining items are to the period, except for the textiles, which are reproductions based on original fabrics or period patterns,” she concludes.
Today, the Museum complex consists of a modern building and the White House of the Confederacy itself, which has been carefully restored to its wartime elegance as President Davis’s executive mansion. Its beautiful rooms feature a variety of period décor, furnishings and objects, including many Davis family personal effects, providing an historic glimpse of how a well-to-do family lived in those times.
The bulk of the collections were garnered between the founding of the CMLS on Feb. 22, 1896 and the First World War. Today, an average of 70,000 visitors tour the facilities annually, including more than 8,000 school children.
Interest in the War of the Northern Invasion (as some diehards still call it in the South) is perhaps at its all-time highest, and growing by leaps and bounds, as evidenced in the increasing number of movies and television shows, not to mention new volumes daily that are making national bookshelves groan with their weight.
Anyone doubting the latter should visit their local book store: at least half of all the “history” books displayed are on “The War of the Southern Rebellion,” (as some northern diehards refer to it still), with the ‘other” half covering everything else!
The two undisputed stars of the war are undeniably Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, and it is fitting that at the core of the Museum’s mammoth collection there is the figure of “Bobby” Lee himself in all his majestic glory, finery, trappings and military accoutrements, represented in R.E. Lee: The Exhibition.
Nestled supreme among the 250 uniform pieces are the personal belongings of other Confederate generals---as well as more than 20,000 books in the Museum’s Library---Gen. Lee’s effects provide moot yet thunderous testimony to his being the lodestar of the Confederacy, the very apex of glory to the Rebel Lost Cause, including a facsimile of the Congressional resolution restoring his US citizenship in 1975, 105 years after his death.
States Executive Director Robin Reed, “The Museum has the most comprehensive compilation of his personal effects and artifacts ever assembled. Over 90% of the items are from the Museum’s own world-class collections; the others are on loan from public organizations and private collectors.”
Lee served for 26 years in the US Army’s Corps of Engineers, building forts in Georgia, Maryland and Virginia, as well as dikes in Mississippi; he was also a former Superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.
During the Mexican War, Lee won high praise from Gen. Winfield Scott for his mapping and reconnaissance work, and commanded US Cavalry forces in Texas. Later, he would command the troops that suppressed slavery abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
In a unique twist of fate, Lee was offered the supreme command of the Union armies by President Lincoln and his patron, Gen. Scott, but chose instead to serve his native Virginia, and thus, by extension, the Confederacy, doffing his Union blue uniform for the gray of the Confederacy for the final four years of his military career.
Among the Lee items on display are the black leather boots worn by USMA Cadet Lee in the Academy’s Class of 1829 from which he was graduated without a single demerit and second in that body; his renowned Map of Sierra Gorda of January 1848 that helped Gen. Scott win that historic battle against the Mexicans; his US Army colonel shoulder boards, returned by Lee to Scott upon the sad resignation of his commission from the US Army in 1861; and the “Texas” saddle he acquired during his 1869 travels in the West.
There is also his calling card and full dress epaulettes, US Army Corps of Engineers insignia, the draft of his resignation letter to Gen. Scott of Apr. 20, 1861, and his appointment that same year as a general in the Confederate forces. His wartime effects displayed include two hats, two pairs of gauntlets, boots and spurs, haversack, scarf, sash, holster and belt, field glasses and buttons from the General’s gray uniform.
In addition, there is his Holy Bible and Book of Common Prayer, as well as his camp effects: mess equipment and wooden carrying chest, plus Colt model 1851 Navy revolver pistol used by the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia throughout 1861-65.
Lee’s equine accoutrements---including his wartime saddle---are on view, too. Many photographs of the General and his staff are displayed, plus wartime letters, dispatches and General orders, including Number 75 regarding the Seven Days Battle and Number 9, his famous farewell to the troops.
There are also maps, wartime issues of the Southern Illustrated News with Lee engravings and various items associated with the Apr. 9, 1865 surrender to Gen. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
These include his sword and scabbard and full dress uniform coat worn to the ceremony, wood pen with gold nib and case used to sign documents, illustrations of the events that took place and page one of the original parole lists of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The exhibit chronicles Lee’s post-surrender career as well: lithographs, prints, etchings, posters, portrait busts, sculpture and reproductions from original photographs of Lee after the war, his letters to his officers, personal clothing effects, the amnesty oath to the US that he signed on Oct. 2, 1865, his 1870 death mask by Clarke Mills and a collection of leaves and flowers taken from his coffin and Wreath of Immorteles, used in his memorial service.
There is much, much more, a visual feast for the true CSA buff and others.
Anyone who loved such Civil War movies as Glory, Gettysburg, The Horse Soldiers and Major Dundee will be enthralled by this thrilling museum. In sum, the White House and Museum of the Confederacy is simply the place for every Civil War fan to be.
Don’t miss it!
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