J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Varina Howell Davis”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 9)

Mary Chesnut 

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Of all the written works created during the Civil War, Mary Chesnut’s diary is one of the most well known. Because of her ability to frankly describe the events that transpired, her diary is considered by historians to be the most important work by a Confederate author, and a true work of art. 

Born to Congressman Stephen Decatur Miller and May Boykin on March 31, 1823 at Mount Pleasant plantation near Stateburg, South Carolina, Mary Miller was the eldest of four children. In 1829, her father became governor of South Carolina, and in 1831, he served as a U.S. senator. Mary was educated at home and in Camden schools before she was sent to a French boarding school in Charleston at age 12. She spent her school break at her father’s cotton plantations in Mississippi, but when he died in 1838, she returned to Camden. She met James Chesnut Jr., eight years her senior, in 1836, when he was at the boarding school visiting his niece, and although he began to court her, Mary’s parents opposed it. However, on April 23, 1840, when Mary was 17, the two were married.  

For the next twenty years, Mary spent her time between Camden and Mulberry, her husband’s family plantation. James was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1858, so Mary accompanied him to Washington, where she nurtured friendships with many upper-class citizens, including Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis, John Bell Hood, and Wade Hampton III. When talk of war escalated in 1860, James was the first to resign his senate seat on November 10, The Chesnuts returned to South Carolina, where he participated in drafting an ordinance of secession, and served on the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America. From February 1861 through July 1865, Mary recorded her experiences. She was in Charleston when Ft. Sumter was fired upon on Friday, April 12, 1861, and watched the skirmish from a rooftop. In her diary, she described the city’s residents, along with what is now known as The Battery, sitting on balconies and drinking salutes to the advent of hostilities. 

James subsequently served as an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. During the war, Mary accompanied him to Montgomery, Columbia, and Richmond, where she entertained the Confederate elite.  

After the war, the Chesnut’s returned to Camden, struggling unsuccessfully to get out of debt. James had inherited two plantations when his father died in 1866: Mulberry and Sandy Field. They were heavily damaged by Federal troops, and slaves who had become freedmen still depended on him. James and Mary’s mother died within a week of each other in January 1885. According to his father’s will, the land was to be passed down to a male heir, and because he and Mary never had children, she lost her claim.  

Mary’s writing revealed her strong opinions concerning slavery and women’s rights, as well as criticism for conservative decisions made by Southern leaders, her husband included. She expressed her repulsion for lapses in morality caused by the male-dominated society of the South, using her father-in-law’s liaison with a slave as an example. 

In the 1870’s, she edited her diaries in an attempt to publish them, but failed. She tried her hand at fiction, writing three novels, but was also unsuccessful at having them published, so in the 1880’s, she revised her diaries into a book entitled Mary Chesnut’s Civil War. Only a small excerpt was published in the Charleston Weekly News and Courier as “The Arrest of a Spy.” Her final years were spent supplementing her $100-a-year income by selling eggs and butter. She died of a heart attack on November 22, 1886.  Historians believe she wasn’t finished with her work. In 1905, and again in 1949, her diaries were published in truncated and heavily edited versions as A Diary from Dixie. In 1981, C. Vann Woodward published a version that included her complete work, and won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1982. 

 

A Beautiful Glittering Lie Featured on Blog

ABGL B.R.A.G. Medallion

My award-winning novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, is featured on “Karen’s Killer Fixin’s.” Ms. Karen Docter is also an award-winning author who writes romance. She invited me to participate in her blog, and the fun part is that I got to include my favorite recipe. I thought maybe a recipe from the book might be good, such as Cush, but instead, I opted for a recipe from my UDC chapter’s recipe book. Here’s the recipe, courtesy of the Varina Howell Davis Chapter 2559 United Daughters of the Confederacy.

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Here is the link to Karen’s blog post:

https://wp.me/p4pimt-5lf

Make sure to check it out! It’s your chance to win a paperback signed copy of A Beautiful Glittering Lie, so enter right away! Good luck!

 

More Stories of Christmases Past

It’s difficult to imagine what life was like way back in 1864. What with a “civil” war going on and the country torn in two. Taking down monuments and changing street names erases our history. Let these stories be a reminder of how our nation suffered during the War Between the States. Let us never forget.

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CHRISTMAS IN THE CONFEDERACY

Excerpts below were written by Varina Davis, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, describing Christmas of 1864 in the Confederate White House in Richmond, Virginia.

“For as Christmas season was ushered in under the darkest clouds, everyone felt the cataclysm which impended but the rosy, expectant faces of our little children were a constant reminder that self-sacrifice must be the personal offering of each member of the family.”

Due to the blockades around Confederate states, families could not find certain types of food and merchandise for their holiday celebrations, and available items were outrageously priced. The Southerners had to substitute many of the ingredients in the favorite Christmas recipes, and they had to make most of their gifts and tree decorations.

In Richmond, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family lived, it was discovered that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been previously promised a Christmas tree, toys, and candy. The excerpt below shows how the people of Richmond creatively worked together to bring Christmas to the orphans in spite of the war’s shortages.

“The kind-hearted confectioner was interviewed by our committee of managers, and he promised a certain amount of his simpler kinds of candy, which he sold easily a dollar and a half a pound, but he drew the line at cornucopias to hold it, or sugared fruits to hang on the tree, and all the other vestiges of Christmas creations which had lain on his hands for years. The ladies dispersed in anxious squads of toy- hunters, and each one turned over the store of her children’s treasures for a contribution to the orphan’s tree, my little ones rushed over the great house looking up their treasure eyeless dolls, three-legged horses, tops with the upper peg broken off, rubber tops, monkeys with all the squeak gone silent and all the ruck of children’s toys that gather in a nursery closet. Some small feathered chickens and parrots which nodded their heads in obedience to a weight beneath them were furnished with new tail feathers, lambs minus much of their wool were supplied with a cotton wool substitute, rag dolls were plumped out and recovered with clean cloth, and the young ladies painted their fat faces in bright colors and furnished them with beads for eyes.”

When the orphans received their gifts, “the different gradations from joy to ecstasy which illuminated their faces was ‘worth two years of peaceful life’ to see.”

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A SOLDIER’S CHRISTMAS

Christmas (December 25, 1864) came while we were fighting famine within and Grant without our lines. To meet either was a serious problem. The Southern people from their earliest history had observed Christmas as the great holiday season of the year. It was the time of times, the longed-for period of universal and innocent, but almost boundlessjollification among young and old…

The holiday, however, on Hatcher’s Run, near Petersburg, was joyless enough for the most misanthropic. The one worn-out railroad running to the far South could not bring to us half enough necessary supplies; and even if it could have transported Christmas boxes of good things, the people at home were too depleted to send them. They had already impoverished themselves to help their struggling Government, and large areas of our territory had been made desolate by the ravages of marching armies.

The brave fellows at the front, however, knew that their friends at home would gladly send them the last pound of sugar in the pantry, and the last turkey or chicken from the barnyard. So, they facetiously wished each other “Merry Christmas!” as they dined on their wretched fare. There was no complaining, no repining, for they knew their exhausted country was doing all it could for them.

Source: REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR, By Gen. John B. Gordon, 1904

(Articles courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Samuel A. Hughey Sons of Confederate Veterans camp 1452, Hernando, MS, vol. 42 issue #12, December 2018 ed.)

The Death of Jefferson Davis, December 6 1889

 

The Christmas Season of 1889, was a time of sadness in Dixie. Hundreds of thousands of people came to remember and pay their last respects to Jefferson Davis in the crescent city of New Orleans.

On December 6, 1889, Jefferson Davis died at the home of a friend. Do our young people who Davis was?

Jefferson Davis graduated from West Point Military Academy, served valiantly in the War with Mexico, was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, elected US Senator from Mississippi and was the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. Davis also wrote the book, “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” at his last home in Mississippi.

Jefferson Davis, and wife Varina, found great contentment and peace at “Beauvoir” their beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast Home. This is where he wished to die when his time came but it was not to be.

In November 1889, Varina attended to their home as Davis left for Brierfield Plantation to take care of family business. As he traveled through New Orleans Davis was exposed to a cold-rain that caused him a severe cold and bronchitis that was further complicated by Malaria.

Milo Copper, a former servant of the Davis family, upon hearing of Davis’ illness, made the long trip from Florida to New Orleans to be near Davis’ side. As Cooper entered Davis’ sick room, he burst into tears and fell on his knees and prayed that God would spare the life of Jefferson Davis and bless the family.

Jefferson Davis died between 12:30AM and 1:00AM on December 6, 1889. The news of his death hit the front page of many Southern newspapers. The

praises and tributes read similar to that of a New Orleans paper that read,

“Throughout the South are Lamentations and tears; in every country on the globe where there are lovers of liberty there is mourning; wherever there are men who love heroic patriotism, dauntless resolution, fortitude or intellectual power, there is an sincere sorrowing. The beloved of our land, the unfaltering upholder of constitutional liberty, the typical hero and sage, is no more; the fearless heart that beats with sympathy for all mankind is stilled forever, a great light is gone—- Jefferson Davis is dead!”

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The body of Jefferson Davis laid in state at the city hall of New Orleans, Louisiana from midnight, December 6, 1889, to December 11th. The United States and Confederate flags hung from above and in the city hall that was covered with many flowers.

The church bells toiled as over 80,000 people lined the streets of New Orleans to pay their respects to a Southern legend. All schools and businesses were closed that day.

Those men who comprised the honor Guard for the procession to Metairie Cemetery included: the Army of Northern Virginia Association, the Army of Tennessee and the Washington Artillery. Metairie Cemetery would be a temporary burial place for Davis as he was moved in 1893, by funeral train to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

The sad part of this story is that the United States War Department did not recognize Davis and the US flag was not flown at half-mast. The US flag was flown at half-mast in the South. Jefferson Davis was the only former Secretary of War that was not given the respect and honor by the United States Government.

Article written by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.

Source of information: The 1990, first quarter edition of the Southern Partisan Magazine. The magazine article, by freelance writer Mrs. Peggy Robbins, was entitled, “Jefferson Davis’ Death.”

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Volume 42, Issue No . 12, Dec. 2018 ed.)

Is This Awesome Or What!?

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Over the weekend, I was informed by my United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) chapter’s president that I won an award at the annual Mississippi convention. What an amazing honor! I am so humbled to receive this special award for the publication of my two books, A Beautiful Glittering Lie and Horses in Gray, during the past year, and to win the award for my UDC chapter, Varina Howell Davis #2559.

ABGL B.R.A.G. Medallion       Horses in Gray Cover

(Click on books for purchasing info.)

The annual Mississippi UDC convention was held last weekend in Gulfport. This is a beautiful city near Biloxi. I can’t thank the Mississippi UDC division enough for this very special honor.

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To learn more about the Mississippi United Daughters of the Confederacy, please visit: http://mississippiudc.homestead.com/.

Visit my UDC chapter’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1327342747312231/

Christmas in the Confederate White House

How the Davis Family Spent the Christmas of 1864

By Varina Howell Davis

The wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote this article describing how the Davis family spent the Christmas of 1864 in the Confederate White House. It was published in The New York World, December 13, 1896 and has since been reprinted often. This excerpt was obtained via the website “The American Civil War, 1861-1865.”

Residence of Jefferson Davis
Residence of Jefferson Davis (Library of Congress)

…Rice, flour, molasses and tiny pieces of meat, most of them sent to the President’s wife anonymously to be distributed to the poor, had all be weighed and issued, and the playtime of the family began, but like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the information that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been promised a Christmas tree and the toys, candy and cakes must be provided, as well as one pretty prize for the most orderly girl among the orphans. The kind-hearted confectioner was interviewed by our committee of managers, and he promised a certain amount of his simpler kinds of candy, which he sold easily a dollar and a half a pound, but he drew the line at cornucopias to hold it, or sugared fruits to hang on the tree, and all the other vestiges of Christmas creations which had lain on his hands for years. The ladies dispersed in anxious squads of toy-hunters, and each one turned over the store of her children’s treasures for a contribution to the orphans’ tree, my little ones rushed over the great house looking up their treasure: eyeless dolls, three-legged horses, tops with the upper peg broken off, rubber tops, monkeys with all the squeak gone silent and all the ruck of children’s toys that gather in a nursery closet.

Makeshift Toys for the Orphans

Some small feathered chickens and parrots which nodded their heads in obedience to a weight beneath them were furnished with new tail feathers, lambs minus much of their wool were supplied with a cotton wool substitute, rag dolls were plumped out and recovered with clean cloth, and the young ladies painted their fat faces in bright colors and furnished them with beads for eyes.

But the tug of war was how to get something with which to decorate the orphans’ tree. Our man servant, Robert Brown, was much interested and offered to make the prize toy. He contemplated a “sure enough house, with four rooms.” His part in the domestic service was delegated to another and he gave himself over in silence and solitude to the labors of the architect.

My sister painted mantel shelves, door panels, pictures and frames for the walls, and finished with black grates in which there blazed a roaring fire, which was pronounced marvelously realistic. We all made furniture of twigs and pasteboard, and my mother made pillows, mattresses, sheets and pillow cases for the two little bedrooms.

Christmas Eve a number of young people were invited to come and string apples and popcorn for the trees; a neighbor very deft in domestic arts had tiny candle moulds made and furnished all the candles for the tree. However the puzzle and triumph of all was the construction of a large number of cornucopias. At last someone suggested a conical block of wood, about which the drawing paper could be wound and pasted. In a little book shop a number of small, highly colored pictures cut out and ready to apply were unearthed, and our old confectioner friend, Mr. Piazzi, consented, with a broad smile, to give “all the love verses the young people wanted to roll with the candy.”

A Christmas Eve Party

About twenty young men and girls gathered around small tables in one of the drawing rooms of the mansion and the cornucopias were begun. The men wrapped the squares of candy, first reading the “sentiments” printed upon them, such as “Roses are red, violets blue, sugar’s sweet and so are you,” “If you love me as I love you no knife can cut our love in two.” The fresh young faces, wreathed in smiles, nodded attention to the reading, while with their small deft hands they gined [?] the cornucopias and pasted on the pictures. Where were the silk tops to come from? Trunks of old things were turned out and snippings of silk and even woolen of bright colors were found to close the tops, and some of the young people twisted sewing silk into cords with which to draw the bags up. The beauty of those home-made things astonished us all, for they looked quite “custom-made,” but when the “sure enough house” was revealed to our longing gaze the young people clapped their approbation, while Robert, whose sense of dignity did not permit him to smile, stood the impersonation of successful artist and bowed his thanks for our approval. Then the coveted eggnog was passed around in tiny glass cups and pronounced good. Crisp home-made ginger snaps and snowy lady cake completed the refreshments of Christmas Eve. The children allowed to sit up and be noisy in their way as an indulgence took a sip of eggnog out of my cup, and the eldest boy confided to his father: “Now I just know this is Christmas.” In most of the houses in Richmond these same scenes were enacted, certainly in every one of the homes of the managers of the Episcopalian Orphanage. A bowl of eggnog was sent to the servants, and a part of everything they coveted of the dainties.

At last quiet settled on the household and the older members of the family began to stuff stockings with molasses candy, red apples, an orange, small whips plaited by the family with high-colored crackers, worsted reins knitted at home, paper dolls, teetotums made of large horn bottoms and a match which could spin indefinitely, balls of worsted rags wound hard and covered with old kid gloves, a pair of pretty woolen gloves for each, either cut of cloth and embroidered on the back or knitted by some deft hand out of home-spun wool. For the President there were a pair of chamois-skin riding gauntlets exquisitely embroidered on the back with his monogram in red and white silk, made, as the giver wrote, under the guns of Fortress Monroe late at night for fear of discovery. There was a hemstitched linen handkerchief, with a little sketch in indelible ink in one corner; the children had written him little letters, their grandmother having held their hands, the burthen of which compositions was how they loved their dear father. For one of the inmates of the home, who was greatly loved but whose irritable temper was his prominent failing, there was a pretty cravat, the ends of which were embroidered, as was the fashion of the day. The pattern chosen was simple and on it was pinned a card with the word “amiable” to complete the sentence. One of the [missing] received a present of an illuminated copy of Solomon’s proverbs found in the same old store from which the pictures came. He studied it for some time and announced: “I have changed my opinion of Solomon, he uttered such unnecessary platitudes — now why should he have said ‘The foolishness of a fool is his folly’?”

On Christmas morning the children awoke early and came in to see their toys. They were followed by the negro women, who one after another “caught” us by wishing us a merry Christmas before we could say it to them, which gave them a right to a gift. Of course, there was a present for every one, small though it might be, and one who had been born and brought up at our plantation was vocal in her admiration of a gay handkerchief. As she left the room she ejaculated: “Lord knows mistress knows our insides; she jest got the very thing I wanted.”

Mrs. Davis’s Strange Presents

Mrs. Varina Davis
Mrs. Varina Howell Davis (Library of Congress)

For me there were six cakes of delicious soap, made from the grease of ham boiled for a family at Farmville, a skein of exquisitely fine gray linen thread spun at home, a pincushion of some plain brown cotton material made by some poor woman and stuffed with wool from her pet sheep, and a little baby hat plaited by the orphans and presented by the industrious little pair who sewed the straw together. They pushed each other silently to speak, and at last mutely offered the hat, and considered the kiss they gave the sleeping little one ample reward for the industry and far above the fruit with which they were laden. Another present was a fine, delicate little baby frock without an inch of lace or embroidery upon it, but the delicate fabric was set with fairy stitches by the dear invalid neighbor who made it, and it was very precious in my eyes. There were also a few of Swinburne’s best songs bound in wall-paper and a chamois needlebook left for me by young Mr. P., now succeeded to his title in England. In it was a Brobdingnagian thimble “for my own finger, you know,” said the handsome, cheerful young fellow. After breakfast, at which all the family, great and small, were present, came the walk to St. Paul’s Church. We did not use our carriage on Christmas or, if possible to avoid it, on Sunday. The saintly Dr. Minnegerode preached a sermon on Christian love, the introit was sung by a beautiful young society woman and the angels might have joyfully listened. Our chef did wonders with the turkey and roast beef, and drove the children quite out of their propriety by a spun sugar hen, life-size, on a nest full of blanc mange eggs. The mince pie and plum pudding made them feel, as one of the gentlemen laughingly remarked, “like their jackets were buttoned,” a strong description of repletion which I have never forgotten. They waited with great impatience and evident dyspeptic symptoms for the crowning amusement of the day, “the children’s tree.” My eldest boy, a chubby little fellow of seven, came to me several times to whisper: “Do you think I ought to give the orphans my I.D. studs?” When told no, he beamed with the delight of an approving conscience. All throughout the afternoon first one little head and then another popped in at the door to ask: “Isn’t it 8 o’clock yet?,” burning with impatience to see the “children’s tree.”

David Helped Santa Claus

When at last we reached the basement of St. Paul’s Church the tree burst upon their view like the realization of Aladdin’s subterranean orchard, and they were awed by its grandeur.

The orphans sat mute with astonishment until the opening hymn and prayer and the last amen had been said, and then they at a signal warily and slowly gathered around the tree to receive from a lovely young girl their allotted present. The different gradations from joy to ecstasy which illuminated their faces was “worth two years of peaceful life” to see. The President became so enthusiastic that he undertook to help in the distribution, but worked such wild confusion giving everything asked for into their outstretched hands, that we called a halt, so he contented himself with unwinding one or two tots from a network of strung popcorn in which they had become entangled and taking off all apples he could when unobserved, and presenting them to the smaller children. When at last the house was given to the “honor girl” she moved her lips without emitting a sound, but held it close to her breast and went off in a corner to look and be glad without witnesses.

“When the lights were fled, the garlands dead, and all but we departed” we also went home to find that Gen. Lee had called in our absence, and many other people. Gen. Lee had left word that he had received a barrel of sweet potatoes for us, which had been sent to him by mistake. He did not discover the mistake until he had taken his share (a dishful) and given the rest to the soldiers! We wished it had been much more for them and him.

Officers in a Starvation Dance

The night closed with a “starvation” party, where there were no refreshments, at a neighboring house. The rooms lighted as well as practicable, some one willing to play dance music on the piano and plenty of young men and girls comprised the entertainment. Sam Weller’s soiry [sic, soiree refers to a party or reception held in the evening], consisting of boiled mutton and capers, would have been a royal feast in the Confederacy. The officers, who rode into town with their long cavalry boots pulled well up over their knees, but splashed up their waists, put up their horses and rushed to the places where their dress uniform suits had been left for safekeeping. They very soon emerged, however, in full toggery and entered into the pleasures of their dance with the bright-eyed girls, who many of them were fragile as fairies, but worked like peasants for their home and country. These young people are gray-haired now, but the lessons of self-denial, industry and frugality in which they became past mistresses then, have made of them the most dignified, self-reliant and tender women I have ever known — all honor to them.

So, in the interchange of the courtesies and charities of life, to which we could not add its comforts and pleasures, passed the last Christmas in the Confederate mansion.

(Special Thanks to Civil War Trust for this article.)

The Birthday of a President

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Today is the birthday of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. He was born in Christian County, Kentucky, not far from where Abraham Lincoln was born one year later. The tenth youngest child of a plantation owner, Davis rose to become one of the most celebrated, and yet controversial, American statesmen.

His illustrious career began with the military, where he served as an officer. He was elected to the House of Representatives and later to Congress, married twice, and had six children, but only one survived to adulthood. He saw much pain and sadness in his lifetime, but still maintained his firm belief in the Confederate cause. Following the War Between the States, he became somewhat of a recluse, penning his memoirs at Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi. After his death at age 81, his wife, Varina, had his body moved to Richmond, where it remains today.

Bertram Hayes-Davis, who is the great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis, frequently tours the country speaking on behalf of his infamous ancestor. Sadly, he has encountered obstacles in regard to having Jefferson Davis receive the honor he so greatly deserves. In fact, there is talk about removing his statue from the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building. Instead of dismissing Jefferson Davis as being politically incorrect, we should honor him for the sacrifices he made for his country and what he believed to be right. Let us celebrate him as a true patriot and the American icon that he was.

A Rose is a Rose

Spring is in the air, and daylight savings time starts this Sunday.(Yay!) At Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ retirement home, the rose garden that his wife, Varina Howell Davis, created has recently been reconstructed. (After Hurricane Katrina hit, it took out the original gardens.) The beautiful gardens are historically exact to the ones that Mrs. Davis planted back in the 1880’s. The story about these gardens is as follows. Thanks to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Samuel A. Hughey camp #1452 for this information.

Varina Davis Garden Complete

Soon after Jefferson Davis acquired Beauvoir in 1879, the Davis’ set about expanding the already beautifully developed grounds of the estate. Varina Howell Davis (Mrs. Jefferson Davis) was obviously very pleased with Beauvoir, but was particularly proud of the new garden she created. In a February 29, 1880 letter written to her daughter Winnie, who was in school in Europe,

Varina stated, “…I work very hard in my garden as it is new, and quite large. I think about 2 acres….”

In this and subsequent letters she wrote over the next few months, Mrs. Davis described in both words and sketches the lay-out of the garden and the great variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables she planted. Her kitchen garden produced items for her table such as strawberries, artichokes, radishes, peppers, eggplants, Irish potatoes, and asparagus. There were both common and exotic fruit-bearing trees, including oranges, citrons, figs, peaches, apples, pears, quince, pomegranate, and jujube.  Flowers and fragrant flowering shrubs abounded– gardenias, jasmine, anemones, gladiolus, Japan lilies, St. Joseph lilies, fire lilies, and mignonette. Roses, however, were the star attraction of her circular flower garden, and Varina collected and cultivated cuttings of many different varieties.

When Mrs. Davis left Beauvoir following her husband’s death in 1889, her lovely gardens slowly fell into neglect. The remnants of them were largely eradicated by Hurricane Katrina. Although over the years various efforts have been made to restore the gardens, until now no comprehensive restoration has been attempted. The present project to restore Varina’s renowned gardens at Beauvoir is the result of several years of exhaustive research and study and is funded by grants from the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History and the National Park Service. Reconstruction of visitor walkways and fences destroyed by Katrina are being funded by FEMA.

As the Beauvoir estate is a National Historic Landmark, designated by the Secretary of the Interior, it is very important to preserve both the main house and its historic landscape setting. Restoration of Varina’s garden will not only reestablish a significant historic feature of Beauvoir’s landscape, it will also provide an important attraction for the Gulf Coast’s heritage tourism industry. Just as the gardens brought much joy to the Davis’ and their guests in the late-19th-century, the restored garden will, no doubt, continue to bring beauty and enjoyment to future generations of Mississippi families and visitors to our state.

Kenneth H. P’Pool

Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, Mississippi Department of Archives and History

(The above information is taken from http://www.beauvoir.org/news/index.html.)

“Now I Just Know This Is Christmas”

Varina Howell Davis, Mississippi-born wife of the Southern president declared, “That Christmas season was ushered in under the thickest clouds; everyone felt the cataclysm which impended, but the rosy, expectant faces of our little children were a constant reminder that self-sacrifice must be the personal offering of each member of the family.” 

Because of the expense involved in keeping them up, Mr. Davis had recently sold her carriage and horses. A warm-spirited Confederate bought them back and sent them to her. Now she planned to dispose of one of her best satin dresses to obtain funds; with Christmas on the way, the children had high expectations, and she would use all possible makeshifts in an effort to fulfill them. The Richmond housewives could find no currants, raisins, or other vital ingredients for old Virginia mincemeat pie. But, Mrs. Davis went on, the young considered at least one slice their right, “and the price of indigestion…a debt of honor due from them to the season’s exactions.”

Despite the war, apple trees still bore fruit; with these as a base, she and the other women of the city would utilize any other fruit that came to hand. A little cider and some salt were obtained, as was brandy, though its usual price was a hundred dollars a bottle in inflated Confederate currency.

As for eggnog, the Negro stable attendant, who brought in “the back log, our substitute for the Yule log,” said he did not know how they would “git along without no eggnog. Ef it’s only a little wineglass.” Plans progressed for a quiet home Christmas when unexpected word arrived: The orphans at the Episcopal home had been promised a tree and toys, cake and candy, plus a good prize for the best-behaved girl, and something had to be done about that.

Something was done. With Mrs. Davis’s help, a committee of women was set up and the members repaired to their children’s old toy collections to salvage dolls without eyes, monkeys that had lost their squeak, three-legged and even two-legged horses. They fixed and painted everything, plumping out rag dolls and putting new faces on them, adding fresh tails to feathered chickens and parrots.

The Davis’s invited a group of young friends on Christmas Eve to help make candle molds and string popcorn and apples for the tree; Mr. Pizzini, the confectioner, contributed simple candies. For cornucopias and other ornamentation the Davis’s guests used colored papers, bright pictures from old books, bits of silk out of trunks. All in all, the Christmas Eve of 1864 was far from unsatisfactory. When the small supply of eggnog went around, the eldest Davis boy assured his father: “Now I just know this is Christmas.”

(The Southern Christmas Book, Harnett T. Kane, David McKay Company, 1958, pp. 208-210)

Battle of Hernando Reenactment

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Last weekend, the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Hernando reenactment took place in Hernando, Mississippi. The reenactment takes place once every ten years at the Mussacuna Plantation just outside of town.

At last weekend’s reenactment, approximately 3000 people attended during the two-day event. It was a great turnout, and gave people the chance to see what it was like in 1863. Members of the Varina Howell Davis Chapter #2559 United Daughters of the Confederacy, as well as the Samuel A. Hughey Camp Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Bonnie Blue Brigade, the 17th Mississippi Reenactors Group, the DeSoto County Museum, and the Masonic Order helped sponsor the event.

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