Capital of the Confederacy Revisited

I have mentioned on several occasions that my former boss and I take day trips every other Wednesday and have been doing so for about 8 years. I don't think either one of us thought the trips would last this long but they have become a fixture now and if, for some reason, we have to postpone a trip, we find there is a void in our routines for that particular time period. Dave and I have finally decided that where we go is not nearly as important as meeting and discussing the events and problems of the day. You know when we drive to Fredericksburg in the rain and only eat hot dogs at the Pool Room, there must be more involved than visiting interesting historical places. On many of our trips we are not bothered by tourists because we are attracted to the offbeat or out of the way places. Interaction with the people we come into contact with is also an important part of our excursions. We never plan our trips and we have a slogan that runs some people mad. "We are never lost and never late because we oftentimes don't know where we are headed or what time we are due there. We have friends who still ask where we are going on our next trip when they know full well that they are not going to get a satisfactory answer. I guess they are conditioned to ask since that's the way the rest of the world operates.

Last week we took a trip that we had talked about for some time so I guess you could say there was some semi-planning involved. Dave and I have carefully avoided the Civil War sites because we knew what was going to happen once we got into visiting these kinds of places. We both are very interested in American history and we realized that once we started with Civil War sites, we are likely to be consumed by the subject. Maybe not in other states but in Virginia it is endless. Over the past few months we have slowly started visiting Civil War related sites such as Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Big Bethel, Hampton Roads, Appomattox Court House, Cold Harbor and several others. Thy bug may finally have bitten us.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to visit the White House of the Confederacy which is located in downtown Richmond behind the Medical College of Virginia complex. We rode the city bus downtown because parking is such a hassle and was I surprised when I got to ride the bus at half price by simply showing my Medicare card. It was a bumpy ride but all things considered, I think it was better than driving ourselves.

I visited the Confederate White House when I first moved to Richmond back in the early 70s but I had not returned since then and was not prepared for what I found. There are now two buildings in the complex and the quality of everything has improved appreciably.

Of course, the White House of the Confederacy is still where it has always been but a new building has been constructed in recent years known as the Museum of the Confederacy. Scheduled tours are available for both buildings and I would recommend that you take one if you ever have the opportunity to visit.

I thought I knew right much about the civil war but I learned some things that surprised me and maybe now I need a refresher before continuing. For example, I did not know that approximately 100,000 southerners fought for the North in the Civil War. When you consider that the Southern states had approximately 900,000 men under arms, this means that 10% of the southern manpower was fighting for the enemy. I was shocked but then I remembered what they say about statistics. These numbers are not meaningful until we know how they went about gathering them. At any rate, I was surprised at the size of the numbers used.

Another thing that surprised me was the role of Jefferson Davis in the U.S. government prior to the Civil War. He had served as the Secretary of War prior to being selected as President of the Confederacy and designed and oversaw construction of the upper part of the U.S. Capitol in Washington while serving in this capacity.

Other surprising facts I learned was that the Confederate Congress passed an Act which authorized blacks to serve in the Confederacy. I was aware that blacks had served in the Confederate Army but I had always thought it was an informal arrangement whereby slaves of landowners were brought with their masters and serviced the personal needs of their owners rather than rendering service to the Southern cause. Apparently I was wrong.

I was aware of the following fact but it was mentioned prominently in the museum. North Carolina was the last state to secede from the Union but supplied more men to the Confederacy than any other Southern state and the fewest number of officers. After all, we didn't and don't have counterparts to Virginia's VMI or South Carolina's Citadel. But there was another reason. The Confederacy didn't trust North Carolinians in positions of leadership because of NC's reluctance to join the confederacy. When you think about it, NC did not have the same motivation to secede that other southern states did since there were relatively less slaves and more poor dirt farmers in NC than in most southern states. There is a humorous story that makes the rounds about NC furnishing men to the confederacy without providing them with firearms. It is said that Headquarters in Richmond asked NC not to send any more men to Richmond unless they had arms. North Carolinians have always done with what they have and that's one of the reasons I will always be proud to call myself a Tar Heel. General Lee thought mighty highly of the "Tar Heel boys."

It was a pleasant day. We bought hot dogs from a street vendor and with a Dr. Pepper in hand went to one of the park benches that were located nearby. Mrs. RamFanatic remarked that she bet some people though we were homeless because I admit we dress for comfort and not to impress.

One last thing. I didn't know what to expect when I saw that our tour guide was a black gentleman. I knew he wouldn't be blatantly anti-south but I was prepared for him to show a subtle bias in his presentation. Boy, was I wrong. He spoke with pride of the Confederacy even though I'm sure he was not pleased with all they stood for but he did a marvelous job. His pride in Virginia showed and he was a credit to the Museum.

We had a good conversation with a nice couple from Wisconsin and it's amazing how closely their values were to ours. Maybe some of the bitterness has gone from the North-South struggle and maybe the differences are not as marked as one might think. There is still room for good natured competitiveness though and we reminded each other that the two states would battle it out this fall when we travel to Madison to play the Badgers in football. We jokingly referred to the fact that it would be a battle of the "liberals" since the U. of Wisconsin and UNC are considered to be two of the most liberal institutions of higher learning in the U.S. Certainly for state supported universities.

So if you have a day off anytime soon, particularly if you have children you think would appreciate what rests in the museum and the White house, hit the interstate and spend a day viewing arti-facts from the great war and the people who experienced it. Grab a hot dog and a Dr. Pepper from a street vendor, tell them old RamFanatic sent you. and find a seat on a bench among the trees. What better way to spend a day back in history and you might learn a thing or two.