Monday, January 25, 2016

Then & Now: Jefferson Davis' mansion in conquered Richmond

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Two words describe my first and only trip to the White House of the Confederacy: bewildering and frustrating. After I made my way to downtown Richmond, it took me at least an hour to find Jefferson Davis' three-story executive mansion in the tangled jumble of buildings and traffic in the former Rebel capital. Things sure were a lot different in 1984 B.G. (Before Google Maps) President Lincoln, the Union army and Northern photographers must have had a much easier time after Richmond fell in April 1865.

After he arrived in Richmond about 2 p.m. on April 4, Lincoln and his son Tad "proceeded at once," The New York Times reported, to Davis' mansion on East Clay Street. It was an especially eventful day for the president's son, who was celebrating his 12th birthday. Davis, of course, was nowhere to be found, having fled the city days earlier. Lincoln only toured the first floor because he thought it was improper to visit the second floor of another man's home. After he entered Davis' office, the president settled into one his adversary's easy chairs. "It was a supreme moment," a witness to the historic event recalled. (Hat tip: Kevin Morrow's post on The New York Times' Disunion page.)

Interestingly, when Union General Edward Ord posed for a photo with his wife and daughter at Davis' mansion that April, the table on which Robert E. Lee signed the terms of surrender days earlier appeared in the background.

To create the Then & Now image, I used a photograph shot after Richmond's fall by E.G. Fowx, who was employed by Mathew Brady, and a cropped Google Street View image from August 2014. An enlargement of the "Then" image includes interesting details: a Union soldier standing guard at the home of the former Rebel leader and perhaps Brady himself next to him.

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here.
At least one Union soldier stood guard at Jefferson Davis' mansion in Richmond in the
 spring of 1865. Is that famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady beside him?
This is an enlargement of the image at the top of this post. 
Union General Edward Ord, his wife and child posed for a photo at Jefferson Davis' Richmond
 residence in April 1865, after the fall of the city.  (Library of Congress)

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