Growing up in Richmond, I was always vaguely aware that the city had once been important. I knew that it had something to do with The Civil War and tobacco. I was reminded of this every time we drove down Monument Avenue and I would see the statues of “some guys that fought in a war”. I know that there are still families here in Richmond that have direct ties to the Civil War and the tobacco era of Richmond. Richmonders don’t seem to leave. I am proof of that. I was born and raised here, went to college 1 hour away, and came back to Richmond. Its not that I didn’t try to leave, but the universe seemed to think I needed to stay in this area. A lot of the people I went to school with and knew when I was growing up here, are still here or have left and come back. I thought that it was an incredibly boring city when I was growing up here, but now that I am older I appreciate it a lot more. It has a lot of history, good schools- both public and private, a lot of national businesses with offices here, good restaurants, good shopping, and its 2 hours from the beach, 1.5 hours from the mountains, and 2 hours from D.C. Even though I see Richmond differently now, I often forget its past even though I have reminders all around me.
For example, I have already mentioned that I work at VCU Medical Center. I used to work in the emergency department full time. When I did that, I would walk from my parking deck to the hospital, and my route would end in the ambulance bay. Every day when I would go to work I would walk by the White House of the Confederacy and barely paid it any notice. It is, literally, surrounded on all 4 sides by VCU Medical Center. If you were standing on the front porch of the White House of the Confederacy and looking towards the street, the library would be across the street; to the left would be the School of Pharmacy; to the right would be the Critical Care tower, and out the back door is the ambulance bay for the emergency department and the main hospital. I remember in the 1990s there had been talk of trying to move the White House of the Confederacy so that it would not be surrounded by VCU Medical Center (then the Medical College of Virginia). That never happened.
The same day we went to the Valentine Museum we went to the White of the Confederacy. They are 2 blocks from each other. The Museum of the Confederacy is next door to the White House. It is a more modern looking building. When we went, I showed them my hospital ID, and I got in free 🙂 You can park in the visitor’s deck of the hospital and if you show your parking deck ticket at the Museum of the Confederacy the parking ticket is either free or $2. I can’t remember. But, if you go on the weekend the parking deck at the hospital is free anyway, so you wouldn’t have to worry about the cost.
The Museum of the Confederacy is a self guided museum. There are 3 floors of artifacts and pictures. They have artifacts from JEB Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other prominent figures from the Confederacy/Confederate Army. There were a lot of people there; more than I thought there would be. The admission price includes a guided tour of the White House of the Confederacy. They give you a tour time; you can’t pick.Again, you can’t take pictures inside the White House of the Confederacy, but you can in the museum.
Our tour guide told us that the house is in its original location and during the Civil War the James River could be seen from the back porch. Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederacy, lived there with his family from 1861-1865. Two of his children were born there and one of his children died there. The guide said that members of Jefferson Davis’ cabinet included men whose families had direct connections to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other important Revolutionary War figures. It is interesting to think that those men, who can be directly linked to the men that were so instrumental in birthing our country, were in a somewhat similar situation. Except this time, one part of the country their grandfathers had helped create was now trying to break free and become its own independent entity. The perceived tyrant was the North, not England. This time, however, victory was not on their side.
Abraham Lincoln spent time on the first floor of the White House of the Confederacy right after Richmond fell, and the Davises had abandoned the house. The tour guide showed us the chair it is believed Abraham Lincoln sat in. I think it is interesting that Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln look like they could have been related.
At the time of this writing, Lincoln, the movie, had just come out in theaters. It is Steven Spielberg’s film about Lincoln in the months before the Civil War ended when he was trying to get the 13th amendment to the Constitution passed. The movie was filmed primarily in Richmond and Petersburg. They did a lot of filming at the State Capitol, which is across Broad Street from VCU Medical Center. Often, I could see the lunch trucks and extras walking around in period costumes.