Civil War Wiki
White House of the Confederacy
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
White House of the Confederacy, 1865, Library of Congress
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Location: Richmond, Virginia
Coordinates: 37°32′27″N 77°25′47″W / 37.54083°N 77.42972°W / 37.54083; -77.42972Coordinates: 37°32′27″N 77°25′47″W / 37.54083°N 77.42972°W / 37.54083; -77.42972
Built/Founded: 1818
Architect: attributed to Robert Mills
Architectural style(s): Neoclassical (1818 construction); Greek Revival (1844 modifications); Italianate (1857 additions)
Governing body: Private
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHL: December 19, 1960[2]
NRHP Reference#: 66000924

The Museum of the Confederacy is located in Richmond, Virginia. The museum includes the former White House of the Confederacy and maintains a comprehensive collection of artifacts, manuscripts and photographs from the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War (1861-1865).

White House of the Confederacy[]

The White House of the Confederacy is a gray stuccoed neoclassical mansion built in 1818 by John Brockenbrough, who was president of the Bank of Virginia. Designed by Robert Mills, Brockenbrough’s private residence was built in early nineteenth century Richmond's affluent Shockoe Hill neighborhood (later known as the Court End District), and was two blocks north of the Virginia State Capitol. Among his neighbors were U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, Aaron Burr, defense attorney John Wickham, and future U.S. Senator Benjamin Watkins Leigh.

Sold by the Brockenbrough family in 1844, the house passed through a succession of wealthy families throughout the antebellum period, including U.S. Congressman and future Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon. Just prior to the American Civil War, Lewis Dabney Crenshaw purchased the house and added a third floor. He sold the home to the City of Richmond, which in turn rented it to the Confederate government as its Executive Mansion.

Jefferson Davis, his wife Varina, and their children moved into the house in August 1861, and lived there for the remainder of the war. Davis suffered from recurring bouts with malaria, facial neuralgia, cataracts (in his left eye), unhealed wounds from the Mexican War (bone spurs in his heel), and insomnia. Consequently, President Davis maintained an at-home office on the second floor of the White House. This was an unusual practice at that time – the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, was not added until the Theodore Roosevelt Administration. President Davis’ personal secretary, Colonel Burton Harrison, also lived in the house.

The Davis family was quite young during their stay at the White House of the Confederacy. When they moved in the First Family consisted of the President and First Lady, six year-old Margaret, four year-old Jefferson Davis, Jr., and two year-old Joseph. The two youngest Davis children, William and Varina Anne (“Winnie”), were born in the White House, in 1861 and 1864, respectively. Among their neighborhood playmates was George Smith Patton, whose father commanded the 22nd Virginia Infantry, and whose son commanded the U.S. Third Army in World War Two. Joseph Davis died in the spring of 1864, after a 15-foot fall from the railing on the White House’s east portico. Mrs. Davis’ mother and sister were occasional visitors to the Confederate executive mansion.

The house was abandoned during the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. Within twelve hours, soldiers from Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s XVIII Corps seized the former Confederate White House, intact. President Abraham Lincoln, who was in nearby City Point (now Hopewell, Virginia), traveled up the James River to tour the captured city, and visited Davis' former residence for about three hours - although the President only toured the first floor, feeling it would be improper to visit the more private second floor of another man's home. Admiral David Porter accompanied Lincoln during the visit to the former Confederate executive mansion. They held a number of meetings with local officials in the White House. Among them was Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Reid Anderson, who owned the Tredegar Iron Works.

File:Ord & Staff South Portico WHC-1865 - LC- B78.JPG

Maj.Gen. E.O.C. Ord & Staff on the South Portico of the White House of the Confederacy, 1865, Library of Congress

During Reconstruction, the White House of the Confederacy served as the headquarters for Military District Number One (Virginia), and was occasionally used as the residence of the commanding officer of the Department of Virginia. Among those who served there were Major Generals Edward O.C. Ord, Alfred Terry, Henry Halleck, and Edward R.S. Canby. When Reconstruction ended in Virginia, (October 1870), the City of Richmond retook possession of the house, and subsequently used it as Richmond Central School, one of the first public schools in postwar Richmond.

When the City announced its plans to demolish the building to make way for a more modern school building in 1890, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society was formed with the sole purpose of saving the White House from destruction.

History of the Museum[]

Opened as the Confederate Museum on February 22, 1896, it was housed for many years in the former White House of the Confederacy. The Museum of the Confederacy was founded by influential Richmond society ladies, starting with Isabel Maury who was later joined by Ann Crenshaw Grant, and Isobel Stewart Bryan. Isabel Maury was the founder of the Museum of the Confederacy but she also was the first Regent of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society. Today, the Isabel Maury Planned Giving Society continues the spirit of Mrs. Isabel Maury, daughter of Robert Henry Maury, whose work with the Relics Committee was instrumental in securing many of the Museums' current day collection. Mrs. Isabel Maury was a cousin to Matthew Fontaine Maury, the naval officer and scientist credited as the father of modern oceanography. Matthew Fontaine Maury lived in Robert Henry Maury's house in the early part of the Civil War and would walk the two blocks to the White House of the Confederacy on a daily basis. It was in this house that Matthew Fontaine Maury first worked with burning underwater fuses for torpedoes in a tub of water. Today there is both the old and a new plaque on the building that testifies to this. It is presently owned by Virginia Commonwealth University Mrs. Grant was the sister of Lewis Crenshaw, who owned the house just prior to the war, and was married to James Grant, a wealthy tobacconist who also lived within the neighborhood. Mrs. Bryan was the wife of Joseph Bryan, a wealthy businessman and publisher, whose family is still associated with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

By the centennial anniversary of the Civil War, the Museum's governing board determined that it wanted to see the Museum evolve from a shrine to a more modern museum. In 1963, the CMLS hired its first museum professional as the executive director, and in 1970, changed the name of the institution to "The Museum of the Confederacy."

The Museum houses the largest and/or most comprehensive collection of artifacts, personal effects, and other memoriabilia related to the Confederacy. Among the thousands of other important pieces found there are items owned by Jefferson Davis, Robert Edward Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, John Bell Hood, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Simon Bolivar Buckner, J.E.B. Stuart, Joseph Wheeler, Wade Hampton, Lewis Armistead, and Raphael Semmes. The provisional Confederate Constitution and the Great Seal of the Confederacy are also housed there.

Of particular note is the Museum's collection of over 500 original, wartime, battle flags that were carried by the Confederate Army. Some of the flags were donated by veterans in the early years of the Museum. Others, regimental flags that were captured during the war that were originally housed in the archives of the U.S. War Department, were formally transferred to the Museum either by Act of the U.S. Congress or by Act of the Virginia General Assembly, depending on the level of unit identification of the flag.

A newer building to better preserve and exhibit the Museum's collections was built and opened in 1976 immediately adjacent to the White House, on its remaining 3/4 acre (3,000 m²) property. The anchor of the first ironclad warship, CSS Virginia which fought the USS Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, is prominently displayed in front of the Museum.

The White House was closed in 1976, to be fully restored to its wartime appearance. The milestone restoration project was completed in 1988, gaining high marks from the preservation community for its accuracy and richness of detail. Reopened for public tours in June of that year, the White House featured extensive reproduction wall coverings and draperies, as well as significant numbers of original White House furnishings from the Civil War period.

Since the Museum opened in 1896, it has been visited by roughly five million visitors from all over the world. Among the many famous world leaders who have visited the Museum are U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and even the leader of the 2006 military coup in Thailand, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. It is also a popular attraction for many celebrities who visit Richmond, including actors Robert Duvall and Sam Neill, musicians from Bob Dylan to The Black Crowes, and sports figures such as NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin and former Winston Cup champion crew chief and current NASCAR on Fox commentator Jeff Hammond, among others.

Notable past and present exhibitions include: The Confederate Years: Battles, Leaders, and Soldiers, 1861 – 1865; Women in Mourning; Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South; Embattled Emblem: The Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag, 1861 – Present; A Woman’s War: Southern Women, Civil War, and the Confederate Legacy; R. E. Lee: The Exhibition; The Confederate Navy; and Virginia and the Confederacy: A Quadricentennial Perspective.

Location near Virginia State Capitol[]

The Museum and White House of the Confederacy are located two blocks north of the Virginia State Capitol, and within walking distance of several other museums and historic sites, including the Executive Mansion of Virginia, Monumental Church, St. Paul's Church, John Marshall House (an APVA property), and the John Wickham House (Valentine Richmond History Center).

File:WHC & Bed Tower 3 -- 1-4-07.JPG

White House of the Confederacy as it appeared in January 2007

It is, however, completely surrounded by and its view is cut off from those sites by the VCU Medical Center (formerly the Medical College of Virginia hospitals) of Virginia Commonwealth University. The neighboring and expanding hi-rise medical facilities stirred debate in 2005 about the possible relocation of the Museum and the historic White House building. In 2006, Museum officials announced that the White House of the Confederacy, a National Historic Landmark (1963) and Virginia Historic Landmark (1966), will not be moved.

Critics of the Museum of the Confederacy's leadership in recent decades note that it previously owned the very land on which the new hospital construction is taking place, and allege that the Museum sold it to VCU to help finance the very museum building now purportedly threatened by the hospital's expansion on the site.

In fact, the Museum owned part of property in question between 1894 and 1933. The Commonwealth of Virginia informed the Museum, in 1933, of its intent to build a steam plant on part of the property to supply heat throughout the small, adjacent, medical school campus and to Capitol Square. The 1930s-era Museum had little recourse but to give up the land to the state - its only mitigation being that it could acquire steam from the new plant. At that time, no hospital expansion plans were available to the public that foreshadowed any danger to the fabric of the Court End / Shockoe Hill neighborhood. Indeed, the first significant hospital expansion (A.D. Williams Clinic and West Hospital) was not built until 1941, and the majority of the modern hospital buildings were not built until the late 1970s. No evidence supports the allegation that the Museum sold any of its property to pay for its current building.

Plans for a future museum system[]

The Museum announced plans, in September 2007, to build a system of new museum sites around the state of Virginia. Citing diminishing returns on visitation to the original site, the concept for the "Museum of the Confederacy System" is to exhibit its vast collections in strategically located, high-traffic, tourist destinations that are also significant Civil War sites. Current plans are to build museums in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near the Chancellorsville battlefield; in Appomattox County, Virginia, in or near the town of Appomattox; and in Hampton, Virginia, “inside the moat” at Fort Monroe. The White House of the Confederacy will remain in the care of the Museum, and will be interpreted at its current, original site. The Museum plans to maintain a corporate headquarters and its research and preservation facility in Richmond, perhaps at the current site of the Museum. While Museum officials recognize that the plan for implementing this new initiative is aggressive, they plan to complete the bulk of it during the sesquecentennial (150th) anniversary of the Civil War, between 2011 and 2015.

The new plan has attracted criticism from many who see the museum's expansion outside of Richmond as a form of abandonment, and the first step in what they consider as the museum's desire to break free from its "Confederate" moorings -- to transform the Museum of the Confederacy into a more generic museum of the Civil War. These critics object to the distribution of the collection across several proposed smaller museums, contending that much of the Museum of the Confederacy's cache comes from its ability to display so many high-value items in one location. The satellite museum plan, they argue, effectively ends the entire rationale for a "Museum of the Confederacy." They also argue that the costs associated with what is perceived to be an overly-aggressive construction program in the face of declining heritage tourism nationwide run the risk of bankrupting the institution.

Connections to scholars[]

Several prominent Civil War historians have had connections to the Museum. Douglas Southall Freeman, the biographer of George Washington and Robert E. Lee, started his career at the Museum. William C. "Jack" Davis, Emory M. Thomas, and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust have all done research there. James I. Robertson, Jr., of Virginia Tech, Edwin C. Bearss, Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, and William J. Cooper of LSU, have each served as members of the Museum’s governing board.

External links[]


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. "White House of the Confederacy". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 

et:Konföderatsiooni Muuseum pt:Museu da Confederação uk:Музей Конфедерації